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Authors: Gil McNeil

Needles and Pearls

BOOK: Needles and Pearls
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NEEDLES AND PEARLS

GIL MCNEIL

For Joe

Contents

Chapter One
February
Two Weddings and a Year After the Funeral

Chapter Two
February
The Thin Blue Line

Chapter Three
April
Now We Are Six

Chapter Four
June
Wedding Belles

Chapter Five
July
White Elephants and Pink Flamingos

Chapter Six
August
Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

Chapter Seven
September
Lights Camera Action

Chapter Eight
September
The Twilight Zone

Chapter Nine
October
Needles and Pearls

A Note on the Author

By the Same Author

Chapter One
February
Two Weddings and a Year After the Funeral

It’s half-past seven on Sunday morning and I’m sitting in the kitchen knitting a pale-pink rabbit and trying to work out what to wear today. All those programmes where women with tired hair and baggy trousers emerge a small fortune later with a new bob and a fully coordinated wardrobe never seem to give you tips about what you’re meant to wear when you visit your husband’s grave on the first anniversary of the funeral. Especially when you’ve got to combine it with lunch with Elizabeth, the artist formerly known as your mother-in-law, who’ll definitely be expecting something smart, possibly in the little-black-suit department, or maybe navy, at a pinch. And since I haven’t got a black suit, or a navy one, come to that, I think I might be in trouble.

Perhaps if I’d actually got some sleep last night things wouldn’t feel quite so overwhelming, but the sound of the wind and the waves kept me awake, which is one of the disadvantages of living by the seaside; it’s lovely in summer, all beach huts and day trippers coming into the shop when it starts to drizzle, but I’m starting to realise that winter can be
rather hard-going. It’s all freezing mists and gales, and when there’s a storm down here you really know about it. Maybe if the house wasn’t ten minutes from the beach I might not have quite so many dreams where I’m shipwrecked and trying to keep two small boys afloat.

I finally managed to drop off around two, and was promptly woken by Archie shuffling in to let me know he’d had his space-monster dream again. Which is something else that’s not quite as good as it sounds on the packet: how five-year-olds manage to combine being far too grown-up to wear vests now they’re at Big School with still needing nightlights and special blankets as soon as you’ve got the little buggers into their pyjamas. Not that Archie really goes in for special blankets – unlike Jack, who’s seven, but is still firmly attached to the fish blanket I knitted him in honour of his new seaside bedroom – but he’s still perfectly happy to wake his mother up in the middle of the bloody night to talk about monsters and the possibility of a light snack.

I’m writing another version of my never-ending Things I Must Do Today list, while the rain pours down the kitchen window in solid sheets. We might not be able to match Whitstable for stripy jumpers and artistically arranged fishing nets, but we can certainly match them for pouring rain. We do have an art gallery in the High Street now, that goes in for smart window displays involving a large wooden bowl and a spotlight, so we’re starting to get there; and what’s more we’ve got houses that normal people can afford, and a rickety pier and newly painted beach huts that don’t get sold in auctions for more money than most people paid for their first house. Gran’s been renting hers for years, which reminds me, that’s something else to add to my list: I need to take another towel down next time we go to the beach; we took Trevor the annoying
Wonder Dog for a walk yesterday, and Archie ended up in the sea again.

I’m making a pot of tea when Archie comes downstairs, with his hair sticking up in little tufts, wearing his pyjamas, and the belt from his dressing gown, but no actual dressing gown.

‘It’s no good just wearing the belt, you know, love. You’ll get cold.’

‘No I won’t. I like it like this, it’s my rope, for if I need to climb things. And I’m not having Shreddies for my breakfast – I want a sausage, just sausage. I don’t have to have Shreddies because it’s the weekend. At the weekend you can say what you want and you just have it.’

How nice; I think I’ll order Eggs Benedict and a glass of champagne. Or maybe a nice bit of smoked haddock.

I’m rather enjoying my Fantasy Breakfast moment while Archie looks in the fridge, and starts tutting.

‘We haven’t got no sausage.’

‘I know.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you said you hated sausages when we had them for supper last week.’

He tuts again.

‘I was only joking.’

Jack wanders in, looking grumpy.

‘I don’t want sausages. I want jumbled-up eggs.’

Apparently I am now running some kind of junior bed-and-breakfast operation. Perhaps I should buy a small pad and a pencil.

‘Well, since we haven’t got any sausages, what about lovely scrambled eggs, Archie, before we get ready to drive to Granny’s?’

‘Yuk. And anyway last time you made them you put stupid cheese in and they tasted absolutely horrible.’

‘Well, it’s Shreddies, or scrambled eggs. That’s it. So make your mind up.’

He sighs, while Jack stands in the doorway looking like he’s still half-asleep.

‘Did Daddy like cheese in his scrambled eggs?’

Bugger. There’s been a lot less of the Did My Lovely Daddy Like This? lately, but I suppose it was bound to resurface today.

‘Yes, love, he did.’

‘Well, I want mine with cheese then.’

Archie hesitates.

‘Well, I don’t. He liked them without cheese in too, didn’t he, Mum?’

‘Yes, love.’

‘And there’s no sausages?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sure?’

