Zelda Dawkins knows her older lover, Foxy, is going to leave her. As Zelda prays for something, anything, to prevent the inevitable, she receives a call from her mother. Zelda’s father, a World War II prisoner of war, has hanged himself. It’s not what Zelda wanted. It’s also not unexpected. Zelda comes from a family of unspoken things. Foxy is hers.
But for Zelda, her father’s suicide is more than a wellspring for her grief, rage, and guilt. It was his final escape from the screaming nightmares that kept her awake when she was young—and the closely guarded secret he took to bed with him. It’s also stirring in Zelda memories and unanswered questions of her childhood: Why did her father seem to reject her in favor of a damaged neighborhood boy named Vassil? Why was he so taken with the boy’s mother, a prostitute? How did Vassil come to be so disfigured? And what happened to her father those five years in a Japanese prison camp?
It’s time for Zelda to confront the past, its legacy of cruelty, and to unearth the secrets—her father’s and her own—that have a cast a shadow over her life.
“A writer of addictive emotional thrillers—as if Ruth Rendell had got hold of an A. S. Byatt novel and stripped out the digressive bits.” —The Independent
“Step into the world of family secrets, lies and whispers in the dark.” —The Sunday Telegraph
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Lesley Glaister
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Lesley Glaister
All rights reserved.
My father is dead. It is night. The phone rang. I did not answer it, I was dressing. We were going out to eat tonight, Foxy and me. And to talk, we had to talk, she said. She was going to tell me that she was leaving, that is what I think. Before the phone-call I was lying in the bath looking at my body in the greenish water, breathing in the scent of limes. Refreshing soak. Foxy was downstairs dressed already, her Biederbeck CD on, getting in the mood. We were going to Buster's where there is jazz on a Friday and they do chicken in a chilli crust and a searing red wine for next to nothing. Foxy and I are vegetarian except for Buster's chicken. I was lying in the bath, wet and sad, imagining what she might say and how she might say it. Sorry Zelda, but it's over, or, I do not love you any more. No, not that. More likely she would say, I need space, a temporary separation, see how it goes. She is kind, Foxy. That's how she'd choose to do it, by gradual let-down, slow realisation, the actual moment of separation blurred. Because there must be an actual moment, an actual tear in the fabric: one minute you're a couple, one minute you're not.
Lying in the bath in the green scent of limes, I did not cry. She hadn't said it yet, she might not. She is older and that worries her. She was one of my lecturers and although our affair didn't begin until after I'd graduated she still thinks it's wrong, well dubious, she says. She is only fifteen years older, only forty-four, but you'd think she was Methuselah the way she goes on. She thinks I am very young for my age.
I hauled myself out of the bath and the misery, got dried and perfumed and started to dress – in my silky 40s' camisole and knickers. I was hesitating between dresses when the phone rang. I took no notice – Foxy there to answer. I paused by the mirror arrested by my reflection oh so pretty, so enticing, my skin pink from the bath, against the ivory silk.
The music suddenly switched off. And more than that – somehow a stilling of the air. I don't know how else to describe it. What was missing? Foxy's loud and cheerful voice or ... I don't know, but I shivered. Only September yet a real chill in the air: my green dress, then, with its long sleeves – or maybe the red? Foxy's voice too quiet. My mind spinning on to jewellery and hair and chilli chicken and tonight, after, if everything's all right and tomorrow ... what tomorrow? A lipstick trembling between my finger and thumb. And then Foxy's feet on the stairs, pausing by the bathroom.
She entered the bedroom; I flirted for a desperate second, thrust one hip towards her, pouted my lips, fluttered my eyelashes. But she didn't smile.
'What?' Almost afraid. She put her hands on my upper arms. She is taller than me. She looked down at me as if I was a child.
'That was your mum,' she said.
'What did she want?' Still with the smile hitched to my lips though my heart like a bird falling.
'It's your dad. Sorry Zelda.'
'What?' Frightened, angry at the slump of time, the way a beat can stretch for hours, the way a heart can plummet.
