A terrible tragedy alters three girls' friendship forever...
Set in the late 1960s and 1970s, Judith Lennox's The Dark-Eyed Girls tells the story of three friends, Liv, Katherine and Rachel, and their changing relationships over the years. Perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Lulu Taylor.
'Judith Lennox's writing is so keenly honest it could sever heartstrings' - Daily Mail
Sweet, gentle Liv, seeking perfect love, marries the man of her dreams, who almost crushes the life out of her. Cynical, pragmatic Katherine, who throws herself into her career in order to avoid domesticity, embarks upon a risky affair and is suffocated by the very dependence she has fought to avoid. And Rachel, dearly loved Rachel who wants for nothing throughout her young life, marries against her parents' will, and then meets tragedy...
The bond between Liv and Katherine weakens over time, but as Katherine uncovers the awful truth about Rachel, and Liv begins to put together the pieces of her shattered life, their friendship is reaffirmed and their lives go forward with dark-eyed girls of their own.
What readers are saying about The Dark-Eyed Girls:
'The way Lennox follows the lives of the three individual girls is simply enchanting... I could not put this book down'
'A tremendous read'
'Lovely, lovely book that I couldn't put down'
Release date: October 6, 2000
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
Print pages: 512
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The Dark-Eyed Girls
Liv searched among the pebbles for pieces of coloured glass. When she was very little, she had believed they were jewels: emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, and – a rare find – a red stone, like a ruby. Her father, Fin, had explained to her that they were glass, polished by the sea. Liv imagined the waves scooping up broken bottles and shattered window-panes and rubbing them with a cloth, until they acquired the soft lustre of the string of pearls Thea wore round her neck.
Ahead of her, Fin and Thea walked along the beach. The pebbles crunched as they walked, and their heads were bent. Fin’s overcoat billowed out into a great, dark cape, and Thea’s silk scarf rippled like a pale pennant in the breeze. Gulls swooped and shrieked, echoing the angry rise and fall of their voices. Their hands were dug into the pockets of their coats and, as they walked, their paths diverged, Fin tending towards the sea, Thea heading almost imperceptibly back to land. Liv looked at neither her parents nor at the waves, but kept her gaze fixed on the narrow swathe of stones, searching for rubies and diamonds.
A year later, leaving the coast, travelling inland, it rained the length of their journey. Like tears, thought Thea, absently watching the drops slide down the window of the bus. She glanced at her daughter, sitting beside her. ‘Nearly there,’ said Thea encouragingly, smiling.
Liv did not smile back. Neither did she speak; in the eight months since her father had left home, Liv had increasingly rationed her conversation, and her dark brown eyes had acquired a shuttered appearance. Once more Thea attempted reassurance. ‘We don’t have to stay if we don’t like it, darling.’ Though where on earth they would go if Fernhill didn’t work out, she had absolutely no idea.
It was still raining when they reached their stop. The horse chestnuts dripped, and the silky petals of the poppies on the verge had been bruised by the storm. The wheels of the bus made curls of brown water as it drew away, leaving mother and daughter alone at the side of the road. Thea recalled Diana’s instructions. ‘Turn right at the bus stop, away from the village. We’re just over the brow of the hill.’
Thea’s head was bowed as she walked, and her legs ached. The fierce, crackling energy that had sustained her throughout this last awful year seemed to have deserted her. She tried to remember when she had last seen Diana. At Rachel’s christening, of course, but that must have been ten years ago. They had met since, surely. She rubbed her wet forehead with wet fingertips.
At the top of the hill she paused, gazing breathless at the patchwork of field, stream and knoll that marked the Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire border. Alongside the road was a wall, into which were set gates of splendidly wrought iron. Thea read the lettering on the gates: Fernhill Grange, and saw the large, red-brick house, set in landscaped gardens. ‘Goodness,’ she said, taken by surprise, unable for a moment to imagine the bossy, jolly Diana Marlowe of her memory the chatelaine of such an imposing country house. But Diana, Thea reminded herself as she opened the gate, had come from a good family, and had married well. Henry Wyborne was now a Member of Parliament. And, besides, Diana had the knack of always falling on her feet.
