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The Superpower of Love
By Sophie Hannah
SOHOCopyright © 2001 Sophie Hannah
All right reserved.
Chapter One'Campbell has left Eve,' said Francis, without looking up, as Sim entered the flat. It was four thirty on Saturday afternoon; she always allowed a good half-hour between shopping and the Potters Court omnibus to unpack and pour herself a large, morale-boosting sherry, in case the scriptwriters had massacred her storylines. She thought she might have misheard Francis, whose voice was muffled by the sound of three large plastic bags and a ridged cardboard box brushing against the door frame.
Having squeezed her purchases into the hall, Sim let the box, which contained a silver bucket for chilling champagne, fall to the floor with a thud. 'What? What do you mean?' She thought Francis had said that Campbell had left Eve, but of course he couldn't have.
'Mm?' Francis had already lost interest. He sat on the hall floor beside the telephone with his glasses balanced on his knee, surrounded by newspapers. Beyond these was a trail of plates, coffee cups, strewn clothes and CD cases, which branched at strategic points and led to different rooms. It was as if Francis thought the carpets in their flat were perilous seas, requiring an emergency route mapped out in Daily Telegraph or pyjama-top stepping stones.
Sim sighed and struggled to keep hold of the good mood her shopping trip had instilled in her. Francis, she noticed, paid no attention to the champagne bucket beside him and certainly said nothing like, 'Oh, good, you've got the wedding present.' He was wearing a red T-shirt and faded jeans, his blond hair falling over his eyes. Sim had recently incurred his wrath by telling him he looked like David Beckham.
'Francis, did you say Campbell had left Eve?'
'Mm. I think so. Somebody's left somebody, anyway.' Francis picked up a newspaper cutting and placed it on top of a pile of similar jagged grey strips. 'Dingleys,' he muttered, then turned his attention to the adjacent pile of cuttings, murmuring 'Kosovo'.
The flat's second bedroom made a light and spacious study, and Francis had a perfectly good office at the BBC in Leeds, yet his files and clippings invariably spilled out into the hall. Sim objected; deputy editors of news programmes belonged in leather-and-chrome swivel chairs, not on floors between rooms. She told herself the usual lie: if he was in the study, I wouldn't interrupt him.
'Francis, could you put your work down for a second, please?' This question was delivered with excessive politeness, the sort that hinted at its own abrupt end should the listener fail to comply. With her right foot, Sire pushed the champagne cooler towards one of Francis's newspapers, crumpling it at the corner, to herald the imminent invasion of what Sim called real life and what Francis called gossip. He abandoned his papers and looked up. Sim grinned at him and he grinned back. Each admired the other's stubbornness; it was one of the things that had brought them together.
'Right,' said Sim. 'Now, tell me everything I want to know, without my having to ask you a single other question.' Stories that came from Francis were always enhanced by prolonged suspense. It could take hours to squeeze the full low-down from him.
'Eve phoned while you were out. She said that Campbell had left her and gone off with some other woman. That's all.'
'That's all? What other woman?' Sim felt her mood darken. She'd assumed ... well, certainly not that. God, poor Eve, she thought, but the plunge of pain on her friend's behalf quickly gave way to puzzled irritation. Surely this couldn't be so. 'When? Why?' she barked at Francis, resisting the urge to stamp her foot. 'And why didn't you seem sure before?' Campbell couldn't leave Eve for another woman. Who did he think he was? Sim hadn't left Francis for Andrew Johnson. God, Campbell was a sly one. All these years he'd been so ... still. Sim should have suspected his placid, immobile exterior was just a front. She felt unaccountably angry.
And why did she have to deal with this today, on the very day that she, Simone Purdy, had developed a world-view? Couldn't she rest on her laurels for a while, enjoy her new accessory without being required to put it to use? She'd left the flat this morning without a world-view and come back with one, thanks to a pair of stripy socks. She had neither expected nor prepared for the world-view's arrival, but she'd recognised it soon enough once it turned up. It manifested itself in the form of a sudden awareness that she knew everything, all the little secrets and techniques. Sim felt as if her brain had been fitted with an invisible but infallible guidebook to all aspects of life and immediately wondered how she'd got through twenty-eight years without such a useful device.