'He died. He is dead. He ...'
What got into me then? I do not know. I have never been violent. I beat her with my fists, I kicked, lucky my foot was bare so I did not badly hurt her shin. 'No!' I pulled away from her arms. I was on the bed. I screamed, I really screamed, not a strangled dream scream, a real hurting scream that raked my throat raw. Then I was still. We were sitting on the edge of the bed. Foxy put her arm around my shoulder.
'I thought you were still in the bath or I'd have called you.'
'Didn't she ask for me?'
'She didn't want to speak she only wanted to say.'
'She got the answerphone – but she couldn't say that on it.'
'Ringing him next.'
'I'd better go ...' I stood up, looked around for clothes, caught my own eye in the mirror, thought my hair is a mess, thought that then?
'Zelda.' Foxy took my hand and pulled me down again. 'She said not to come tonight, wait till morning.'
'But I must ...'
'No. Wait till morning. I'll drive you.'
'Daddy ...' I felt my heart moving in me again like a stunned thing returning to life.
'Oh, poor love.' Foxy's arms tight around me, her hair soft on my shoulder.
'What?' I pulled away realising what she hadn't said. 'I mean ... heart attack ... or what?'
Foxy's fingers dug into my arm. 'Your mum found him hanging in the garage, Zelda. It was suicide.'
She is asleep now. In the light from the landing I can see her face quite clearly. Her hair is spread out on the pillow to one side as if it's blowing in a gale, thick brown hair. Round her temples there is some grey. I lean over her to smell her breath, faint cigarette smoke and the mint of toothpaste. She has the most perfect nose I have ever seen, small and straight, a nose so perfect you want to pinch or pull it, or bite it off.
Anything, I had thought, almost prayed, lying in the bath. Please make something happen, anything, so she cannot finish it. Finish with me. Please God. Anything.
But I did not mean this.
Suicide. I did not believe it for a moment. No, that is a lie. Before she said the word I knew. Can that be true? I felt anger before the stun kicked in. Anger? Yes, to do that. Suicide is so utterly selfish. What is it? It's a last up yours to everybody, a last flounce out, the only sure way to have the last word.
If I did it that's what it would be.
But not my dad. That's not it. That is not good enough.
Nights. It was not just one night, it was many nights all through my growing up. Daddy's dreams were the worst thing. Asleep, head on my cool pillow, my sleep childish and sweet, pastel colours to float in, all ripped apart by a sudden scream. A man's scream – Daddy's – but not like Daddy's voice which was quiet and grey in the everyday, this scream like the bellow of an animal, shapeless, or like the cry of a man without a tongue. He had bad dreams often. Sleep became less pretty as I grew more aware, knowing that this could happen any night.
I slept in the top bunk. Hearing the scream I would jerk up, my nightdress suddenly damp, my neck prickling cold. Underneath I would hear Hazel stirring. The scream woke me up so completely that I could not sleep again, not for hours. My heart would skitter and in the feverishness of my mind stupid rhymes would jump about, skipping rhymes thudding like feet in my head: Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn around, Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear touch the ground. Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear say good-night, Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear turn out the light.
We had a night-light in our room in the shape of a red toadstool with white spots. It stood in the corner and I'd fix my eyes on it whenever I was awake, the red-and-white spotted glow a babyish comfort that Mummy sighed about but let me keep.
Hazel would have her head under the pillow. I could never understand how she could do that, why she did not suffocate or die from the heat, but that is what she'd do and she'd go to sleep again quickly and leave me horribly awake, my thumb jammed in my mouth, my mind sharp – and always, urgently, needing to pee. But I would have to wait.
Because after one of Daddy's dreams, after the screams, there would be footsteps on the landing, running water in the bathroom, Mummy's voice crisp and rustling as paper, talking to him sensibly. Not quite the words, but her tone of voice. And then, after a while, the click of a light switching off, and silence.
