Authors: Jojo Moyes
Tags: #Juvenile Nonfiction, #Family Life, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Language Arts, #Composition & Creative Writing, #General
‘McCarthy’s had his eye on that house for years,’ said Henry, quietly. ‘Look at him standing there with her – like butter wouldn’t melt.’
Asad glanced at him quizzically, and then at the couple several rows in front of them.
‘You know he was with that Theresa from the pub not half an hour before he got here? Ted Garner came in for some wine gums before I closed the shop. Said he’d seen his van parked outside her cottage.’ Henry pulled a face.
‘Perhaps she was having some work done,’ said Asad, optimistically.
‘I’ve heard she often gets a man in.’ Henry adjusted his reading glasses.
‘Perhaps she needed her pipes rodded.’
‘And he’s meant to be very good at banging things in . . .’
The two men began to giggle and battled to straighten their faces as the vicar looked up from his notes, his eyebrows raised in a weary question. Come on, his expression said. Work with me here.
Asad sat up. ‘Not that we’re ones to gossip,’ he murmured.
‘Nope. I was just saying so to Mrs Linnet when she came in for some headache pills. That’s the second lot the old girl’s gone through in three days. No, you won’t get gossip in our shop.’
Even though it was a funeral, Matt McCarthy was having trouble ensuring that his face bore the required mournfulness. He wanted to smile. He wanted to sing. Earlier that morning one of the roofers had twice asked him what he was so bloody happy about. ‘Lottery numbers come up, have they?’ he had said.
‘Something like that,’ Matt had replied, and disappeared for the fifteenth time, rolled-up plans in hand, to eye the front of the house.
It couldn’t have worked out better. Laura had reached the end of her tether with the old goat and, he had to admit, Matt had been worried that last evening. If she had refused to keep seeing to Pottisworth’s meals, he would have been done for. In fact, so wonderful had the news been when Laura rang him, her voice tremulous and shocked, that he had made sure he had been with her when the doctor arrived to pronounce the old man dead. Laura had clung to him, believing he had returned because he didn’t want her to go through the ordeal alone, but some small part of him – not that he would admit this to anyone – hadn’t believed the old bugger could be gone. And that if Matt disappeared too swiftly he might spring up again and announce that he fancied ‘a little bit of a roast’.
The service had ended. The little group of mourners went out into the darkening afternoon and clustered together, a few occasionally peering about to gauge what might happen next. It was plain that no one was going to accompany the old man to the graveyard.
‘I thought it was very civil of you and Mrs McCarthy to arrange Mr Pottisworth’s funeral.’ Mrs Linnet laid a featherlight hand on Matt’s arm.
‘Least we could do,’ he said. ‘Mr P was like family to us. Especially my wife. I’m sure she’s going to miss him.’
‘Not many could expect such generosity of spirit from their neighbours in their later years,’ said Mrs Linnet.
‘And who can say what prompts such acts? He was truly a lucky man.’
Asad Suleyman was beside him, one of the few men in the locality who could make Matt feel short. Among other things. Matt looked up sharply at his words, but Asad’s face, as ever, was unreadable. ‘Well, you know Laura,’ he said. ‘Her side of the family likes to see things done properly. Very big on form, my wife.’
‘We were just wondering . . . Mr McCarthy . . . whether you were likely to be commiserating Mr Pottisworth’s life in any other way today . . .’ said Mrs Linnet, from under the brim of her felt hat. Behind her two other old women waited expectantly, handbags clutched to their chests.
‘Commis—? Of course. You’re all welcome, ladies. We want to give dear old Mr P a proper send-off, don’t we?’
‘What about you, Mr Suleyman? Will you have to get back to the shop?’
‘Oh, no.’ Henry Ross had appeared beside him. ‘Early closing on Wednesdays. You couldn’t have planned it better for us, Mr McCarthy. We’d love to – ah – commiserate.’
‘We’re all yours.’ Asad beamed.
Nothing was going to spoil Matt’s day. ‘Wonderful,’ he said. ‘Well, all back to ours, and we can toast him. I’ll just go and tell the vicar. Ladies, if you wait by my car, I’ll give you a lift down.’
