I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.
You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.
So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..
Sharon’s first instinct was to drag Louise downstairs and force her to pick up the biscuits. But she knew from experience that giving the girl ultimatums only made her more stubborn. She decided she’d leave the tin and the biscuits on the floor and see how long Louise left them there.
Sharon winced as she moved her right arm to see if it hurt. She pulled down her top to expose her shoulder. It wasn’t bruised but if the tin had caught her on the face it could have given her a nasty injury. She wouldn’t allow Louise to forget that in a hurry.
Sharon poured herself a glass of Australian red, went into the living room and sank into an armchair. She would wait and see if Louise came down and apologised. How hateful the girl was when she was in one of her moods. Although this was the first time she’d actually been violent at home. That was worrying. Such an ungrateful little cow. Always thinking of herself. Yes, her situation was horrible but why did she have to keep going on and on about it? She was no fool though. She’d seen through the lie. And lying to her had only made things worse. Why couldn’t she just have accepted there hadn’t been time to tell him, and left it at that? Yes, it was difficult for her: it was difficult for all of them. But it wasn’t as though she’d just been told. It never seemed to bother her before. Must be the part she was playing. Playing Nancy had turned her into a drama queen.
The more Sharon considered Louise’s reaction the more resentful she became. At least Louise had a mum she saw every day, and a dad who popped in a couple of times a week. How many kids could say that? Or adults, for that matter? Sharon would have given anything to see her parents again: hug them, kiss them, ask their advice; which was why she considered Louise a very selfish, ungrateful little girl. If they moved away she’d hardly ever see her father at all. Was that what she wanted? And where would they find a house as nice as Honeysuckle Cottage? The state of the market was such that even if she got her price she’d need another hundred grand to find anything comparable. And the last thing she wanted was to live on some horrid little estate in Luffield or Sandleton.
Sharon knocked back the remaining wine in her glass and went for a refill. Forty minutes later, when Louise had still not made an appearance, Sharon decided she could wait no longer. She went upstairs to Louise’s room. Unusually the door was closed. Evidence that Louise was still in a strop.
Sharon knocked and when she received no answer, opened the door and entered. Louise was playing with a game on her computer. She didn’t look up.
Sharon said, ‘Don’t you want to know if that tin hurt me?’
Louise said nothing. Her eyes remained riveted on the computer screen.
‘No, of course you don’t. Well, I was lucky. It could have taken my eye out. Don’t ever do that to me again.’
Sharon waited for a reaction. None came. All of Louise’s attention was directed at the game.
‘I’ve left the tin and the biscuits where they are. They can stay there until you pick them up.’
Again, there was no reply from Louise.
‘I suppose it’s a waste of time expecting an apology.’
Sharon continued in this vein for several minutes but failed to elicit the slightest response. Eventually she admitted defeat. ‘For God’s sake!’ She turned and moved to the door.
‘Wait, mum!’ cried Louise.
Sharon stopped and turned back. Louise had lifted her face from the computer. The puffiness around the girl’s eyes and the streaks on her cheeks showed she’d been crying.
She got up and came towards her mother. ‘Your arm. Does it hurt?’
‘Quite a bit,’ lied Sharon.
Louise launched into a profuse and tearful apology.
‘Oh, Louise!’ Sharon placed her arms on Louise’s shoulders and pulled her into a hug.
‘I was sure you’d tell him you see,’ Louise let out, between sobs. ‘I was so sure we’d be getting away from here.’
‘I know you were.’ Sharon was stroking the girl’s heaving shoulders: solacing away her sorrow.
‘I can’t stand it anymore.’
‘I know. I know how hard it is for you.’
‘It was horrible being in that car with them. It’s always like that when I’m with Jade.
Knowing and not being able to tell them.’
‘But it didn’t matter because I thought we were leaving. And then you said we weren’t.’
She sobbed again.
‘That’s why I threw the tin. I didn’t want to hurt you.’
‘It’s all right, Lou. But you must try to control your temper. It’ll get you into trouble.’
Louise stopped crying and looked her mother full in the eyes. ‘I never thought you’d break your promise. You always say never make a promise you can’t keep. That’s why I believed you.’
‘That’s right, you shouldn’t. And now you can see why. Because when you break a promise it makes people very unhappy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done it.’
‘So tomorrow you’ll tell him we’re leaving?’
Sharon realized she could evade the truth no longer. ‘No. I can’t do that. I can’t leave Leefdale.’
Louise stared at her, dumbly.
‘I’m too frightened.’
‘Yes. I’m frightened to leave here and start again somewhere else in a strange place with people I don’t know. I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t want to leave.’
‘So we’re going to have to stay here forever?’
‘Not forever. But at least for the time being.’
‘I knew it!’ Louise cried, bitterly. She shrank from her mother’s embrace and took several steps back.
‘You’re asking too much of me, Louise! I don’t want to leave here. I love your dad and I love living here and I don’t want to leave. I know it’s hard for you and it’s not what you want to hear, but that’s the way it is.’
‘But I thought you did want to leave?’
‘Well, in a way I do. But not yet. It’s very complicated. You’re too young to understand. I can’t give up my whole life. Think what it would mean. We’d lose our lovely cottage and we wouldn’t see dad.’
‘At least I wouldn’t have to see Jade anymore.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. Think how hurt dad would be. He loves us. It would kill him if he couldn’t see us.’
