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Authors: Susan Lewis

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BOOK: Obsession
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‘All you have to do,’ Paula said, settling her plate on the mound of her heavily pregnant belly and sinking her teeth into a succulent slice of toast, ‘is answer an ad. No one’s asking you to put one in yourself. Well, you couldn’t really could you? I mean, if they were to ring here Edwina might get arrested for pimping.’

From where she was sitting on the floor Corrie looked up at her mother, who, still laughing, was easing herself out of the chair to empty more coal onto the fire. While her back was turned Corrie and Paula exchanged glances. Paula winked and Corrie smiled.

‘Mind you,’ Paula said, yawning as the warmth of the small sitting room enveloped her, ‘perhaps your own ad is a better idea. That way you can specify your requirements. To begin with, a nice big willie …’ she broke off as Corrie threw a cushion at her. ‘What’s the matter with that?’ she said, her pretty blue eyes rounded with seriousness. ‘I can assure you it’s an essential …’

‘You’re an outrage,’ Corrie laughed. ‘And big willie, small willie or no willie at all, I don’t want a man.’

‘Huh!’ Paula snorted.

‘Then tell us what you do want, sweetheart,’ Edwina said. She was still standing in front of the fire, her back turned to the room, but Corrie could see her flushed, though tired face reflected in the mirror in front of her.

‘Nothing,’ she answered, perhaps a touch too brightly. ‘I don’t want anything. I’m quite happy here in Amberside with you and …’

‘Pppht!’ Paula interjected. ‘Pull the other one. We all
how you can’t wait to get away from this …’ she stopped suddenly as Corrie shot her a warning look, and her face instantly burned with misery.

Smiling, Edwina turned round and surveilled the two of them. So different in appearance, so different in ambition, yet so alike in character. They were devoted to each other. Devoted too, to her.

Her eyes rested on Paula. Everything about Paula, with the exception of her pregnant belly, was small. Her elfin face with those lovely mischievous blue eyes rarely failed to make Edwina smile. And the fluffy white blonde curls that bobbed around her face were almost the same now as they had been when she was a child. Though her beauty now, as a young woman, owed as much to her internal contentment as it did to her angelic features. It was a contentment, Edwina knew, Corrie was far from feeling.

‘The world is out there waiting for Corrie,’ Edwina said, ‘if only she would go to meet it.’

‘The world, at least for me,’ Corrie answered, ‘is right here in Amberside.’

Edwina cocked a disbelieving eyebrow. ‘Living in a little cottage, in a little village, running a little dress shop? Some might be satisfied with that, but it’s not enough for you.’

‘Says who? And if this is your way of trying to get me to advertise for a man to change my life, then forget it. I don’t want to meet a man that way. In fact I don’t know that I want to meet a man at all.’ Her head turned sharply at a loud clattering sound outside. ‘What on earth was that?’

‘If you think it’s Mr Right coming down the square on his white charger on this cold winter night, you might be in for a disappointment,’ Paula said, as Corrie walked to the window.

‘It’s next-door’s bin, blown over in the wind,’ Corrie said, letting the curtain drop back into place. ‘Now enough about finding me a man. Tell us about the baby.’

‘What, how I’m going to squeeze that great big head out of my tiny little bits? It’s giving me nightmares. Let’s change the subject. Are you going to join the aerobics class they’re starting up down at the village hall on Tuesdays? Should be good for a laugh if nothing else, Di Robinson’s running it and you know what she’s like once she gets into a leotard. It’s only two pounds to get in. Say you will, Corrie ’cos I couldn’t bear to go alone with all those geriatric women, but I’ll need to do something when the baby comes to get back in shape.’

‘Oh, God,’ Corrie groaned, ‘do I have to? The very idea of bouncing around that draughty old hall with the likes of Mrs Willis while that backstabbing old cow Linda Morris inspects the current size of my thighs …’

Edwina and Paula exchanged looks.

‘All right, I know what you’re thinking,’ Corrie said. ‘And yes, I could do with losing some weight.’

‘Oh, here we go again,’ Paula sighed. ‘Just which bit of your anatomy are you running a hate campaign for now?’

‘How about all of it?’

‘There’s not an ounce of spare flesh on you.’

‘What! Look at me! I mean you could hardly call me svelte, could you?’

‘Not a word that comes instantly to mind, no,’ Paula agreed. ‘You’re more …’

‘If you say voluptuous I’ll see to it that that baby starts squeezing through the small bits right now.’

Paula looked to Edwina for help. ‘What do you say to the girl?’