The house that Matt McCarthy had built – or renovated, with his wife’s money – had once been the much-smaller coach house, sited on the edge of the woods, before the driveway had been split from that of the Spanish House. From the outside, it was in keeping with the architecture of the area, with its neo-Georgian façade, long, elegant windows and flinted frontage. Inside, however, it was more modern, with downlighting, a large, open-plan sitting room with laminate flooring and a games room in which Matt and his son had last played pool several years before.
It gave on to open countryside, and the two houses were shielded from each other by woods. They were a mile and a half from the village of Little Barton with its pub, school and shop. But the long, winding driveway, which had once allowed easy passage from the nearest main road, was now an overgrown track, rutted and pitted with neglect, so Matt and his wife required sturdy four-wheel drives to leave their house without fear for the undersides of their vehicles. Occasionally Matt would drive the quarter-mile worst part of the track to pick up visitors; twice it had ripped exhausts from elegant, low-slung cars and Matt, who was no fool when it came to business relationships, did not like to start any meeting on an apologetic footing.
Several times he had been tempted to fill in the drive with hardcore, but Laura had persuaded him it was tempting fate. ‘Do what you want when the house is ours,’ she had said. ‘There’s no point in spending all that money for someone else’s benefit.’
Now the drinks table was loaded with fine wine – far too much, considering the number of people who had shown up, but Matt McCarthy would not have it said that he was a mean host. And a little lubrication smoothed business contacts. He knew that as well as anyone.
‘See the old man buried, did you?’
‘Someone had to make sure he wasn’t going to get back up.’ He handed Mike Todd, the local estate agent, a large glass of red wine.
‘Is Derek here yet? I imagine he’ll want to talk to me about putting it on the market once probate’s sorted out. Got to tell you, the plot might be fantastic but it’s going to take deep pockets to sort out the old wreck. Last time I was in there was . . . four years ago? And it was falling apart then.’
‘It’s not in great shape, no.’
‘What’s it say over the gate?
? Take care, is it? Sounds about right to me.’
Matt leaned in to him. ‘I wouldn’t hold your breath, Mike.’
‘You know something I don’t?’
‘Let’s just say you might be marketing this property before you look at that one.’
Mike nodded. ‘I’d suspected as much. Well . . . I can’t say I wouldn’t find yours an easier commission to earn. Think there’s a few more in the market for a house like this. Did you know our area’s been named in one of the Sundays as the next property hot spot?’
‘You’re going to be busy, then. But you’ll do me a good rate?’
‘I’ll always look after you, Matt, you know that. In fact, let’s have a chat later. There’s a woman put an offer in on that barn conversion behind the church. She’s going to need an awful lot of work doing and I told her I might know just the man. Thought we could both make it worth our while.’ He took a long slug of his drink, and smacked his lips. ‘Besides, if you’re after doing up that old wreck, you’ll need all the money you can get.’
It was surprising how many more people turned up to the funeral tea than had for the service, Laura mused. Out of the window the sky had cleared and she could almost smell the musty scent of the woods. She had walked the dog there earlier, and even in September you could detect the subtle change in the air that heralded the approach of autumn. She hauled her attention back to the fruit cake, which sat on a tray in front of her on the work surface, ready to go into the front room. If their guests settled in, as they seemed to be threatening, she would be playing hostess until well past dusk. That was the thing with small communities. They all led such isolated lives that they tended to leap on any event and milk it for all it was worth. At this rate she’d have to get the Cousins to reopen the village shop for her.
‘All right, beautiful?’
Matt’s arms were round her waist. He had been lovely this past week, cheerful, relaxed, attentive. Much as she felt guilty to admit it, Mr P’s death had been a blessing.
‘Just wondering how long before chucking-out time,’ he murmured.
‘The old ladies may need taking home soon. Mrs Linnet’s gone all silly on her third gin and Mrs Bellamy’s snoring on a pile of coats upstairs.’
‘They’ll be making passes at the Cousins, next.’
She smiled and put a cake knife on to the tray. Then she turned so that she was facing him. He was as handsome as the day she had met him. The weathering of his face, the lines that spread from the corners of his eyes, only made him more attractive. Sometimes she winced at that; today, filled with wine and relief, she just felt glad of it. ‘Everything’s going to change now, isn’t it?’ she said.
