An excerpt from my Marion Grace novel THE GODMOTHER, as yet unrevised and unedited.
When the new Editor of The Ashminster Post invited Bel to his office for a chat, things took a bizarre twist. He was motivated, imposing, and twenty years her senior. There was a peculiar panther-like magnetism about him. He spoke in tones of honeyed informality as he outlined plans for a series of articles on the country seats of East Anglia, beginning with a ghoulish account of the headless horses of Anne Boleyn's coach charging along the approach to Blickling. He had admired Bel's pieces to date and was intrigued by the author behind them.
"Don't they have a Canaletto that's reputed to be a half a picture because his patron didn't pay the agreed fee?" Bel said. "There might be some mileage in that. It could be compared with the parlous state of Arts funding today."
Max Glynn regarded her with a touch of amusement. "Perhaps," he conceded cagily. He wanted a good storyline, instinct with legend, something that defied the odds. Above all, he wanted human interest. He was bent on musings of his own. "The other half is in South America, I believe. What a coup it would be to unite them!"
"The question is: to whom should it rightly belong?"
"Oh, to he who pays the price, undoubtedly, though it might mean a loss to domestic culture!"
Bel's eyes sparkled; her cheeks were spread with an appealing constellation of freckles. Such was the bronze abundance of hair, you might believe she had stepped out of a Rossetti canvas. She was heading for thirty, looked vulnerable and no older than Max Glynn’s youngest daughter who was shortly to leave home for nanny College prior to seeking work in New York where his sister lived. Zoe was the apple of his eye, the offspring of his most successful period when he had been able to run with the tide. He had tried to blot out the black ache at her going with repeated shots of scotch. The assumptions of youth had blown away and left him beached on wet rock.
"I have so enjoyed our meeting," he told her, closing the interview, fixing her gaze. "Perhaps we should continue our conversation over dinner one evening? Say tomorrow?"
"That would be nice," Bel smiled with the merest hint of panic.
"I suspect a lady like yourself has cosmopolitan tastes. What do you prefer: French? Italian? Greek? Lebanese?"
She was about to say that beans on toast would be fine so long as she could savour a slice of the action, but that wasn’t how things were done. "Oh, Italian, I think, would be favourite. You’re very kind."
He was on the verge of replying that kindness didn't come into it, but checked himself. "Don Pasquale it is, then, in Lavenhope. Do you know it?"
"I'll find it."
"Shall I collect you? About seven thirty?"
"No, don't do that." she said. "It's out of your way. I'll meet you there." Common sense leapt to the fore. Bel told herself that she scented no danger. But if she depended on Glynn for transport, there would be no diplomatic means of exit from her corner.
"Then I'll draw you a map."
She was on cloud nine when she skipped down the stairs and strode confidently into the bustling High Street. The automatic glass doors slid together behind her like a latter-day portcullis, faintly suggestive of loss. But she was happy! Happy! Life was in focus again! In a split second of insight, she saw how demoralised she had become, that every step forward demanded the effort of several and the attention to detail of a military exercise. She was the cornerstone of a household that had no natural cohesion. But why hadn't it worked?
Suddenly, she had no heart for going home, nor for prising Jamie from his adored Mrs Pinker. The transition between the end of school and supper was a hiatus to test the stiffest nerves when tantrums were the order of the day. All the way home, he would protest against his safety-belt and the ignominy of being stowed in the back seat of the car. Even as an infant he had broken free with the genius of Houdini behind her back. Bel knew she was an inadequate parent because she guiltily bribed him with chocolate treats. A boiled egg and soldiers or a plate of fish fingers and alphabetti spaghetti would restore not only his humour but a hyperactivity it required iron to subdue.
Jack took to lingering in the pub and getting back late from the auctions with implausible frequency. When he did beard the fray, Jamie punished him with fits of temper, or else ignored him, for daring to intrude between himself and his mother. It might not have mattered so much had Jack been prepared to supervise bathtime occasionally, or take Jamie swimming or to kick a football around the 'reccy' at weekends. Susan Pinker had expressed some concern that his drawings of birthday parties and journeys depicted no father figure. Secretly, she thought that the guy in Jamie's masterpiece, perched on top of a pile of dead branches which was burning with well-aimed fleams of pumpkin-orange, was a telling lampoon of Jack Lovelace.
Bel glanced at her watch. When she and Jamie arrived home at five-thirty, Jack's business Land Rover stood on the paved drive much to their surprise.
They found him in the sitting-room, slumped in an armchair, zapping through television channels. It was the time for teenage cult viewing, sagas of antipodean beach life and urban conflict in Newcastle before early news. He acknowledged their presence but his gaze did not waver from the screen. "Hi! Had a good day both?"
"No," was Jamie's curt reply. "No, I jolly well haven’t! Simon Fortescue fell off the ropes and had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance and..."
"Oh Jamie! You never said!" Bel chided him, wondering whether the experience had been so horrific, he had bottled it up.
"He's broken his funny bone and got greensticks or something. He's in expensive care."
"A tall tale if ever I heard one," his father commented. "You shouldn't let him get to you, Bel."
"Jamie, I think you're exaggerating."
"I'm not! I'm not!" Jamie cried, promptly abetted by glycerine tears. "It's true! You ring the hospital and ask! Simon's not expected to live and his mother can't visit because she had a baby this morning!"
Bel was acquainted with Sally Fortescue and was used to chatting to her along the footpath to Jamie's classroom. She was as thin as a lath and no pregnancy so advanced would have gone unremarked. Jamie was fly enough to know that Bel wouldn't call his bluff and contact the hospital because she'd look silly if it was a hoax and there was no fit punishment for his sort of crime. She would simply play along with it in a disbelieving voice, until it petered out, unsure if the story did, after all, contain a particle of truth. "What about Simon's Dad, then? Can't he go?"
"He's gone to Oh Man on a lecher tour! The planes can't take off because there's a pea-soup fog!"
"Garbage, my lad!" said Jack witheringly. "Honestly, Bel, you're too soft with him. That crook needs a good clip round the ear."
Bel stifled a retort, sought garlic and mushrooms and peppers and started to chop them finely with her best kitchen devil. Jack followed her, hovering expectantly.
"Well, how did it go?"
"What? Oh, the interview at The Post? They want to give me a full page once a week.”
“Nice one. It won't be lucrative, but it will give you a kick.”
“The Editor suggests I have dinner with him tomorrow night so that we can explore the idea further. He was in a bit of a hurry today, had to talk to the new Labour candidate." Bel did not want to speak of Max Glynn and her creative ideas. "It’s all right with you, isn’t it?”
"I am capable of looking after the brat!"
"Fine," she said. "Good. That's settled, then."
Next day saw Bel oppressed by uncertainty. She wanted to go, but thought on the whole she would rather not. She elbowed thoughts of the evening out of her mind. At half past six, she left Jamie to his sausage and beans and Jack's beef-with-olives to simmer in the oven and went upstairs to shower and change.
"Where are you going?" the boy demanded.
"Mum's having dinner with a newspaper man," Jack said.
Jamie's fork stabbed a sausage which made a somewhat tortuous journey to his mouth, dripping tomato sauce. Pondering this odd information about the taciturn sixteen year-old who left his comics wedged in the letterbox, he bit off the end. "He's got a new mountain bike. It's orange and black and shows up in the dark. And he’s got Nike trainers!”
In some turmoil, Bel walked out of the house. Jack's attitude was annoyingly ambiguous, but then, the deflecting arabesques of her husband's mind constantly defeated her.
The instant she turned the key in the ignition and rolled out of the drive, her anxiety loosened. Behind the wheel of her car, she could take charge of her life.
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...