And then I'd climb out of my bunk, my feet damp and slippery on the metal rungs of the ladder, quietly, quietly, because if I made the bunk beds shake or creak Hazel would be furious and would pretend I'd woken her and she would hate me. She never would admit that Daddy had woken us. She'd say I made it up. She never would admit she'd heard him screaming too.
And in the bathroom a horrible sweetness, air-freshener hiding the smell of sick so that I had to hold my breath.
Being awake at night, the only one awake at night, is a terrible thing. I am frightened of the night. I do not sleep well. I want someone to talk to, someone to hold me, someone to tell me it's all right. But I also want to be alone so I do not disturb whoever that someone is. It is so hard to be sprung with energy, with thoughts like a whirling flock of starlings in your head, and to have to be still. In the winter in the town centre as it is darkening the starlings flock and squeal like a million rusty wheels come loose. And I don't like that. That is what my thoughts are like, my night thoughts.
Foxy is deeply asleep, turned now, her arm flung over her head, a surprisingly solid arm for such a slim woman, white like marble, little wisps of darkness underneath. How can she sleep tonight of all nights? My father is dead. I do not know which way to turn. I must not wake her but I cannot keep my body still, my mind, I cannot still it. How can she sleep? Doesn't she love me? Doesn't she care?
Yes, she loves me. Yes, she cares.
It is only the brandy that makes her sleep.
Oh, my dad. Oh Daddy, Daddy.CHAPTER 2
Our house was called 'The Nook' and the garden was big and full of trees. The apple tree had a swing slung from a horizontal branch. There was a flowering cherry too and a silver birch – but the best tree was right at the bottom of the garden. Its branches reached up and pressed almost against the upstairs window of the house behind. The tree was special because of its colour – it was a copper beech – but also because, high up in its branches, was our tree-house.
The tree-house had not been built for us, it had been there when we moved in. It had a rope ladder that you could haul up once you were inside so you could not be reached. Its floor was made of planks cut to fit round the trunk and incorporating one smooth grey limb that made a kind of sloping bench, quite comfortable with a cushion on it. The walls had been woven from willow branches, like a basket, and lined with cardboard. Hazel and I Sellotaped the walls with postcards and pictures cut from magazines. We had half the wall space each – hers full of ballet dancers, mine of ponies.
The two windows were round. We'd tried taping polythene bags over them to keep out the draughts but that meant you couldn't see properly, so we left them empty. From one window you could spy on the house – keep an eye on the back door to see who was coming out; the other was only a few feet away from the window of the house behind. One day I looked out and saw a face gazing out of that window, staring straight at me in the tree-house. That was my first sight of Puddle-duck, a thin, wedge-shaped face, yellow as cheese, staring out from between two curtains, staring, just staring it seemed, for hours.
I kept my pets in the tree-house. My pets were ants, big brown ones, wood ants. Because Daddy hated insects, I wasn't allowed to keep them in the house. He didn't even know about them. The formicary had been in my classroom at school, a plastic aquarium in which lived a whole colony. When we had finished studying them, Miss Bowen asked if anyone would like to take them home to keep. Mummy said I could as long as I never brought it into the house, and never mentioned it to Daddy. So I smuggled it straight up into the tree-house, a place where he never ventured.
At one end of the tank was the nest, a heap of soil and leaf fragments laced with holes and tunnels and secret chambers. A ramp led down to it from the rubber-teated feeder bottle from which dripped a sugar solution for my ants to feed on. I used to drop leaves in for them and sometimes treats, a shred off the Sunday roast or the corner of a biscuit which they'd negotiate, cleverly, three or four of them together into a hole they'd widened for the purpose.
I felt like God giving gifts when I dropped things into the tank. I almost felt love. They were so busy my ants, so clever. I delighted in watching them scurrying up and down the ramp from the feeder to the nest, sometimes making forays up the sides of the tank, walking upside down on the lid. Sometimes on their journeys they'd meet other ants and stop, heads together, feelers waving. A whole colony of ants, of lives going on, in a plastic aquarium in a tree-house. The ants didn't know they were imprisoned and balanced in a tree for the amusement of a child. They thought that they were free and that their tank was the whole wide world.