'I'm pretty sure it was Eve,' said Francis. 'But I was working. Why would I have got the idea it was Campbell and Eve if it wasn't?' He smiled mischievously.
Sim was often amused by his air of abstraction and had been known to kiss him when he confessed to having left his wallet or jacket on a train, but today she wasn't in the mood, not any more. 'Francis, it's about time you learned the difference between our friends.'
'I got the gist. Aren't most of your women friends essentially the same person?' he said in a hopeful final attempt to make Sim laugh. Francis knew she appreciated frivolous conversation, the effects that could be achieved by saying something one didn't entirely mean.
'No, Francis, they are not,' Sim replied, objecting to 'your women friends'. Weren't they his friends too, in spite of their sex? And it was only funny to act as if you didn't care when you either did or were right not to. Francis's remark had offended her world-view. Failure to notice the difference between things led to a lowering of standards. Sim knew this now that she'd found her ideal socks, a blend of soft cotton and lycra, not too woolly and not too shiny. They were supple without being excessively stretchy and their stripes were sharply distinct, a repeating sequence of blue, pink, green, white and yellow. Sim saw them in Next and instantly wondered what the hell she'd been doing all her life, sock-wise. She bought ten pairs and made a resolution: never again would she put up with greying, sagging toes and spider web heels. No more would she ignore the extent to which bad socks undermined the wearer.
Standing in the queue in Next, clutching the ten pairs to her chest in eager anticipation of the range of positive ramifications her purchase would have, Sim knew she was on to something. This wasn't only about socks; it went considerably deeper. It was connected to Matt and Lucy's wedding and to how much Sim loved Francis, to the absolute exclusion of all future Andrew Johnson-esque incidents. It covered Campbell leaving Eve, even though Sim hadn't known about that when she was in Next. But this was the beauty of the world-view. Once you knew it was there, securely in place, it could be applied to any situation. It could turn its hand to most things. Sim's world-view was one in which Campbell did not leave Eve. Certainty had descended upon Sim with great force. She felt she was unlikely to be unsure of anything ever again.
'How did Eve sound?' she asked Francis. Campbell was a sly bastard. All those years of being so kind, so tolerant of everyone else's character flaws - had he simply been laying the groundwork, calculating that his friends would feel they owed it to him to be not at all judgemental? And to pull a stunt like this with Matt and Lucy's wedding coming up; what was he thinking of?
'Dunno,' said Francis, sulky now that his attempts at humour had been rejected. 'No particular way.' He was still fiddling with his pile of papers. The faces of Dale and Wayne Dingley stared up at Sim, bumpy and doughy, with low, flat foreheads and slack mouths that made her think of adenoids. Beside that photograph was a grainier one of Bethan Wrigley, the murdered girl, with her mousy hair in a ponytail. How incongruous, thought Sim, not for the first time. Bethan didn't look like the sort of person who would be murdered. Sim, on the other hand, did, with her wild, bushy hair, floor-length cloaks, long lilac fingernails and now her stripy socks. It stood to reason that noticeable people were more likely to get killed. In Sim's view, it was a risk worth taking.
'Annette Wrigley's been bombarding us with complaints,' Francis grumbled, seeing Sim eyeing his papers. 'Doesn't want us to interview the Dingleys, but how else is the truth going to come out? Why's she giving us such a hard time?'
'She's a person with feelings,' said Sim impatiently. 'Her daughter was murdered and now it must seem to her as if the killers are getting their own radio show.' A huge potential for understanding had been unleashed in Sim with the arrival of her world-view. She was a newly minted motivation whizz-kid. 'Eve also has feelings. Did she sound upset?'
Francis struggled to remember. 'No. Don't think so.'
'She must be upset if Campbell's left her.' Sim's voice rose. 'Are you sure it was Eve who phoned?'
'Not absolutely, no.' Francis frowned at her bad temper, making it clear she had no right to smile at him one minute, then get cross the next. He began to skim-read an article that covered two full pages about whether ground troops should be sent into Kosovo. One page argued the case for yes, the other for no. This, Sim saw, was from today's paper. Francis had written the date at the top in black marker pen: 27 March 1999. No wonder he'd only half heard the day's other big news if his mind was on ground troops.
'Right!' She snatched the double-page spread from his hand. 'Kitchen! Now!'
