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Authors: Raffaella Barker

Come and Tell Me Some Lies

BOOK: Come and Tell Me Some Lies
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Praise for Raffaella Barker:

‘It should be read for the tranquillising effect of Barker's elegantly glittering prose and the gentle mockery that greets Venetia's endless domestic mishaps … a disarmingly wry and engaging narrator with a keen eye for nature and a shrewd insight into the follies of urban chic'

Financial Times

‘A fine, spiky sense of humour'
Daily Telegraph

‘I loved it. I couldn't put it down … Raffaella Barker is so good at drawing her characters and making them likable that within about ten pages you feel you know them intimately'

Daily Express

‘An engaging work, sewn up with a dry line in wit'

Scotland on Sunday

‘She writes beautifully, gathering intensity … combining, with apparent ease, emotion and admirable precision'

Independent

‘Raffaella Barker is a writer of talent'
Times Literary Supplement

‘This charming novel overflows with eccentric characters … a satisfying mix of entertaining domestic disasters and musings on kitten heels, hens and new love'
Daily Mail

‘Her writing and characters are beautifully formed and controlled with inconsequential moments adding to the charm … pure therapy: Barker's books are good for you'

Country Life

‘A light, bright and optimistic read … throw yourself down on the sand, dive between those silken sheets or luxuriate on the shag-pile, and enjoy it – I certainly did'
Literary Review

For my father and my mother

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

A Note on the Author

Also by Raffaella Barker

Also available by Raffaella Barker

Chapter 1

My father believed in angels. He named me after one of the archangels and in honour of an Italian Contessa called Gabriella who wore emeralds on every finger and lived in a Renaissance villa overlooking Lake Nemi. The Contessa found him charming and became his patroness: ‘You are a famous poet. You will write your greatest work here in Italy,' she insisted, and she gave him a little cottage in her garden. A friend, a young painter called Graham Kingsley, sent him a telegram: ‘Patrick, I'm bringing you a present.' My father wrote back, ‘To hell with the present. Bring me a future.'

Kingsley arrived with my mother, Eleanor. She was twenty-two and wore straw hats; she had black hair and luminous white skin. She skulked in the shade of the hot Italian summer dreaming of Scottish moors, mauve skies and rain. Kingsley left after three days. Eleanor stayed for ever. She was Patrick's future, and she had brought her wellington boots.

The myths of my family, favourite fables told again and again, are brought out like battered photographs, nostalgia-scented and made alive by scrambled memory. They are fairy-tales,
fantasies grown from a seed of truth into something wild and overblown. Only the house, Mildney, and the five children – me, then Brodie, Flook, Dan and finally Poppy – remain as constants in my mind. And of course, my parents, Patrick and Eleanor. The lives they led before I was born move in my head with my own memories until I cannot distinguish truth from legend. Perhaps there is no difference.

Patrick loved memories and myths. He leaned his elbows on the arms of his favourite red velvet chair and pressed his fingers together, a vaulted arc through which his voice fell slowly towards me from long ago.

Patrick and Eleanor went to a piano recital at the Contessa's villa. Eleanor made herself ready with wellington boots and goggles of mascara. They traipsed up the garden path, Eleanor sulking a little as Chopin sprinkled from an open window. In the music-room a young German, his pate bright bald, milked the Steinway. Eleanor ate macaroons and removed one wellington to scratch at her instep while the other hand hogged more biscuits. Five minutes into the recital she leaned over and whispered, ‘Very soon you will have to excuse me. I am tone deaf to all instruments except the bagpipes.'

They left. Eleanor pocketed a last macaroon as she rose from her chair.

Patrick and Eleanor furnished themselves with two typewriters; Patrick's was strewn with papers, Eleanor's with roses, and they conceived their first baby. They returned to London as winter began and Gabriella Laura was born. Eleanor was entranced.
Patrick found a tiny flat in Islington and its one room was a talcum-powdered temple to the baby. Eleanor spent hours each day mooning by the cradle where Gabriella slept, watching her tiny hands unclench and float like seaweed against her shawl. In awe and incredulous at the baby's ability to survive, she leaned over the cradle night after night, prodding the child until an angry yell verified the miracle of existence. Patrick, thirty years older, had sired three children by the time he met Eleanor, but had never been given or taken the time to be with them. They were grown-up now, the same age as Eleanor, and he found himself enraptured by his new daughter, beguiled into family life.

Patrick found it impossible to write in the cramped flat and longed to take Eleanor and Gabriella back to the sun. He borrowed a house on the borders of France and Italy, and in the spring they drove off into the snowbound Apennines. Patrick loved driving. He wore leather gloves stippled with holes and glasses with green lenses. He had a navy-blue Mercedes with a bench front seat and a steering wheel as white as bone. In this car, which he and Eleanor christened Sadie Benz, they sped through tiny French villages, the baby's clean nappies streaming like wedding bunting from the windows as Eleanor attempted to dry them.

