Authors: Araminta Hall
Sandra put her hand on Alice’s cheek. ‘Oh sweetheart. What’s he gone and done?’
Alice’s face folded in on itself. ‘He’s left me, Sandra. He’s gone.’
‘Well, he’s a prize bloody fool then.’
‘He’s left with the barmaid from the Hare. Her name’s Silver Sharpe. Isn’t that perfect? I can just picture her, I bet she’s amazing. I bet she’s like a film star. I can almost understand why he went.’
Sandra swallowed down her knowledge of Silver. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. You’re like a film star. He wants his head read, the wanker.’
‘God, San, it was so awful. We thought he was dead or something. We called all the hospitals.’
‘You mean he didn’t tell you or leave you a note or anything?’ Alice shook her head and tears sprayed off her face. ‘He’s been in touch since though?’
‘No. He never came back after the party, he’s not called or anything.’
‘Oh my God. What a bastard.’
‘I think I’m going to die, San. The doctor keeps asking me where it hurts and I want to scream: Everywhere, you moron, it feels like demons are ripping off my skin but I know you can’t do anything about it.’
Sandra felt her body filling with a terrible rage. Worse than when she’d caught Gerry with Tracey Finch when they were engaged. Or maybe not worse, maybe the feeling was connected, maybe her anger was with all of them. All of those bastard, wanker men who thought it was their right to do as they pleased, to take women as if they were nothing more than a commodity, as if they didn’t have hearts which were so easy to break. ‘Stop it,’ she said, her voice harder than she’d intended. ‘You are not going to let him beat you.’
Alice was still snivelling. ‘I don’t think I can go on without him. What will I do? Stay stuck in this house with my mother?’
‘There are worse places, Alice. Some women are left with nothing. They have to go and live in some crappy B and B with their kids. You’re not the first woman who’s been shat on from a great height.’
‘But he was my last chance, San. You don’t understand.’
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, don’t talk soft. You were a baby when you met him. You’re gorgeous and men will be queuing round the block for you.’
‘I don’t want anyone else.’
Sandra had to resist an urge to take her friend by the shoulders and shake her. ‘Alice, please. What about Dot?’
At least this seemed to register. ‘Is she OK? Clarice says she’s fine.’
‘She is. But she needs you. You have to get up.’
Alice turned on to her side at this and sobbed, although Sandra knew she’d heard and thought she could maybe see a slight reinflation in her friend’s body. ‘Alice, you can’t let him win like that. God, I’d like to cut his dick off.’
At least Alice stopped crying at that, but her eyes looked blank. ‘I feel so alone. I don’t know if I can do all of this without knowing he’s coming home every night.’
‘You’re not alone, Alice. You’ve got me and your mum and Dot.’ Sandra felt the community of women so strongly, but she wasn’t sure that Alice did. Maybe it was because she was still young, or maybe she didn’t want to.
‘D’you know what Clarice gave me a few nights ago?’ Alice said by way of reply. Sandra shook her head. Alice reached over to the drawer in her bedside table and took out a small piece of paper, which she handed to Sandra. On it were written the words:
I’m sorry, Clarry. I thought I was prepared for Jack’s death, the doctors told us it would happen. But since it has the world has spun too fast and I have to get off. Mamma
‘What is this?’
‘My grandmother’s suicide note.’
‘I didn’t even know she killed herself.’ Alice half laughed.
Sandra felt she needed to get a handle on the situation. ‘Why on earth did your mother show you this?’ She put it back into the drawer, not wanting it to contaminate the atmosphere any more.
‘I asked her that. I said, Are you suggesting something? I didn’t mean it literally, but she got really agitated and went on about how wrong her mother had been. Don’t you see how stupid it is to give everything up for one person, she said, to leave people who love you. Because there are always people who love you.’
Sandra sat in silence; she found Alice’s world baffling. But then Alice rolled on to her side and said, ‘I feel so weak. Like my legs are pieces of string or something. I can’t imagine ever getting up and making food and taking Dot out and getting through to the end of the day, ever again.’
‘Well, you need to eat for a start,’ said Sandra. Sometimes she felt as if the whole world needed to be mothered. ‘In fact, I’m going to go and get you something now.’
