(DRAFT CHAPTER. IF YOU SEE A TYPO, PLEASE TELL ME IN COMMENTS BOX BELOW)
Having slept with her mobile directly under her pillowcase, Isobel wakes up to check her phone. Relief.
Morning shorty, Soz, fone bttry died. tingz went fine wid da bredders. Hope u wernt too shook from it. Nxt time leave Dwayne out of tingz. He went mad. Lucky I was bak home den. How was da girl? Uokay? Jxx
Isobel pulls on her baby pink towelling dressing gown and animal slippers. Still tired, she walks downstairs to the kitchen to put the kettle on.
At the end of the hallway floor lying by the front door is a hand-delivered envelope ornately decorated with flowers and exotic birds. The prettiest envelope Isobel has ever seen. In the most magnificent handwriting the card is addressed to her. She flips over to read the back, Emily Sutton, 55 Pepys Road, Telegraph Hill.
A rush of excitement stirs her sleepy head. She never gets nice letters! Stuffing her mobile into her dressing gown, she rushes to the kitchen table.
Thank you so much for helping me out yesterday. You and your friend risked your own safety for a stranger, and this fills me with immense gratitude. I am both overwhelmed and humbled by your good deed. I do not know how things would have ended had you not come to rescue me. Looking back, I should never have put up a fight, but my camera is a precious gift that means more to me than anything else.
I told my mother what happened and she would like to invite you and your mother over for tea and cake, this afternoon, if you are free? If this is not convenient for you, then let us rearrange another time that suits. If this is convenient, then I would be grateful if you could let me know so that I can begin to bake you the best thank-you cake in the world.
My kindest regards,
Then scribbled in grey pencil: P.S. Remember what we said xx
Isobel looks at the clock as she fills the kettle. It is just after eleven. See if Mum wants one, she thinks. Better not shout. Probably hungover.
Isobel walks upstairs, gently knocking her mother’s bedroom door. ‘Wanna cup of tea?’ she whispers, pushing the door open, popping her head inside. No sign of Carol Richards. The bed is still made with several rejected outfits spread over the bed sheets and floor, along with an empty bottle of rosé. Dread instantly replaces the excitement of Emily’s card as Isobel calls her mum’s mobile. She hears the ringtone faintly coming from downstairs, and with a sinking heart heads to the living room to find Carol lying on the floor, puke on the carpet next to her.
Isobel puts her ear to mother’s mouth, eyes on Carol’s chest. Relief floods in as she hears breathing and feels her mother’s pulse. Looking at Carol’s ripped tights, she gently strokes the greasy strands of hair away from the vomit down on her mother’s face, mascara smudged down her cheeks. She’d been crying again.
‘You smell homeless,’ Isobel whispers, before noticing the picture frame on the floor. She reaches over to pick it up and sees the image of her father. Isobel recognises the photo but not the frame. Any anger towards her mother’s drinking dissipates as Isobel lets out a sigh, ‘Come on Mum, let’s get ya to bed.’
Somebody knocks on the front door while Isobel is hoisting her mother’s body up from the floor. What now? She gently lays Carol back onto the carpet and places the photo upon the mantelpiece.
‘Alright?’ Hayley asks, walking straight into the kitchen.
‘Sort of,’ Isobel replies, following her friend. Third time lucky, she’ll make that cup of tea.
‘What’s the matta?’ Hayley asks.
‘Where do you want me to start?’ Hayley follows her around the kitchen as her she grabs teabags and milk. ‘Mum’s passed out in the living room. Pissed out her brain. Again. I ain’t had no sleep. Last night after you and Dwayne left, me and Jerome–‘
‘Oh my god! You fucked him!’
‘Shhh. Keep your voice down Hays, Mum’s in the living room. No, we talked about it. Ain’t you spoke to Dwayne?’
‘Oh my days, me and Jerome was walking to mine, all cosy and everything, then these boys were merking up some girl, like proper merking her. She was so shook, Hay. Crying ain’t the word. Me and Jerome run over to stop it.’
‘What – did Jerome ruck with dem?’
‘Nah. He was chatting to them for ages. Then took them back down the hill.’
‘Did they beef with him?’
‘That was the worst part. His phone was going to answerphone and I was stuck with this girl.’
