Authors: Fiona Gibson
“Gibson writes like an angel. She is the voice of modern woman.”
“A touching tale about embracing family, imperfections and all.”
“Lovely, heartwarming, immensely readable.”
âJenny Colgan, author of
Looking for Andrew McCarthy
“Warm and moreish, like melted marshmallows.”
“Fans of rueful social comedy will chortle over the escapades of Rooâ¦. [A] witty exposÃ© of the perils and pitfalls of relocation.”
“A wonderful story, layered with ironic undertones, quiet affection and surprises.”
“Gibson handles the reality of childbearing with incisive observational humor.”
“A funny, warm, compelling and wonderfully observed novel, hilarious to singletons and mothers alike.”
“A fantastic debut. More than funny, it's true.”
âLouise Bagshawe, author of
For All the Wrong Reasons
“Original, funny, and engaging.”
“With self-effacing, deadpan humor, Gibson concedes motherhood's quotidian moments while also conveying its fierce pleasures.”
so much I read it twice! Gibson's deadpan style is amazing, and her novel is absolute gold.”
âMelissa Senate, author of
The Breakup Club
Love You to Death
For my parents, Margery and Keith
“Children,” said the queen, “you must take great care of your hearts. They are very fragile and you are very precious.”
So the girls did their best to stay out of harm's way.
The Glass Heart
Huge thanks for encouragement and ideas: Margaret King, Jennifer McCarey, Michelle Dickson, Jenny Tucker, Cathy and Liam Gilligan, Alison Munro (for medical info), Kath Brown, Gary Watkins and Marie O'Riordan. My lovely, inspiring writing group who help to keep the words (and wine) flowing: Tania Cheston, Elizabeth Dobie, Vicki Feaver, Amanda McLean and Margaret Dunn. Andrew McCallum and the Bigger writers. Chris, Sue and Jill at Atkinson-Pryce Books. Anita Naik for Web site advice, and Jenni and Tony at bluex2 (www.bluex2.com) for my Web site (www.fionagibson.com).
Special thanks to Moira and Stephen at Rainbow Stained Glass in Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland; my wonderful agents Annette Green and Laura Langlie; and Adam Wilson at Red Dress Ink. Big love as always to Jimmy, Sam, Dexter and Erin.
A new beginning
hey didn't leave in the night, like they do in the movies. They didn't run from the house, heads bent against rain, and bundle themselves into a taxi. The morning was warm and hazy and smelled of the traffic that buzzed along the flyover at the back of the house.
Jane and Hannah Deakin weren't playing in the garden that day. They were sitting together on the warm front step, waiting for Sally to take them away from all this. Hannah pulled her bony knees up to her chin and cradled Biffa, a hygienically challenged rag doll whose ginger-wool hair had been scissored haphazardly into an unforgiving crop. Biffa had been stripped of the lilac felt shift dress she'd been wearing when presented by Max, Hannah's father, a couple of Christmases ago. The naked doll was now, officially, a boy. On Biffa's polyester chest Hannah had inked a red Biro tattoo, insisting that what looked like a fried egg and two wobbly sausages were, in fact, a skull and crossbones. While her classmates were planning careers as hairdressers and ballerinas, Hannah wanted to be a pirate. She intended to maneuver a galleon through treacherous waters while thrashing a sword in a haphazard manner.
“Where's Sally?” she asked brightly. Her eyes gleamed like fragments of jet.
“She'll be here any minute,” her mother said.
“Are we going on holiday? I want my spade. Where's my bucket andâ”
“Sweetheart,” Jane hushed her, “we're not going on holiday. We're moving to our lovely new house.” She tried to quash the tremor in her voice, but didn't make it. Jane had told Hannah this as she'd woken, kicking milky limbs free from rumpled sheets. She'd described each room of their lovely new home: how the sun flooded in, how Hannah wouldn't even have to change schools.
you can help me choose paint colors,” Jane had added, trying to make it sound like an adventure.
“Where's Dad?” Hannah asked now.
“Dad's at the shop, love,” Jane said, feeling her stomach tighten. She hadn't lied, not technically. Max would be working flat out at Spokes, his newly established cycle shop that devoured virtually every ounce of his energy. Jane had figured that the stark truth was too damned enormous for a five-year-old to take in. Hannah's world revolved around driving a red pedal car at terrific speeds along pavements after school, and trapping earwigs and centipedes in pickle jars in the garden.
Apparently satisfied, Hannah peered down the street in search of Sally's familiar custard-yellow MINI. Her jaw-length black hair was unbrushed, as were her teeth, for that matter. With each exhalation came the rich stench of peanuts. She was sporting her favorite ensemble of bottle-green shorts and a khaki vest with an enormous hairy tarantula on the front. She had yet to acquaint herself with skirts or dresses. Tights were mysterious leg-coverings in which she displayed no interest.
Jane squeezed Hannah's hand. It was greasy from the peanut butter she'd smeared on to her toast. Jane was keeping her gaze firmly fixed upon the patchwork zip-up bag, which lay like an overstuffed dog on the bottom step. This prevented her from turning and looking at the house. If she did that, Jane knew she'd lose it. She'd kept herself maniacally busy all morning, stuffing clothes into the bag, knowing there were so many things they'd need but being unable to decide what to take and what to leave. She'd darted around, assembling a basic selection of clothes, underwear and toiletriesâplus Biffa and Hannah's inhalerâand had tried to write a note to Max, but her eyes and her hands wouldn't behave and she'd flung her unintelligible attempts into the bin. Random wordsâlike
âhad gawped back at her as she'd dropped in a tea bag.
She still loved him. That was the problem, the flaw in her plan. Jane still ached for Max, despite everything.