Sandra went to the kitchen where she made her friend some tea and toast with butter and honey. She could see Clarice sitting in the chair under the apple tree with Dot and Mavis at her feet. She was very still, but Sandra thought she could see agitation running through her veins. She carried the food back upstairs and when she opened the door didn’t think that Alice had moved at all. She might not have even blinked. Sandra bustled as much as she could, trying to make waves in the dead air.
‘Come on, Alice, I’m not leaving till I see you eat this,’ she said, pulling a chair up so she could sit next to the bed.
‘My throat feels like sand.’
Sandra pushed the plate closer so Alice had to sit up and take a small bite. She was like an invalid: it took twenty minutes for her to get through the tea and toast and by the end she was crying, but it was the same as getting Mavis to take medicine when she was ill, you couldn’t turn your back because it made life easier.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Alice finally. ‘I’m being pathetic. You’re so kind.’
‘Don’t be silly. I’m doing what anyone would. We’ll get you up and about in no time.’ Alice nodded. ‘And you know he will be in touch. He’s not just going to walk out of your life. I mean, there’s Dot apart from anything else.’
‘I keep thinking about that.’ Alice swallowed hard. ‘I know he loved her. Oh God, San, he must have found me disgusting to walk away from her.’
‘He hasn’t walked away. He’s made a stupid mistake and he’ll probably be back. Not that I would ever let you take him back. I just mean, he’ll be back.’
Alice shook her head. ‘You don’t know him. He’s already walked away from his parents. I think this is it.’
‘Alice, apart from anything else, if he really wants to split up you’ll have to get divorced. This Silver woman sounds like a sort of breakdown, if you ask me.’
‘Do you think so, really?’ Alice looked like a beautiful child and Sandra was shocked both at Tony’s ability to leave her and the certain knowledge that she would take him back if he so much as waved through the door.
‘I think the important thing is to get you better,’ she said by way of an answer.
Before Sandra left she sat with Clarice and told her that she would come every day and when she was there she would take Dot in to see Alice, but that Clarice should insist she ate and let Dot go in as much as possible. Clarice nodded and thanked her and Sandra was amazed at how people who seemed to know a lot really often knew nothing at all about the things that mattered.
Sandra was as good as her word and within a week she arrived to find Alice sitting in Clarice’s chair under the apple tree with Dot on her knee, reading her a story. Dot was twirling a lock of her mother’s hair round her little fingers and smiling. Alice still seemed weak and fragile, but Sandra thought that over time things would fall back into place. She was amazed that Tony still hadn’t been in touch, but for some reason Clarice seemed as certain as Alice that he wouldn’t be. Clarice didn’t even seem that surprised that he’d left. Sandra knew she’d never properly work these people out, but she also knew that this had bound them together and that they now would be friends for ever.
It was on the way back to her house one afternoon that Sandra saw the poster for the Russian circus in Cartertown, just before Christmas. She wrote the number on a receipt that she found at the bottom of her perpetually messy bag. She decided to buy tickets for her, Gerry, Mavis, Alice and Dot. It was exactly what they all needed.
In defence of Dot Cartwright
16 April 2005
(To be used as my defence if I do get arrested as I don’t think I’ll be capable of actually explaining any of this in words)
(Also, please note the date – I am not eighteen for another four months (6 August) and so am still legally a child, I presume)
The first point that I’d like to make is that I absolutely did not think I was committing incest when I slept with him. You might find that hard to believe, but I think I’m a bit slow emotionally and it really and truly was only afterwards that I figured it out. I don’t know if this makes any difference; it certainly isn’t giving me much comfort.
OK, I think I need to explain something about my family to give you some idea as to how I got here – I believe they call it mitigating circumstances. My mother has never, and I really do mean never, told me anything about my father. I don’t even know his name. My grandmother did tell me a weird story about him running off with a barmaid called Silver on the day of my second birthday after saying he was going out to buy some extra balloons. But I mean, come on. Only a woman who has never been inside a pub would actually think that barmaids are called Silver, it’s like a boxer called Butch, and what sort of wanker would leave on his daughter’s second birthday anyway?
