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Authors: Margaret Leroy

Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #Psychological

Postcards From Berlin

BOOK: Postcards From Berlin
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Copyright

Copyright © 2003 by Margaret Leroy

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may
quote brief passages in a review.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group,

237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

First eBook Edition: June 2009

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-07709-5

Contents

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Chapter 1

D
AISY HEARS THEM FIRST
: the crunch of feet on the gravel, the resonant clearing of throats outside our living room window.

She darts to the window, tugs at the curtain.

“They’re here,” she says.

She kneels on the sofa, presses her face to the glass. Her warm breath mists the pane.

I turn off the light, so the room is lit by the dancing red of the fire, and go to stand beside her, pulling the curtain open.
My head is close to hers: I smell the musky sweetness of her hair. Sinead hangs back, fiddling with her new velvet choker,
an early Christmas present from her mother. She’s reached that age when enthusiasms have to be carefully concealed; and anyway,
gangsta rap is really more her thing.

I glance at Richard. He folds his
Times
and turns toward the window. In the shadowed room and the flickering of the firelight, I can’t see if he’s smiling.

“Look,” says Daisy. “They’ve got snowflakes on their eyelashes.”

There are ten of them in the darkness by the steps to our front door. They’re bundled in coats and scarves, the everyday color
leached from their clothes and faces by the torchlight. Their breath is thick; there are siftings of snow on their shoulders.
They move around and shuffle into position. Nicky is there, in a woolen hat that hides her crisp black hair, with little reindeer
dangling from her ears. She looks up at Daisy, grins, and blows her a kiss. The earrings shiver.

The others have their eyes down; they’re fumbling through their music books with clumsy wet-gloved fingers. There are women
I recognize from Daisy’s class at school, Kate’s mother, Natalie’s mother — women I know only by the names of their children
— and men from the choir at the church round the corner, and two or three teenagers. The torches they carry suffuse their
faces with red: A myriad of little torches glimmer in their eyes. Next to Nicky there’s a man I don’t recognize. He has unruly
fair hair, a darkly gleaming leather jacket; I can just make out his heavy eyebrows and the line of his jaw. Above them, a
nail-paring moon shines briefly through the clouds. Nicky knows what this moon is supposed to mean: She’s been through feng
shui and aromatherapy, and her current passion is witchcraft — the kind of bland designer witchcraft you can read about in
lavish books with pastel velour covers — and she says that the moons have names, and this is the birch moon — the first moon
of the year, the moon of beginnings.

The snow began this morning, with a perfect, theatrical sense of timing. In our garden, there’s a milky skin of ice on the
pond, and the dangling tendrils of forsythia are white knotted strands of wool, and the stone frog fountain has a hat of snow.
We played snowballs, Sinead and Daisy and me, staying out far too long, not realizing how chilled we were, and when we finally
came back into the warmth of the kitchen, Daisy’s fingers were red and shiny in spite of her gloves, and she cried as the
blood came back into them. I told her they hurt because they were getting better, warming up, but it didn’t help to know that;
she couldn’t stop crying. In the cold, the foxes are getting bolder, coming close to the house. This afternoon I saw them
on the patio, looking in at the French doors then shying away, mangy, thin, golden, one with a paw that it couldn’t touch
to the ground, quite silent yet leaving perfect footprints. Since then more snow has fallen, blotting out the foxes’ footprints
and our own, so our back garden looks as though no one has ever been there. If you went out there now, you would feel a thing
you rarely feel in London: a sense of how high the sky is, of the immensity of the night.

The singers clear their throats and start to sing. Their faces are lifted, eager, their breath like smoke. I saw three ships
come sailing in, on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day. Singing voices sound different outside, fragile, thinner, half their
resonance swallowed up by the air; yet so precise and perfect. I see the ships in my mind’s eye: They’re like the ships in
a toddler’s picture book, with rainbow-painted prows and many silken sails, playful, gaudy, cresting the curled waves.

Daisy gives a little sigh and rests her head against me. Sinead comes close, sits on the arm of the sofa. They’re both thoroughly
irreverent — they have their own salacious parodies of carols, picked up in the playground — yet they’re held, stilled, by
the song. The room smells of cinnamon and warm wine, of the forest freshness of juniper, of the apple cake that is cooling
in the kitchen, moist and sweet and crusted on top with sugar. I want to hold this moment, to make it last forever, the scents
and the singing and firelight and Daisy’s head against me.

There’s a long, still moment after the end of the song, like a held breath. Then Daisy applauds extravagantly, and I turn
on the lights and hurry to the door and open it wide.

There are seven stone steps up to our door. Nicky comes first, bounding up two at a time. She’s pink skinned, eager eyed.

“Catriona — you look so
good
.”

I kiss her; her face is cold.

“Were we brilliant?” she asks.

“You were wonderful.”

She pulls off her hat, shakes out her spiky hair. Wetness sprays from her, the reindeer earrings dance. She holds out the
Christian Aid tin, rattles it hopefully. Daisy puts in our money, with a satisfactory clatter.