Francis stood in the middle of the kitchen with his arms folded and his eyes closed, while Sim took a large chopping board out of a drawer, wondering how many more times she was going to have to do this. She placed the chopping board on top of the fridge and leaned it against the cork noticeboard on the wall so that it covered the right-hand side of a blue sheet of paper. Francis drummed his fingers against his elbows and sighed.
'Right, you can open your eyes,' said Sim. The visible part of the document read as follows:
Sim was pleased with her list. She'd put a lot of effort into drawing it up. Matt and Lucy were at the top, inevitably. Sim felt it was appropriate for America to come first, and even more appropriate that, of all their friends, Matt and Lucy should be the ones to live and work there.
Other than that, the order of the list was random, although the order in which each couple was presented had a logic to it. Sim had been friends with both Eve and Vanessa since secondary school, but whereas Vanessa was definitely, intrinsically, a 'Vanessa and ...', Eve always signed Campbell's name first on cards; she was shrewd enough to see that precautions needed to be taken to prevent his fading into the background and confident enough to shine the spotlight elsewhere. Sim found this impressive, and referred to herself and Francis as 'Francis and Sim' whenever she remembered to.
Acquaintances had not been included, although one ex-friend remained on the list, with a line through her name. Sim could have made a new list, but she didn't want Gillian to disappear; she wanted her there, crossed out. In an oblique way it seemed to act as a deterrent, an example to their other friends, which was ridiculous because Sim made sure the list was hidden when anyone came round. Francis's inability to remember the names of some of his oldest and closest friends, let alone get the pairs right, was a secret Sim had kept successfully for years. This was what the list was in aid of. She had written it out a few months ago, dividing their friends into geographical locations for Francis's maximum convenience, and pinned it up on the notice board. The plan was that as Francis washed up he would commit the names to memory, including which ones were linked to which. Sim was sure he had it in him; he seemed to have no trouble remembering the names of the most obscure war criminals from the news, like the man Sim referred to as Grab-a-ditch Caravan. Sadly, the plan had a fatal flaw, which was that Francis never washed up, but Sim lived in hope.
'Oh, for God's sake!' he said, as Sim pointed to the first name on the list with a spatula. 'This is ridiculous.' Sim pursed her lips to indicate that she had no intention of backing down. The bond between herself and Francis relied, to a certain extent, on mutual infuriation. If either of them ever became noticeably less infuriating, the other would worry, particularly about the implications for their joint capacity to infuriate other people. 'I bloody know them, okay? Do we really have to go through this nonsense again?'
Sim thought of the recent illiteracy storyline in Potters Court, in which it was shown that this sort of denial was the first defence of someone who was ashamed of his ignorance. Not one of Sim's ideas, she was pleased to say. She wished the soap would stop recruiting social science graduates whose storylines necessitated the advertising of advice lines at the end of each episode and the constant dissemination of free helpful booklets. Nothing, in the infinite wisdom of Sim's world-view, was as helpful as pure entertainment. 'Go on,' she urged, holding the spatula aloft.
'Matt and Lucy ...'
'Stop. Say the areas too.'
'Oh, for God's sake!'
'Francis, last week Matt phoned and you asked him how the weather was in Cambridge. I heard it with my own ears.'
'Okay, okay. Washington,' he underlined the word with mocking emphasis. 'Matt and Lucy. There, see? Told you I knew them.' Sim frowned, shook her head and pointed the spatula at the next section. She wasn't impressed. No one could forget the Alpha couple, as Vanessa rather snidely called them. Matt was Francis's oldest friend. They went to primary and secondary school together in Cambridge, then on to Trinity College.
'Cambridge. Vanessa ... and Nicholas!' Francis sounded proud of himself. Big deal, thought Sim, who'd registered his brief hesitation. Their names were as inextricably linked as Punch and Judy's, and they got on about as well. But then, Vanessa had not once, to Sim's knowledge, gone so far as to like a boyfriend; she was never a soppy teenager, not even for an hour.
Excerpted from The Superpower of Love by Sophie Hannah Copyright © 2001 by Sophie Hannah
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Sophie Hannah lectures in creative writing and has published three collections of poetry and two previous novels, Gripless, and Cordial and Corrosive, both available in Arrow.
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