They squelched up the driveway. At the front door Thea paused, looking down at her daughter. ‘I had no idea it would be so splendid,’ she said. Gently, she reached down and coaxed Liv’s wet black fringe out of her eyes.
Over tea and cakes, Diana reminded her, ‘You came to the reunion in ‘fifty-three, Thea. That was the last time.’
‘Seven years ago? So long?’
‘You should have come last year.’ Diana smiled. ‘It was terrific fun. Bunty Naylor was there – you remember Bunty, she was a scream. That time she …’
Diana continued to reminisce. Thea half listened, her gaze flitting round the large, comfortable room. The two little girls were kneeling on the window-seat. Rachel chattered; Liv, as was her habit these days, remained mute. Rachel was only a few months older than Liv. Thea remembered the christening: Rachel, the perfect baby, her dark eyes peering out serenely from beneath a froth of old lace. Now, ten years later, Rachel was still perfect. Taller than Liv, she was – there was no other word for it – beautiful, her hair a rich, wavy chestnut, her eyes a clear, calm brown. She radiated health and confidence. Thea’s gaze moved from Rachel, in her crisp, bright cotton dress, to Liv. There were darns in the elbows of her cardigan, and her hunted, haunted eyes were shadowed by the overlong fringe. Thea had to swallow down her sudden rush of bitterness and love.
Thea’s head jerked up. Diana was staring at her. She tried to pull herself together. ‘Sorry, Diana. It’s just that – well, it all seems so long ago.’ She twisted her strong pale hands together. ‘The war, I mean. The FANYs. That frightful place where we were stationed.’
What she wanted to say was, I don’t think I’m that person any more. I can hardly remember that person.
Diana said sympathetically, ‘Of course. You’ve had the most ghastly time, haven’t you? Don’t take any notice of me, darling, I just chatter on. I always did, didn’t I?’ She paused and, looking at their daughters, said softly, ‘Our dark-eyed girls, Thea.’
Thea bit her lip, pressing her nails into the palms of her hands. She heard Diana say, ‘Rachel, why don’t you show Olivia your bedroom?’ and was able to wait just long enough for the door to close behind the two girls before the first choking sob escaped her.
Once she started she couldn’t stop, not until Diana gently folded her fingers around a glass, and said, ‘Works much better than tea, I always think.’ Thea took a large shuddering gulp of whisky, and sat back in the chair, her eyes closed. After a long while she opened them and whispered, ‘Sorry.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Thea. Why shouldn’t you howl?’
‘It seems an imposition—’
‘Nonsense. That’s what friends are for.’ Thea had forgotten how kind Diana was. Bossy and sometimes slightly ridiculous, but always kind.
‘You haven’t heard anything …?’
Thea shook her head. ‘It’s been eight months. And he left a note on the kitchen table.’ So sorry. You’ll be better off without me. I won’t insult you by offering explanations or begging forgiveness. Love, Fin.
‘He won’t come back,’ she said firmly. ‘My marriage is over. Coming here – it’ll be the best thing. A clean break.’ She took a deep breath. ‘Tell me about the cottage, Diana.’
‘It’s frightfully small.’ Diana looked dubious. ‘But rather sweet. There’s a drawing room and a kitchen and two bedrooms, so it should be fine for …’ The words tailed off.
Thea completed Diana’s sentence. ‘For just the two of us.’ Once there had been three, now there were two. She was almost used to it. ‘Is there a bathroom?’
Diana grimaced. ‘There’s a lavatory, but it’s outdoors and rather grim. And the Seagroves used a tin bath.’
Mrs Seagrove, the previous tenant of the cottage, had been Diana’s daily help. She had recently gone to live with her daughter in Derby.
‘The rent …’ Thea forced herself to swallow her pride. The Wybornes’ opulent room exuded money.
