I should say something about where
we live. It’s a revolting old council flat.
When it rains, mould burgeons on the
walls, condensation rolls down the greasy
windowpanes. The kitchen floor is coated
with dirty cracked linoleum. The living
room smells rank. We can never get
warm. Mother has tried lighting roaring
fires, but they choke, and fizzle out.
She likes to say we’ve been condemned.
There is a tall pile of newspapers by the
fireplace, but they’ve gone damp, and
won’t catch. We always have colds.
I decided to write down my gripes.
It would be too corny to keep a diary
or host a blog. Instead I’d scribble down
my random thoughts, or compose
occasional impassioned poems. I’d
show my writing to nobody. I had
a desk drawer that could be locked.
I’d stash my work inside. It would be
taboo to even gaze upon my creativity.
My filthy brother was a nosey wretch,
Mother was always prying. But this
would be my gorgeous little secret.
I kept all my gloom well hidden.
It was best to get on with the whole
sordid show. I’d forgotten how to cry.
I don’t think I ever knew how. Mother
would have a field day if she cottoned
on about my fragility. So I swore to
become a hard case. One of those
unspeakable bitches who sneer
at the whole world.
I longed to turn a loaded gun on myself.
But I didn’t have the guts for suicide.
Once I’d glided a kitchen knife across my
wrists, but I never pressed down deeply,
or drew any blood. I was just horsing
around. Mother had dozens of pill bottles
lying everywhere. I read the odd names.
I googled them. This was surely a better
way to go. To slip dreamily out of this
world. Without saying sugary goodbyes.
It was five years later. Laura and I were
married. We had a little girl. We’d called
her Alice. I had a steady job in the city,
in the financial sector, nothing thrilling,
but it sustained us comfortably. Laura
had chosen to stay home and raise our
daughter. She walked on air, always
bubbly. Beatrice had finally come out,
and was living with a girl in Shoreditch.
Uncle, alone, bumbled about, piling
adoration on his granddaughter. Alice
doted on him. Like a magician, he would
fish in his deep pockets and pull out these
beautiful blue marbles.
Beatrice was put out, she tutted pertly,
but managed to avoid any openly hostile
displays. I wondered how long it would be
before she had a boyfriend. Beatrice
exhibited no interest in the opposite sex.
She was a hardened loner. Even her
buddy Esther was history. My happiness
must have galled. Uncle chomped on a
celery stick, flirting with Laura. He was
incorrigible. Laura burned warmer than
a bonfire. You could feel the glow.
So where is this Alice now? Laura said,
clearly nettled. I explained that Alice had
passed away. Laura softened. That is
harsh, she shivered. Laura didn’t know
death like I did. I hadn’t even begun to
explain about Imogen. For a moment I
considered leaving it. But I wanted to
keep no secrets. Laura flushed angrily.
How many women have you got tucked
away, Augustus? she screeched. I said
that Imogen was far away, in the Middle
East. We were long over. This appeased
her. We sat silently together. Then Laura
clutched my hand. Our first rocky moment
So Laura and I spent the next weeks
visiting beautiful parkland, going to
the movies, which thrilled her, and
eating at high-end restaurants. Our
relationship had burgeoned into full-
blown love. We spoke about our future
together. Laura wanted the whole
package, marriage and many many kids.
Her ambitions were strangely
conventional. I didn’t disapprove.
Laura drew. Her concentration was
immense. She lavished an hour of
hushed intensity on my portrait.
I wasn’t allowed to see. She tutted
if I shifted an inch. Afterwards, she
covered up her creation with a white
sheet. I shall work a little more on it,
and then you can look, she teased.
I was intrigued. It would have been
simple to pull away the cover, and
take a peek. But something told me
Laura would have been mortified.
This was serious stuff.