Once upon a time, Jacks Morgan had dreams. She was going to have a successful career and travel the world. She would own a house on the beach, and spend long nights with her boyfriend strolling under the stars. But life had other ideas. First Martha came along, then Jonty. Then Jacks' elderly mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and had to move in. Now their little terrace in Weston-super-Mare is bursting at the seams. Jacks' dreams were put on hold long ago. But if she can save up enough to give her teenage daughter a bright future, then all her sacrifice will be worth something . . . won't it?
|Publisher:||Head of Zeus|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Amanda Prowse is the author of several novels, including What Have I Done?
Read an Excerpt
By Amanda Prowse
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2015 Amanda Prowse
All rights reserved.
She lay back and stared at the ceiling with its fringed blue paisley lampshade housing a single dull bulb hanging from the centre. They had meant to change the shade for something yellow to match the wallpaper, that had been the plan, they might even have had a look at a few in British Home Stores, she couldn't remember, but fifteen years later it still hadn't happened. Like everything else in the house that was defunct, mismatched or ageing, they had got used to it, lived with it, until it was just how things were. This even applied to the cardboard boxes full of clothes and bits and bobs that had been packaged up and stacked in the front hallway. They were intended for the loft. What had he said? 'Pop 'em there, love, and I'll shove them up in the loft next time I bring the ladder in.' But three years later, they had taken root in the hallway, become furniture. She hoovered around them and stacked clean laundry on the top, and the kids threw their school bags on to them rather than take them upstairs. In fact she wasn't even sure what was in a couple of them.
Opening her eyes wide, she tried to force herself into a greater state of wakefulness. Her nightie was twisted in an uncomfortable ring around her midriff; she lifted her bottom and in her crab-like pose pulled the fabric until it lay flat beneath her. She had got into the habit of wearing both a nightie and pyjama bottoms, whether for warmth, comfort or an added obstacle for Pete to navigate should the mood take him, she wasn't sure. Although she had to admit the mood hadn't taken him for quite some time and, if she was being honest, that was something of a relief.
She glanced across at her husband, who slept without a pillow, his head tipped back, mouth open, his dark stubble poking like little sticks through skin that could do with a good dollop of moisturiser. Chance would be a fine thing – he considered owning hair gel a statement of questionable sexuality. Unaware of her scrutiny, he raised his arm and scratched his nose. Then he turned and breathed open mouthed in her direction. She looked away; anything his body emitted at that time of the morning was less than fragrant. He was still a young man, still good-looking when he was spruced up, but there was something about him in the early-morning light, with the sweat of a warm night clinging to his skin and his breath laced with spices, that made her shrink from him.
She smiled at the irony as she flexed her toes inside his old sports socks that she slept in. Hardly sexy. He still on occasion had the ability to elicit a longing deep inside her, especially when he smelt good and was confident, reminding her of the self-assured banter of their youth. She remembered when they left school, eighteen years ago. She had been a beauty then, with her long, slim legs, blonde hair and a tan that seemed to last year round. Her nose was freckled and her long eyelashes framed her green eyes without the need for mascara. Whenever she stumbled across photographs from that era, it always shocked her how lovely she had been and how unaware of it she was. She recalled her many insecurities and how she had worried about the slight cleft to her chin, her gangly limbs.
They had married soon after they had started dating and in those days slept skin to skin, her face pressed into his chest, arms and legs entwined. Any time separated was considered a waste. They would wake in the early hours to make love before falling asleep again. Not that she had needed much sleep, not then. Neither sleep nor food sustained her, all she needed was him, him and her new baby. The sight of him, the thought of him, the feel of him against her, he was everything.
Jacks crept from their bed and looked back at him as he screwed his eyes shut, wrinkled his nose and farted. She rolled her eyes. 'Those were the days,' she whispered as she collected her towel from the back of the old dining chair in the corner of the room and headed for the shower.
'What?' Jacks answered without lifting her head from the newspaper. It was 7.15. She had shoved on some clothes, run a brush through her hair, turned on the lights, flicked on the heating, placed the breakfast cereal on the table and made a hot drink. She now sat at the kitchen table. This was her one small window of opportunity at the beginning of every day when she was able to read the local news. A brief moment before the world came rushing up to meet her and she had to run to keep up, like a lady she'd once seen balancing on a glittery ball in the circus. Her smile had been fixed, but under her elaborate false eyelashes Jacks had seen the terror in her eyes. One wrong step and she would fall off. Jacks knew exactly how she felt.
'Mum?' The shout was louder this time.
She closed her eyes. 'For God's sake, Martha, you know I hate this shouting up and down the stairs.' She tapped her palm on the kitchen table, liking the sound of her wedding band on the wooden surface. 'How many times have I told you, if you want to ask me something, come down here!' She shook her head and returned to the article in the Weston Mercury, interested in how to get a smear-free shine on your conservatory windows with nothing more than warm water and a squirt of vinegar.