If you knew my gran you’d get why she said it. She hates mess and chaos and anything resembling emotion. Her and my mum have the freakiest relationship you’ve ever seen. I mean, Mum calls her Clarice and if they accidently touch they sort of shiver, like they’ve given each other an electric shock. But sometimes I’ve wondered if they communicate telepathically or something because Mum’s never shown any desire to move out and they do seem to anticipate each other in quite a weird way.
Gran has all these rules about life which took me years to figure out were bogus. Our house is like some giant shrine to her past and so everything she owns is, by her estimation, priceless. There are loads of chairs you can’t sit on in our house, some even round the dining room table. Almost all the china is only to be looked at and her room is completely sacrosanct. Daffodils are common, as are the words ‘pardon’ and ‘toilet’, which was pretty confusing as a child as if you say ‘what’ and ‘loo’ at school you tend to get told off for being rude. Most people outside of our family are ‘ghastly’ or ‘common’, although strangely ones she gets to know like Mavis then almost become family. Oh and (I am not making this up, check her bathroom wall) she thinks we’re related to God, thanks to some ridiculous family tree that an obviously mad uncle of hers had made that traces us right back to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, a theory which would probably still get you burnt at the stake in some countries.
Then there’s my mum. Where to start with her? She’s one of those women who looks like she should be fantastic. I mean, she is really beautiful and I’m not seeing her through rose-tinted glasses because those came off many, many years ago – if they were ever on, that is. She was nineteen when she had me and the other day I realised that she is still younger than all those women on the pages of
who get described as yummy mummies and do the school run in leather trousers. She could be so cool my mum, but of course she isn’t. She has completely no idea of the effect she has on men, although I do, as I have not inherited her looks (we’ll come to this later as it’s an important part of this story). So I have to stand there as delivery boys stand open-mouthed or shopkeepers get tongue-tied as she glides past. Although maybe there’s a price to pay for the beauty because sometimes I think if they got to know her they might not be so impressed because she’s not actually real. I don’t know how to describe her any better than this. I know she loves me and would probably do anything for me, but it is so far from enough it’s a joke.
Mavis, my best friend, used to tell me to just ask her who my father is, but she stopped years ago. And I know you’ll find that hard to believe. You’ll come and look at our large house and our beautiful possessions and listen to my grandmother’s cut-glass accent and you’ll think, Oh come on, this is a nice middle-class family, there can’t be any secrets here. But I can assure you there are. In fact, I’m starting to think that if you scratch the surface of any family you’ll probably find a teeming mess of shit. Sometimes I walk around our pathetically small village on winters’ evenings at the time when people have turned on their lights but not yet drawn their curtains. I stare into the windows and watch people turning on TVs or doing their exercises or chatting to their children or whatever. It used to make me feel cosy, but now it leaves me a bit cold. Instead of seeing happy lives I wonder at secret porn stashes or murder victims in freezers or just plain general misery. It’s the same as how I used to look at my classmates and envy what I saw as their easy lives: you know, with a mum and a dad and maybe a brother or sister, perhaps a pet, grandparents who visited with bags of sweets, relatives to go and stay with at Christmas. But now I’m beginning to wonder if more people just means more shit?
So, anyway. When I was about ten I found a photo of a man stuck behind my mum’s bed and Mavis and I immediately decided that he must be my dad. I mean, what other explanation could there be to our immature minds than this? And sometimes when you believe something when you’re very young it sticks like toffee on your teeth and becomes a fact without any proof. I’ve always kept this photo in the drawer of my bedside table, stuck inside a copy of
(and yes, I do get the irony, it’s why I chose the book). When I was younger I looked at this photo a lot and my dad went through loads of incarnations. As I grew so he was a fireman, other times a lawyer, a celebrity agent and for a good year an actor, when I became convinced that the man explaining the Theory of Relativity on a physics video bore more than a passing resemblance to the man in the photo. Even Mavis agreed with me and so we’d sit up late on Friday and Saturday nights watching made-for-TV films and bad Spanish soap operas. Mum never even asked us what we were doing, but Gran started to sit with us and get as sucked in as we did so that even now you can have a great conversation with her about the relative merits of Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme, which is pretty cool, I have to admit.