Authors: Dorothy Koomson
Tags: #Fiction, #General
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright © 2013 Dorothy Koomson
The moral right of Dorothy Koomson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
HB ISBN 978 1 78087 500 2
TPB ISBN 978 1 78087 501 9
EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78087 502 6
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
You can find this and many other great books at:
is the author of eight previous novels:
The Rose Petal Beach; The Woman He Loved Before; The Ice Cream Girls; Goodnight, Beautiful; Marshmallows for Breakfast; My Best Friend’s Girl; The Chocolate Run
The Cupid Effect
, all of them
bestsellers. She lives in Brighton.
For M & G & E
I love that we’re on this super-plane together.
‘Are you going to tell the police?’ she asks.
‘I think I have to,’ I say. My mouth is dry, my mind is racing to so many different places and thoughts and decisions all at once, I can’t keep up. I can’t hold a single thought in my head for too long because another dashes into its place. Air keeps snagging itself on the way in and out of my lungs so I haven’t taken a proper breath since my daughter started to speak, and my heart is running cold with the knowledge of who it was that killed my husband. And why.
I have to tell the police this, of course I do.
‘Please don’t, Mum.’
‘Please don’t, Mum. Please. Please. Please.’ Her twelve-year-old body, nestled on my lap, shakes with fretful sobs. ‘Please. Please. Please. I’m scared. I’m really scared.’
‘Phoebe, we can’t—’
‘Please, Mum. I’m really sorry, but please, don’t.’
‘Shhh, shhhhh,’ I say, rocking her, trying to hush her. This isn’t fair. None of this is fair. ‘Let’s not talk about it now. It’ll be OK, I’ll make it all OK.’
What’s the difference between folding and stirring?
I’m sure I knew that once upon a time, I’m sure someone told me. Apparently, you can tell whether an ingredient has been folded in or stirred in. I’ve always been a bit dubious about that, have often wondered if it’s one of those things that cooks/chefs add to the instructions to make a recipe sound more interesting or more difficult than it actually is.
Fold or stir. Stir or fold.
’ The man sitting across the desk from me, whose body and clothes bear the hallmarks of a man deeply mired in a mid-life crisis, clears his throat in an uncomfortable manner. He’s obviously got something big to say. He needs my attention, even though my attention, my gaze, causes him to squirm a little in his seat every time I direct it at him.
time. He doesn’t know how to share space with the woman whose husband was murdered. With me.
I know that’s how he refers to me in his head, how he talks about me to other people, because that’s how everyone refers to me – I’ve heard the whispers at the two different playgrounds I drop my children off at, in the toilets at work, in the conversations of people in the local shop and supermarket. It’s not meant nastily, it’s simply an easy, defining shorthand of someone on the edges of their life. Even now, eighteen months later, I am The Woman Whose Husband Was Murdered. Or, to give me my full title: The Woman Whose Husband Was Murdered And His Killer Was Never Caught.
’ Another throat clear. Another squirm in his seat when I look at him.
The last time I met this man properly he wasn’t having a mid-life
crisis and we were discussing how to reintegrate my daughter back into school after what had happened. He’d avoided eye contact, shuffled papers on his desk, clicked his pen on and off, and fumbled over his words, scared and uncertain of what to say. And here we are again today: same room, same nervous unease but with different clothes and a different form teacher standing beside him.
This form tutor, positioned like a silent bodyguard beside his headmaster, is male. I know him by reputation – he’s
Mr Bromsgrove. ‘The’ having been installed by playground mothers because he is youngish and good-looking, the subject of some scandalously outrageous sexual comments (despite how married they are and him not necessarily teaching their children).
Across the room, on the same side of the desk as me, sitting in a chair that couldn’t technically be further away from me unless it was outside the room, is my daughter. Phoebe Mackleroy. I don’t know, yet, what she’s done, why I’ve been called up here on my first day off in nearly a year.
She’s a good girl
, I want to be able to say.
This is just a blip; she’s a good girl really
. But I’m not going to be able to say that, am I? Things don’t work out like that for people like me.
’ Another throat-clear before the headteacher speaks: ‘Mrs Mackleroy. There is no easy way to break this news to you. Phoebe has made a disclosure today to her form tutor Mr Bromsgrove.’ The headmaster’s chubby, pale hand goes up to indicate the man he’s referring to. I want to correct him, remind him that he is in fact
Mr Bromsgrove, but I know that wouldn’t be appropriate so instead I allow myself to briefly glance at him and in return,
Mr Bromsgrove continues to studiously avoid my eye. The headteacher continues to speak: ‘He was unsure what to do, so came to me. We thought it best to contact you as soon as possible. Especially if it looks like we’re going to have to involve social services.’
My heart skips three beats at those magic words. I’d braced myself when the school secretary had called, I’d put down the pile of recipes scrawled on different types of paper I was leafing through and
readied myself to hear the worst. But when they’d asked me to come in here and not to a hospital, when I arrived and saw Phoebe sitting in a chair, moving, breathing,
, I’d allowed myself to unclench a little, to almost fully relax.
Stupid woman that I am. I’d let myself to forget that your life can be devastated on the whim of the wind, the change of mind, a friendly push that becomes a deadly shove. Your life can change when you’re looking right at it but don’t notice the tiniest cut in a major artery.
‘There’s no easy way to tell you this, Mrs Mackleroy.’ The headmaster is still talking, as though mentioning social services doesn’t merit allowing me a moment to take that in properly, to steel myself because everything is heading in a direction that has a destination marked: ‘Hell’. ‘I’m sorry you have to hear this from me instead of Phoebe herself. We felt – all three of us – that this was the best way to tell you.’
It took two police officers to tell me an ‘incident’ meant I’d never see my husband again, why shouldn’t it take three people to tell me whatever it is that my daughter has done?
I shift to study her. The way she sits in the tulip-shaped seat – turned away like she is a sunflower and the sun is situated in the opposite direction to me – means I can’t see the top part of her body. Her grey, pleated uniform skirt exposes her knees; her long, grey regulation socks with the turquoise edging hide all the skin below her knees, disappearing into her flat, black shoes. Her hair, which she is presenting to me instead of her face, is split into two equal sections and secured into two perfect afro-puff pigtails by matching black elastic hairbands. She doesn’t look like a troublemaker, but then she never does. She looks like a girl who follows the rules, does as she’s told and is
at being sent to headteacher’s office.
I know what you’ve done
, I think at her.
’ goes the headteacher’s throat again, and I swivel back to him. I should know his name but I don’t. It’s a piece of information that has skipped right out of my head, replaced by the knowledge of
what my fourteen-year-old daughter has done. I don’t need him to say it because I know what’s going on.