Authors: Kate Long
Tom found me at the computer when he got up at seven.
‘Don’t tell me you’ve been there all night?’
‘I stopped for a bath at four.’
Tom shook his head. ‘You must be shattered.’
‘Not too bad. It’s less exhausting to get up do stuff than lie there fretting that you can’t get to sleep. I’ll be tired tonight.’
‘I bet you will. What you doing, anyway?’ He came and stood behind me, putting his hands on the back of my chair, and I tensed. ‘Oh.’ I felt his body sag slightly as he
saw what was on the screen. ‘Please, Ally, not that forum again. As far as I can see, that place only drags you down. I know you said it was helpful, but you used to get so upset after
you’d been on it. And it was like you were addicted, you were on there all hours. Don’t start all that again, love.’
‘If you say so.’ He took his hands away and went across to the door.
‘I’m really not. All I’m doing is taking some of my old posts and putting them into Word. See? To save them.’
But he’d gone.
I heard him shout Ben twice but I carried on cutting and pasting till he came back with a cup of coffee and some toast. ‘Eat. Drink. Get your blood sugar up.’
‘I’m writing a diary,’ I said. ‘Look.’ I shrank the web page down and opened the title up. ‘Joe’ I’d typed in 72 point Arial. ‘I’m
going to paste in a picture, the one of him in his uniform. Then inside I’m going to write down everything I can remember about him. I don’t want to lose anything, Tom.’
‘Why start now?’
‘Because now’s the right time.’
I clicked everything away and got up, pushing my chair away, to hold him.
‘Let me, Tom.’
‘I’m not stopping you,’ he said. There was no anger in his voice.
I’d taken a plate of oatmeal cookies round because Juno always raved about the recipe and I couldn’t think what else to do to cheer her up. But biscuits are a poor
substitute for a husband.
‘Mmm, you’re a treasure,’ she said, taking down her French farmhouse tin with the anemones on the lid. ‘I shall hide these from the girls or they’ll be gone in two
‘Are you eating properly?’
‘Yes. Stop clucking. Still no news, but life has to go on.’ She still looked fantastic, in her Hobbs cord jacket, her hair twisted up off her face. What did Manny think he was
playing at? ‘Hey, you know you only just missed Mrs Beale?’
‘How is she?’
‘Not so good. Her husband’s died. But she’s holding it together, she said she did a lot of her grieving while he was ill.’
She popped the lid down on the tin and stretched up to replace it on the dresser.
‘Don’t start feeling guilty, Juno. Grace Hopkins was giving her lifts, Tom’s seen them driving around on several occasions. She didn’t come round to have a go at you, did
‘Absolutely not.’ She perched herself on the edge of the table. ‘She wants me to read at the funeral. She says I have the nicest speaking voice she knows and there’s a
poem that no one else could do justice to.’
‘Are you going to?’
‘Yes.’ Juno sounded surprised. ‘Why shouldn’t I?’
‘I didn’t know if you were up to it, that’s all.’
‘I couldn’t let her down. Honestly, Ally. My husband’s away for a while, that’s all. I’m not stricken with illness or anything.’
I felt foolish for a moment, but she took me by the arm, pally as you like, and led me through to the lounge where we sat facing each other.
‘I told her about Manny,’ she said. ‘I didn’t mean to, it slipped out. Swore her to secrecy, but she won’t tell anyone. It’s difficult when you’re
feeling vulnerable and someone’s offering you their confidences—’
‘I’m sure she won’t say a word.’
She could have been a Vettriano painting, sitting there with her ankles crossed and her elbow resting on the sofa arm. If Tom ever left me I’d walk about in my nightdress for days and
never brush my teeth.
‘She said she never liked Kim.’
‘Did she?’ I was thinking of the war-time karaoke and Mrs Beale’s cheeks glowing with rouge and approval.
‘She said Kim was the sort of person who made a great first impression, but that you wouldn’t trust in the long term. All show and no substance, she said. Which was right,
‘She was a nasty piece of work,’ I said, using one of my mum’s favourite phrases. ‘She did a lot of damage.’
‘I let her. Was it my fault, Ally?’
‘The way everything changed. Got twisted round. Soph becoming so uppity, Manny’s fit.’
‘Don’t start talking “fault”. That way lies damnation; believe me.’ I saw the blur of Joe’s face, the panel of the car flashing in the sunshine.
‘Do you think Manny’s in love with Kim?’ Juno asked, and her face looked so young and naked that I wanted to throw my arms around her and rock her better. ‘Tell me
‘I don’t believe he loves Kim, no.’
Juno started to cry. ‘It’s kind of you to say so.’
‘No, I really believe he doesn’t.’
‘Thank you. I needed to hear that. I sometimes— You know how, in the night-time, you lie there thinking – I sometimes feel I trapped him—’
Through the patio windows I watched the trees shudder in the wind. The water in the stone bird bath rippled and the reflection of the sky broke for a moment.
Afterwards she went to wash her face. I stooped to pick up a tissue she’d dropped and it was then that I saw all the torn-up photos in the bin and the screwed-up notes.
– It’s been the most amazing experience. Not always easy, but terrifically illuminating. People, viewers, don’t realize how much happens
off-camera, that the show you see is only a tiny fraction of the experiment. I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say being in the programme’s changed my life. What? Why
are you smiling like that? That superior smirk; stop it.
