Read an ExcerptSomething Good
By Fiona Gibson
Red Dress Ink
Copyright © 2008 Fiona Gibson
All right reserved.
Ten years later
If Jane hadn't made the cake herself, extracting it from her own oven, she'd have assumed it was some decaying metallic component that had sloughed off a car on its way to the scrap. "Damn," she muttered, glaring down at the pitted slab.
Jane had experienced a wave of good-motherness as she'd glided around the supermarket, loitering in the mysterious baking ingredients aisle to study pots of vermicelli and sugar pearls. At thirty-six years old, surely she should be capable of baking a cake. A bit of creaming and folding, shoving it into the oven at roughly the correct temperatureit was hardly rocket science. Jane had wanted to surprise Hannah, to remind her that she was her mother, who loved and cared for her, and not just some irritating adult who happened to inhabit the same house.
The sound of thrashing guitars rattled downstairs. "Go to sleep!" Jane called up. Silence. "Han, can you hear me?" It was twenty past midnight. Of course Hannah couldn't hear; she'd nudged up the volume a notch. Jane sighed and tried to poke a finger into the unyielding cake. Scrabbling among the dented packets in the cupboard, she located a tub of Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge Icing that she troweled on, instantly doubling the cake's height. Things were looking more hopeful. Janerummaged again in the cupboard for tiny gummy sweets and studded them all over the cake.
It looked okay. No, better than okay. It might at least raise a smile, if Hannah were still capable of such an expression without cracking her face. Tomorrow she would be fifteen. Her entire childhood had f lashed by like a dream that Jane had forgotten to savor.
Hearing the same song starting over again, Jane shut off her ears and jabbed birthday cake candles into the goo.
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear Hannaaaah
Happy birthday to you.
"Gorgeous cake," announced Amy, f licking back hair that had been highlighted with fine golden streaks around her dainty face.
"More like a biscuit," Jane laughed, hacking generous slices for Hannah, Amy, Rachel and herself. A small birthday partybirthday cluster, really. All Hannah had wanted this year.
"It looks great," Amy insisted. "You know what my mum's like with her organic-bloody-everything. She still won't have sweets in the house."
"Well, they're" Jane began, about to say, they're made from real raspberry and apricot puree and won't, you know, trigger Hannah's asthma. She stopped herself. Jane sensed that Hannah wouldn't want her asthma mentionednot even in front of Amy and Rachel, her firm friends of a decade. They'd zoomed toward her in the park the day Jane and Hannah had moved onto Albemarle Street, snatched her hands and run, a chain of three, toward the trampoline.
"Want a piece, Han?" asked Rachel, brandishing a plate bearing a mud-colored mound.
Hannah was sitting cross-legged in the corner of the living room, examining a clear Perspex case of nail polishes in 'difficult' shadesMoss, Lichen and Bark. Amy's present to her. Hannah still detested pink. Clearly, a hastily rescued cake hadn't met with her approval, either. The great twinkling heap was, Jane realized now, entirely inappropriate for a strikingly beautiful daughter with defiant eyes who was virtually an adult.
Hannah glanced up and winced, as if she'd been offered some particularly challenging delicacy like sheep's brain, or a trotter. Her hair, which she'd tinted aubergine with a wash-in color, hung messily around her luminous face. "I'm not hungry," she said f latly.
"Go on," Rachel insisted. "It looks a bit sludgy but it tastes okay."
Rachel shrugged and placed the offending cake on the table. "You okay, birthday girl?" Jane asked, crouching down beside Hannah. Tufts of rust-colored wool were f laking off the rug's edges. They needed a new rug, a new table, chairs and curtainsnew everything, really. Their furniture looked way past its use-by date. It had all been acquired, rather than chosen.
"I'm fine," Hannah murmured, removing the silver lid from the "Bark" polish. It was dark brownnot unlike the Betty Crocker icing.
"Are you upset or something?" Jane murmured, wanting to snap: cheer up, would you? It's your birthday.Your best friends are here.What more do you want?
"It's just" Hannah kept her eyelids lowered "that cake."
"Okay. I messed up." So shoot me, Jane added silently. She headed for the kitchen, intending to dispense drinks and leave the girls to play CDs and watch videos. Hannah didn't want her getting in the way. Some mums did thatdidn't know when to step back. It happened all the time at Nippers, the day care where Jane worked: women hovering at the windows, steaming the glass, unaware that their looming faces were heightening separation anxiety. She'd see them huddled in their cars, talking fretfully on their cells. Sometimes you had to know when to let go.
The music stopped abruptly. Jane pricked her ears, unable to resist tuning in. "So," Rachel was saying, "what did your dad get you?"
