Here are some short extracts that, for one reason or another, didn’t find their way into the book. No spoilers here.
Annie on her way home from the shopping trip
The thing about Fleetwood is, it doesn’t tend to cater for the consumer with more sophisticated tastes and I didn’t think I had time to hop on a tram and get to Blackpool. As I searched I looked around at my fellow shoppers: the women pushing prams filled with fat, sausage roll eating babies, the bedraggled men drinking cider on the benches along the promenade, the boys queuing for their turn on the slot machines, sharing a cigarette and eating chips. The high street seemed to be filled with drab people sheltering under Lambert and Butler umbrellas, smoking, looking at their mobile phones, waiting for buses.
For the first time since I had arrived in the town several years earlier I began to understand just what it was Jessica had meant when she’d said the place was a ‘bit of a dump.’ The thought was disappointing, and although I tried to recapture the sense of freedom and possibility I felt when I had first moved here from the empty greenness of my Cumbrian childhood, I was quite disheartened at the thought that to the people around me, I was just one more woman out for an afternoon’s shopping alone.
All this was almost enough to ruin my hopeful mood completely, but then I saw the mobile homes and camper vans parked along the sea-front. The uneven row of slope-roofed cream and tan vehicles was almost always there: I’d given up wondering if they were long term residents or holiday makers. The parking was free, and near enough to the chip shop and the café should the facilities be required. I decided to make a short detour, despite the constant summer drizzle, and walk along that way instead of taking the most direct route back to my own house. I knew from experience that the sight of the old couples sitting up high in their little vans, sharing a thermos of tea ad a packet of sandwiches, would be enough to comfort me.
Of course I couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other, and when I took a surreptitious glance up at the rain-streaked windows some of the couples weren’t speaking at all, but had their gazes fixed calmly on the grey water and pebble specked beach before them. As I thought more about it, I understood that after a lifetime together, words, for these couples, had become unnecessary. Perhaps by listening to the radio a little, or just contemplating the scenery in silence, these men and women were sharing a connection forged over a long and full lifetime working together on some common goal. Looking at the sea together, the great foggy calmness of the water, could only be a fitting environment for the tranquillity these people must have felt on heading into retirement and being able to enter the close of their lives alongside a partner who knew and accepted them totally.
Despite the fact that I was alone, hunched against the drizzle, the cuffs of my anorak chafing my skin and the handles of the carrier bags cutting into my palms, I was cheered. I realised I had no reason not to anticipate the same kind of companionship for myself in the future, and I imagined myself sitting up there in one of those vans, and wondered about the sort of things I would be talking about when it happened to me.
Annie’s wedding reception:
After we were married, we went to a pub for a drink and a lunch. My aunt had made a small cake, and we all had a slice and toasted ourselves and then left the rest for the bar staff. We didn’t take a honeymoon; Will couldn’t take time off work anytime he felt like it, so when the taxi arrived outside the pub we were just going home. I’d held a little posy of pink carnations at the ceremony and I gave them to my aunt as a small thank you for the help she’d given me choosing the clothes and shoes and getting things ready in the house I was about to leave. She kissed me on both cheeks and held me by the shoulders like I was a book she had to hold away from her in order to read the print.
‘Oh Annie, you’re starting a new life! I don’t suppose I’ll see you much at all from now on.’ She dabbed at her eyes as she had done all the way through the ceremony. By this point I was so far away from feeling anything at all that the evidence of her emotion puzzled me so much it seemed comic. What else was she expecting me to do? I can make myself cry by holding my breath and keeping my eyelids frozen open until the water fills and brims. I did so.
‘I’ll keep in touch, Auntie Pat. It’s not so far.’
She kissed me again and whispered in my ear, ‘you could have come and lived with me, you know. For the sake of your poor mother, I would have looked after you.’
My father’s family were scattered over the British Isles, settling mainly in green, remote places. They had scattered like dandelion seeds and then withered. Pat was my last relative, and she lived in Wales, a foreign place I had never been to. She patted my hair and then let me go.
‘You can still come, if things aren’t…’
Will, who had been standing at the bar smoking a cigar and being clapped on the back by one of his friends came over then and clasped my Aunt’s hand.
‘Thanks ever so for all you’ve done, Auntie Pat.’
It was strange, him calling her that: he was nearer to her age than mine.
‘The cake, arranging the rings and clothes and all. You’ve been a star.’
The alcohol fumes on his breath reached my nostrils and I inclined my head slightly away from him. This was in the days before he grew his moustache, and his facial thicket was limited to several dark hairs in each nostril, as stiff as stamens.
Pat moved her eyes away from him and put her hands around the flowers as if she didn’t want him to touch her. Some people are like that with dentists. He put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed firmly.