She swallowed hard and rechecked her watch. Ten fifty-three. Sally was due to pick them up at eleven. Jane had ushered Hannah out of the house too early; she'd needed to get out of there, to shut the door firmly behind them.
Their house, in which Jane had waited and waited for Max to come home from his cycling club. “I called the doctor,” she'd said as he'd wheeled his bike into the hall. “It's positive. I'm pregnant, Max.” It was the first time Jane had seen real tears roll down his cheeks. At first she'd assumed they were sweat. He'd let go of his bikeâhis prized possession had clattered against the wallâand hugged her until she could hardly breathe.
Hannah had been born with a fuzz of dark hair and formidable eyes that were so dark they looked almost black. Beautiful, but not quite perfect. Her breathing wasn't right, still wasn't right. Hannah was asthmatic, and regarded her inhaler with the same disdain she reserved for tights. “I want Sally,” she announced now, kicking a pebble down the steps.
“She'll be here any minute,” Jane murmured.
“I want those flags Dad got for our sandcastles at Brighton andâ”
“Hannah, we're notâ” Jane began, but her daughter had ceased to listen and was attempting to coax an ant to scuttle on to her finger.
Sally's car lurched into view and bumped up on to the pavement beside them. “Hi, you two,” she shouted cheerfully through her open window, as if this were an ordinary day.
“Sally!” Hannah leapt up to greet her.
Sally clambered out of the car, kissed the top of Hannah's head, then pulled Jane toward her. Jane felt the brittleness of her freshly permed hair against her cheek, smelled her baby-powder smell. “All set?” Sally asked, pulling away to inspect Jane's expression.
“Well, as set as I'll ever be.”
Sally frowned at the bag. “That's all you're bringing?”
Jane nodded and slung it into the car's minuscule trunk. Hannah sprang on to the backseat, and Jane eased herself in beside her.
As Sally drove, a cluster of keychainsâa dangling monkey, a dented plastic lemon and a Feu Orange air freshenerâswung jauntily from the rearview mirror. Max wouldn't be back for hours yet. He'd show up at around seven or eight, maybe later; Jane never knew when to expect him. Sometimes she suspected that he wasn't really catching up with cycle repairs or tackling accounts at the shop, but hiding from themâan asthmatic daughter who tattooed her dolls, and a wife who couldn't forgive.
The car radio was playing some lilting song that made Jane feel lighterâas if the dread that had lain in her stomach those past few weeks was starting to rise up out of her, drifting like smoke through the window. Clouds pulled apart, allowing a shaft of sunlight to cut through like a blade. “Which street is it again?” Sally asked.
“Turn right along the edge of London Fields.”
“Are we living in a field?” Hannah squealed.
it,” Jane said, “but nearlyâjust over the road. There's a park with swings and a slide and a trampoline thingie. I think you'll like it.”
“What's the house number?” Sally called back.
“Sixteen, the one with blueâ”
Sally banged her foot hard on the brake, as if stamping on a cockroach. Jane lurched forward and indicated the small terraced house through the window. “This is it.”
Apart from a covering of moss and bird droppings on the roof, the house looked pretty well-kept. There was no front garden, but the previous tenants had crammed windowboxes with geraniums and tumbling lobelia, which were still flowering exuberantly at the tail end of summer. A section of loose guttering was dangling down like a doll's broken arm, but that could be fixed. There was a park over the road, a pub you might venture into without fearing for your life, and no overpasses in sight. Jane glanced down at Hannah. Her mouth was set firm.
“So,” Sally said, her cheery face looming over the headrest, “what d'you think, Han?”
Hannah tweaked the hairy part of her tarantula T-shirt. “It'sâ” she began.
“Sweet, isn't it?” Sally enthused. “Wasn't your mum clever finding this place? It's a lovely street. All these trees. Quiet, too, considering it's so close to the mainâ”
“When's Dad coming?” Hannah interrupted.
Jane's heartbeat quickened. She could do all those Mum thingsâdetangle shoelaces, shoo away nightmares, retrieve a sodden Biffa from beneath a pile of leaves in the garden. She'd been able to make everything all right, until now. Hannah narrowed her eyes.
“Haven't youâ¦?” Sally mouthed over the headrest. She looked shocked, appalled.
“No,” Jane managed to say, “I haven't.”
“What is it?” Hannah demanded.
Jane was aware of her own blunt-cut nails digging into her palm. She said it then: “Han, Dad's not moving with us. Things aren't good with him and me. I'm sure it'll be fine, and we'll be friends again, but this placeâit's just for you and me. Not Dad.”
Hannah blinked in slow motion. “Oh.”
Jane tried to squeeze her hand but Hannah tugged it away. She'd dipped her head and hunched her shoulders, as if trying to shrink into herself. Then, in one slick movement, she wrenched down the handle and tumbled out of the car. “Han!” Jane cried, scrambling out after her. The words tumbled together:
I should have told you, explained, I was wrongâlook at our lovely new house, Han, isn't itâ¦
Hannah whirled around to face her. “Is Dad still my dad?” she blurted out.
“Of course he is,” Jane said gently, crouching down to hug her.
“Good,” she muttered. She gripped Biffa tightly to her chest.
Jane felt it then: sunshine, pouring over them like honey. Sally opened the trunk and hauled out the patchwork bag, placing it on the pavement. “Well,” she said, “aren't you going to let us in?”
“I like it,” Hannah said firmly. “I like our new house.”
Jane stood up, dizzy with relief, and fished the key from her pocket. She could tell that Hannah was putting on a brave face but knew instinctively that they would be happy here. Attached to the key was a brown parcel label bearing their new address: 16 Albemarle Street.
A new beginning, that's what it was. It definitely wasn't the end.