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Authors: Tessa Hadley

Married Love

BOOK: Married Love
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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Tessa Hadley

Dedication

Title Page

Married Love

Friendly Fire

A Mouthful of Cut Glass

The Trojan Prince

Because the Night

Journey Home

In the Country

The Godchildren

She’s the One

In the Cave

Pretending

Post-production

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Book

Lottie announces at the breakfast table that she is getting married. The youngest daughter of a large and close-knit family, Lottie is nineteen but looks five years younger. Her fiancé is Edgar Lennox, a composer of religious music and lecturer at Lottie’s university, forty-five years her senior. We follow as Lottie’s life unfolds; her marriage to Edgar, the tiny flat they share, the children that follow. It is a story of romantic dreams and daily reality, family loyalties tested but holding, and the comedy and solace to be found in small moments. Evoking a world that expands beyond the pages, it marks the beginning of what is an astonishing new collection.

On full display in these stories are the qualities Tessa Hadley has been praised for often before: her unflinching examination of family relationships; her humour, warmth and psychological acuity; her powerful and precise prose. In this collection there are domestic dramas, generational sagas, wrenching love affairs and epiphanies – captured and distilled to remarkable effect.

Married Love
is a collection to treasure, a masterful new work from one of the most accomplished storytellers of today.

About the Author

Tessa Hadley is the author of four highly praised novels,
Accidents in the Home
, which was longlisted for the
Guardian First Book Award
,
Everything Will Be All Right
,
The Master Bedroom
and
The London Train
, and one previous collection of stories,
Sunstroke
. She lives in Cardiff and teaches literature and creative writing at Bath Spa University. Her stories appear regularly in the
New Yorker
,
Granta
and other magazines.

Also by Tessa Hadley

ACCIDENTS IN THE HOME

EVERYTHING WILL BE ALL RIGHT

SUNSTROKE AND OTHER STORIES

THE MASTER BEDROOM

THE LONDON TRAIN

to Georgina Hammick

Married Love
and Other Stories
Tessa Hadley
Married Love

LOTTIE ANNOUNCED THAT
she was getting married.

This was at the breakfast table at her parents’ house one weekend. The kitchen in that house was upstairs, its windows overlooking the garden below. It was a tall, thin, old house, comfortably untidy, worn to fit the shape of the family. The summer morning was rainy, so all the lights were on, the atmosphere close and dreamy, perfumed with toast and coffee.

— Whatever for? Lottie’s mother Hattie said, and carried on reading her book. She was an English teacher, but she read crime novels at weekends: this one was about a detective in Venice.

Lottie was nineteen, but she looked more like thirteen or fourteen. She was just over five feet tall, with a tight little figure and a barrel chest; she insisted on wearing the same glasses with thick black frames that she had chosen years earlier, and her hair, the colour of washed-out straw, was pulled into pigtails.

Everyone happened to be at home that weekend, even
Lottie’s
older brother Rufus and her sister Em, who had both moved away.

— Have you got a boyfriend at last? Em asked.

Lottie was always pale, with milky translucent skin behind a ghostly arc of freckles across her snub nose, but she seemed to be even whiter than usual that morning, blue veins standing out at her temples; she clenched her hands on either side of the place mat in front of her. They were improbable hands for a violinist: pink and plump, with short blunt fingers and bitten cuticles.

— You’re not taking me seriously! she cried.

A squall of rain urged against the steamed-up window-panes, the kettle boiled, toast sprang from the toaster for no one in particular. Vaguely, they all looked at her, thinking their own thoughts. Lottie emanated intensity; her personality was like a demon trapped inside a space too small. Even as a baby she had been preternaturally perceptive and judgmental. Her talent for the violin, when it was discovered, had seemed an explanation for her surplus strength, or a solution to it; she had begun on an instrument so tiny that it looked like a Christmas-tree decoration. Now she was living with her parents while she studied for her music degree at the university.

— Why ever would you want to get married? Hattie said reasonably. — Dad and I have never felt the need.

— I’m not like you, Lottie said.

This was one of her battle cries.

— Of course, you’re not like anybody, sweetheart. You’re just yourself.

— For a start, I happen to have religious beliefs. I believe that marriage is a holy sacrament.

— No, you don’t, Rufus said. — You’ve never said anything about them before.

— So when, exactly, are you getting married? Em asked sceptically. — And who to?

— How could I possibly know yet when? That’s exactly what I want to talk to you about. I want to sort out a date. I want you all to be there. I want it to be a proper wedding. With a dress and everything. And bridesmaids, probably.

— So you have got a boyfriend! Em said.

Em was gracefully loose-jointed, with her mother’s hooded, poetic eyes; she worked in the toxicology department of the city hospital.

— My husband, he’s going to be.

Hattie put down her book and her coffee mug in concern. — Poppet, you’re so young. There’s no hurry about the marrying part. Of course, you can have a proper wedding one day if that’s what you want, but there’s no need to rush into anything.

Sullen white dents appeared in Lottie’s cheeks where her jaw was set. — You forget that I have a whole life of my own now, as an adult, outside of this house, about which you know nothing, absolutely nothing. You don’t warn Emily not to rush into anything.