"The usual," Hannah replied. "Thirty quid stuck in a birthday card."
"Lucky thing!" Amy exclaimed. "You know what mine gave me, last time he bloody remembered, which was, like, two years ago?"
"What?" Hannah asked.
"A Winnie-the-Pooh jigsaw."
The girls' high-pitched laughter ricocheted around the house. Jane opened the fridge and took out Hannah's favorite elderf lower cordial. They were like wild puppies in there, screeching with laughter as more unsuitable presentsand the general cluelessness and crapness of parentswere howled over. Jane hadn't heard Hannah laugh like thatlaugh properlyfor weeks. At least she could still do it, and her laughing mechanism hadn't entirely seized up. Jane un-screwed the cap from the cordial and picked up the ringing phone.
"Jane? Hi, it's me."
"Hi, Max." She gripped the receiver between shoulder and ear while sploshing the liqueur into glasses.
"Just wondered if the birthday girl's enjoying her day." Jane smiled. "Think so. Have a listen." She held out the phone in the direction of the kitchen door.
"Has she got some friends round?"
"Just Rachel and Amy. She didn't invite any otherssaid she didn't want a big fuss."
"God," Max chuckled. "She sounds about sixty."
"I know. She didn't even want to go to the cinema or anything."
The girls' laughter was replaced by sweeping strings and the film's opening credits. "So is she okay?" Max asked hesitantly.
"She's you know. Business as usual." Jane didn't need to use words like uncommunicative or listless with Max. He just knew. She'd seen it smeared all over his facethat fake jollitywhen he'd brought Hannah home from their trip to the London Aquarium. She hadn't shown any interest in the tiny seahorses or the rays with their sandpaper skin and limpid eyes in the touch-tank. "I'm so stupid," Max had hissed, "thinking she'd enjoy somewhere like that at fourteen." Max knew he was losing her. Both of them were.
"She didn't think much of the house yesterday," he added.
"I know. She came back saying you'd lost your mind. Said it's even worse than our house. I explained that you're doing it up, that it'll be palatial and she'll love it so much she'll want to move in with you" She glimpsed Hannah heading upstairs.
"Oh, please," Max cried in mock horror.
"I'm sure she was exaggerating ."
"Come round sometime, see for yourself. It is pretty bad, but it's got "
"Potential," Jane said, laughing. Her anger had faded a long time ago. That thingMax's drunken night with that womanwas buried so deeply in the past, it could have happened to someone else.
"Actually," Max added, "I was going to ask a favor. Not a favor, exactlyI'd pay you of course. There's this window in the living room The glass is cracked, and I was thinking some stained glass would"
"You mean you've bought this place that Hannah reckons was a squatshe said someone's painted 'Fuck Pigs' on the living room wall"
"I tried to paint over that."
"But the place needs rewiring and God knows what, and you're thinking of blowing your money on stained glass windows?"
"Window," Max corrected her. "Just one. Something simple, bright colors "
A smile sneaked across Jane's face. "Okay, I'll have a look."
"I finish work at four. Hannah's got drama workshop after schoolshe'll probably head over to Amy's afterward. I'll come straight from the day care."
"Great," Max said. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, "Give her a shout, would you? Tell her her old dad wants to wish her happy birthday."
Jane carried the cordless phone into the hall and peered up the gloomy staircase. "Hannah?" she called.
Silence. "Hannah! Dad's on the phone."
"I'm on the loo," came the harassed reply. "Sorry," Jane told him, "Madame's busy with her toilette. I'll ask her to ring you later tonight."
"Jane," Max said. "You don't think it's something to do with the house, do you? Has it upset her, d'you think, me leaving the old place?"
"Why would it? She hasn't lived there for ten years ."
"I know, but maybe it was important that she could go back whenever she wanted. I'm sure that's when it all started. When I told her I was buying this place."
Birthday cake stuck to the roof of Jane's mouth. "We can't do anything about that now."
Max fell silent. Jane could hear his soft breath. For a moment she wished he wasn't alone in an echoey house with its foul graffiti, but right here, jabbing a finger into a tub of icing which had acquired an unappetizing crust. "I thought she'd like it," he murmured.
"It's probably nothing to do with the house," Jane said firmly. "Isn't this what happens, Max?"
"What d'you mean?"
"The moodiness. Treating me and you like we're inconvenient. It's just a phase. Our girl's growing up."
"I guess you're right."
What if I am? Jane thought. When she's really grown up, and there's no growing up left to dowhat then? I won't need you anymore, and you won't need me. I'll really lose you then, for good.
"I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" she said softly, finishing the call and fixing on her best party smile.
Excerpted from Something Good by Fiona Gibson Copyright © 2008 by Fiona Gibson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.