Louise’s expression became suspicious. ‘I bet you did tell dad we were going and he talked you out of it.’
‘No, honestly, I didn’t. I never said a word to him about it. I couldn’t.’
Louise looked confused. ‘You said you didn’t tell him because there wasn’t time.’
Sharon cursed herself for the slip. ‘That’s right. I lied.’ Gently, she added, ‘Only because I didn’t want to disappoint you. If I’d realised how important it was to you, I’d never have made the promise. It was wrong of me to raise your hopes like that. I’m sorry.’
Louise lowered her eyes and said nothing. Her face was completely impassive. She was obviously very affected by what her mother had said but it was impossible to guess what she was thinking. She was so sensitive; felt everything so deeply. Suddenly she said, ‘You’re lying about the car too, aren’t you? There’s nothing wrong with it, is there? You didn’t drive because you were drunk.’
‘I wasn’t drunk. I had a couple of glasses of wine. It would have been irresponsible to drive.’
‘If you hadn’t drunk the wine you could have collected me and we wouldn’t have had to come back in Pam’s car.’
‘Yes. I’m sorry about that.’
‘It’s awful when we’re with them. It always feels wrong.’
Sharon didn’t quite know what to say. The situation had never been foregrounded in this way before. Their bizarre existence as an adjunct to Greg’s legitimate family was something that was never articulated, never alluded to overtly, even though it had been an accepted fact of their lives for years. It was a secret so shocking it could only be normalised by never being mentioned. For years, Sharon and Greg had managed to prevent Louise from ever openly talking about it, until tonight.
Louise said, ‘So we’re never, ever going? We’re staying here forever?’
‘Well, I don’t know about forever. Who knows? Certainly for the foreseeable future.’ Sharon suddenly saw a way of reconciling Louise to the situation. ‘Look, I know Jade’s being horrible, but all that will change soon. You only have to put up with it for a couple of months and then it’ll be the summer holidays, and after that you’ll go to secondary school. Things will be a lot better then.’
‘No, they won’t. Jade’s going to Luffield too. We’ll be in the same classes.’
‘There are other schools, you know. I thought we might try and get you into one in Sandleton.’
Encouraged, Sharon went on, ‘There’s the Girls’ High School. Or the comprehensive. You could drive in with me to Luffield, take the train, and come home on the bus.’
Louise’s face fell. ‘I’d still have to come back here.’
‘But you wouldn’t see so much of Jade.’
‘You don’t get it do you? I hate it here. I don’t understand how you can put up with it.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Seeing dad only now and then.’
‘It’s better than nothing. At least we see him. I’d love to see my dad again. And my mum. But they’re dead, so I can’t. You don’t know how lucky you are. I’m sure your friend Roger would love to see his dad.’
It occurred to Sharon that she’d drunk rather too much wine. Normally, she would never have used the death of Roger’s father as some sort of emotional blackmail. Or spoken so frankly about her own feelings of bereavement. But the extraordinary thing that Louise said next, put all thoughts of this out of Sharon’s mind.
‘Roger’s the lucky one. His dad’s dead. It might be better if my dad was dead.’
‘Louise! How can you say such a thing? How could you?’
‘I don’t care if I never see him again.’
‘You know you don’t mean that.’
‘I do, I do! Why can’t we be like normal people? Wouldn’t you like to see him every day? Have him living with us all the time?’
‘You know that’s not possible.’
‘Why not? Why can’t he leave them and come and live with us?’
‘Don’t be silly. Think what people would say.’
‘If we moved away he could come and live with us. It wouldn’t matter then.’
Sharon was alarmed by Louise’s attitude. She obviously thought that was what her mother wanted. One day she’d make it clear to her that it had never been her intention to set up home with Greg. But not yet. Louise was too young, and she didn’t know how to put it to her. Her feelings were so conflicted about the situation: pitching and tossing all the time.
Sharon said, ‘I know you want dad all to yourself but you’ve always known we have to share him.’
Louise shook her head vigorously. ‘I don’t care about sharing him. I just want people to know he’s my dad too. I’m sick of hiding it all the time.’
Sharon placed her hand on Louise’s shoulder. ‘That’s never going to happen, Louise. You’d better get used to it, otherwise you’ll only give yourself grief.’
Louise nodded gravely. ‘It was horrible in Pam’s car. I can’t stop thinking about it.’
‘Don’t you feel funny when you’re talking to Pam? I do. There’s this great, big terrible secret there all the time. That’s how it is when I talk to Jade and Gwen and Ian. It makes me feel horrible. Doesn’t it make you feel horrible? That’s why I want to move away.’
Sharon couldn’t bear to look into her daughter’s eyes: they were so full of unhappiness and reproach. But she said nothing. The conversation was leading her further and further on to that disturbing terrain she’d always managed to avoid. ‘I’m going to get your supper,’ she said. ‘Hot milk and chocolate biscuits OK?’
Sharon left the room and went downstairs feeling a lot happier. Her mood was completely altered and she was sure it wasn’t just the effect of the wine. She felt that on the whole she’d handled it rather well. Telling the truth had been the right thing to do. It had enabled her to say what she really felt, and put all thoughts of leaving out of Louise’s head. She was sure that once Louise started going to school in Sandleton she’d feel much more positive about things.