Authors: Beth Boyd
novel by Beth Boyd
the most romantic books 2012
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Jeff who helped me find what I needed.
Redruth, Camborne, St Erth for St Ives, Penzance. A childhood litany of stations went through Karen’s head as she neared the end of the long journey. She had sworn that she was going to lay off relationships while she focused on her next art exhibition. Men messed with your head (and body!). Last month, if someone had told her she would be on the train to Cornwall today she would have laughed in disbelief. It wasn’t even a good time of the year to head for the seaside, mid-winter was freezing and windy. Her friends had asked if there was any skiing on the cliffs.
She thought to
herself that she should be more tough minded. If only she had said no
to the family she wouldn’t have landed herself with this hassle. Two weeks ago she was at her parents’ house in Kent for Christmas. It was a welcome break from the hard slog of painting. It was the usual sort of festive repetition with mum and dad, her sister Amanda, and brother James. There were visits from Amanda’s stuck-up fiancé, Julian, and various aunts and uncles. Her grandmother hadn’t made it up from Cornwall. Everything was just the same as usual, comforting but dull, and then, on Boxing Day, there had been the phone call from Gran which had put the cat among the pigeons. She spoke to Karen’s mother initially then directly to Karen. Gran had been told, she said, by her doctor that she just wasn’t getting over an earlier bout of flu. The biting winds of the Cornish coast weren’t doing her any good. What was needed was some hot dry sunshine. Anyway, to cut an interminable story short she wanted to spend six weeks in Australia with her son, Karen’s uncle, Colin. And someone had to look after her dog, Humphrey. Besides which she didn’t like to leave her cottage empty for so long.
And guess who got the short end of the straw?
Years ago, when she had been studying art at St Martins and Amanda reading law at Oxford she had always been the one summoned by the parents to nurse her mother during a bout of bronchitis or look after the house during dad’s recovery from a bad back. The dutiful bloody daughter.
gobsmacked. Why her again? Just because she wasn’t an accountant or an up-and-coming lawyer it didn’t mean that her work was any less important. She knew that her father in his heart of hearts considered art a waste of time and his favourite jibe was that he could paint any of these modern daubs. He always said that Karen should put the rats, that the gardener caught in the potting shed, into formaldehyde like a Damien Hirst but smaller, an idea which caused a great deal of mirth in the Sevenoaks crowd at the New Year’s party.
Well as it turned out nobody wanted to go.
They all said they’d love to of course, it was just that pressures of work meant that nobody had the time. After all, Gran had been awfully good to them over the years, all those wonderful holidays. Trelawney Cove was a lovely place and Humphrey a dear little dog. Hang on a sec, Karen thought cynically. She last recalled Amanda saying what a boring dump Trelawney Cove was and that the food was abysmal. Even her mother had commented on the unfriendliness of the neighbours. And as for Humphrey, so-called dear little dog, he must be at least ten by now and even as a puppy had been prone to jumping out from behind furniture and trying to take a chunk out of your ankle, not to mention his unpleasant habit of going into the bedrooms and weeing on any clothes left on the floor.
When she pointed out to Gran that Humphrey had chewed the crotch out of severa
l of her best pairs of knickers, Gran tartly replied that she shouldn’t have left them on the floor in the first place and that if they’d been clean Humphrey wouldn’t have touched them. That dog certainly had good taste, though.
"You will be able to use Granny
’s studio, darling," her mother had said. "You will be able to paint without any interruption. In fact it’s so quiet down there that you’ll be able to get loads of work done. And you won’t be distracted by London."
I like living in London! And in fact, it’s extremely disruptive to change studios," Karen had protested. "It’s not as though I paint seascapes."
’t be a bad idea if you did," her father had added. "I’ve always liked a nice seascape. I’m sure they might sell better than that modern stuff."
Needless to say, none of these arguments
persuaded Karen that she should be the one to give up her time. What had finally convinced her to go was the feeling that she really did owe her grandmother something in return for all the encouragement she had given Karen to become an artist. Her grandmother had shelved a promising career as a water-colourist to look after a rather demanding husband and two children on an extremely tight budget. Nevertheless she’d managed to keep on painting in the little spare time that she had, and always impressed on Karen the need to keep your dreams alive.
As children, Karen, James and Amanda had spent many summers with
Gran while mother and father went to more exotic destinations, dumping the kids with their grandmother. They’d loved the quiet cove with its small sandy beach and the wild dunes and cliffs which rose up behind it. When Karen’s grandfather had finally drunk himself to death, Gran had been able to devote herself to painting and had become a water-colourist of some note locally, selling quite a few of her rather old-fashioned landscapes and Cornish scenes.
As they grew
up they went less and less. There’d been school trips abroad and the parents found them more acceptable as travel companions once they had passed through their initial adolescent gawkiness. It had been several years since Karen had been to Trelawney Cove and Gran usually came up for Christmas and other holidays.
