A love story about dysfunctional people. Can Louise move on from the loss of her lover Tom? Can she and Tom's twin brother Adam really find a way to love one another? Or are they trapped on a path of self-destruction, moving towards a tragedy neither can avoid?
Beat The Rain is a moving and vulnerable depiction of a relationship in decline. At times humorous, at times heartbreaking, it explores what it means to live, to love and to lose.
SEMI-FINALIST in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2016: Best
|Product dimensions:||5.44(w) x 8.47(h) x 0.54(d)|
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Beat the Rain
By Nigel Jay Cooper
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Nigel Jay Cooper
All rights reserved.
Louise does all of the things the bereaved are supposed to do; she's had enough practice. She gracefully accepts well-meant platitudes from people she can't stand; she smiles in the right places and pretends she's still able to care. Everything she's become is now an invention, a persona created to make other people feel better.
If she could, she'd never leave the flat again, she'd switch off her mobile, stop answering the door and lie in bed, endlessly staring at the ceiling. This morning she slept through the postman knocking as she dreamt of hot narrow lanes and enormous churches. She smiled and pointed out of the window, past the church, past the market stalls in the square, past the sea. She felt Tom's presence behind her, tried to turn around to see him, to kiss him. Then she felt her sheets clinging to her. Morning.
Tom would have heard the postman. He would have jumped out of bed like an excitable ten-year-old.
"A package, Lou," his gleaming eyes would have said.
"You're a grown man, Tom," she would have replied, barely glancing at him as he danced around the bedroom in nothing but his boxer shorts.
"What do you think it is?" he'd have asked.
"Same as every month, Tom," she'd have smiled. "Your books."
She stares at the yellow-white stained walls of their flat. Her flat now, she reminds herself, just hers again. Today is book day again. She has one every month but this one's early. She stubs a cigarette out on the faded mahogany dresser under the hallway mirror. This thing that she is, this woman, barely formed, stares back at her, like an alien, a shadow of someone who used to exist. Is loss something she's supposed to accept in her life, like other people accept doing a job they don't love or avoiding chips and chocolate cake? She checks her eyes in the hallway mirror to make sure they're not too puffy and braces herself before opening the front door, mentally preparing her 'outside' face, the one that can still smile.
Her days are alike, or different. It doesn't matter. None of them contain a version of her that isn't alone. She shuts her front door, looking away from Mr Carmichael, her ever-smiling, ever-gardening neighbour as he potters around in a pair of overalls. Louise has often wondered what he does for a living – he and his wife don't seem to work, they're always at home, gardening or singing in their front room around an enormous piano that seems much too big for the space. She feels lucky her flat is upstairs so at least she doesn't have to listen to them harmonising.
"Louise." He smiles at her with ceaseless hedge-trimmer hands. "How are you feeling today?" She ignores him and shuffles down the street, sinking into her jumper.
The post office is a thirty-minute walk or a five-minute bus ride away. She imagines the jolting, crowded red double-decker full of kids, old bag ladies and men with body odour and decides to walk. For the most part, her journey produces untroubled faces but occasionally, they become familiar. That's when everyone's smiles freeze.
"Louise, you look great," the familiar will say eventually, their frosty hands touching her jacket sleeve in faux concern. Louise will lick her dry lips in preparation.
"Do I?" she'll finally ask, sometimes genuinely. They'll nod as their fingers grip her arm more tightly.
"We were so sorry to hear about ..." Then their voices will trail off. They all think she's dealing with it and she has become practiced in keeping her smile on long enough to reassure them they're right. She waits until they've scuttled away before allowing it to crack.
"Tell your fortune," someone says as she rounds the corner by the bank or pub or restaurant. A lucky-heather woman is standing in front of her, a rainbow headscarf and flowing dress billowing in the gentle breeze. With the morning sunlight glinting behind her, she looks somehow otherworldly and for a moment Louise is mesmerised.
"Some change for your fortune?" the woman says again and for the tiniest of moments, Louise thinks to herself, Why not?, then she shudders, remembering what her fate is like. She closes her eyes tightly for a second, as if this will help her break free from the spell she's sure the lucky heather woman has put her under.
"No," Louise says loudly, almost shouting and stepping away. Then, as her manners take over, she says quietly, "Thanks anyway," and continues her journey.
