Three people, each crying out for help.
There's Karen, about to lose her father; Abby, whose son has autism and needs constant care, and Michael, a family man on the verge of bankruptcy. As each sinks under the strain, they're brought together at Moreland's Clinic.
Here, behind closed doors, they reveal their deepest secrets, confront and console one another, and share plenty of laughs. But how will they cope when a new crisis strikes?
From the international bestselling author, Sarah Rayner, Another Night, Another Day is the emotional story of a group of strangers who come together to heal, creating lifelong friendships along the way.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
SARAH RAYNER was born in London and now lives in Brighton with her partner. She worked for many years as an advertising copywriter and now writes fiction full time. Another Night, Another Day is her fifth novel.
Read an Excerpt
Another Night, Another Day
By Sarah Rayner
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Sarah Rayner
All rights reserved.
'Those socks look really stupid.'
'Shh, Luke.' Karen turns to her daughter. 'They're fine, sweetheart. Don't listen to him.' Though Luke has a point; like the rest of Molly's uniform, the socks are far too big for her. Karen smothers a smile – they mustn't mock; this is a huge moment for her little girl. 'Let's take a photograph,' she says, running her fingertips through Molly's curls in a futile attempt to smooth them. She pulls the front door shut. 'How about here on the doorstep?'
'I don't know why you're making such a fuss,' Luke sighs. He's nearly seven, so an old hand at this first-day-of-term malarkey, but for his sister it's all new. Though her chest is swelled with pride as she poses with her satchel and bottle-green fleece embroidered with the school badge, Karen can tell she is being brave. She is quiet and pale and has been sensitive since waking.
'Now Luke, stand next to Molly,' says Karen.
He bounds onto the front step and leans in close. 'Just be careful of the ogre in the girls' toilets.'
Molly's bottom lip quivers.
'I heard you,' Karen warns.
Luke smiles sweetly at his mother, then whispers, 'And the dragon under the stairs.'
'LUKE! Why must you be so mean? He's teasing you,' Karen assures her daughter. 'There are no dragons, sweetheart, I promise.'
Molly gulps. 'What about the ogre?'
'No ogres either.'
It's terrifying enough without her brother stirring, thinks Karen, as they start to walk. The school is nearby and Molly has often been to collect Luke with Karen. She's also used to spending three days a week with the child-minder while Karen is at work. Nonetheless, she's leaving the safety of a familiar world, heading off to a strange wilderness of large classes full of children, lessons, lunch and assembly ... Then there's playtime, with its potential for scraping elbows and knees on tarmac, or worse, being teased or bullied, not to mention endless alarming activities that didn't exist when Karen herself was growing up.
By the time they reach the school gates Karen's heart is racing and her palms are sticky; she doesn't know who's more nervous, her or Molly. She sees Miss Buckley, Molly's new form teacher, on the far side of the playground and heads over with the children. Nearby a small boy is sobbing, and as his mother bends to kiss him farewell he claws her shirt sleeve in his desperation not to be separated from her. Another child brushes off his mother's angst with a 'Bye, Mum' and a grin; her smudged make-up and blotchy cheeks betray she's finding this harder than he is.
'Hello,' says the teacher, and crouches to Molly's height. 'You're Molly, aren't you?'
Molly is too overwhelmed to speak. She gives a barely discernible nod.
I should leave, Karen tells herself. Fussing will only prolong the agony. 'Luke, you help Miss Buckley take care of your sister today, OK?'
'OK,' he offers, less disparaging now he's charged with responsibility.
'And Molly, I'll be back at lunchtime to collect you.' Karen girds herself. 'Good luck, darling.' She bends to give her daughter a hug, and senses Molly stiffen as she fights to be grown up.
Karen's heart twists, and as she makes her way across the playground, the woman with blotchy cheeks catches her eye and nods in understanding.
Five minutes later, Karen is back home. The house sits at the top of a street where all bar theirs and the neighbouring property are Victorian. The red-brick facade spoils the symmetry of the white-painted terrace, but the 1930s semi was the most she and her husband could afford when they bought it a decade earlier.
Years of living here with small children haven't helped, she observes, nearly tripping over a stray wellington as she steps into the hall. She picks the boot up, places it alongside its partner, heads into the kitchen and flicks on the kettle. As she waits for the water to boil she pauses to look around. The walls are covered in small fingerprints and spillages – every room could do with decorating, which means nothing gets done, because it seems a gargantuan task. Outside the window most of the pots in the patio garden are empty or contain plants wilted by frost; the narrow borders are weed-ridden from lack of care.