‘I’ve tried,’ Edwina said. ‘Corrie, sweetheart, you’re just a big build. But you’re tall enough to carry it off. If you were any slimmer you’d be skinny, lanky. You wouldn’t look nearly so good as you do.’

‘I don’t suppose, as my mother, you might be just a touch biased?’ Corrie replied. ‘I’m fat.’

‘Full-figured,’ Paula corrected. ‘And you should let
do your hair more often. She made a really good job of it for Kathy and Steve’s wedding and don’t deny it.’

‘Aunt Harriet is a miracle worker with everyone’s hair,’ Corrie retorted, ‘but I have to admit it did look good.’

She looked at her mother, from whom she had inherited her gleaming chestnut brown hair, and felt a sudden jolt of such painful anguish that her next words caught in her throat.

‘So, aerobics it is,’ Paula said, reading the situation perfectly. ‘We’ll go down to the hall and enroll as soon as I’m out of the hospital – which surely can’t be more than two weeks now.’

Laughing, Edwina said: ‘I don’t think you’ll be ready for aerobics quite that soon, Paula.’

‘No,’ Paula sighed, suddenly glum. ‘I suppose you’re right. No sex either. I’m mad for it, but Dave won’t. He says he’s afraid he’ll poke the baby’s eye out. And speaking of Dave, I guess his darts match’ll be over by now, so I’d better be getting home, you know how he can’t stand to be left with my mum and dad on his own. But he’ll have to manage when I’m in hospital. Thanks,’ she said, as Corrie took her hands and heaved her out of the squashy sofa. ‘Now, remember, I’m doing the veg for lunch tomorrow. I’ll clean it at home and bring it over here. All right? What time?’

‘I’ll put the chicken in about twelve,’ Corrie answered, ‘so come then. Then we can all go off down the pub for a drink.’

‘Right you are.’ Paula turned to Edwina. ‘Sleep well,’ she said, kissing her cheek, ‘see you in the morning.’

As Corrie walked Paula out to the hall she closed the sitting-room door behind her.

‘Sorry,’ Paula said, before Corrie could speak. ‘I just didn’t think.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Corrie assured her. ‘She knows only
well how badly I want to get out and do something with my life. I just wish I bloody well didn’t.’

‘Well you do, and trying to deny it is only making it worse. But I didn’t mean to bring it up in front of Edwina.’

‘It would make life so much easier if I could only meet someone and be happy the way you are.’

Paula shook her head. ‘It wouldn’t work. It’s not enough for you here, and you know it. It never will be.’

‘It’ll have to be,’ Corrie said, then smiled at the concern in Paula’s eyes. It was a smile that all but transformed her otherwise homely face; a face that wasn’t beautiful, but could be made so much more striking if Corrie only made the effort.

‘What, darts on a Saturday night, roast chicken on Sundays and aerobics on Tuesdays?’ Paula said. ‘I don’t think you’re up to all that excitement, Corrie.’ Her expression became serious. ‘You will meet someone, though, I know you will. And he’ll be really special, you see if I’m not right. And you’ll have the career too. It’ll all work out for you in the end.’

Shaking her head, Corrie said, ‘if I could do a deal with God I’d live the rest of my life with my frustrations, if only He’d …’

Paula took Corrie’s hand and squeezed it. ‘I know,’ she whispered, looking up into Corrie’s face.

Corrie remained at the door, watching Paula battle her way through the wet and windy night until she reached the end of the street and turned into her parents’ garden gate, the last house before the village square.

When Corrie returned to the sitting room Edwina was sitting on the sofa. The soft light shining through the fringes of the lamp, which stood behind the comfy fireside chair, cast an amber circle across the worn patterned carpet at her feet and over the cluttered bookshelves behind her. There was an odd flicker of a shadow as the wind howled outside and blew a draft around the curtains, and as it
down the chimney the fire, in its small cast-iron hearth, shifted and resettled.

‘Come and sit here,’ Edwina said, patting the cushion beside her.

Corrie looked up in surprise, then seeing the expression on her mother’s face she gave a short smile.

‘I know what’s on your mind, sweetheart,’ Edwina said. ‘So come along, let’s talk.’