– Well, do you really think so? Changed Your Life?
– Yes. I do. Do you not?
– How can we say our lives have been changed if we can’t see into the future?
She was gone ages. I could have reached down, taken out one of the crumpled balls and smoothed it legible, read the pleas to Manny that I knew Juno had scrawled there, or drawn
out two halves of wedding photo and matched them. I could have done this, listening for the pipes to stop hissing and the lock to snap open on the cloakroom door, but I didn’t.
Tom had said to me after the programme, all those months ago, ‘Juno wasn’t a victim, you know. No one put those words in her mouth.’ I’d hated him for his callousness and
because I knew he was right. But TV had shown a Juno out of context, and context is everything. You need at least a lifetime to assimilate it.
Saturday afternoon, a bright clear day for the end of the year. I was working on my Joe diary when the doorbell rang. I waited for someone else to stir themselves, but no one
did. Juno tapped on the window by my shoulder.
‘I’m not coming in,’ she said, when I opened the front door.
She looked sensational. ‘Have I seen that outfit before? Are you going to an interview?’ Her narrow frame was draped in grey lambswool and there was a wide fur collar around her
shoulders. She could have been a Forties film star.
‘It’s new,’ she said shyly. ‘Does it hang all right?’
‘It’s wow. Where are you going in it?’
‘That’s what I came to say. The girls are in town but I’ve left them a note to come round to yours when they get back. That’s OK, isn’t it? I’m going to go
and get him, Ally, and I don’t know how long I’ll be.’
She was wearing little pearl earrings and plum lipstick, immaculate. But her fingers were ugly red and white where her car keys dug into the flesh. I wanted to tell her that I loved her and
admired her and that everything would work out, but I said, ‘Have the girls got a key?’
She licked her lips. ‘Yes. And I’ve reminded them to feed Fing if I’m not back tonight.’
‘They can sleep in our spare room,’ I said. ‘Or I’ll sleep at yours. It’s no bother.’
She didn’t protest. We walked to the car and she got in, swinging her legs elegantly across the sill. When she turned on the ignition, the CD began to play ‘La Mer’. She wound
the window down and I could smell her perfume. ‘Wish me luck, Ally.’
‘You know I do.’ I stood and watched her go, my mind’s eye playing a vision of her car from above winding through high-hedged lanes, with Charles Trenet’s voice swelling
in the background.
After a few minutes I went inside to my family. The men were watching TV together, but Tom was also dismantling a piece of bike on some newspaper spread out on the carpet. If this had been a
film, I’d have gone up to them and we’d have had a group hug. I’d have said something sentimental and profound. But it wasn’t a film, so I went into the kitchen and started
to make the tea.
We were stopped for petrol on the way back from Wrexham. Tom was walking stiffly in his leathers towards the shop, his crash helmet under his arm. I’d seen him indicate
and wondered at once whether something was wrong with the bike. The brakes were failing? A wheel was loose? ‘The salesmen never put much fuel in the tanks these days,’ he said when
we’d both pulled over. ‘There won’t be enough to get me home.’
‘I’ll wait,’ I said. I wanted to follow and keep an eye on him, though I knew it was a luxury I’d probably never have again.
I leaned against the car and remembered. ‘Why now?’ Tom had said, trying not to show his glee. ‘After all this time? Don’t get me wrong, I’m made up, but it’s
come right out of the blue. I thought you were dead against the idea?’
‘I don’t know. But sort it quick, before I change my mind again.’
‘It’s better,’ he’d explained, ‘safer, to buy from a dealer than from a private individual, even though it costs more. You never know if a privately owned
bike’s been crashed, or nicked—’
‘Just get on with it,’ I’d said. I’d never seen him so happy.
Cars shot past me now, going too fast, and juggernauts that could crush your skull in a second. A lorry hooted and made me jump; when I looked up, the driver bibbed again. What was he playing
at? I saw his grin as he thundered past. ‘Oh!’ I said out loud, then laughed. When was the last time that happened to me? I almost looked round for Juno; she gets bibbed all the
Tom was coming across the forecourt. ‘It’ll take us about half an hour from here, so we’d best get on with it,’ he called. ‘You all right to find your way
‘I think so.’
He pulled the crash helmet down over his head and flipped the visor up with clumsy gloved fingers. ‘See you at home, then. And thanks.’
I stepped forward to hug him but he’d turned away and the helmet blocked me out of his peripheral vision. I let him go, anyway.
I stuck behind him for three miles, till we came out of town. Then the road widened and the speed limit went up. He shifted in his saddle, then suddenly he was off, powering up the hill and
leaning into the corner. Leaving me behind. My heart squeezed with fear for a moment, but I slowed my breath down and put the radio on.
It was going to take some getting used to.
Kate Long is the author of
The Bad Mother’s Handbook
, both top-ten bestsellers. She lives with her family in Shropshire.
Also by Kate Long
THE BAD MOTHER’S HANDBOOK
Many thanks, for their feedback and support, to Kath Pilsbury, David Rees, Peter Straus, Ursula Doyle and the wonderful WW girls
First published 2006 by Picador
First published in paperback 2006 by Picador
This edition first published 2007 by Picador
This electronic edition published 2011 by Picador
an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
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ISBN 978-0-330-53175-7 EPUB
Copyright © Kate Long 2006
The right of Kate Long to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
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