There's a rush of steam and bubbles and a click; Karen makes a cup of tea and leans back against the counter. Without the noise of the kettle the silence is striking – as though someone has come along and underlined it in red ink.
I wonder if the other mums are feeling this bereft? The first day is notoriously tough, thinks Karen. And Molly seems so half-fledged and vulnerable, she's barely more than a baby ...
Then, like a truck at speed, it hits her.
Starting school is such an important milestone, she thinks. Simon should be with us.
* * *
A few streets away, Abby is standing in the bay window of her bedroom, looking out. Vegetation frames the view, lending it weight, as if it were an exhibit in a show. Between the fronds of a yew and the spiked leaves of holly she can see down into the dip of Preston Circus.
I'm going to miss this, she thinks.
The triangular roofs of railway workers' cottages are lined up like an army, some ancient and covered in lichen, others more recently renovated, gleaming silver-grey in the aftermath of a sudden downpour. The scruffiest are doubtless student dwellings; the rest more likely house people with children, keen to live near the park. From here pastel-coloured Victorian terraces climb up the slope of Hanover in diminishing rows, as if whoever laid out the city was an art tutor testing his pupils' ability to convey perspective. Beyond are the pale concrete blocks of Whitehawk Estate, and in the far distance, the gentle curve of the South Downs, chalky fields ploughed and ready for planting.
Abby sighs. 'Oh, Glenn,' she murmurs. 'Whatever happened to me and you, to us?'
She is not sure if she's sad, angry, or both. Either way, her husband is abdicating responsibility; at least that's how it feels. Fleetingly, Abby is tempted to absent herself instead. How about we don't put our home on the market, separate in a civilized fashion, she has an urge to say to him, as you're so keen to do? What if I were to drive into the blue yonder, leaving you to deal with all the shit? Then I could go back to photojournalism – focus on chasing stories, the challenge of deadlines, chatting with bright, sparky colleagues. My, how easy working on a local paper seems with hindsight ... What if I were to say I couldn't cope – what would happen to Callum then? Would you pick up the pieces – take over our son's routine, give up your job? Because there's no way you could continue working in London and care for Callum. That's a full-time occupation in itself.
But of course Abby won't say this, and Glenn knows that.
I couldn't leave Callum, she thinks. I don't want to. I love him.
She looks around the room. A vast sleigh bed dominates the space, though these days Abby sleeps there alone. Glenn has been sleeping in the attic for months, yet his clothes remain in the wardrobe, which means he comes in every morning to get dressed, a reflection of the limbo they're in. Thrown over the chair is the shirt Abby wore yesterday – seeing it reminds her. There's a line of red, chafed flesh on the side of her neck, like a particularly vicious love bite, from when her top was tugged so hard the collar left a burn mark.
It's the aggression that Glenn can't handle, she thinks. That's why he's going.
Her eyes fall on their bedside table. On it is a picture of the three of them. There's her husband, unshaven, grinning – he appears quite the rebel. She is beside him; she was plumper then – these days she is sinew and bone. How she loved her fair hair like that, long and softly layered. She regrets cutting it, but needs must – she was sick of it being pulled. Between them is Callum, all white-blond moptop, rosy cheeks and big blue eyes – he was only a toddler at the time. It's winter; they're dressed in coats and scarves and gloves, enveloped in a hug, a bundle of love.
This house has seen so much – good times as well as bad. When they moved here she and Glenn had just got engaged – every inch is chock-full of memories. What a dreadful wrench it will be to leave.
Tears prick behind Abby's eyes. I can't cry, she thinks. I mustn't. If I start, I won't stop. I have to get on. She picks up the letter confirming the valuation of the house which Glenn left out as a pointed reminder the evening before – braces herself, and dials.