‘It’s very reasonable, I believe.’
Thea gave a small, private sigh of relief. Then Diana added tentatively, ‘It might be easier, Thea, if …’
‘It might be easier for you if you let people assume that you are a widow. Fernhill’s a small village, and rather old-fashioned in some ways. And the cottage is owned by the Church. The vicar is a terribly good friend of ours, and …’ Diana’s voice trailed away.
Thea was unsure whether her sudden flare of anger was directed at Diana, or at Fin. She said coldly, ‘I won’t embarrass you, Diana.’
‘I didn’t mean—’ Diana was pink.
Thea felt suddenly ashamed. ‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You’ve been so kind. And you’re right, of course.’
Diana glanced at her watch. ‘We could go and look at the cottage, if you like. Mrs Nelson will keep an eye on the girls. We’ll take the car – why on earth you didn’t let me meet you at the railway station, Thea, instead of getting soaked to the skin …’
‘And this is my collection of dolls,’ said Rachel, opening yet another cupboard door. ‘Daddy buys me one whenever he goes abroad.’
Liv stared at the dolls: Miss Holland, Miss Italy, Miss Japan in her pink kimono. Rachel said, ‘This is my newest one,’ and held out to Liv Miss France, who was wearing a Breton coif. Liv touched the doll gingerly, afraid of disturbing her rigid perfection.
‘We could play ludo,’ said Rachel. There was a hint of desperation in her voice that Liv recognized, and understood. She knew that she was being boring, she knew that she had hardly spoken a word since Rachel had taken her upstairs, and had shown her the toys and ornaments and books and clothes in her vast bedroom. She knew that she should make friends with Rachel, that if they were to live at Fernhill, her mother would expect her to make friends with Rachel. Yet the pink and white splendour of the room, and Rachel’s own self-assured prettiness, overwhelmed her, deepening the feeling that had seized her since her father had gone away: that everything familiar had been kicked aside, that nothing could be depended on.
‘Or shall we play in the garden?’ Rachel peered out of the window. ‘It’s almost stopped raining.’
Liv nodded. They went outdoors. There, they tramped across wet lawns and knelt beside the pond, with its waterlilies and fat goldfish. They played on the swing, and ran between long lines of rosebushes. Red tulips bloomed confidently in vast flower-beds; magnolia trees dropped waxy petals to the close-cropped grass. It reminded Liv of the municipal gardens by the sea front at Great Yarmouth.
Rachel took Liv to see her pony. ‘Do you ride?’ she asked. Liv shook her head.
‘I love riding,’ said Rachel. ‘Though I hate gymkhanas.’
‘Because of all the people?’
‘Like going to a new school. Walking into the classroom … not knowing anyone … people staring at you.’ The words, and Liv’s fears, pent up for too long, tumbled out.
‘I’ll be your friend,’ said Rachel, kindly. ‘And so will Katherine.’
‘She’s my best friend. What’s your best friend called?’
‘I haven’t got one.’ Afraid of sounding pathetic, Liv explained, ‘I’ve been to lots and lots of different schools. And sometimes I didn’t go to school – sometimes Dad taught me at home.’
Rachel’s eyes widened. ‘Lucky you. Not having to go to school.’
‘But I’ll have to go now, I suppose.’
‘Because your daddy’s gone away?’
Liv nodded miserably.
‘Perhaps he’ll come back.’
She said logically, ‘I don’t see how he can come back if we’re living here. He won’t know where to go.’
Rachel frowned. ‘We could do a spell.’
Liv stared at her. ‘A spell?’
‘To make him come back.’
‘A real spell?’
‘Katherine knows how to. She’s got a book. We did a spell to make Miss Emblatt ill so Katherine wouldn’t get into trouble about her needlework, and she sprained her ankle. And when Katherine wanted a new bicycle we did another spell.’
‘Did she get one?’