Her daughter's footsteps thundered down the uncarpeted stairs. Jacks drew breath: how many times had she told her? Too many to count, but Martha, aged seventeen, who had lived in this house since she was born, still hadn't mastered conversing face to face, preferring to holler from room to room. Neither, it would seem, had she learnt how to walk down the stairs without shaking the rafters.
'Have I got a shirt for school?' She practically bounced on the spot, her tone was urgent. It amazed Jacks that despite the fact that they left the house at 7.45 every morning and had done so for the last six years, time always seemed to sneak up on Martha like it was a shock or a deviation from the norm, each and every morning.
Jacks looked at her daughter in her tight black school skirt, thick woolly tights and pyjama top, reeking of perfume and trying to tease her roots with her fingers as she loitered in the doorway. She decided not to comment on the dark ring of black kohl that masked her daughter's pretty blue eyes and made her heart-shaped face look top-heavy. There were only so many times she could have that conversation. Besides, when she was a lawyer, rushing up the court steps in a crisp white shirt with her briefcase full of important notes, she would surely rethink her knotty hair and over-the-top eye make-up. She would want to emulate her colleagues. Jacks smiled at the thought. Her brilliant girl, soon to take her A levels, which would put her on the path to a university education and then a dazzling career. Jacks would never forget Mrs Fentiman, the woman who had come into Martha's school and given a talk, extolling the virtues of doing law and painting a picture so vivid, Jacks could taste the champagne with which they toasted their wins and could smell the leather-topped desk at which she sat and enjoyed a perfect view of St Paul's Cathedral. Her suit was elegantly tailored and she wore Chanel earrings. Jacks wanted that life for Martha, all of it. She wanted Martha to go into schools and inspire girls to strive for better, she wanted her to drink flutes of champagne in chambers instead of pints of cider-and-black under the pier.
'So have I got a shirt?' Martha prompted.
Jacks nodded. 'In the airing cupboard.'
'The airing cupboard on the landing I just came from?' Martha pointed to the ceiling.
'That's the one.' Jacks traced the words of the newspaper article with her finger, ignoring her daughter's sarcasm.
'If you don't mind me asking, what is it you're reading?' Martha was chewing gum, which Jacks found inexplicable before breakfast. It must make everything taste of mint and what if she accidentally swallowed it? That didn't bear thinking about.
'It's an article about conservatory windows and how to clean them.' She looked at her daughter as her tortoiseshell-framed glasses slipped down her nose.
'But we haven't even got a conservatory!' Martha rolled her eyes.
Jacks removed her specs and looked at the back wall of the kitchen that ran the width of their house. 'Yet. I don't have a conservatory yet.'
Martha rolled her eyes again. 'Instead of a conservatory, can't you just build an extra bedroom in the loft so I don't have to share with Jonty? I hate sharing with him. It's not fair!'
'Really, Martha? Funny how you've not mentioned it.' She gave a wry smile as her daughter thumped back up the stairs. Jacks felt a familiar flicker of guilt. Martha was right; she shouldn't have to share with her little brother. Jonty had been moved into his big sister's room with a set of open bookshelves dividing the space when Jacks' mum had come to live with them. It was Martha's favourite topic of conversation. Jacks had hoped the complaints about just how hard done by she was might have waned. They hadn't.
For the first time that day she considered the seven thousand, four hundred and eighty-two pounds that sat in their savings account and had done so for a little over a year. It was the sum that remained from the sale of her parents' house, a couple of streets away in Addicott Road, once they had paid for the hoist to be installed in the bathroom. A hoist her mum never used because it scared her and anyway, as it turned out, it was so much easier to pop her in the shower, less palaver. The hoist, however, hadn't cost as much as the stair lift that had been fitted. A stair lift on which Jacks bashed her shins in the dark of night and about which she had to continually reprimand Jonty, who liked using it as a ride and to ferry his Transformers up and down.
'I'll be late tonight. City are playing at home, Tuesday-night friendly, so don't worry about tea, I'll get a pie at Ashton Gate.' This her husband Pete yelled excitedly from the landing. She shook her head; no wonder Martha thought shouting was okay.
'Righto.' She sighed, reaching for her mug and draining the contents. The best cup of tea in the whole day was undoubtedly this first one.
'Mu-um?' Jonty hollered from behind the bedroom door.
'I give up.' Jacks closed the paper and placed her empty mug and toast plate in the sink. 'Yes, love?'
'I need to take in some things to make a model of a famous building!'
'What?' Jacks spun round and marched from the kitchen into their narrow hallway, avoiding the sports bag that blocked her path and the stack of boxes, hoping she had misheard.
'Mrs Palmer says we need to take in things from our household rubbish and recycling that we can use to build a model of a famous building.' He was precise, probably reading from whatever scrap of paper he had discovered bearing this information.
'When do you need it by?' Not today, please not today ...
'Today!' he answered.
'God, Jonty! And you are telling me now?' Jacks snapped. Placing her hands on her slender hips, she tried to think of a solution: what had they thrown away recently that might resemble a building?
'Thought we weren't supposed to shout up the stairs?' Martha poked her head around the bathroom door, her hand gripping the straightening irons that were plugged in on the landing.