* * *
"What would you do if I died?" Tom asked her once, leaning over and smiling. His left hand invaded her top, resting on her breast.
"I wouldn't let you," she replied, thrusting her chest out and grinning.
"But if you couldn't stop it."
Fingers explored, she pulled him closer. "I'd fuck the postman."
Later, smoking cigarettes and shivering: "Promise you'll never leave me," she said. He kissed her, rolled over, slept.
* * *
"It's Louise, isn't it?"
Louise rounds another corner and is confronted by a woman who grabs her and hugs her tightly, as if she has found her long-lost sister. Louise wishes she'd caught the bus, at least people would have left her alone then.
"I haven't seen you for ages."
Louise stands motionless, arms by her side, not returning the embrace.
"It's me, Narinda," the woman says. "From school. You remember? Of course you remember. The old gang?"
"How are you?" Louise forces out eventually. Seeing her is almost as painful as losing Tom. Narinda is someone from an old life, one Louise wants no part of. Just seeing her has given her gooseflesh, reminding her of the person Tom helped her leave behind, someone she no longer recognises.
"Oh it's so good to see you again. How's ... oh what was his name? Tom, wasn't it?"
"Dead," Louise says defiantly, cutting her off. Narinda rocks back slightly, clearly unsure what to do or say.
"Oh, I am sorry," she manages eventually.
"Bye, Narinda," Louise says quietly, pushing past her and continuing her journey.
As she enters the post office, the air conditioning dries her eyes. People are littered around, some waiting in the queue, some filling out forms with broken black biros with snapped silver chains hanging from the ends. Louise hugs her jacket to her chest and waits her turn and when she eventually gets to the counter, she looks away from the man and pushes the card under the glass along with a bill and driving licence as proof of address, hoping she's not going to have to have the same conversation as last month and the month before.
"Has Tom Gaddis signed to say you can pick this up for him?"
A beat. Frozen features, unsure how to respond to her. "We can't release anything to you unless he's signed to say you can pick it up for him, you see."
"Can dead men sign forms?" Steely green eyes, staring unflinchingly through the glass, daring the man to be a jobsworth. "You can see it's my address, you can see we live together ..." A pause, reality sinking in for the twentieth time that day. "Lived together."
Luckily, today, the assistant simply looks at the note and says, "Cold, isn't it," and he grins a British yellow- tooth smile. "Sign here." He shunts a form towards Louise. Her fingers do the work and as he hands her the parcel; she clutches it to her chest and steps back out onto the morning high street.
Every month, she receives the company's 'choice' of book for Tom. It was in the small print when he signed for it – if he didn't choose one himself from their catalogue, they would send one of their own recommendations for him to read. She couldn't allow herself to cancel it, to cancel him. It's strange, though, because the books are early this month and the package seems different. She lets her arms fall back slightly to read the label. It's not the normal printed name and address at all. It's a handwritten one. Tom's writing: Lou.
* * *
"Why don't you like Lou?" Tom asked her once, slipping onto the arm of her chair.
"It's not my name."
Eyes smiled. "So?"
"I was christened Louise."
"Lou, Louise. Same name."
"Different name entirely. Different name, different pronounciation,"
* * *
She clutches the box tightly, swallowing and swallowing again, sure the spinning in her stomach will cause her to be sick. She drags herself upstairs and sits staring from the window, hugging the parcel so tightly it hurts her small breasts.
Time is suspended as she walks down their street. Her street. The parcel is warm in her arms, like it's emitting some sort of heat, some sort of life. As she walks into her front gate, Mr Carmichael is still pruning his hedges and deadheading flowers. He smiles and nods. Her fingers are freezing as she hunts for her keys to the flat, avoiding his gaze, pretending she doesn't feel like a madwoman screaming behind alabaster skin.
"They can teach you a lot, you know," he says.
"Sorry," she mumbles, trying to get her keys in the lock to avoid a lengthy discussion with him.
"Plants and flowers. Trees."
"Sorry, Mr Carmichael, I've really got to get in and ..." Louise says without looking around, not even caring if she appears rude.
"When leaves die in autumn, the trees don't hold on to them," Mr Carmichael continues regardless. "They let them go, Louise. If they didn't, no new leaves would grow."
