WHAT DIDN’T QUITE The Novel

Here is our first podcast and the text of the latest draft of the opening section of this evolving fiction. 

Thanks. – CJM 

FINGERS NUDGING

Freya Seward sat at the kitchen table, fingers nudging the screen of her mobile, texting her friend Yasmine to say she “nearly died” this morning when she opened the BBC News app and saw the story about the baggage handlers’ strike and all flights to Marseilles being cancelled. She didn’t mention the letter from the bank that now lay spread-eagled on the pine table alongside her coffee cup, cereal bowl and laptop. The computer screen displayed a steady pulse of travel news, Twitter stream, Facebook updates with click bait links to fattest celebrities and secrets of star infidelities. Freya stared out of the window. The radiant morning shone brilliant blue, the garden golden with strewn leaves from last night’s storm, but all she saw was red.

From the hall came the sound of a key in the lock. “Hello?” Nothing. “Whose there?” No sound except the thud of her heartbeat and the ping of a notification. The handle of the kitchen door twitched, began to turn, creaked slowly open. “Hello?” Silence. Through that crack her every terror prepared to pour.

“Whose there?”

A tiny felt woman in superhero garb poked its head round the door, mouth opening and closing as a voice called out: “It’s… Wonderdaughter!”

Freya stifled a gasp as Pippa, tall and skinny in blue jeans and short leather jacket, walked in, bowed theatrically, pulling the glove puppet carefully off her arm. Freya slammed both hands down on the letter.

“Pip! Bloody hell!”

“Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Jesus!”

“Sorry, Mum.”

“Bloody hell. Give me a hug.” Freya reached out her arms and Pip leant down to be embraced. “That’s better. Can you stay for a coffee?

“Not now, I’m afraid. Need to get my alter ego to rehearsals. Mind if I leave the van outside?”

“Superpower: free parking. That’s ok, but leave the keys. Your dad’s away.” She proffered her cheek, which Pippa kissed lightly. ‘Off walking with Martin.”

“Walking? You’re joking me.” Pippa carefully folded the puppet into her backpack, zipped it up, hoiked it onto her shoulder, dropped the car keys on the table and headed for the front door.

“See you later, honey.”

“I may have to pick up the car and just go to be honest. Sophe’s invited the writer round tonight. See you, mum.”

A few seconds later and the door slammed. Freya sighed, looked back at her phone, heart still thudding. She needed a superhero to save her from ruin, but Pip might not be the best person to confide in about that.

Yasmine, on the other hand: now, she’d been a confidante ever since the days of The Rainbow Garden. They’d stayed in touch through the decades, after Freya and Jamie bought the place and it reverted to being plain 10 Rayner Gdns. Then Yas moved back to France to find work. Freya missed her like mad, needed so badly to share her woes with someone she trusted. A few weeks ago she’d fixed a weekend to visit Marseille, booked a plane ticket and a cheap hotel near Yasmine’s tiny bedsit, downloaded a Lonely Planet Guide – and now this bloody strike, which of course she supported but wasn’t half a drag, and this letter from the bank too, and everything was screwed. Ok, she was skint, her business teetering closer to the brink than she’d told Jamie yet – or realised herself really, until this letter and its fierce red demands – but dammit, she wasn’t going to let the bastard bankers rob her of all life’s pleasures. And anyway, the new website was finally ready, almost. Zane still hadn’t got back to her re. the launch day, or acknowledged final payment. Freya prodded the screen to put in a password and log onto her account online. She was still broke.

With bag packed and husband already bundled off for his walking weekend, now she’d seize the time. While Yas was texting back a row of sobbing French emoticons, Freya was emailing the organizers of that conference on Futurising Social Media which Zane had recommended so highly during their last coaching session at Webberations. A few seconds later the phone pinged with a reply to say, what a coincidence, they’d had a cancellation from a French academic, so Freya could pay a reduced fee and go in her place, back into what was her comfort zone these days: digital seminars and workshops and edgy conversations with competitive collaborators over warm white wine and crudités with hummus and yoghurt dips. Even the discounted conference fees were still expensive, but hey, this one was bound to generate business. It bloody well had to. And she’d catch up with Zane.

What a shame, though. She’d been poring over the guidebook and had such a clear image of strolling through the charming Vieux-Port, the main harbour and marina of the city guarded by two imposing forts (Fort St Nicolas and Fort Saint Jean), stopping for lunch where dozens of stylish cafés line the quayside area, much of which was rebuilt by the architect Fernand Pouillon after its destruction by the Nazis in 1943, then ambling pleasantly to the magnificent new Museum of the Mediterranean, opened as flagship of the city’s year as cultural capital, and visiting the Radiant City, Le Corbusier’s stunning modernist experiment in communal living recently damaged by fire, with its newly restored spacious corridors, rooftop playground and views over the turquoise sea.

The ping of another notification brought her back to the room and the screen and the To Do List of her woes. No more avoiding. Some days the bear can eat you. Today she bloody well had to start eating the bear.

 

OUT INTO THE WIND

 

He knackered from wayfaring,

frantic with worrying, round round the town centre,

come back back to the homestead.

The Mumma she sleep in her chair, daytimetelly babbling as ever,

but he feeling her fading,

skin dry as bark, slack jaw, breath rasping.

He push gently cushion more under her head

gatherup mugs and detritus.

In the kitchen he washup, open the cupboard,

lift down and unscrewing the Nearly Jar.

Time to open wide the window, whisper getbetterwellpleaseplease and

sprinkling the grindings out out into the wind

which blow em up

over the top of the Spar Mini Store opposite

and away.

***

“I nearly… learnt to tapdance but my grandfather died.”

“I was on my way to be interviewed for the job of my dreams – then my wife’s waters broke.”

“I nearly… filmed Roger Bannister run the four minute mile, but my friend and I bumped into some girls who asked us to tea so we went with them instead.”

***

 

 

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