Table of Contents
About the Author
Judy Astley was frequently told off for daydreaming at her drearily traditional school but has found it to be the ideal training for becoming a writer. There were several false starts to her career: secretary at an all-male Oxford college (sacked for undisclosable reasons), at an airline (decided, after a crash and a hijacking, that she was safer elsewhere) and as a dress designer (quit before anyone noticed that she was adapting
patterns). She spent some years as a parent and as a painter before sensing that the day was approaching when she'd have to go out and get a Proper Job. With a nagging certainty that she was temperamentally unemployable, and desperate to avoid office coffee, having to wear tights every day and missing out on sunny days on Cornish beaches with her daughters, she wrote her first novel,
Just for the Summer.
She has now had eight novels published by Black Swan.
Also by Judy Astley
JUST FOR THE SUMMER
SEVEN FOR A SECRET
EVERY GOOD GIRL
NO PLACE FOR A MAN
and published by Black SwanTHE RIGHT THING
This ebook is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form (including any digital form) other than this in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Epub ISBN: 9781409057789
THE RIGHT THING
A BLACK SWAN BOOK: 0 552 99768 4
First publication in Great Britain
Black Swan edition published 1999
5 7 9 10 8 6
Copyright Â© Judy Astley 1999
The right of Judy Astley to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Black Swan Books are published by Transworld Publishers,
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in Australia by Random House Australia (Pty) Ltd,
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in New Zealand by Random House New Zealand Ltd,
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and in South Africa by Random House (Pty) Ltd,
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For Annie, my dancing friend
Large Antonia must have slimmed down a huge amount to fit into her coffin. Instead of the four-square mahogany box the size of a grandmother's wardrobe that Kitty had been expecting, the casket was a narrow, elegant pale oak number, reminding her of the flooring she'd almost chosen for the sitting-room. She was glad now that she'd gone for the beech instead. The last thing she wanted, as she trod between the front door and the kitchen for the next however many years, was to be reminded of the tall fat frightened girl she and Julia Taggart and others had so brutally bullied at school all that time ago.
âUpside down in the Range Rover, three hours to cut her outÂ .Â .Â .' a woman was murmuring in the pew behind her. Julia Taggart, next to Kitty, turned her ferrety head and her eyes swivelled sideways to see who was speaking. Kitty nudged her, embarrassed. Julia had always been shamelessly nosy, progressing from early trawling for scandal with her ear to the school staffroom door to taking on the running of the Hartsvale Old Girls newsletter. No-one she'd ever come across in her whole life could marry, give birth, get divorced, ennobled, imprisoned or die without the information somehow finding its way past Julia first.
The small village church was full and its chill stony air was moist with so much unaccustomed collective breath. Some people were even standing at the back, and as the congregation rose to sing âJerusalem' Kitty wondered how many of them, like her, were simply there through chance rather than a heartfelt wish to pay their last respects to Antonia.
come with me, it's only a couple of miles from you. I'll come to you, stay the night, and we can go together,' Julia had persuaded over the phone, assuming as all people from London did that Devon-and-Cornwall formed just a teeny village peninsula tacked prettily on to the end of England. âAfter all, funerals aren't like weddings are they, you don't need invitations. No-one will ever know you weren't her very closest friend. They'll just assume you kept up with her through the HOGS, like I did.'
her very closest friends, not to mention her family, her neighbours, all that. And I haven't even set eyes on her since the final speech day,' Kitty had protested, picturing Large Antonia at fourteen, green eyes wild for mercy as Kitty, Julia, Rosemary-Jane Pigott and the rest of their vicious circle had hoisted her up high in the cloakroom and made her swing from the hot-water pipes till she shrieked with pain. What a cruel, exaggerated fuss they'd made about the weight of her, stamping and circling the great dangling body with rhythmic chants of
and falling to the floor in mock-faint as if they'd just captured an elephant and hauled it up a tree.
âAnd it's not just a couple of miles, either, Julia,' Kitty had added, âit's at least fifty from down here and the far side of Bodmin.'