"Mr Carmichael, I ..." she starts, glancing around at him and pursing her lips.
"And how sad that tree would look when spring arrived. Still bare."
Louise doesn't respond, she simply nods her head as if she's listened and walks into her flat. She mounts the stairs and stares down the end of the hall at her kitchen, swimming in washing up and ready meals. If Tom were alive he'd be angry.
"Ready meals?" He'd read an article in New Scientist once and had become obsessed with modified foods. "They'll kill you." He was probably right of course, but his abstinence didn't save him. She wonders what choices people actually have and which are illusions. His diet couldn't rewrite his death so what made him think anyone else's could?
"The place is a pig sty," she hears him say in her head as she drops her handbag and jacket in the hallway. The package, which she has momentarily placed on the dressing table under the mirror, stares at her, uncomfortable out of her arms. The heating isn't on and she reaches out and touches the parcel gingerly; it feels warm. How can she get a parcel from him six months after his death? Somewhere, in the background, a telephone rings.
"Adam," she says quietly, leaning against the wall and cradling the telephone in her neck. She wipes her eyes as she glances through the open door into the sitting room. Similar to the state of the kitchen, the floor holds newspapers. Last week's dinner plate sits next to last night's, the night before that's. If she could care long enough she'd tidy up.
"Look." For the tiniest of moments, she thinks about telling him what is sitting on the hallway dresser but as quickly as the thought appears she releases it. This is hers, it's for her. It's her name scrawled on the parcel, not Adam's. Lou.
"Can I talk to you later, Adam?" she says finally. She can't look at anything other than the parcel. Since his brother's death, Adam usually manages to bring her back to the real world, but this morning he's an irritation, a barrier between her and the past. She nods her head as Adam says something, as if she's listened to him and has understood what he's said. She hasn't, she's already thinking about re-cradling the phone as her fingers fiddle with the corner of the brown-paper package, mysteriously back in her arms without her realising she's picked it up again.
"Yeah," she finds her lips saying, hanging up.
She opens the parcel with shaking and unfamiliar hands. The only thing that stops her tearing at it is his handwriting. That must be preserved. She walks into the sitting room and sits on the sofa, pulling the paper back, opening the top of the box. Lots of packing paper hiding ... what? Her fingers grab and pull, throw the packing paper on the floor with the other rubbish. Inside the box lies a DVD and a bottle of red wine, bubble-wrapped.
* * *
Memories, one week before he dies:
"What did you buy that for?"
Tom flinches, darts his head towards the kitchen door as Louise stands there, back early from university, taking her jacket off.
"Jesus, you scared the shit out of me."
"Don't be ridiculous." She smiles, wandering into the kitchen and putting her jacket on the worktop. "What are you up to?" she continues playfully.
"I don't know," his thick red lips reply. He stands poised, holding a bottle of red wine half in, half out of a shopping bag.
"What did you buy that for?"
"What do you mean?"
"Yes. But what did you buy it for?"
"To drink. What else?"
"You like white. Are you cooking me dinner or something?" She puts her arms around the back of his waist, but he shirks her off.
"No." Irritation flickers in his voice, but is replaced immediately with a more conciliatory tone. He turns to her; grin lips, dark eyes. "It's not for now. It's for later."
* * *
Now is later. Her fingers pull the last of the bubble-wrap off, freeing the wine so it sits cool in her palm. She puts it down, snatching the DVD, which wears no label of its own. Her hands are like those of an alcoholic in withdrawal as she fumbles it into the machine and pushes the play button. On the floor in front of the TV, she can hear every whir of machinery. She clears herself a space on the floor and waits.
* * *
The first time Louise saw Tom was in the dirty pink- walled newsagents at the end of her road. He was standing at the counter, talking to someone in the aisle and then he glanced at her and she was hooked. She fell in love there and then. He looked so ... safe, actually. If you'd asked her before, she'd have said it was his smile she liked, or the way his t-shirt was caught in his jacket, showing the tiniest bit of the skin around his midriff, or the way he was massaging his neck with his hand as the cashier took his money. But in reality, she simply knew in that instant that he could fix her – and she needed that after her dad's death.
After the newsagents, Louise didn't see Tom again for about two weeks. Then, as she was getting a coffee in a café at seven dials, she saw him. He was standing at the café counter, wearing his suit and tie, sweating.