‘You can leave her to me now though, don’t worry, I’ll look after her.’
He put a hand on her arm and moved her away to the door of the pub masterfully. He used to do that to me too, guiding me through doors and into places he thought we should go by lightly cuffing his hand around the joint of my elbow. She looked over her shoulder and mouthed something at me which I didn’t catch.
Will put her in her car and stood at the door of the pub to wave her off as she drove away. At the time I thought it was to do with his job: he was very good at directing people, taking charge when people got emotional or were in pain.
A childhood memory
That afternoon someone caught a fish. One of the men stood up abruptly, removed his rod from its stand and planted his feet in the wet sand as if he was planning to bring in Jaws. It caught my eye because it was the only movement in what must have been hours of watching, there was a mild commotion as a line twitched, a man dug his heels into the sand and leaned back away from the curling tip of his rod. He wound the reel in gently; it made a clicking noise in order to alert the others who paid him studied inattention, then he stepped forward, grabbed the line and caught the swinging fish up out of the shallows.
It was an insubstantial thing, a flatfish which disappeared when he tucked it into his chest to remove the hook, and appeared again only briefly when he held it by its tail in front of him to receive the indifferent nods of the other fishers. A plaice, a postage stamp, grey and speckled with rust coloured spots. I didn’t see him bang it on the head or slide a knife into it and throw the purple knots in its belly back into the water because I was remembering my father bringing the trout back, still flapping, undulating its gills in the search for water, eyes gradually puckering and clouding until my mother finished it off with a cleaver.
I saw him use the rubber-covered weight on its head.
‘Does that kill him?’
‘No, it makes him go to sleep,’ he said, putting the fish on a rock, steadying it with his boot and tapping it sharply over the eyes. It stopped moving and he put it with the others on a sheet of newspaper by his feet. He looked at me and laughed,
‘I’ll take it home to your mother, she gets it ready – by the time he wakes up, he’ll be dead!’ His idea of a joke, although I was convinced the eyes came to life inside my stomach, the bones in the bin regaining consciousness and trying to find each other in the dead of the night.
And sometimes a stunned fish could come round again. My mother left one twitching on the draining board once; it’s tail weakly slapped the stainless steel and I put a finger out and stroked it’s scales – slimy and cool one way, and against the grain, as rough and dry as sandpaper. She must have thought it had already died, perhaps expiring on its bed of newspaper in the back of the Land Rover.
I ran the water into the sink and pushed the fish into it. It flapped frantically, arching its body and leaping so violently the kitchen window got splashed. I must have laughed or yelped at the sight of something almost dead coming back to life so easily, because my mum came back in then, the gloves tucked into her apron pocket, and told me off for being cruel.
‘He thought he was dead already,’ she said as she held the wriggling fish in her fists. Its tail whipped from side to side as she leaned over and opened a drawer with her elbow to look for the meat-mallet.
‘Now he’s going to have to get whacked again and I don’t like doing it.’
You know, I don’t think I really realised that things could be properly dead until I was a lot older than children usually are when the facts of life become clear to them. There were the dogs my dad sometimes had to shoot, but they were never pets and if one went we’d always get another one within the week. All spaniels, all more or less the same.
And after the incident with the fish I tried it again with a rabbit who looked perfect except for the usual dullness of eye and a spot of blood on its muzzle. I couldn’t feel the pellets under its skin, of course, and the stiffness was just beginning to creep into its hind joints. I must have been very young, because I had to stand on a chair to pull it off the kitchen table. It was heavy, and warm on its muddy, sweaty-smelling fur from the sunshine in the kitchen but when I ran my fingers next to its skin it was colder than me.
Once I got it down, I didn’t know what to do with it. You wouldn’t put a rabbit in a bucket of water. I ended up putting this body in my doll’s pram and wheeling it around the back garden singing The Wheels on the Bus until my mother looked out of the kitchen window, laughed at me and came out again with the rubber gloves and a bucket.
My dad was pleased too: it wasn’t the squeamish behaviour he despised in women and the pram and bonnet not withstanding, behaviour worthy of a boy. That time, I was allowed to watch while my mother took the rabbit’s pyjamas off (when I described her tying the feet to the outside tap and leaning back to haul off the skin from the rump to the neck, Will was appalled and said it was ‘tantamount to child abuse’) and I was trusted enough to empty the blood-splashed bucket into the dog’s silver bowl.
On the wet beach at Fleetwood, there was no laughter, no admiring of the plaice, no luke-warm commentary or tilted smiles. The other men fishing just nodded and carried on sitting on their cool boxes, their faces turned to the foggy view of Knott End and never to each other.
It was a tiny fish but he didn’t toss it back.
