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Authors: Judy Astley

Pleasant Vices

BOOK: Pleasant Vices
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About the Book

The residents of the Close were much concerned with crime – preventing it, that is. With all those out-of-work teenagers on the nearby council estate hanging around, stealing, joy-riding and goodness knows what else, it was just as well that Paul Mathieson was setting up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme.

Not that the inhabitants of the Close did not have their own little activities, of course, but these were hardly the same thing. If Jenny and Alan's daughter was caught travelling on the underground without a ticket, and their son was doing a little experimenting with certain substances, and Laura didn't see the need to declare her earnings from hiring out her house to a film crew, and Jenny drove home only just over the legal limit – well, these were quite different matters, not to be compared with what went on in the Estate. And then there was Jenny's discovery, when she advertised flute lessons, that she could work up quite a nice little earner in a rather unexpected way . . .

As the leafy London street resounded to the efforts of its citizens to keep crime at bay, Jenny realised that it was her marriage, rather than her property, that needed watching.

Contents

Cover

About the Book

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

About the Author

Also by Judy Astley

Copyright

Pleasant Vices
Judy Astley

For Barbara Forlani

and

Virginia Astley

The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices

Make instruments to plague us.

King Lear
– William Shakespeare

Chapter One

‘Mum, Mum what's oral sex?' Polly, with big-eyed, ten-year-old innocence that didn't at all suit her question, was gazing steadily at Jenny over the breakfast table. Slowly and sensuously, as if she already knew perfectly well the answer to her question, the child licked porridge from her spoon.

It wasn't the best way to start a Monday morning. The things the children asked Jenny on Mondays usually concerned the whereabouts of gym kit, swimsuits, lunch money and shoes. It was too early in the morning for it to be a joke, Jenny thought. The easiest thing, she knew, would be for her to say, ‘OK Polly, I give up, what
is
oral sex?' and for Polly to give some witty, ludicrous reply, with no more complication than if she had asked how you could tell if there were elephants in the fridge. But Polly was waiting and watching.

Jenny folded her hands round her coffee mug, took a deep breath and prepared to give her daughter a direct, honest and textbook-correct answer, just as she had always tried to do with all her children's enquiries, though the questions about how long it takes for dead hamster bones to moulder, and what exactly were quadratic equations
for
, were easy peasy compared to this one. She and Alan had always agreed that scrupulous honesty in the family was to be the rule, none of those slippery evasions of their parents' generation. None of that ‘You don't need to know that, not yet,' intended to put you off asking ever again. But Alan wasn't there. He had gone early to the office and an important audit; he needed to avoid the traffic, he said, and questions like Polly's probably, Jenny thought crossly.

Just as Jenny was about to waffle her way into an answer, Ben got in first, his spoon clattering noisily into his Alpen. ‘God, Poll, do we have to have this at breakfast?' Ben, whose face these days changed colour as often as a traffic light, was going rapidly into a red-for-danger/anger/embarrassment shade. He slammed his mug on the table, slopping coffee, scuffed back his chair and lunged for his school bag. Jenny could feel a draught – all Ben's movements seemed larger than life. The slightest of his actions caused the lists and bills pinned to the notice board to flutter nervously. Biggles, the ginger tom, slid to safety through the cat-flap.

Well, it's one way of getting Ben out of the house in the mornings, thought Jenny, getting up and moving automatically to the dresser to get his week's lunch money from her purse.

‘Well what is it? Me and Harriet need to know!' Polly persisted, thumping the table with her spoon, her attention now on her escaping brother, and conscious of having lit an interestingly sparkly fuse.

Ben, crashing clumsily past her chair as he made for the door, leered down at her, his floppy hair swishing across the top of Polly's head. ‘It's when you talk about it, OK?' he hissed. ‘Like when you get French oral classes at school, and you discuss things, you know?' He grinned at Polly maliciously, anticipating gleefully the day she found out he'd lied. ‘'Bye, see you later, extra art after school . . .' And Ben was gone, slamming noisily out of the front door as he ran.

The kitchen settled into peace again. It looked much bigger without Ben's lanky presence and his dangerously windmilling arms. Surely, Jenny thought, at almost seventeen he should have lost that overgrown baby bird look, and that gawky lack of co-ordination? Shouldn't he have grown into his body by now and become man-shaped?

Polly was calmly scraping the last of her porridge from the bowl and Jenny started dealing with the dishes, the question still hanging in the air, awkward as a bad smell in church. Jenny sneaked a wary look at the girl and wondered if and how she should burden her with the truth. Telling her wouldn't be the end of it. Polly's current fascination with all things sexual would lead her to ask more, like the dreaded ‘Is that what you and Daddy do?' which Jenny suspected was slightly beyond even her honesty threshold.

But Polly, brain as skittish as a firefly, had blithely moved on and was out of the kitchen and half-way up the stairs to the bathroom before Jenny had decided exactly what to say. It wasn't her day for the school run and, as Jenny stacked the dishwasher, she had an irresistibly cheering vision of Polly climbing into Ceci Caine's Range Rover and loudly stating that she knew all about what oral sex was. Jenny could only hope that Ceci, kohl-lined eyes as round as records and prim mouth pursed up tight like a cat's bum, wouldn't drive straight up the back of a bus.

