Authors: Amanda Prowse
Once a week, Rosie Tipcott counts her blessings. She goes to sit on her favourite bench on the north Devon cliffs, gazes out at the sky, and thanks her lucky stars for the life she has.
For Rosie is lucky. After a troubled childhood, she grew up and won the jackpot: a wonderful husband, two mischievous young daughters, and a neat little house by the sea. She dedicates every waking hour to the happiness of her family.
But when her husband unexpectedly leaves her for another woman and takes the children, she must ask the question: what is left in her life? Can Rosie find the strength to rebuild herself? More importantly, does she even want to?
I am my husband’s wife, a role I cherish, every single day. This book is for my Simeon who encourages me to follow my dreams, who loves me unconditionally and who has taught me that the real world is what happens behind our front door, everything else is just pretend. I love you Mr P, my soulmate. X
Rosie always laid three places at the dinner table.
Mum, Dad and herself.
Three knives, three forks and three wipe-clean placemats with scenes of Venice printed on them.
Every evening after school, she ate her tea with pictures of the Grand Canal, St Mark’s Square and the Bridge of Sighs lurking beneath her plate. She had a hankering to visit these places despite having no idea where they were. They looked mighty impressive, even with an escaped baked bean sitting astride a gondola or a blob of ketchup in the middle of the grand basilica.
Her dad never mentioned their eating arrangements. He simply smiled, handed her her plate and gave the same monotone instruction that she sounded in her head with precision as he spoke it.
‘Mind out, the plate’s hot.’
She would wait until he went back into the kitchen to fetch the gravy or the glasses of weak orange squash that accompanied their evening meal and then she’d touch her finger to the edge of the china. It felt daring and illegal and was about the closest she got to misbehaving. The temperature was only ever warm at best.
The first time her friend Kev came home for tea, he hadn’t been invited as such, he just happened to be sitting in front of their TV when her dad popped the macaroni cheese under the grill to bubble. It felt rude not to invite him to stay. Rosie set the table with four places to accommodate their guest.
Kev smiled as he took his seat and looked up at her. ‘You’ve set four places,’ he pointed out, as if she had done so in error.
Rosie felt panic flutter in her throat, unwilling to admit that she always laid a place for the mum she had never known, let alone eaten with. She liked Kev, but she didn’t know if she could trust him to keep this secret. Recounted out loud, it might make her seem weird, and at school weird was poison; it isolated and alienated you. Like all her classmates, Rosie feared weird.
She was trying to think what to say, how to explain, when her dad walked in carrying two plates heaped with golden-crusted macaroni cheese and slices of ham.
‘Four places set, Rosie?’ He looked at Kev and tutted. ‘She never was very good with numbers. Mind out, the plate’s hot.’
Her dad gave her an almost imperceptible wink and Rosie felt a rush of love for him that was new and overwhelming.
It made her forgive him a little, for having driven her mum away in the first place.
Having lived in the small seaside town of Woolacombe her whole life, it was hard for Rosie Tipcott to see it the way visitors saw it. Where tourists might rave about the surfing, linger for hours in the famous sand dunes or spend every afternoon on the crazy-golf course, Rosie was often preoccupied with what to make for tea, how many shifts she’d get that week or whether she’d remembered to switch off the iron.
There was of course the odd day when she would take a moment from her chores to sit on her favourite bench up on the Esplanade and look out at the big, big sea foaming against the deserted beach at Barricane. Or when her eyes were drawn to the dazzling red sunset, as beautiful as any on earth. Either could stop her in her tracks and quite take her breath away. But what she really loved about the North Devon town was that it was home, the place where she lived in a quiet backstreet with her beloved husband and daughters.
Today was not a day for taking time out to appreciate Woolacombe’s charms. In the cramped cloakroom under the stairs of their stone-built terrace in Arlington Road, Rosie peered at the peach-coloured hand towel that she had just lobbed over the little wooden shelf so as to hide it from view. She took her time, washing her hands and then drying them by flicking the droplets into the sink and finishing them off on her jeans so she didn’t have to move the towel. Her stomach leapt in anticipation and she closed her eyes to quell the excitement. She then applied a squirt of hand cream that she massaged into the gaps between her fingers, sniffing the intoxicating scent of jasmine as she did so. This was one of her small joys, a little luxury, courtesy of Auntie Mags last Christmas.
‘What, love?’ Rosie let her head hang on her chest. All she wanted was five minutes! She’d even laid the foundations so she could disappear for that small window of time, asking if either of the girls needed a drink or the loo. They had both shaken their heads and she had mistakenly thought she was safe.
‘Leona’s got my rubber!’ Her daughter’s Devonian accent turned the last syllable into the longest.
Rosie sighed; having to referee between her daughters was a constant. When her day was going well, it was amusing, the things they found to squabble about. But when she was tired, it was draining.