‘No. So we’re going to try again. My daddy says, if at first you don’t succeed, then try and try again.’ Rachel giggled. ‘That’s the trouble with gymkhanas.’ She smoothed her pony’s mane. ‘I never win, and can’t be bothered trying again. Prizes and cups and rosettes … I can’t see the point, can you?’
‘I suppose,’ said Liv, ‘that it shows you can do something better than everyone else.’
‘That’s what Daddy says. But I don’t mind, you see. I don’t care whether I can do things best.’ Rachel seemed untroubled. ‘Daddy says it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part. Then he laughs and says, “Well, actually, darling, it’s the winning that’s important.”’
The sun had come out at last, and the wet fields and the distant roofs of the houses gleamed. Liv circled slowly, shading her eyes from the light.
‘What are you looking for?’
‘The sea.’ Liv squinted. ‘I’m trying to see the sea.’
‘It’s an awfully long way away. Daddy drove us there in the summer, and it took hours. But if you do this –’ Rachel outstretched her arms ‘– you might be able to see it. It makes everything sort of tilt.’
Rachel began to spin round and round. Liv, too, straightened her arms, and turned, slowly at first, then faster and faster. In the whirl of dizzying colour as field, garden, house and tree blurred together, she could believe that she saw, far away, a thin strip of silver sea.
Then, like spinning tops losing momentum, they lost their balance and collapsed to the ground, a tangle of arms and legs, breathless with giddiness and laughter.
‘What do you think?’ Diana had asked, ‘Is it too frightful?’ and Thea had been able to reply, honestly, that the cottage wasn’t frightful at all. It was tiny, but Thea didn’t mind that because it would be cheap to heat and, besides, they’d rattle about less.
Now, alone at last (Diana had driven back to the Grange to fetch the girls) she moved silently around the little house, pacing through the rooms, imagining it her own. In the garden, the lavatory (well scrubbed, its wooden walls almost obliterated by seaside scenes cut from magazines) stood next to the coal bunker. The well in the centre of the small lawn rewarded Thea’s efforts with a thin stream of ice-cold water. The garden was long and narrow and unexpectedly magical, with twisting paths and tiny courtyards. Thea wove through tangled dog-roses and early honeysuckles. Closing her eyes, she breathed in their scent. Tall trees met overhead, enclosing her in a dark green cave where the first shoots of bluebell and wild garlic pushed through the earth. At the end of the garden, a stream ran through a steeply banked ditch. Beyond, the view opened out to fields.
The journey, and her tears that afternoon, had left Thea exhausted, so she sat down on a fallen log, revelling in the silence, the peace. The jangling, relentless anger that had consumed her since Fin’s departure had begun at last to ebb. She thought, I shall remember him just once more, and then I shall forget him. She thought of the day they had met. It had been during the Blitz; she had just joined up – twenty-one years old, her first time away from home – and she had been travelling to her first posting. The train had been crowded; she had been crushed into the middle of the carriage, her face the height of the soldiers’ coat buttons, sandwiched between damp khaki uniforms that gave off a smell of wet dog, and at such a pitch of excitement and terror at the prospect of her new life that she had begun to feel faint. Then, just when shame had seemed inevitable, strong hands had swept her up, a voice had said, ‘Room for a little one,’ and she had spent the rest of the journey sitting in the luggage rack.
His name, he had told her, was Finley Fairbrother. Far too many syllables, he had said, just call me Fin. He had black curling hair and eyes as dark as peat pools, and, like the other men in the carriage, he had been in uniform. Thea still remembered how the string of the luggage rack had dug into her stockinged legs. She still remembered how his eyes had hypnotized her.
Fin had changed her. He had spied some streak of eccentricity in the vicar’s daughter, and had teased it out. Thea had never been able to go back to the conventional creature she had once been. They had met intermittently throughout the war years. He told her about the places he had seen, the things he had done. His life, with its adventure and colour and travelling, seemed an antidote to the greyness of wartime Britain. Thea had lost her virginity in a dingy hotel room in Paddington, with the wreckage of the city scattered around them, and the two of them the only constants in a world falling apart.