Does he think I’m hiding a packet inside my dressing gown or something?

‘Absolutely sure, Archie.’

‘Well I’ll have jumbled eggs, with toast. But not the eggs on the toast – toast on another plate.’

Christ.

Ellen calls while I’m washing up the breakfast things.

‘You’ll never guess what. Ask me who’s calling.’

‘I know who’s calling, Ellen. It’s you, Britain’s Favourite Broadcaster.’

‘Yes, but ask me anyway. Just say, “Who is this?”’

‘Who is this?’

‘The future Mrs Harry Williams. He asked me last night, when we were having dinner. On bended knee and everything – he’d even got the ring. Tiffany. Serious diamonds. The works. It was absolutely perfect.’

‘Oh Ellen, that’s brilliant.’

‘I know, although why he couldn’t have done it on Valentine’s Day is beyond me. He said he wanted to wait until his leg was out of plaster, in case he got stuck kneeling down, but I think he just couldn’t cope with the hearts and flowers thing.’

‘That sounds fair enough.’

‘I’ve always had a crap time on Valentine’s Day, so it would have made up for all those years when I didn’t even get a card.’

‘You always get cards, Ellen. For as long as I’ve known you you’ve always got loads.’

‘Only from nutters who watch me on the news, not proper boys.’

‘Well, now you’ve got a proper boy, and the ring to prove it.’

‘I know. Christ. I still can’t really believe it.’

‘Tell me everything. What did he say? What did you say? Everything.’

‘I tried to play it cool, so I said I’d get back to him once I’d reviewed my options, but then the waiter brought the champagne over and I just caved. Who knew he’d turn out to be the future Mr Malone? Isn’t life grand?’

‘I suppose we’d better stop calling him Dirty Harry now. It’s not very bridal.’

‘Oh I don’t know: Ellen Malone, do you take Dirty Harry as your lawful … I quite like it.’

‘What’s the ring like?’

‘Fucking huge.’

‘Clever boy.’

‘So will you be my bridesmaid then?’

‘Don’t thirty-eight-year-olds with two kids have to be matrons?’

‘Bollocks to that – it’s too
Carry On Night Nurse.
I want you to be my bridesmaid; I’m thinking pink-lace crinolines. With matching gloves.’

‘Oh God.’

‘Or possibly Vera Wang.’

‘That sounds more like it.’

‘And the boys in kilts.’

‘Harry, in a kilt?’

‘No, you idiot, my godsons.’

‘My Jack and Archie, in kilts?’

‘Yes. What do you think?’

‘I think it depends on how big the bribe’s going to be.’

‘Huge.’

‘No problem then, although we’d better not let them have daggers in their socks or it could get tricky. Have you told your mum and dad yet?’

‘I’m building up to it. Actually, it’s going to be one of your main bridesmaid duties, stopping Mum trying to turn this into a family wedding. I hate most of them anyway, and they hate me. I just want people I really truly like.’

‘So no need for a big church then, since there’ll only be about six of us.’

‘Exactly. Here, talk to Harry.’

‘Morning, Jo.’

‘Congratulations, Harry.’

‘Thanks, darling, and you’ll do the bridesmaid thing, because I’m counting on you to calm her down.’

‘How exactly do you think I’m going to pull that one off?’

‘Drugs? One of my uncles knows a bloke who can probably slip us some horse tranquillisers; that should slow her down a bit. You’ll have to do something or I’ll be forced to make a run for it.’

‘Don’t you dare. Anyway, she’d find you.’

There’s a scuffling noise, and Ellen comes back on the line.

‘Harry’s just fallen over.’

‘Has he? How mysterious.’

‘I don’t think his leg’s completely up to speed yet.’

‘No, and it won’t be if you keep pushing the poor man over. He’s only just had the plaster off.’

‘He tripped. Look, I’d better go, darling, he’s making toast and he always burns it.’

‘Put a new toaster down on your wedding list then. A Harry-proof one.’

‘Christ, I’d forgotten about the wedding list. God, the amount of money I’ve spent over the years on bloody lists. Brilliant: it’s finally payback time.’

‘John Lewis do a good one, I think.’

‘Please. I’m thinking Cath Kidston, The White Company. Actually, I wonder if Prada do a list – I bet they do – and I’m thinking registry office, like you did with Nick, so my mum doesn’t get the chance to cover the local church in horrible satin ribbon.’

‘That might work, you know, like that man who wraps up whole mountains.’

‘Yes, but Christo doesn’t dot mini baskets of freesias everywhere, or make everyone wear carnation buttonholes. God, I wish I could see you. Why don’t you come up here for the day and Harry can limp round a museum with the boys while we start planning?’

‘I’d love to, but I’ve got lunch with Elizabeth and Gerald.’

‘Oh Christ, I’d forgotten. Sorry, darling.’

‘Do I have to wear black, do you think?’

‘Of course not, sweetheart. Wear what you like.’

‘She wanted us to go to the morning service at the church, but I said we couldn’t get there in time, so they’ll all be in
their best Sunday outfits. James and Fiona and the girls will be there too. God, I bet they all have hats.’

BOOK: Needles and Pearls
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