— To be fair, Em said, — I’m not the one who just said I was getting married.

— Have we met him? Hattie asked. — Is he on your course?

— Is it the one with the stammer in your string quartet? asked Noah, Lottie’s younger brother, who was still at school. — Tristan?

— How could you think I’d want to marry Tristan?

— Personally, I’d warn against anyone in a string quartet, Rufus said.

— Shut up, Rufus. It isn’t anything to do with Tristan.

— So what’s his name, then? Noah persisted.

Duncan, the children’s father, arrived from his morning ritual with the
Guardian
in the bathroom upstairs. He was shorter than Hattie, stocky, densely and neatly made, with a wrinkled, ugly, interesting head; she was vague and languid, elegant, beginning to be faded. He taught special-needs kids at a local comprehensive, though not the same one where Hattie taught. — What is whose name?

Alarm took flight in Hattie. — Lottie, darling, you’re not pregnant, are you?

— I just don’t believe this family, Lottie wailed. — There’s something horrible about the way your minds work.

— Because if you’re pregnant we can deal with that. It doesn’t mean that you have to get married.

— Is she pregnant? Duncan asked.

— Of course I’m not.

— She says she’s going to get married.

— Whatever for?

— Also that she has religious beliefs, all of a sudden.

This seemed to bother Rufus more than the marrying. He was an ironic pragmatist; he worked as a research analyst for the Cabinet Office.

— The reason, Lottie said, — is that I’ve met someone quite different from anyone I’ve ever known before, different from any of you. He’s a great man. He’s touched my life, and transformed it. I’m lucky he even noticed I exist.

She had a gift of vehemence, the occasional lightning flash of vision so strong that it revealed to others, for a moment, the world as it was from her perspective.

— And who is he? Em asked her, almost shyly.

— I’m not going to tell you now, Lottie said. — Not after this. Not yet.

— When you say ‘great man’, her father considered, — I get the feeling that you’re not talking about one of your fellow students.

Hattie saw what he meant, after gaping at him for half a second. — One of your teachers! Is it?

Lottie, blinking behind her glasses, turned her round white face towards her mother, precarious, defiant.

— Does this teacher know that you feel this way about him?

— You seriously think I’m making it all up? I told you, he loves me. He’s going to marry me.

Duncan wondered if it wasn’t Edgar Lennox. — He’s some kind of High Anglican, isn’t he? I believe he writes religious music.

— And so? Lottie challenged. — If it was him?

— Oh, no! Hattie stood up out of her chair, uncharacteristically guttural, almost growling. — That’s out of the question. Edgar Lennox. That’s just not thinkable, in any way, shape or form.

— I hate it when you use that phrase, Lottie shouted, standing up, too. — Way, shape or form. It’s so idiotic. It’s exactly the sort of thing you would say. It just goes to show your mediocrity.

— Let’s try to talk about this calmly, Duncan said.

Edgar Lennox was old enough to be Lottie’s grandfather. Forty years older than she was, Hattie shrieked; later, it turned out to be more like forty-five. His already being married, to his second wife, was a minor difficulty compared with this. Duncan and Hattie had met him twice: once when they went to the university Open Day with Lottie, and once before that, at a private view of paintings by one of Hattie’s friends. He had seemed at the time Hattie’s ideal of an elderly creative artist: tall, very thin, with a shock of upstanding white hair, a face whose hollows seemed to have been carved out by suffering, tanned skin as soft as leather, a charcoal-grey linen shirt.

— When you say he’s touched your life, could we be quite specific about this? Duncan said. — Has he actually, in the ordinary, non-transcendent sense of the word, touched you?

Em protested in disgust. — Dad, you can’t ask her that!

Em had been crying; her eyelids were swollen and puffy, and her face was blotched. Hattie’s and Lottie’s eyes were hot and dry.

Hattie turned on him. — How can you put it like that? How could you make it into one of your clever remarks?

— If you’re asking, Lottie said, — whether we’ve
consummated
our relationship, then, yes, of course we have. What do you think we are? We’re lovers.

— Naturally, I’m making a formal complaint to the university, Hattie said. — He’ll lose his job. There’s no question about that.

— That’ll be sensible, won’t it? Em said. — Then if they are married he won’t be able to support her.

— You’re sure she isn’t making all this up? Rufus suggested.

— Think what you like, Lottie said. — You’ll soon know.

She sat with her mouth primly shut, shining with a tragic light. Beyond the kitchen windows, veils of rain drove sideways into the sodden skirts of the horse chestnut tree, darkening the pink flowers. Hattie said that the whole thing reminded her of when she was at art college, and a friend of hers had heard suddenly that her sister was on the point of entering a convent, a closed order that allowed no contact with family or friends.

— We all piled on to a train and went up to Leeds together on the spur of the moment, six or seven of us who were close then, and met this sister in a tea shop, and tried to convince her of everything in the world that was worth staying for.

— Don’t be ridiculous, Mum. I’m not going into a convent.

— Did it work? Noah asked. — Did you convince her?

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