* * *
Several miles east over the pastel-coloured terraces and chalk downs, Michael is just setting off for work. Welcome to Historic Rottingdean, says the sign he passes on his way to the car, and not for the first time he hears his wife's voice: 'Rotten name, beautiful place.' But today he's not sure he agrees about the latter. Michael and Chrissie live in a modern pebble-dash bungalow off the main coast road, not in the village further inland with its pretty cottages, flint church and duck pond. When the sun is shining, the light bounces off the sea and the broad sweep of their crescent feels generous – it seems to provide more space for the residents to breathe and be themselves. But this morning a thick layer of pale-grey cloud causes their neighbour's snazzy Doric columns to appear kitsch. Mizzle hangs in the air; it clings to Michael's hair and makes it more apparent that he's thinning on top. This irks him; he likes to look good for the ladies – it could even be argued that this is essential in his business.
He quickens his pace. He's got to be at the shop before nine – the Dutch lorry is due. If it had been up to him, he'd have scheduled the delivery for later to avoid rush hour, but Jan, the driver, has other drop-offs to make. Across the road he can see several kids dressed in uniform making their way to the bus stop. The schools must be back, thinks Michael. The traffic will be even heavier.
He unlocks the MPV, puts his work bag on the passenger seat and the plastic carrier containing his lunch alongside it. The Tupperware container of sandwiches Chrissie has made for him slides out and onto the floor. As he's reaching to retrieve it, there's a ringing from inside his donkey jacket pocket. He is tempted to leave the call, but it might be Jan – with any luck the lorry will be held up and Michael can relax a little. He manages to answer seconds before his mobile switches to voicemail.
'Blast,' he says to himself, seeing too late that it's Tim, the manager of Hotel sur Plage. He has to talk to his client. 'Good morning, Tim. What can I do for you?'
'Ah, Mike—' Michael winces: if anything, he prefers Mick or Mickey – 'have you left home yet?'
'I'm heading into Hove any second.'
'Splendid. Don't suppose you could swing by us on your way?'
'I'm afraid not – I've a delivery coming. Can I call you when I get in?'
'Oh, er, I suppose ...' There's a moment's silence, then Tim says, 'It's only I'd like a chat, Mike, and it might be worth doing before you put in your order—'
What's the betting he wants to give me a steer on which stock to buy again, thinks Michael. He's such an interfering young man, always sticking his nose in with ideas, even though I've been arranging flowers since he was in nappies.
Michael is poised to ask Tim to elaborate when he realizes the call has been cut off. His Nokia has been playing up recently.
I must get a new mobile, he vows. This one's like me: nearly past its sell-by date.
He frowns as he checks the rear-view mirror and turns on the ignition. Was it his imagination, or was there an awkwardness in Tim's voice?
I'll ring from the landline the moment I'm at the shop, Michael decides. The hotel is his florist's biggest contract and it's important to keep them sweet, but he can't stop now.CHAPTER 2
The estate agent is on Abby's doorstep within an hour. Apparently there's a shortage of properties coming onto the market – he's eager to finalize details. 'I've people queuing up for places in Prestonville,' he says when Abby telephones. 'It's a real premium being near the station.'
Before he arrives, Abby dashes round tidying, but it's not enough time to make much impact – she finds it impossible to keep abreast as Callum creates mess at such a rate. Too soon she hears a knock at the door.
'I'm Ollie.' The agent puts out a hand. His grip is assured. Like all sales people, thinks Abby, I bet they're trained to do it. She takes in short ginger hair gelled into pine-cone spikes and a navy suit and is conscious she's wearing a faded velour tracksuit. Then – oh help – she sees the camera.
'You're not going to take pictures of the house, are you?'
'I was, yes.'
'I thought you were only measuring up.' Don't be stupid, Abby, she thinks, of course he'll need photos.
'I can take a couple so we can get it online and come back to do the rest another day if you'd prefer?'
'That would be good.'
He steps inside. 'Nice place you have here.'
The carpet on the stairs is best not scrutinized, so she directs his gaze upwards. 'The cornices are all original.'
As he examines the ceiling, Abby notices white flecks of dandruff on his jacket. Who am I to judge? she rebukes herself. I haven't even put a comb through my hair.
'Can I get you a coffee?'
She leads him into the kitchen.
'These are attractive.' He runs a palm over the fitted cabinets. They're dated, Abby knows. She is thankful he can't see inside – she spilt almost an entire box of cornflakes on one of the shelves in her haste to clear up breakfast.
'You don't mind if I take a picture in here?' says Ollie, raising his digital camera. 'It'll come out well – look.' He clicks to show her the image on the screen. The wide-angle lens makes the room appear huge.
He steps towards the window.