Friends had warned her about Fin. ‘Of course, he’s utterly sweet and gorgeous, but he’s not a stayer, darling. He’s not the sort of man you marry.’ Yet she had, of course, married him. In 1947, Fin had returned from the Far East; the wedding had taken place the following year. Throughout the first few years of their married life, they had travelled continuously, living nowhere for more than a few months at a time. It had been a wonderful, exciting, unsettling time; they had herded sheep on a Welsh hillside, had made pots in a London basement, had taught at a school in Lincolnshire. Nothing had lasted, but there had always been new adventures and new horizons to look forward to, so at first Thea had been untroubled. It had been Fin’s originality and energy and carefreeness that had first attracted her.
Yet she began to realize that she was missing something: a home. The vague feeling of unease intensified when she discovered that she was pregnant. The thought of hauling a newborn baby from one unsuitable house to another appalled her. They rented a house in Oxford, where Olivia was born. Thea liked the house, and adored her tiny, dark-eyed daughter. She hoped the baby would settle Fin. Instead, when Liv was six months old, he went away, leaving a note on the kitchen table that said, ‘Back in a few days. All love.’ He was absent a fortnight. Returning, he begged forgiveness, and they moved house and made another new start. The following year he disappeared again, for a month. Travelling, he explained on his return. Just travelling.
So had the pattern of their lives continued. Partings and reunions, different jobs, different houses, a tightening spiral. They had moved steadily away from the centre of England, reaching, at last, the Suffolk coast, as though, in the sea, Fin had seen his escape. The pink, pebbledashed house they had rented struggled to contain their unhappiness. On grey shingle beaches, Fin had looked out to the horizon. Thea had sensed his desperation; in her, anger boiled and bubbled. ‘It’s not that I don’t love you’, he had said, and she had screamed at him, pummelling him with her fists. It had not surprised her to wake the following morning and find him gone. A month had passed – two – three. Thea could not quite recall the exact moment when she had accepted the permanence of his absence.
Her anger and defiance had prevented her at first from facing up to the practical difficulties of their situation. Then, when in the same week one letter had arrived from the bank and another from their landlord, telling her that the lease on the house would run out at the end of the month, she had been forced to search for solutions. During her peripatetic years with Fin, Thea had lost touch with most of her friends. Her parents had been dead for a decade. There were a few disapproving cousins she hadn’t seen in years, but, Thea resolved, she would rather sleep in a ditch. Then she thought of Diana. Diana, whose friendship had helped her survive her first few months in the FANYs; Diana, whose life – army, love, marriage, daughter – so closely mirrored her own. Diana, who had fallen in love with Henry Wyborne, a hero of Dunkirk. During the war, they had confided to each other their hopes and fears. Since then, Diana’s regular letters, with their reassuring narrative of domestic detail, had comforted Thea during the fraught years of her marriage. Desperate, Thea wrote to Diana.
She remembered their conversation earlier that afternoon. ‘I should visit the school, perhaps,’ she had said, and Diana had screwed up her face and replied, ‘The village school? Outside lavs and they don’t know their times tables. Olivia must go to Lady Margaret’s in Cambridge, with Rachel. I had a word with the Head. There are scholarships.’
Uprooting herself, transplanting herself and Liv from the shifting, silvery remoteness of the East Anglian coast, confirmed the end of her marriage. And Lady Margaret’s School – a place, Thea guessed, of uniforms and rules – might provide Liv with the security she so desperately needed. Might also provide a counterweight to the impulsiveness and romanticism that Thea sometimes feared Liv had inherited from her father.
They moved into the cottage a week later. Liv took the exam for Lady Margaret’s School and passed, and Thea gritted her teeth and muttered thanks when presented by Diana with a bundle of secondhand school uniform. In the summer the pupils at Lady Margaret’s wore red candy-striped dresses and red cardigans, which suited small, dark Liv.