The others follow her, noisily talking: They are themselves again, separate, banal, the braid of music that bound them together
unwoven. They shrug off their wet, heavy clothes; the powdering of snow on their hair is melting already. They stretch out
their arms and relish the warmth. The house is suddenly full of sound, of energy.

I bring the saucepan from the kitchen and dole the wine into tumblers. Daisy and Sinead hand the glasses round, carrying them
like precious things, holding them right at the top so as not to burn their fingers. I see their heads as they weave their
way through the crush: Sinead with hair that’s dark and thick like her mother’s, pulled back in a ponytail and fastened with
karma beads; and Daisy, blond like me.

Nicky, passing, whispers in my ear, “D’you like my new recruit?” She gestures rather obviously toward the man in the leather
jacket.

I nod.

“Fergal O’Connor. He’s a sweetie — bringing up his little boy on his own. Jamie goes to Saint Mark’s, I think. Remind me to
introduce you.”

She moves off to talk to Richard.

I chat for a while to Kate’s mother and Natalie’s mother. They drink eagerly, cradling the tumblers between their hands to
warm them.

Natalie’s mother looks greedily round the room.

“Nice house,” she says.

Her teeth are already stained purple by the wine.

I shrug a little. “Well, we’re so lucky to live here.”

“I’ll say.” Her fervor isn’t quite polite.

They talk about their children: about homework, what a pain, quite honestly you end up having to do it yourself; and the 11+
and how ghastly it is, last year some girls were so nervous they puked up before they went in; and whether eight is really
too young for your child to have her first cell phone.

These themes are familiar; I only half join in. I look round the room, feeling a warm sense of satisfaction, seeing it through
Natalie’s mother’s eyes, recognizing what I have achieved here. Because any woman might look at it now in that greedy, appraising
way. Yet when Richard and I first came here and walked between the stone dogs and up the seven steps, and the woman from Tarrant’s
unlocked the door and ushered us in, I felt such uncertainty. It was empty; it smelled musty, unused, and there were green
streaks of damp and horrible flowered wallpaper. But it still had a kind of grandeur, with its parquet floors and cornices
and mantlepieces of marble, suggesting to me a whole way of life that I’d probably gleaned from TV costume drama: men taking
a rest from empire building who warmed their backs at the fire, port, political conversations. I couldn’t begin to imagine
that I could feel at home in these imposing spaces. I walked round the edge of this room, my footsteps echoing in the emptiness,
and felt flimsy, insubstantial, as though I might float to the ceiling, as though nothing weighed me down. Richard put his
arm round me — he did that often then — and I felt his warmth, his weight, his opulent smell of cigars and aftershave, grounding
me, making me real. And the estate agent, a pleasant woman, canny about such things, read my hesitation. “Let me show you
something,” she said. She took us through the French doors and into the garden. It was big for a town garden, and secluded,
with a rose bed, badly neglected, just a few tattered rags of roses still clinging to the gangly bloodred stems, and a pond,
empty of water, with weeds growing up from the concrete. The starlings in the birch tree were puffed up with the cold, like
fruit ready to fall. There were worm casts in the grass and pools of water on the lawn and it all terribly needed tending.
But the lovely shapes of it were there — the rose bed and the pond and the way the trees leaned in around the lawn, encircling
it with a kind of intimacy. And I saw how it could be: saw the stone frog spewing water from his wide cheerful mouth, saw
the lily pads and the old-fashioned roses, palest pink and amber, single flowers not lasting long but scented, clambering
up the wall.

From that moment it was easy. We bought it and moved in, and I knew just what to do with it, decorating most of it myself.
I seemed to expand to fill the space; it started to feel right for me. And now it is all as it should be, elegant, established,
with velvet curtains and tiebacks with tassels and heavy pelmets edged with plum-colored braid. Our things look right here,
in this setting; everything seems to fit: Richard’s Chinese vases and his violin, and the two ceramic masks, one white, one
black, that we brought back from our honeymoon, and a little painting I did of a poppy that I thought was maybe good enough
to frame and go up on the wall; and on the mantelpiece, there’s a cardboard Nativity scene, intricate, in rich dark colors,
that I bought from Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden. The Nativity scene was my choice, not the girls’; they’d probably
have gone for something more contemporary and plastic. But I love traditional things. I’m always hunting them out, in junk
shops and on market stalls: things made to old designs or with a patina of use, a bit of history. Like when I decorated Daisy’s
room, the floors stripped and varnished to a pale honey color, the ceiling night-sky blue with a stenciling of stars, and
I knew there was something missing. It needed something old, loved, a teddy bear to sit in the cane chair, an old bear with
bits of fur worn off, like people sometimes keep in trunks in their attics. I wondered what it would be like to have had a
childhood that left such traces — old toys, photos, perhaps — things that are worn with use, with loving, to store away then
come upon years later and show to your own children, with a little stir of sentiment or mildly embarassed amusement or nostalgia.
In the end I found a bear in a department store: It had old-fashioned curly fur and was dressed in Edwardian clothes, but
it smelled of the factory. I bought it anyway. It was the best I could do.

BOOK: Postcards From Berlin
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