’s voice cut across her thoughts as the tannoy crackled into the carriage. “Tea, coffee, fresh-cut sandwiches, hot snacks, crisps, soft drinks and a selection of wines and spirits are all available in the buffet car situated at the rear of the train between first and standard class seating.”
Fresh-cut sandwiches, my arse,” thought Karen as she remembered her last encounter with British railway dining. The advertised hot bacon butty had resembled an ancient sea sponge soaked in fat and stunk of rancid pork. Karen didn’t consider herself a fussy eater, in fact, she’d always been known as a bit of a pig by her friends, although she didn’t seem to put on weight. But even she’d been forced to admit defeat and abandon the thing in its Styrofoam coffin in the bin outside the lavatory, just to get the smell out of the carriage.
Cup of tea?” asked the young man sitting opposite her who was clearly a surfer with his dyed green hair and Roxy t-shirt, she looked up and saw his surf board wedged in the upper luggage rack. It took Karen a moment to realise he was speaking to her. She had been in a cocoon of her own thoughts since getting on the train. Karen had however noted the interested glances she had been receiving from him and had mentally decided to blank him if he should make a move. Even muffled up in an ancient duffel coat selected to ward off just such overtures, she knew that she still looked quite good: her high cheek bones and clear complexion were always a source of secret satisfaction to her and a source of annoyance to Amanda who suffered from problem skin - dry in parts and greasy in others. Though in the figure stakes, Amanda led by a short neck or rather a full chest.
Oh, no. No thank you,” she replied, smiling vaguely out of courtesy. She didn’t feel very hungry anyway and who knew what interminable chat about waves and beaches she would have to endure in exchange for a cup of tea. She had been bored by surfers before. She leant her head against the window and closed her eyes, pretending to sleep.
Karen remembered how please
d her grandmother had been when she told her that she’d take care of Humphrey and the cottage. Her grandmother promised her that it wouldn’t be a waste of time and sounded rather mysterious but Karen had thought that Gran was just trying to make her feel better about being the one to come down. The rest of the family had been delighted that Karen had agree
to go, albeit reluctantly, and had all been especially nice to her for the rest of the holiday. Karen sceptically put that down to guilt on their part.
The green-haired surfer
returned with his tea. He really wasn’t bad looking under that hair and he had lovely strong shoulders and a slim waist, Karen thought. She’d avoided any entanglements with the opposite sex for some time. She found that love affairs and painting just didn’t mix. No sooner did you get involved with someone than they needed help with housing or emotional problems or they simply expected you to cook them a meal. None of her ex-boyfriends had been the least bit competent at any tasks around the house. Karen had also found that they tended to go to pieces over the least set-back and she was left to pick up the emotional pieces.
Most of her involvements had been with fellow art students, first at Camberwell School of Art and then at the Slade, where she had done her postgraduate degree. Perhaps this
accounted for their total inability to cope with life outside of the studio. They all seemed to be looking for mistresses who would cook and clean and go out to work to earn money to pay the bills between shows. She determined very early on that she wasn’t going to end up playing second fiddle to another artist.
She and her sister Amanda had on-going
arguments about marriage. Amanda knew from an early age that she wanted to be a lawyer. She sailed through school and university and eventually into a very good firm of solicitors in the City. Then she met Julian, a fellow solicitor and it wasn’t long before they announced their engagement. They were getting married in June. Amanda had it all worked out. She intended to have two children. She and Julian would take maternity/paternity leave and then return to work. She was one of the most organised people Karen had ever met.
Sometimes Karen envied her sister
’s complete certainty about the future. She certainly had no plans to get married herself. She could not imagine a man who would not only allow her the complete freedom she needed to paint but also not expect her to run around after him taking care of his needs. She knew her mother and Amanda thought that she was selfish but if she were to succeed as a painter, where so few women had, she needed to be unencumbered by selfish men. She knew Amanda didn’t approve of her life which didn’t revolve around mortgages and moving to an area with good schools.
When she got off the train s
he took a great gulp of the clean air and for the first time in weeks felt that things might be getting better. It did not take long for the cheerful taxi driver to load her bags and canvases into the boot of his rather battered Ford.
As soon as Karen was seated in the sagging back seat with the remainder of her bags and packages he began his mini inquisition.
“You look happy my love. It’s a long way out to Trelawney Cove, mind you.”
Karen suppressed a smile, it was barely eight miles and on t
he empty roads it usually took less than ten minutes from the station to the cottage door. But all the Penzance drivers thought that anything outside of Penzance was the Wild West. Karen wondered if he was angling for a larger tip but then decided she was thinking like a Londoner.
Got friends then?”
Karen thought she would put him out of his misery.
“I ‘m going to stay in my grandmother’s house and look after her dog. She’s gone to Australia for her health.”