Chapter 2

Spring came slowly, buds blurred on the misted trees where rooks wrenched off twigs and flapped away with them to build nests. I was eleven and I took an exam to see if I could win a scholarship to Mary Hall's Girls School.

Mummy drove me to the school one watery March morning. I wore my camel coat. I hated it. The sleeves were too short and the fabric smelt of damp and scratched at my neck. I felt hot and cross and restricted. The sky was grey and heavy as the tarmac on the road as we crept towards Norwich in the mini-van. I glanced into the back of the car and cringed with embarrassment at the piles of sweet wrappers and old newspapers. A spare tyre, its inner tube hanging out like a bloated intestine, was wedged behind my seat, old socks and forgotten hats strewn across its black bulk. Shame, and a deeper shame of my shame, flushed over me, and I prayed that no one at the school would see our car.

Mummy was callously oblivious to the mini-van's aesthetic faults, and indeed to her own, although she promised to take off her blonde wig as soon as we had driven through Aylthorpe. She had been stopped by the police a few weeks before for having
orange nylon string spewing from the engine of the car. The police asked to see her driving licence. She didn't have one. She stared blankly at the officers and was let off with a stern caution not to drive again. Jubilant at her escape, she came home and searched through a trunk full of hats until she found a stringy blonde wig brought to Mildney by someone in a transvestite phase. She wore it every time she went out and she looked like a madwoman. Her pale skin battled and lost with the brassy blonde tufts of the wig, and her own dark wiry hair puffed out from beneath it in a cloud. She completed the disguise with a pair of purple-tinted glasses left by another visitor and a big brown fur coat. Daddy saw her sallying forth and raised his eyes to heaven. ‘Can this possibly be my wife? My love, you will be locked up if you are seen like that.'

This morning she wasn't wearing her dark glasses, but the wig was perched like a beret towards the back of her head and the fur coat was done up with nappy pins, their pastel pink and white heads protruding awkwardly from the thick brown pelt. ‘I'll undo it when we get there,' she soothed, accelerating to pass a pedestrian.

I looked out at the road. A cyclist hissed past in the rain. ‘Mummy, we're going very slowly.'

As the words left my mouth the van groaned, shuddered and died. Mummy and I looked at one another and burst into nervous tears. We pushed the car to the edge of the road and sat on the bonnet. I leaned over and pulled the wig from her head; neither of us spoke. A great green car pulled up and a bald man with long leather riding-boots and a moustache got out of it.

‘Oh God.' Mummy stiffened beside me. ‘Now we're going to be murdered as well.'

The man stood in front of us. He towered over the little mini-van.

‘Where are you going?' His voice was far more gentle than his appearance.

‘My daughter has an interview in Norwich at eleven o'clock,' said Mummy, ‘and this bloody car has stopped.'

‘I'll take you,' said the man. ‘My name is John Leighton. I live in Melton.'

I wiped my nose on my sleeve – it was better than using the crisp packet which was all Mummy could find when I asked her for a handkerchief – and looked at his car. It was very shiny. The faint drizzle of rain, which on our mini-van had produced a viscous surface of slime, glistened in tiny clear bubbles along the green bonnet. We got in, sliding and squeaking across deep leather seats. The man drove us to Norwich not saying a word, chain-smoking long gold-tipped cigarettes. Mummy thanked him and he smiled and nodded his naked head before driving off into the shunting traffic.

‘How extraordinary,' said Mummy. ‘I think it bodes well for your interview, don't you?' I didn't answer. I couldn't speak because my tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth.

The school smelt of polish; bright clean floors vanished around corners. All the doors along the corridors were closed. Behind one I heard a chorus of voices chanting Latin while industrious silence welled from others. I imagined hundreds of girls concentrating very hard, and I felt isolated and insignificant. We sat outside the headmistress's office. I gazed vacantly
at the neat white label; it said: ‘Miss Floyd'. I looked at my hands and noticed that all my nails were tipped with dark crescents of grease from the car. I clenched my fists. The ‘Miss Floyd' door opened and a rotund lady came out. She had thin, fine hair brushed carefully into a peak to minimize the pink glow of her scalp. A few flakes of skin had settled on her shoulders. She was very small. She smiled and shook hands with Mummy.

‘Gabriella, will you please come with me,' she trilled. Mummy kissed me and whispered, ‘Good luck, darling,' and I followed Miss Floyd into her office.

The room smelt of sweet coffee and Marie biscuits. My stomach rumbled loudly. Miss Floyd waved me to a chair and sat down behind a huge desk, empty except for a horribly blank sheet of paper. I felt less nervous when I noticed that only her head and shoulders rose above the desk, and I sat up very straight so that I was almost taller than she was. She asked me a few boring questions about my present school and what subjects I liked best. Then she said, ‘And what are your hobbies?'

BOOK: Come and Tell Me Some Lies
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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