Thea took a job at the village newsagent. The work was undemanding and oddly soothing; she liked the sugary scent of the dolly mixtures as she measured out quarters for schoolchildren, and she liked the shiny magazines, with their recipes and knitting patterns and comforting little stories about the young princes and princess. Working at the newsagent’s enabled Thea to get to know people in the village. Once a week she attended an evening class at a local school, where she made huge, bright, boldly patterned pots. In the village, her widowhood was assumed. It had occurred to Thea, of course, that Fin quite likely was dead. He had never been particularly careful of his own safety.
They had been living in Fernhill for three months when Thea met Richard Thorneycroft. Mr Thorneycroft came to the counter in the newsagent’s and handed Thea a sixpence and a card to put up in the window. ‘A fortnight,’ he barked, and left. Mrs Jessop, who owned the shop, said, ‘Won’t get no one, not if we put it up for a year. Mabel Bryant tried, and so did Dot Pearce, and she couldn’t stand him for more than a week, though she’s the patience of a saint.’ She lowered her voice. ‘Lost his wife and kiddie in the Blitz, see. Terrible shame, but that’s no excuse for bad manners, I always say.’
Thea read the card. It said, ‘Housekeeper needed, three hours per day. Must be quiet and hardworking. Idiots need not apply.’
Later that day, she knocked at Mr Thorneycroft’s door. ‘My name’s Thea Fairbrother,’ she said. ‘I’ve come about the housekeeping job.’
He peered at her. He was tall and thin, and wore battered tweeds. In his right hand he gripped a walking stick. ‘You’d better come in, then.’
She followed him into the house. It was Queen Anne, Thea guessed, one of the nicer houses in the village, though its dusty austerity did not do justice to its quiet beauty.
‘What would my duties be?’
‘Light housework. A girl comes twice a week to mop the floors. Shopping. Three hours each morning, four shillings an hour.’
‘Two hours each afternoon, five shillings an hour. I have to fit this in between my other job and my daughter’s school hours, Mr Thorneycroft.’
He frowned, but said, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.’
During her first month as Mr Thorneycroft’s housekeeper, Thea was greeted each morning at the shop by Mrs Jessop saying, ‘Left the old bugger, then, have you?’ to which Thea would shake her head. ‘I like working there,’ she’d say, and she meant it. She liked the house, which was quiet and graceful and reminded her of the Dorset vicarage in which she had spent her childhood. Her new employer’s tongue was no sharper than her father’s, nor that of her commanding officer in the FANYs. She respected Mr Thorneycroft: he had a tenacity that, in the end, Fin had lacked. A landmine in southern Italy had left him with a right leg two inches shorter than the left, yet he never complained, though Thea suspected that he must often be in pain.
Mr Thorneycroft was writing a book about the Dardanelles campaign. His study was a gloomy treasure-cave of books and records. The first time Thea cleaned it, he stood at the door, making sure she left nothing out of place. She picked up a framed picture to dust it. It was a sketch, in crayon and ink, of flower-scattered cliffs leading down to a turquoise sea. ‘Where’s this?’ she said, expecting a dismissive reply.
But he said, ‘Crete. I was there before the war.’
He said, ‘It was like paradise, I thought,’ and limped away, leaving her to her housework.
That Liv settled quickly at school was largely due, Thea knew, to Rachel. Rachel had inherited the generosity of spirit that Thea still saw in Diana, and that enabled Thea to put up with Diana’s bossiness and clumsy attempts at patronage. Rachel who so easily might have been the archetypal spoilt only child miraculously was not. She attended her ballet lessons, music lessons and riding lessons with a sunny lack of interest that secretly amused Thea. Rachel remained contentedly somewhere in the middle of her form at Lady Margaret’s, not because she lacked intelligence but because she had no ambition. Rachel, Thea concluded, literally wanted for nothing. Sometimes Thea found herself wondering what would happen if Rachel ever found out what it was like to long for something.