Neil takes a bit of a battering in my early drafts, and here are two of the ways I tried to get rid of him. Warning – although these endings don’t give away what happens during the real ending of the book there’s enough revealed about Annie’s character to take away the fun of some of the plot twists if you haven’t read the novel yet.
What you won’t see here are the many other options I considered when trying to decide on the perfect domestic death. You will come across the objects I considered, and planted for later – irons, corkscrews, bottles of wine, butter knives, hunks of driftwood, silver picture frames, soft pillows and longing embraces chrome lamp-stands, milk bottles, lost pieces of string and precariously balanced bookshelves loaded with ceramic pigs, brass wheelbarrows, scattered all through Annie’s story.
Murder with a milk bottle
Annie was found in the garden of her next-door neighbour by the postman. He had come into the garden through the back gate to deliver a parcel.
‘All right love?’ the postman said, ‘Had a bit of a domestic have we?’ He spoke slowly, and edged towards her, dropping his parcel onto the grass. The garden was masculine in its utility and consisted of only two strips – one of grass, which took up the back third, and one of patio slabs – the remainder nearest the house.
He stood on the grass in front of the back gate next to a black wheelie bin. From a long long way away she looked at him, as if through the wrong end of a telescope, and saw only the details. His foreshortened thumb shook as it fumbled to find the right number on the keypad. She considered that shaking thumb as it found its target and punched it three times, but he hesitated, didn’t lift the phone, small as a deck of cards, to his ear. Their eyes met and she saw that he was still watching her as if she was going to explode, or vanish.
‘All right love.’ He said it again, as if to a wild creature, something clawed and rabid. Right away she could see the tack he’d decided to take with her – treating her as if she was an animal past understanding – just as long as he kept the tones mild and calm it didn’t matter what he said. She’d often wonder what would happen at a moment like this, how a normal person would react. Annie still hadn’t thought of anything to say, so she nodded, and kept her mouth shut. It was a policy of hers she’d adopted in accordance with a piece of advice from her mother – those who have nothing to say should say nothing. She found it a wise, economical piece of wisdom, when she remembered to follow it. She saw his eyes rest for a moment on the slumped figure sitting in the patio chair and followed them as they flicked back and forth between that and her hand.
She knew he was observing her closely and saw that his eyes were taking in the guilty weight of the other milk bottle she was still holding. She saw herself. There she was, in her bare feet and peach-coloured dressing down, hair tousled in the ordinary way, not in the sexy, artificial way. Her parting was all wrong and her fringe flicked up at the sides because it was too long to lie flat. They stood opposite each other like two points on a graph, the boundary of where grass turned into patio between them. It was still early and the bite of the cold from the slabs soaking into her broad feet where she’d planted them onto the cement brought her back to herself. This wasn’t a daydream, she didn’t think. The cold felt real enough, the chill of the still-dewy air on her neck.
Annie walked around Neil’s chair to look at his face, see if she could perhaps do something to bring him around before the ambulance people came. That would help her case, even if Neil decided he was going to press charges. Some part of her knew he wouldn’t be giving a statement to the police, because it had been nearly two minutes and he still wasn’t moving. It was going to be like Will all over again, trying to explain it to herself and not being able to find the words, packing things, selling up, moving on.
She screamed when she saw him, a weak, nasal sound that sought sympathy, and an audience, but the postman was standing at the back gate looking for the ambulance and didn’t step over to comfort her.
There was blood – a lot of it, and if she looked closely she could see a strange, soft place at the top of his forehead, where his hairline had been. His brows and lashes were clotted with blood; it dripped down his cheeks like tears and gathered in the rim of the eye that was still open. She staggered backwards and tripped over the milk bottle; it rolled onto the patio and broke, and she banged her elbow on the fence.
She should have known, should have been able to smell the blood. The more she looked, the more of it there seemed to be, settling between his teeth where his mouth hung open, hesitating in the corners of his mouth as it made its way downwards in rivulets and tributaries down his chin, until it dripped, and soaked into the front of his dressing gown. It made the blue material look black, and only regained its colour when it clotted in heavy drops on the white arms of the plastic chair. She screamed again, until it rasped her throat, and the postman stood next to her on the grass, as if to guard her.
A blow to the head
Neil pushed me back and as I fell, my knee caught the coffee table and it tipped. Our glasses and Lucy’s big bit of driftwood tumbled onto the floor, crashing against the boards. The noise it made unhinged me. I was on the floor, scrambling about on my bottom and pulling at the hem of my skirt. It took me a while to orientate myself and restore order to my clothing. It was undignified, that’s what it was. He didn’t even reach out a hand to help me as I blushed and struggled.
‘Please Annie, it’s not reasonable, this, is it? Come on now.’