âYes but,' and Julia pulled out the clincher, âyou just
see her house, it's to die for, truly.' Not perhaps the best choice of words in the circumstances, Kitty now thought as she mouthed her way through what had been their school hymn. She doubted it would have been Antonia's favourite. There could hardly have been happy abiding memories of her time at their dull Home Counties girls' school where the casual spite of the pupils was equalled by a bitter streak of sarcasm among disappointed teaching staff envying the careless youth of their charges. It was possible she'd never spoken of those days since, either walling up the hurt from the awful years or even shrugging them off with no apparent effort. Either of those would be just as well, if Kitty and Julia were to offer convincing sympathy to Antonia's widower in the polite funeral aftermath out in the churchyard. How awful, but how justified, if he chose that moment to accuse loudly, âOh, so
two of those bullying bitches she talked aboutÂ .Â .Â .'
worth the trip, though. It took pride of place on the edge of the village, just tantalizingly visible from the road. Driving past its ornate iron gates on their way to the church, Kitty could only admit that Julia had been quite right, it wasn't often you got a close look at one as grand as that without paying folding money on the door first. Antonia, against any odds Ladbrokes would have dreamt of offering, had married more than well and lived in mellow Georgian splendour in the depths of personal parkland just out of view of the farm her husband's family had run for several generations. It was owed to her, Kitty granted guiltily, after that appalling teenagehood. Some sort of compensating karma must have been operating the day Large Antonia met the supremely eligible man she was soon to marry. Kitty, coming in with well-remembered precision on the beat for â“
me my bow of burning goldÂ .Â .Â .”' wondered why the fickle gods had then so callously changed their minds, claiming Antonia back soon after her forty-first birthday. They must have loved her. Wasn't that what they said, that those the gods loved died young, like Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix? They wouldn't love me, Kitty admitted to herself, eyes meekly towards the floor during the Lord's Prayer, I'm just a run-of-the-mill not-bad-not-good person who doesn't deserve any special deal. She saw herself condemned to a stickily overripe old age, mouldering in a plastic-covered chair in front of daytime TV, wondering if Lily and Petroc (teenagers now, but they'd be sulky pensioners themselves by then) were ever going to visit.
The coffin was being lifted and carried back along the aisle and Kitty thought of her children. Not so much the two who thrived and prospered in lazy comfort at home, but the absent one from before their time that she'd called Madeleine and given away to strangers. She might be dead too, perhaps years ago or yesterday, Kitty couldn't know. Her mind skipped through a variety of possible coffins, starting with a tragically tiny one, white, posy-decked and carried lovingly in the arms of a grey-faced, weeping man. Next she thought of a box like Antonia's, narrow and pale but shorter â a child who'd dashed out into the road after a puppy, or, heart-churningly, a dark woodland murder victim, half rotten from months in a shallow grave. Kitty felt in her pocket for a tissue and dabbed at her eyes as Antonia's mortal remains were borne past the end of her pew. No-one would guess it wasn't a lost schoolfriend she was grieving for, but a misplaced baby.
âWe'll go back to the house. There'll be drinks,' Julia hissed in Kitty's ear a little later as they lurked politely at the back of the crowd by the graveside.
âI'd rather just go home,' Kitty murmured. It was cold; March darkness was starting to sneak up on the afternoon sky and she longed for her big snug kitchen and the soft constant breath of the sea out beyond the window.
rather just go home too, but what would it look like, and besidesÂ .Â .Â .' Julia was looking round rather wildly as if she was seeking out someone in particular. Her pointed nose jabbed at the air as she searched through the backs of the assembled heads. The rector was doing âashes to ashesÂ .Â .Â .' and Kitty tried not to hear him throwing the first terrible clod of earth down onto poor Antonia's casket.
âBesides what?' she whispered.
You never know who's here do you?'
âWell we won't know any of them anyway, so what's the difference?' Kitty's feet, in too-delicate black suede boots, felt as if they were turning to stone.
Julia's face moved close enough to Kitty's for her to scent the pre-funeral sherry. She whispered, âOh you'd be surprised. You'll never guess who rang and said she'd be comingÂ .Â .Â .' A tall broad man in front of them turned and glared and Kitty, feeling small and told-off, stared at the ground, mortified. She shifted her feet in an effort to see if her toes still moved without cracking and tried to concentrate on how awful the whole day was. Antonia had children, three of them, evenly spaced in size like Russian dolls from mid-teens or so down to about ten, welded together at the grave-edge in their grief, clinging and weeping quietly, their distraught faces every bit as scarlet as Antonia's had habitually been through her tortured schooldays. She might well have wept daily, too, either after or before school hours, perhaps both. Probably the salt tears had worn her skin to that rough red rawness that so astoundingly clashed with her crazy tangerine hair. Poor girl, if only she hadn't looked so
like a victim. She'd been irresistible bully-fodder, a devil-sent target. No counselling had existed to help her then, no Childline, no comfortable teacher-pupil committees where sweet moral reason prevailed, no drama workshops on the evils of pupil malice, with role-play and group hugs. Fair play had been something to do with netball, complaining about classmates was snitching and intolerance of the odd hard knock (mental or physical) was drippily spineless. Most of the stiff-backed schoolmistresses had worked their way through a world war and considered a good dose of being hard-done-by to be character-building, so there'd been no point seeking sympathy there.