'Don't be sarky to your mum,' Pete interjected as he thundered down the stairs in his baggy sweatpants, thick socks, long-sleeved T-shirt and body warmer, the uniform of a man who worked outside.
'I would have told you before, but I forgot!' Jonty explained.
'We out of milk?' Pete called.
Jacks turned her head towards the kitchen. 'No, it's on the side, near the kettle!' Then she trod the first stair. 'Forgetting is no good, Jonty. I've told you to let me have any notes or pieces of paper as soon as you bring them out of school. That way we can make sure we have a bit of notice for things like this.'
'Yeah, we don't want a repeat of the Harvest Festival embarrassment!' Martha laughed.
'Thank you for that, Martha! Just get yourself ready.' Jacks felt her cheeks flame as she remembered sending him off for the grand Harvest Festival service with an offering of a tin of pinto beans and a Cadbury's Creme Egg. It was all she could lay her hands on at the last minute as they had walked out of the front door. Apparently Mrs Palmer had sniffed at the items and asked what pinto beans were. To which Jonty had replied, 'They're for making pinto.' Jacks had grabbed them in error from the supermarket shelf and was secretly quite glad not to have them lurking in the cupboard, taunting her with their fancy label, confirming her lack of culinary knowhow.
'Sorry, Mum,' Jonty offered.
'That's okay.' She smiled, the sound of his eight-year-old baby voice and his contrition twisting her heart. He was a good boy, her baby. 'Can you both come down and have your breakfast as soon as you're ready, I don't want to be late today!'
'I gave you a piece of paper a week ago, about that art trip to Paris and you still haven't said if I can go or not!' Martha said.
'Your dad and I are still discussing it.' Jacks nodded. She placed her hand on her forehead, simultaneously trying to think about what Jonty could take in and how to explain to Martha that there just weren't the funds for a trip to Paris. The savings-account money was for a rainy day or any expenses her mum might have. Her own conservatory was a pipe dream and so, sadly, was her daughter's desire to go to Paris. Paris indeed! It made her chuckle. In her day they'd had a trip to Oldbury Power Station, with a packed lunch thrown in.
'What are we still discussing?' Pete asked from the kitchen.
'Martha's trip to Paris!' Jacks replied.
'So I can go?' Martha said.
Jacks shook her head. 'No, we are still discussing it!'
'I don't know why anyone would want to go to Paris!' Pete joined in from the kitchen table. 'Dirty, 'orrible place where you'll get mugged and you need a mortgage just to buy a cup of tea!'
'Dad, you think I'm going to get mugged everywhere! You said I'd get mugged if I went to Worle on my own on the bus, and I didn't!'
'You was just lucky, girl. And just cos you survived Worle, doesn't mean you'll have the same luck in Paris.'
'And anyway, how do you know what Paris is like, you've never even been!' Martha pointed out.
'No interest in it, love, that's why.'
'God, Dad, you think going up to Bristol is a big day out!'
"Tis when the mighty City are playing.' Pete clapped his hands together, making a big noise.
'Can I come with you tonight, Dad, to see the mighty City?' Jonty asked.
'No, mate. No midweek games till you can stand a round at The Robins, them's the rules.'
'I think you make up the rules as you go along.' Martha jumped to her little brother's defence. 'It's not up to Dad if I go to France or not, is it, Mum? You know what he's like!'
'I can hear you, Miss Martha!' Pete yelled.
'What building am I making, Mum?' Jonty asked.
'Errmm ...' Jacks was trying to think of something when the bell rang out, loud and clear above the chatter and accusations flying back and forth up and down the stairs.
'Nan's ringing!' Jonty and Martha shouted in unison.
I know. I heard it.
When Jacks' mum, Ida Morgan, had first come to live with them eighteen months ago, she had seemed disorientated, uncomfortable and confused, so Jacks had given her a small hand bell, to be rung whenever she needed tending to. Turned out she needed tending to quite a lot.
When Ida's dementia had first become apparent, several years ago now, it was ignored. Jacks' dad, Don, had trivialised it and they had all just gone along with it, joining in the banter of distraction. What did it matter if Ida forgot where she lived and served frozen oven chips without cooking them first? Called everybody by the wrong name, put eggs in the tumble dryer and the car keys in a jar of coffee? Jacks' dad had made light of it as he tried to keep things ticking along, not wanting to frighten his wife or distress their only daughter. But after he died, Ida declined rapidly; or maybe it was that Jacks' dad had shielded her from the extent of her mum's condition. Either way, it was a shock.
Excerpted from Perfect Daughter by Amanda Prowse. Copyright © 2015 Amanda Prowse. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus 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
Jacs as a young girl had dreams of travel and the good life. 18 years later with a husband, 2 kids, and a mother with Alzheimers Disease who lives with her , she realizes that she didn't get the life that she dreamed of and the stress starts to get to her. She imagines how her life would have been if she had been with Sven her old boyfriend instead of the life that she shares with Pete her husband. Would her dream life have been better. As she works through her feelings Jacs discovers many things about herself.