"Coffee, please. And a slice of toast and marmite," he asked the woman behind the counter.
"White or brown?" she asked.
"Only got white or brown."
"Brown then, thanks."
Louise stood staring at him and it took her a few moments to realise he'd turned around and was looking right back at her.
"Work experience." He smiled, opening his arms out and glancing down at his suited body. "What do you think," he said, giving her a twirl and a wink.
"Oh, hi. Yeah. I saw you in the newsagents the other day," she said nervously.
"I remember." Tom smiled.
"Small place, Brighton," the woman behind the counter said jovially.
"Yeah, some bloke got his nose bitten off in the Zap Club the other day, did you hear?" Louise said. Shit.
"Um, no, I didn't," Tom replied, his gaze not leaving hers. "Listen, I've got to run, can't miss my train. But you want to go out? Cinema or something? Or pizza?"
"Yeah," she said, trying to remain cool and calm. "That'd be great. Do you want my number?"
* * *
"Lou?" Tom's voice. The television screen flickers. Her fingers tremble over the DVD controller. "Will you love again?"
"I don't have to. I've got you," she hears herself reply from the screen. He'd been recording her without her knowledge.
"But if you did have to. What then?" Dark screen before her. No pictures. Then:
Light. His smiling face. He sits in a clean sitting room, on the sofa that presses into her back. She looks over her shoulder, sure for a second he's sitting there, he's come back to her. But her version of the room is like a junkyard, he could never live there.
"That was as far as I got," she hears from the television. Her head darts back to it and her eyes swallow his moving image. His living image. Tom leans closer to the camera.
"I'm stupid, aren't I? But I can't tell you."CHAPTER 2
Adam sits at his kitchen table staring at the telephone in front of him. Louise was anxious and dismissive. She could need time on her own, he supposes, but given the letter that arrived from Tom this morning, he suspects there's something else going on. He shivers in his t-shirt and stares at the telephone again before standing up and grabbing his keys and jumper. He's going to have to go to Brighton to talk to her, whether she wants to or not. They can't carry on like they are, skirting around the issue. If he's learnt anything from his brother's death it's that life is too short; you have to grab it while you can – nobody is guaranteed the long haul.
* * *
Losing a twin is something Adam can't explain to anyone. How can anyone not born half of a pair understand? Even Louise, suffering her own grief, can't get close to comprehending the complexity of Adam's emotions. Not that she's tried. But that's okay. In some strange place inside, the loneliness of his grief is comforting, like it is another aspect of being a twin that outsiders can never 'get'. It makes him feel closer to Tom. Their bond, their 'otherness' is still there, even if Tom isn't. But there is something else lurking deep inside Adam, another feeling, something uncomfortable, something guilt-laden that Adam has spent months working hard to supress – something he will never consciously recognise despite the profound effect it is having on him: Tom's death has offered him a release – it has given him the opportunity to just be Adam Gaddis. For the first time in his life, he isn't one of a pair, he isn't the less-charismatic twin, crouched in his brother's dazzling shadow. Emotionally, Adam understands this feeling but he can't allow it in, he can't allow the possibility of finding a positive in something so horrific.
Excerpted from Beat the Rain by Nigel Jay Cooper. Copyright © 2015 Nigel Jay Cooper. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wow, I just finished this unique book. It is about love, fractured relationships, deception with a dash of Fatal Attraction thrown in. If you are looking for a story that introduces you to interesting characters and has taken a few steps off the beaten path then this is the one for you. What a wonderful first novel and I'm looking forward to further stories from this author. Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy of Beat the Rain in exchange for an honest review.
This isn't the type of novel I would normally read, but I'm so glad I did. If you've been in a long-term relationship, whether you're a man or a woman, you'll feel like this author has climbed into your own skin. It's been a few days since I finished it and I can't stop thinking about it. I received an early copy of this for an honest review.
A wonderful read, emotional, funny and surprising. Each time I thought I knew what was going to happen, Cooper wrong-footed me. Truly captivating - sad and even heartbreaking in parts, the author deftly brings in humour at just the right moments to lighten to mood. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed reading something as much as this novel - original and genuinely moving, with something to say to all of us about how we live our lives.