Good thing Daisy's already left, Jenny decided. She wouldn't have chickened out of sex-educating her little sister, no chance. She'd have sat Polly down for a long, informative and alarmingly accurate lecture, complete with fellatio demonstration using, Jenny knew as she cleared it from the table, the half-empty bottle of Marks and Spencer's freshly squeezed mandarin juice. Jenny quickly shut the bottle safely away in the fridge, preferring not to speculate on how Daisy, at only fifteen, came to know so much, so young, and trusting it was all theory so far and no practice.

It was true that Daisy had left the house unusually early, but she had not gone to school, not yet. Sometimes there were more important things than school. She and her friend Emma sat in the train heading in the wrong direction. They huddled into their vast Oxfam overcoats, big enough to fit comfortably over their school uniforms. Daisy's floppy green velvet hat, brim pinned up with a feathered brooch, was a bit creased from having been squashed among her school books, but as it was on her head and she couldn't actually see it, she didn't care. What she could see, gleaming on the grubby floor of the train, were her treasured Doc Marten boots, three weeks old and almost comfortable. At school, they'd have to be carried round all day in her bag, they were too precious to trust to the cloakroom, but that was a problem for later. With only registration and a free study period before 10.00 a.m., there was plenty of time for Daisy and Emma to go into town and have their ears pierced.

‘My mum will kill me,' Emma said happily as the train sped between surburban back gardens.

‘Mine won't. Never does,' Daisy grumbled. ‘I know what she'll say, I know exactly. She'll smile in that dozy way she does and say, “Oh darling, how lovely!” Sometimes, it's like kicking a beanbag, getting her to disapprove. She probably wouldn't even mind if I got nose studs!'

‘She'd mind if you got a tongue stud or nipple rings or something though wouldn't she?' Emma asked.

‘Oh yeah, well that's different. She'd say that was politically unsound, not feminist enough. She's good at pulling that one. But I wouldn't do that anyway. It would hurt. Imagine them getting caught on something – or someone.'

‘Well don't worry,' Emma consoled her, ‘you can come home with me after school and share my mum telling me off. She thinks that ear piercing is only one small step up from wearing an ankle chain, so you can imagine what she's going to say.'

Daisy felt quite envious. Jenny's a useless mother, she thought. What was the point of a parent who absolutely refused ever to get really cross about anything you did? Even if I get caught skipping school this morning, she thought,
Jenny
will probably agree that I had a perfectly good reason, be willing to send a note. Hopeless. Jenny could get a first class degree in Understanding Her Children (whether they wanted her to or not). I won't treat mine like that, Daisy decided. I'll make sure they've got something to rebel against, then they'll know what's what.

By the end of the line, Daisy's mind was on whether to choose hoop sleepers or studs, and was therefore not as alert as usual at the ticket barrier.

‘Ticket please, love.' A firm hand restrained her, the rest of the queue pressing impatiently against her back. Emma, who had a railcard, was already through the barrier and waiting, closely inspecting a half-clothed beautiful youth on a poster advertising jeans.

‘Er, lost it on the train, sorry,' Daisy whispered, hoping the man would feel sorry for her. They always had before. But Daisy in her Doc Martens no longer looked as sweetly childlike as she had in the days when she'd first started playing this game.

The ticket collector stared suspiciously into her purple-shadowed eyes. There were too many trying it on these days. Daisy blinked hard, trying to make tears come, but the man had seen it all before. She was handed like a parcel to another official.

‘Come on, let's get you out of the way,' he said with hostility, leading her firmly towards his office. A rumble of smug disapproval rolled from the rest of the held-up queue. Frantic, Emma hopped up and down uselessly, not knowing what she should do.

Daisy twisted her arm free from the man as they went into the office, wondering if she should try to make a run for it. But she needed to use that station so often, and then there were the heavy boots and the huge coat – she wouldn't get very far. ‘I think I must have dropped it down onto the line as I got off the train . . .' she ventured in her most reasonable voice, the one that came over as a convincing mixture of apology and authority when her mother used it to get refunds for faulty goods and not be fobbed off with credit notes. But the official was immune to her middle-class accent and to the uniform revealed beneath the scruffy coat that showed her to be a pupil of one of the area's many smart private schools. Such provocative signs of privilege made him reach for the phone with sweet satisfaction.

Oh God, thought Daisy, horribly aware that she had made his day, this is it.

Jenny liked Mondays, once the children had been persuaded to go off to school. Monday held the promise of a fresh new week, the opportunity every seven days to get it right this time. This was the only possible day for starting a new diet, giving up drink, paying bills and getting to the bottom of the laundry basket. Somehow, the rest of the week always managed to wear down Jenny's good intentions and slide away downhill out of control towards the inevitable chaos of the weekend.

BOOK: Pleasant Vices
8.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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