‘Oh, yes.’ He bent to kiss her, and she let her hands slide round him, feeling his familiar shape against her, the tautness of muscles primed by hard work. She thought she had probably never held him close without feeling an echo of desire. She kissed him back, feeling a brief, reassuring sense of possession in the pressure of his lips on hers. These were the moments that made it all worthwhile, that made her feel as if he was restored to her. That everything in the past had been an aberration.
‘Not interrupting anything, am I?’
Matt lifted his head. ‘If you don’t know by now, Anthony, we wasted all that money on your biology lessons.’
Laura slid from her husband’s grasp and picked up the tray with the cake. ‘Your father and I were talking about the future,’ she said, ‘how good it’s looking.’
There were times, thought Matt McCarthy, adjusting himself surreptitiously, when he was pretty pleased to be married to his wife. He watched her as she went into the drawing room, totting up her attributes: waist still narrow, legs shapely, something classy informing her walk. Not a bad old stick, all told.
‘You not going out?’ he asked his son. ‘Thought you’d be long gone by now.’ It took him some moments to grasp that Anthony was not wearing his usual complicit grin.
‘Shane gave me a lift back from football.’
‘Nice for you.’
‘I saw your van outside Theresa Dillon’s.’
Matt hesitated. ‘So?’
‘So – I’m not stupid, you know. And neither is Mum, even though you act like she is.’
Matt’s convivial mood evaporated. He fought to keep his voice light. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Are you accusing me of something?’
‘You told Mum you were coming straight from the builders’ merchants. That’s fourteen miles the other side of the church.’
So this is it, Matt thought. His anger was partially offset by pride that his son wasn’t a fool and that he wasn’t afraid of his father. That he had grown some balls. ‘Listen, Inspector bloody Clouseau, I stopped off because Theresa rang and asked me to give her an urgent quote for putting in some new windows, not that it’s any of your business.’
The boy said nothing, just stared at him in a way that told Matt he was disbelieved. He was wearing that ridiculous woollen hat, low over his brow.
‘After she rang me I worked out there was nothing I needed from the builders’ merchants that I couldn’t get tomorrow,’ he added.
Anthony looked at his feet.
‘You really think I’d treat your mother like that? After everything she’s been doing for this family – and that old man?’ He might have had him then – he saw uncertainty in his eyes. Matt’s response was instinctive – never admit, never explain – and had got him out of God only knew how many holes.
‘I don’t know, do I?’
‘No, you don’t. So next time use your brain before you open your mouth.’ He had him now. ‘You’ve spent too much time in the village. I told your mother we should have brought you up somewhere busier.’ He tapped his head. ‘People round here have got nothing going on in their lives, so they like to make up stories, let their imaginations run riot. Bloody hell – listen to you! You’re as bad as those old women out there.’
‘I saw her with you before, remember?’ Anthony said, angrily.
‘So I’m not allowed to flirt with anyone now, right? Talk to a pretty woman? Shall I look at the ground as I walk so I don’t catch anyone’s eye? Perhaps we can ask Mrs Linnet to knit me a burka.’
Anthony shook his head.
‘Listen, son, you might be sixteen, but you’ve still got a bit of growing up to do. If you think your mother would prefer me to be some kind of poodle, you don’t understand very much about human nature. Now, why don’t you go and find yourself something more useful to do than playing Miss Marple? And get a bloody haircut.’
As he slammed the kitchen door, Anthony’s back was bent with defeat.
The afternoon slid into dusk and then darkness, the densely woven blanket of night creeping down until the house, with the trees and fields, was smothered in the immutable black of deep country. Behind the glowing windows of the McCarthy house, the mourners had shown little sign of leaving. In fact, they had shown little sign of mourning. As the drink had slipped down, the stories of Samuel Pottisworth had become steadily less reverential, until the greyed woollen long johns he had worn even into summer, and his rather fruity suggestions to the pretty young health visitor had become conversational currency.
No one was quite sure whose idea it had been for the party to transfer to the big house. But somehow, fuelled by increased merriment, and an explosive burst of laughter, the french windows had been opened. Laura was trailing after her husband when she saw where the straggling group was going.
Outside the air was unusually warm and still thick with the calls of wild creatures and the swinging beams of the torches; the woods were alive with feet slithering down banks, the rustle of the first leaves of autumn underfoot, and the squeals of the older ladies as they tried to negotiate their way in the gloom.