Corrie shook her head. She had never hidden anything from Edwina, there had never been any reason to since theirs was a very special relationship, making them as much friends as they were mother and daughter, but Corrie didn’t want to have this conversation. They’d had it many times before and it served no purpose. No matter how frustrated, confused and, yes, different to those she had grown up with, Corrie felt inside, nothing in the world would persuade her to leave her mother; to go away from the little Suffolk village of Amberside to find the life she almost constantly dreamed of. And that, she knew, was what her mother was about to do. And she in turn would fob Edwina off with her usual excuse that if she were to take herself and her ambitions out into the world she would be sure to end up making a fool of herself, trying to be something she wasn’t.

Tonight she didn’t feel like going through the charade, and neither, she guessed, did Edwina. But Edwina’s concern tore at her heart, for in truth they both knew that the way Corrie felt about herself really had nothing at all to do with the reason she wouldn’t leave this grey little village with its infernally dull routine and colourless people.

Taking the hand her mother held out Corrie stooped to kiss the once beautiful face, now bloated and pale. The eyes, a young woman’s eyes, might have lost their sparkle now, but not the tenderness Corrie had known all her twenty-six years.

‘You look tired,’ she said.

Edwina squeezed Corrie’s hand. In her heart she longed to tell her daughter to go, to stop wasting her young years on a dying mother, who might yet live to see fifty. By then Corrie would be past thirty. But she knew that nothing she said or did would persuade Corrie to leave her. They were devoted to each other, and how Edwina despised the illness that was ruining both their lives.

For a while they talked about Paula, missing her sparkle now she’d gone. Then, sensing that her mother was once again going to try broaching the subject of her illness, of how Corrie mustn’t take it upon herself and get on with her own life, Corrie went to the cramped kitchen at the back of the cottage to make a hot drink before bed.

She filled a saucepan with milk, wiped down the draining board, then set out their two mugs. Too soon there would be only one mug to lay out, and she didn’t know if she could bear it. It was five years now since Edwina had first discovered she had cancer. Five terrible years during which the tumour had been removed from her breast and they had thought she was cured. That had given them a two year reprieve. Two years during which Edwina had seemed younger and more vivacious than ever. They had made so many plans. But now there was a secondary cancer. The one that in five days, five months, maybe five years from now, would finally claim her.

As she moved about the kitchen Corrie found herself reflecting, as she had so often in these past few years, on how much easier life would be, not only on her, but on Edwina too, were she only able to settle down to wanting the same things as Paula. A husband, a baby, a part-time job in the local Spar and a life as safe and secure as it was predictable. She knew how happy it would make Edwina to see her married, to know that when she died Corrie wouldn’t be all alone. But life was never that straightforward and though Corrie had a very real fondness for some of the boys, now men, she had been to school with,
couldn’t begin to imagine being married to any one of them. Not even Bob, the only real boyfriend she’d had, who was now married to Maureen Dennis, and with whom she had thought herself in love before he’d two-timed her with Maureen, had even come close to quenching this damnable, burning desire for a life that she hardly dared to imagine. For a while though she had thought Bob her saviour, that at last she had met someone who could stifle her restlessness. And she would have married him, had he asked her, had he not met Maureen and got her pregnant.

There were no regrets now though, for she knew, had things been different with Edwina, that she would consider Maureen Dennis to have done her a favour. A man who had grown up in Amberside, whose idea of fun was darts on a Saturday night and an occasional visit to Ipswich when they were playing at home, just wasn’t for her. No more than a life spent running her mother’s dress shop in the village square, and the odd knees up at the bingo hall was the life for her. She had taken now to living her life in her dreams, letting them run away with her until she found herself living the fast, glamorous and demanding life of a career woman, like those she read about in magazines. Almost any career would do, but to be able to work in television, to rush about the country – the world – filming dramas or documentaries or even news, well that would be the ultimate. Occasionally she would envisage her leisure hours too, what few she would have given the demands of her career, spent like the sons and daughters of the families who lived in the grand houses in the nearby countryside, who came on summer weekends to throw parties while their parents were away on holiday. All last summer she had watched them from the window of the dress shop, pressing buttons into the wrong button holes as she dressed a mannequin, and more often than not she had found herself smiling through tears of frustration at the fun they all seemed to be having as they sped through the village
their open-topped cars, music blaring and hair flying in the wind. She had no idea what any of their names were, the people in the big houses had very little to do with the village, except an occasional visit to the pub or a rushed trip to the grocer’s. None of them ever came into the dress shop. They’d probably never even noticed it the displays were so dull and styles so sober compared to the glittering designer creations they wore. She imagined them returning to London on Sunday evenings to resume their jet-set existence by night, and pursue their high-powered, demanding jobs by day; how she longed to go with them, to be one of them.

BOOK: Obsession
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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