The night is terrible. Thoughts are more urgent, fears are greater, the darkness muffles me, it makes me helpless, breathless. The landing light is on. Foxy likes it dark but she lets me leave the landing light on and it shines through the little strip of glass above the door. The door is closed. I would have it open – but for the landing light to be on and the door closed is a compromise. The stuff of our relationship. I would prefer the window and the curtains to be open, she'd like both closed. So we have the window open a little, but the curtains pulled.
It is midnight, just gone. All the hours of the night. I keep my eye on the strip of light. Foxy is beside me, I can feel her warmth, the feathers of her breath, but she is sealed away in sleep. I must not wake her. When someone is asleep they are not there. It is not fair. Was she going to tell me it is over between us? I do not know if this is better.
The swing was made of thick twisted rope with a slab of wood for a seat. The rope was greenish in its twist as if the green from the apple tree had run down it. I would hardly have been surprised if the rope had sprouted leaves and apples. The apples from the tree were sour and covered in scabs. Mummy made chutney from them and apple sauce and baked apples sometimes, from the biggest of them. I did not like to eat the skins, the scabs were like the crusts of grazes on our knees but inside the flesh fizzed soft and hot and sweet with golden syrup.
Food was complicated. Daddy was funny about it. He ate too much. He'd get fat, diet until he was gaunt, get fat again. He took pills to help slim and when he was taking the pills he was angry. He'd roam round with a spanner looking for things to tighten up. I preferred him fat. When he was fat he was quiet, unless he'd been drinking then he was scary. At least I was scared of him, Hazel too, I think, although she'd never admit it to me. Not scared because he would hit us or hurt us, only scared because ... just because the air crackled and we sat on the edges of our seats and our nails dug into our palms ... just a feeling ... just because.
Daddy liked spice. Chilli powder, curry powder, hot-pepper sauce. 'I can't taste it,' he'd complain, trying one of Mummy's concoctions and putting down his fork. Mummy would get up sighing and fetch the Worcester sauce, the chutney, the Tabasco, and watch him smother his food.
But Mummy had her own funny ideas about food. She is Swedish, so we used to eat things with dill and soured cream, raw pickled herrings, gravadlax, things that no one else I knew would ever eat. Sometimes we went vegetarian, but none of us could manage without bacon for long so that would founder. Food should be fun, she used to say when we would not eat as children. Once she got us to eat our dinner blindfolded to see if we could tell what it was by taste and smell alone. It was something with red sauce I remember because of the mess on the tablecloth. Daddy was not there that time. He didn't believe that food was fun. He was often away when Mummy had her ideas, but if he was at home he'd eat alone, boiling up something from a tin and sloshing in half a bottle of Tabasco.
Tonight we didn't eat. I cannot believe the rage that swept through me, the way I flew at Foxy and beat her to try and beat away the truth: as if the news of my father's death was a buzzing thing, a dreadful fly, and if I screamed enough and fought enough it couldn't settle on me and his death could not be true.
We didn't go to Buster's and we didn't eat. We sat on the bed, her arm round my shoulders, until I was shivering. She helped me out of my underwear but we did not make love. I almost thought we would. I almost wanted to but she pointed out that I was chilled and made me put on my white satin pyjamas. We went downstairs and sat by the gas-fire drinking brandy. Metaxa, bought with the last Greek money at the end of our holiday, hot gold. Foxy brought in a tray of cheese and biscuits but I could not think of eating. It was like Christmas night after too much lunch, the brandy glasses warmed by the fire, the cheese, the crackly wrappings of the biscuits. Only no joy and no presents and no tree in the corner winking.
'I feel useless,' Foxy said, rolling yet another cigarette. 'I don't know what to say.'
Excerpted from Easy Peasy by Lesley Glaister. Copyright © 1997 Lesley Glaister. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.