Rachel shared everything with Liv: books, clothes, paints and crayons. She also shared Katherine. Katherine Constant was lanky, fierce and clever, with straight sandy hair that escaped in erratic shards from her spindly plaits, and brown eyes the colour of toffee. Thea wondered at the unlikely pairing, and eventually concluded that in Katherine Rachel found the enthusiasm and intensity that she herself lacked. There was a hunger, a scornful impatience in Katherine’s dark gaze that initially startled Thea. Then, one afternoon, she had taken Liv to Katherine’s home in a nearby village. She had seen the large, ugly, untidy house from which Katherine’s father, a doctor, ran his general practice, and she had met exhausted Mrs Constant and Katherine’s three brothers. There was Michael, the eldest, Simon, Katherine’s twin, and Philip, the youngest. Complications following an attack of measles when he was a baby had left Philip both mentally and physically handicapped. Thea would have liked to have said to Katherine, ‘Be patient, and what you want will come to you’, but Katherine, she sensed, despised patience. She would have liked to have given Katherine the hugs that Thea guessed she rarely received at home, and did so sometimes, but felt Katherine’s bony frame flexing beneath her arm, as if even that fleeting stillness alarmed her.
As the months passed, Thea and Liv made the cottage their own. They decorated plain walls and empty mantelpieces with seed cases and skeleton leaves gathered on country walks, and with pebbles and shells collected during their years beside the sea. They made curtains and blinds to cover the small-paned windows, and loose covers and cushions to brighten their old sofas and dining chairs. Thea could trace the story of Olivia’s childhood in the sitting room’s patchwork curtains: a scrap of an infant’s romper suit in one corner, a square from a flowered summer dress in another. In the garden, geraniums and lobelias sprang from Thea’s pink and orange pots; inside the house, plates and bowls painted with gods and goddesses – Pomona, Diana, Apollo – bore heaps of windfall apples and plums.
Two years after they moved to Fernhill, the landlord built a bathroom on to the back of the cottage. Thea and Liv gave a party to celebrate the dismantling of the outside privy. They drank cider and Tizer and lit a bonfire, on which they burned the wooden planks and seat and the curling cut-outs of tropical beaches. Diana and Rachel and the Constant twins came to the party, as well as Thea’s friends from her pottery class and Mrs Jessop from the shop.
In 1964, the Conservatives lost the general election. Hiding her indifference, Thea consoled Diana. ‘At least Henry kept his seat.’
‘But a Labour government – too dreadful.’
Privately, Thea suspected that things would jog along much as before. She went to the window and leaned her palms on the sill, looking outside to where the three girls strolled across the lawn in the sunshine, their arms linked. She heard a peal of laughter. And she thought, I haven’t done too badly, have I? Wherever you are, Fin, I haven’t done too badly. We’ve a home, and I’ve work. And Olivia is laughing.
Katherine had seen the advertisement in the local newspaper. ‘Extras,’ it had said, ‘wanted for film to be made in local area.’ She had shown the newspaper to Liv and Rachel. ‘A film! We might be famous!’ She had brushed aside any objections. Liv and Rachel had a free period last thing on Wednesday; Katherine herself had Latin with Miss Paul, who was an old dear. It would be easy.
Liv fantasized about the audition: the film director would be tall and dark, with a foreign accent, perhaps. He would pick her out of a crowd of people. ‘She is the one,’ he’d say. ‘She must be my muse.’
They were late, so they had to run. They took off their red berets and ties and hid them in their bags, and rolled up the waistbands of their skirts to shorten the hems. Katherine had brought mascara and eye-liner and Miner’s foundation, in an orangey-brown shade, the colour, Liv thought, of her mother’s clay pots before they hardened. Rachel had a pale pink lipstick and a bottle of Patou’s Joy, which they squirted on their necks and wrists as they walked. It was February, and there was frost on the shadowed bits at the inside of the pavement, and Liv’s fingers, as she paused fleetingly to daub a persistent and
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