‘I’ll be out in a minute, but tell her to give it you back.’
‘For goodness’ sake, Naomi, I’ll be out in a sec! Can you just give me one minute please!’
‘It’s my favourite one. You know, the one that came in that set from Nan that looks like a little poo with a face on it.’
‘Just ask your sister nicely to give it back to you, please, love. Just give me one second! I’ll be out in a mo.’
Her daughter started knocking on the door in a slow rhythmic beat, as if her blathering through it wasn’t irritating enough.
‘I can’t! She put it up her nose and now she can’t get it out.’
Rosie closed her eyes as her eldest kicked the door, making the bottom flex.
‘Don’t kick the door!’ As so often with the kids, she found herself shouting.
‘But she’s got my little poo rubber stuck up her nose and I need it!’ Naomi shouted back.
Rosie grabbed the fringed hand towel that had been hiding her pregnancy test and stared at the little clear windowpane. Only one blue line. Negative.
There was no time to properly consider her disappointment, the quake of regret in her gut. That would have to wait until the great rubber-up-the-nose debacle had been resolved.
Wrapping the white plastic spatula in a wad of loo roll, she shoved it into her bra and pulled her sweatshirt down sharply to hide it. She’d throw it in the bin later when the girls weren’t around. But even wrapped in loo roll, hidden inside an old cereal box and with gravy scraped on it, there was still no guarantee that they wouldn’t go foraging.
She pictured the early morning the previous year when she’d woken to the sound of her girls’ laughter. Happy that they were playing nicely, she’d taken her time, coming to leisurely, finding her slippers and checking for chin hairs in the magnifying mirror she kept in her make-up bag by the side of the bed. She also checked before she went to sleep but knew that, unlike regular hairs, they could sprout overnight and take hold. It was only when she crept out onto the landing that she saw the kids peeling condoms from their fine foil wrappers, stretching them to their full length and flinging them down the stairs with a pencil.
‘Aaaaagh!’ she screeched, her hands outstretched, carefully trying to find the right words that would neither alarm nor interest the kids too much.
‘Where... where did you find those?’ she asked ten-tatively.
‘They were just in the bathroom.’
in the bathroom?’ She couldn’t believe her husband, Phil, could be that careless.
‘Yes,’ Naomi confirmed. ‘In the bathroom. In the cabinet. In Dad’s washbag. In the side pocket. Wrapped in a flannel...’
Rosie smiled at the memory of how she’d gingerly scooped up the slippery, rubbery nest from the bottom of the stairs and begun offering breakfast options, as if her hands weren’t full of discarded prophylactics. ‘Who wants what? We’ve got waffles, cereal, toast...’
Opening the cloakroom door, she came face to face with Naomi, who was still in her school uniform of grey skirt, red sweatshirt, white polo shirt and black tights but had for some reason, which Rosie knew there was no point in trying to fathom, put a pair of her dad’s Y-fronts on and stuffed her skirt into them, making it look like she was wearing padded sumo pants. One of her bunches had worked loose, her face was covered with purple glitter paint and she resembled... Actually, Rosie was stumped as to what her seven-year-old resembled, but the words ‘nut house’ and ‘hedge backwards’ sprang to mind.
‘Right, you have my full attention. What’s going on that couldn’t wait for five minutes?’
‘Leona asked if she could borrow my rubber and I said no and she said she was going to have it anyway and she took my pencil case and I hit her with my yoghurt spoon and then she tipped all my stuff out and I called her a shitstar and then she took my little poo rubber and shoved it up her nose.’
‘Can you take a breath, please?’ Rosie kept her tone low-key, having learnt that if she raised the volume or level of hysteria, the girls would follow suit. The earlier exchange of shouts concerning door-kicking being a prime example.
‘I don’t really know where to start with that, Naomi.’ She replayed her daughter’s words. ‘Actually, I do. Don’t hit your sister, even if it’s only with a yoghurt spoon. In fact, don’t hit anyone, ever, with anything. And don’t say shitstar, ever, to anyone.’
Naomi twisted her mouth and considered this. ‘What if it’s someone’s name and I have to ask them a question?’ Her daughter stared at her, unsmiling.
Rosie shook her head. ‘How do you mean?’
‘Supposing I was a teacher and I had a girl in my class and her name was, say, Naomi Shitstar, and I had to do the register and I had to call her name out, could I say it then, like, “Naomi Shitstar? Has anyone seen Naomi Shitstar?”’ She added a grown-up voice for full effect.
Rosie felt her laughter wanting to erupt. She turned her lips inwards and bit down hard.
‘Are you crying, Mum?’
Rosie shook her head and let out a little squeak. She took deep breaths and leant against the bannister, trying to compose herself. ‘So...’ She coughed and decided to change the subject. ‘Leona has a little rubber that looks like a poo up her nostril?’