I put my hands behind me to lever myself back onto my feet and my outstretched hand caught on the piece of driftwood. I felt its nubs and whorls under my fingers and lifted it up with me as I rose. It was surprisingly heavy.
‘You’re the same as the rest of them, aren’t you Neil? All right for a one-off maybe, but not for the duration, not for anything real? Is that what you thought of me?’
‘Hang on now,’ he said, ‘we haven’t had a one-off anything. You know we haven’t. It’s all in your head!’
I was standing over him and even as he tried to get up I bent closer and showed him what I had in my hand. Something from that filthy little magpie he’d opted for. I was so close to him I could see my own reflection in his eyes, my hair hanging down either side of my face, perfectly washed and dried and smelling like peaches, and him not even having the civility to comment on the efforts I had made that day, and in all the previous days. Green not really my colour! I could have sworn! I had to bite my lips between my teeth so hard that it hurt, just so I could contain the emotion I was feeling.
‘Soon! Soon, you said! The last time I was here, you said quite clearly that you’d sort things out with Lucy, you’d get her out of the house and you and I wouldn’t have to sneak about anymore, giving each other secret signals through the walls, messages in the rubbish bins – we could stop the teenage beating about the bush and have a proper life together.’ I took a deep breath, feeling quite worked up.
‘I’m all on my own, at least you’ve got someone! I’ve been waiting next door all this time with no-one to keep me company and you promised!’
‘Lucy and I have been worried about you, you know we have. Was there an accident? When you were out in the car, maybe? Loosing someone, no wonder you’re having trouble – behaving in ways you wouldn’t normally, eh? I can understand that, so you sit back and tell me about it, and I’ll make us some tea. A chat, eh? No need for all this shouting.’
His forehead was damp and I noticed for the first time that his hair was receding quite severely at the temples, going thin on top, but was thick and black on the part of his throat I could see at the open collar of his shirt. I’ve never found baldness, nor excessive body hair attractive on a man, although for politeness’ sake I’ve often tolerated it in the past. As soon as I noticed, I could hardly bear to look at it but my eyes didn’t want to look anywhere else. I closed them, counted to three, and opened them again in the hope that the impression would have faded in the interval. It hadn’t. He was flushed, trembling, and, as I was so close to him, smelled quite strongly of garlic and unwashed clothes.
It was like he was doing it on purpose, making a mockery out of everything I’d done, all the time I had spent in applying make-up and perfume in order to please him and ease the transition in his mind from Lucy to me.
‘You’re spoiling it now, Neil.’ I said. ‘We could still rectify this, you know. If you’d give it a chance and be like you were before. Don’t be scared of it.’
Neil shook his head eagerly. ‘I’m not scared. I’m not scared at all. Honestly. I just want us to talk. Tell me about your little girl. Is she with your family while you get yourself sorted out? You’ve got to think about her, and work on getting better so she can come home again.’
It was much too late for conversation, the mood I was in, and even if I had have been able to connect with him in that way again, the sound of him laughing had completely destroyed my ability to think rationally.
I had that big dirty bit of wood in my hands, and I held it in front of me, testing its weight and finding the best place to grip it.
‘I can tell you’re not a bad person. You really aren’t, are you sweetheart? Just upset. Just a bit upset, that’s all.’
You know, that was the first and last time he was ever openly affectionate with me. Sometimes, when I look back on it, I think he might not have been playing with me after all. I think there was something there, something with a lot of potential, but he was just too scared to pursue it, and had to run away at the last minute. It comes from low self-esteem, behaviour like that, and while I do have my sympathies for him, sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief and count myself lucky. No-one wants to commit herself to a man and then find out he’s an emotional cripple, totally incapable of an adult relationship.
‘Who was it who beat you up? We’re not all like your husband you know. Let me make tea and you can tell me –’
‘It was me! I hurt him! I said, and heaved the driftwood into his face. I only had to do it another two or three times, and then he stopped moving altogether and lay quite still with his head resting on the side of the couch. He could have been asleep but for the speedily widening puddle of dark that grew around his head like a red halo printed onto the impractically pale material of the upholstery.
Given that set of circumstances, someone else might have panicked. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to keep a cool head and it wasn’t long before I got myself together, wiped my eyes and remembered where I was. I was groggy, the bright light from the window was hurting my eyes, and I thought it best to make myself another cup of tea.
Neil’s kitchen was clean and well appointed: I even managed to find a couple of chicken drumsticks left over in the fridge. I didn’t think anyone would mind if I ate them, and I settled myself back onto the couch next to Neil with my mug and plate. The remote control was on the edge of the chair, and I turned on the television and watched the end of Neighbours. I was cold, and pulled the throw from the settee over my knees, shivering slightly as I kept my eyes focused on the television and made sure my face was averted from Neil.