|Either that, or they show me I should try another hobby. But I'll stick with HER idea.|
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Evidence that even rejected writing can find another home
I like this passage from near the beginning of a book I was writing a year ago. It's a shame the main premise of the book got a big NO WAY from a potential publisher. I enjoyed writing the two middle-aged characters, even if the story was flawed. The narrator has a friend, Beatrice, who stays with her overnight and is found murdered in her bed the next morning.
Look, here’s a quick snapshot from the previous evening, a few hours before Beatrice died, just so you don’t judge me. Here’s me in action, apron-clad, frying mince and onions and pouring Beatrice, who seemed in need of cheering up, a generous glass of red wine. Here’s me saying, ‘So, how’s life at the B & B?’ and ‘I’m so glad you didn’t have any guests and could get away for a couple of days’ and giving her a second portion of blackberry and apple crumble. Here’s me nattering to her about this and that, mainly this dead friend and that divorced one. Strange, isn’t it, how getting past a certain age makes your friends’ separations (either from spouses, or from breathing) a subject of great interest? It reminds me of my old Uncle Fred, sitting at his kitchen table with a slice of bread and butter and browsing through the local paper, muttering, ‘Outlived him, outlived her’, then slurping tea from his saucer. I never thought I’d be like that, but I am. The obsession with other people’s demises comes in the same parcel as the free copy of Saga Magazine that plops through the letterbox like a poor prognosis soon after your 50th.
Beatrice and I went back a long way, all the way to the 1960s and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Oken School in Warwick where we both had ‘potential’ but not enough ‘motivation’. Poor Mrs Thompson, our Form Tutor, kept us behind after many a registration period to dole out earnest advice and portentous finger-wagging warnings about the fact that we’d both end up working in newsagents. But Beatrice had an alcoholic mother who kept her at home when she needed some shopping or cleaning done, and I had no similar excuse but an incurable addiction to my candy-striped bed sheets, so between us, potential had as much chance of success as I have now of being mistaken for Kate Moss in the High Street.
I’d met Beatrice in the lunch queue about two weeks after starting at Oken. She’d only recently moved to Warwickshire from Scotland. Her dad was a policeman. I asked Beatrice if she’d moved because of his job and she said, yes, he’d been transferred, but they’d had to move because of a ‘family problem’. We started off with a hatred for rice pudding skin in common and from there went on to share a passion for the Beatles, for wearing illegal eyeliner that made us look like pandas, and for backcombing our hair so that we had to front-comb it all again when we got to school and Mrs Thompson caught us. These are the things which bind girls together so that they’re still having each other as house guests in 2012 and sharing in shepherd’s pie, wine and other people’s tragedies.
What were the chances that Beatrice, having been brought up by a gin-soaked mother, would end up with a gin-soaked husband? Well, every chance, as it happened, because that’s exactly what she did. I liked Bryan, though. A nice chap, he was, who smoked a pipe and was very careful that the moist bottom of his gin glass didn’t make a mark on Beatrice’s mahogany coffee table. When he died of liver failure, heart disease and throat cancer in 2001 (talk about overkill!), I couldn’t help but say to Beatrice at the wake, ‘Your Bryan never made a mark on your coffee table, did he, my love?’ and then we had a good cry together. She said she’d rather have a thousand marks on the coffee table than a B & B to run on her own and debts up to her eyeballs, and I could see her point, but I still wished I’d had a husband who knew what a wet glass would do to a good bit of polished wood.
Are you getting the picture? No, Stewart, the man I married, was not like Bryan. For one thing, Beatrice’s Bryan stayed married to her until he died. Stewart and I only lasted just over three years. And, to Stewart, that’s what mahogany coffee tables were FOR, putting wet glasses on. There were so many white ring marks on ours that he even played a little game with them called ‘Which one shall I use?’ and chose a different ring each night to fit his glass onto, laughing into his chest, his double chins wobbling like stubbled blancmange. It hadn’t taken long for this side of him to emerge; I used to look at him, and then look at the wedding photo on the wall above the mantelpiece, and then back at him, and think, ‘Was I taking something when I married you?’ Tell a lie, I think I actually said this to him once or twice.
There was never any gin in Stewart’s glass though. In that respect, he wasn’t like Beatrice’s Bryan. Stewart was a teetotaller, and preferred fruit juice or lemonade, a pleasant trait he combined uneasily with being a lying git with a floozy in most Warwickshire streets. Insurance salesman, see.
Beatrice didn’t want to be our Patrick’s godmother when he was born in August 1976. ‘Och,’ she said. ‘I don’t believe in all that guff.’ But I wanted him to be christened, and he needed a godmother, and I wanted her to be it, so she came in the end, bribed with the promise of a night out at the cinema to see ‘Rocky’. We were both suckers for a bit of oiled muscle. A couple of years ago, long, long after the christening, Beatrice confessed to me that Stewart had put his hand up her skirt while she was reaching over to help herself to some sherry trifle at Patrick’s christening tea.
‘Why did you wait until now to tell me that?’ I asked her.
‘I wasn’t going to say, was I? I thought you were happily married.’
‘So did Solomon’s 700 wives think they were,’ I said. ‘But he had 300 concubines. Anyway, what did you do?’
‘What did I do when?’
‘When he put his hand up your skirt?’
‘I told him, if you do that again, sunshine, I’ll clamp you around the goolies with these salad tongs until you scream for mercy, you bloody filth-bucket.’
‘And what what? What do you mean, what? Then I lay on the table, of course, and let him have three goes. What do you think, you muppet? He was off like a shot, all red-faced, towards the dips and carrot sticks.’
Beatrice reminded me of Stewart’s groping that night she died, while we were finishing up our shepherd’s pie and mopping the gravy with some French bread. I choked for laughing and drank so much wine to try and clear my throat that I got tipsy very quickly. ‘Do you want me to get you some water?’ Beatrice had said, and I’d just raised my eyebrows at her as if to say, ‘Have you gone mad?’ She poured herself another glass and had caught me up pretty soon.
It was later, while we snaffled our way through a box of Milk Tray, that she told me why she’d rung me out of the blue on a Wednesday morning to ask if she could come and stay. And why she was so terrified, she didn’t want to go back.