'The garden's a state.' She cringes. The grass hasn't been mown since last summer, and the people with the house backing onto theirs overlook their lawn. 'The best view is from the front. I'll show you upstairs.'
'It's a good space for a property this central.'
His enthusiasm only serves to emphasize the pain of Abby's loss. Doubtless he's assumed they're upgrading – purchasing somewhere bigger, or moving further out of the city.
Ollie removes a bright-yellow object from his pocket. He stands back and points it at the far wall. There's a bleep.
'It's an ultrasonic tape measure.'
'How does that work?' Abby moves closer to look, and sees Ollie glance at the red-raw mark on her neck. His consternation is palpable. 'Ah, kettle's boiled,' she says, thankful for the excuse to turn away.
'So why are you moving?' asks Ollie, a few moments later.
Abby's first inclination is to lie but she's likely to need Ollie's help finding somewhere new, and he must come across situations similar to theirs all the time. 'My husband and I are separating.' She's embarrassed to hear her voice crack.
'Ah.' A silence, and Ollie shifts his feet, awkward. 'Er, where next? Lounge?'
As he turns to leave the room, he stops, stares.
'Blimey, what happened there?'
Abby feels her cheeks burning. The television on top of the fridge-freezer has been smashed, how could she have forgotten? Shards of broken glass splay out from the centre of the screen, as if it's been hit by a bullet. It happened only yesterday, and she knows her son will keenly miss being able to watch TV in the kitchen. Abby isn't sure it's worth replacing: a new set might meet the same fate. Nonetheless she must get rid of it. Callum's term starts full-time tomorrow; perhaps then she can get to the tip – the glass is a real hazard with a child around.
She senses Ollie gazing at the wound on her neck again, assimilating.
* * *
I've had far worse goodbyes than taking Molly to school for the first time, Karen reminds herself. Anyway, the start of January is notoriously dispiriting. Isn't it around now some DJ or other inevitably declares, 'It's the most depressing day of the year,' as if a nationwide announcement will help alleviate the gloom? Best keep myself busy – it's time the Christmas decorations came down. She scoops her hair into a makeshift bun using a nearby biro, and goes upstairs.
Getting the boxes out of the loft is an effort. Simon was such a big bear of a man he would have done it as a matter of course, but now she must manage alone. Even lowering the ladder is a test of her strength, then she has to drop the boxes through the hatch without anyone to catch them below. The fibres from the insulation make her cough, but at last she's standing in the living room covered in dust and sweat, mission accomplished.
What a shame to throw these away, she thinks as she begins taking the cards down from the mantelpiece. Putting the decorations up was so joyful – Molly squealing with excitement as they turned on the fairy lights, Luke pretending he wasn't bothered but clearly thrilled at the growing pile of presents. Even Toby, their cat, seemed to regress to kittenhood as he chased a piece of gold string around the room. The sense of anticipation gave them a lift, and on the whole she coped well – she bought gifts online to save money; the three of them made and iced a cake together; they joined her friends Anna and Lou to watch fireworks on the beach to celebrate the winter solstice; her mother, Shirley, came to stay for a few days and spoiled the children rotten. Still, sometimes Karen would catch herself standing with a plastered-on smile, trying to mask her upset. 'Fake it to make it,' Anna suggested. 'It's a good strategy for appearing more upbeat than you feel.'
In contrast, tidying up seems to say nothing other than the fun is over, thinks Karen. After all, what have I got to look forward to? The second anniversary of my husband's death in a few weeks' time? On the one hand it seems a century ago we were getting cards wishing Merry Christmas to the four of us; on the other as if it was only yesterday Simon was here to help with chores and DIY.
The trouble is that grief isn't linear, Karen has learned. It doesn't go in a neat line upwards, as if you were climbing a mountain. Then you could get to the top and say, 'I've done it, I've stopped being sad. Now I'm ready to meet people, to smile, laugh, drink, party. Bring it on!' Instead, grief sneaks up from behind, grabbing you by stealth, like a mugger. Sometimes it can be extremely frightening; certainly it robs you of a great deal.
Excerpted from Another Night, Another Day by Sarah Rayner. Copyright © 2014 Sarah Rayner. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
I. Clouds Gather,
II. Winds of Change,
III. Darkness Falls,
IV. The Morning After,
V. A Glimmer of Light,
A note from the author,
The Polka-Dot Umbrella,
Also by Sarah Rayner,