‘What time was this?’ Hayley asks wide-eyed.
‘Nine, not even late.’
‘Naaaah, that ain’t on. Where were they from?’ Hayley’s voice becoming increasingly incensed.
‘Don’t know, they wouldn’t tell us.’
‘Did they know you was Graff Gang?’
‘Yeah I told them. But the main one wasn’t even scared.’
‘Shi-t. Nah, this is madness.’ Hayley shakes her head. ‘Jerome okay?’
‘Yeah, I got a text this morning, but I couldn’t sleep all night, Hay. I was crying my eyes out. I wanted to go his house but I couldn’t knock on the door and wake his nan up and shit. Anything could‘ve happened to him. Loads of teenagers are getting stabbed. The streets is getting worse. These days, you don’t know who’s carrying a knife. And they’re proper little yutes. You got ten year olds not scared to stab a grown man.’
‘I know. That’s why my brother said he’s gonna get me a gun.’
‘What?’ Isobel looks at Hayley in shock.
‘Yeah. I said no, but now I think I should say yes. That way if they come back, I’ll do more than knock ‘em out,’ Hayley picks up the unused chopsticks from last night’s Chinese and jerks it in the air.
‘Hayley, what are you on about? You’re talking about killing… a person!’ Isobel shakes her head in disbelief and pours milk into her friend’s tea.
‘Yeah, do you think if someone pulls a knife out, I’m gonna just have it?’ Hayley stirs in three sugars. ‘No way, they’re getting a gun pulled out on them, blood.’
‘Hayley, you’re talking madness. And, if not, then make sure you and your gun stay right away from me. Joint enterprise. If police – oh yeah and that reminds me I ain’t happy with you.’
‘Fucking hell, I just walked in the door!’
‘You know what I am on about. You stole that hair gel yesterday.’
‘I didern’t. Oh yeah,’ Hayley switches things back on Isobel, shaking her head from side to side, ‘I should be angry with you, getting fag burns in my jeans, but you’re lucky I saw you was being paranoid; too much weed.’
Isobel takes the chopsticks from her friend and theatrically places them against Hayley’s chin, ‘Swear on your gran’s life you didn’t steal anything yesterday.’
‘I swear on my mum’s life.’
Isobel looks Hayley square in the face, ‘I said your gran’s life.’
‘You was outside smoking, so if anything happened you wouldn’t have nuffin to do with it.’
‘I don’t care where I was!’ Isobel exclaims. ‘I’m serious. What if police stop you an hour later? These days, I’ll get done too. Joint enterprise.’
‘What you keep saying joint enterprise for?’
‘Because police don’t see it that way. I get it just for being with you.’
‘Alright, man! I come here to get away from all this,’ grabbing one chopstick back, she uses it to stir in the sugar at the bottom of the mug. ‘So who was the girl they was robbing?’
Distraction successful, they both sit down at the table.
‘Well this is the interesting bit. Some girl who lives in one of those houses on Pepys Road.’
‘Did you take her home?’
‘Yeah but I brought her here first. She was a proper mess. All shaking and crying.’
‘Did you call her mum?’
‘She didn’t wanna tell her mum. She said that would tip her over the edge, or something like that. Nah, she just washed her face and we chatted. Proper well spoken. A bit posh as it happens.’
‘About to go in Year 11. Same as us. She was already doing A-Level stuff, “Prep Work” she called it,’ Isobel remembered being impressed. She’d not met anyone who does coursework on time let alone before the school year begins.
‘What a boffin.’ Hayley gets up to raid Carol’s biscuit tin.
‘She says she’d been doing it all summer. She got her Art GCSE in Year 10. A-star!’
‘What a fucking megatron boffin.’ Hayley dips a chocolate biscuit into her tea. She takes three more biscuits before passing the tin to Isobel.
‘Make sure you eat the whole thing, don’t just lick out the chocolate!’
‘Alright, fam! What was they robbing her for?’
‘Her camera, but she wouldn’t let go of it.’ Isobel picks out a custard cream, ‘Jerome was well good though, pretended like it was some cheap crap to stop them taking it. Worth five hundred pounds.’
‘Five hundred! You should’ve robbed it! Did they teef anything else?’ Hayley pulls the tin back to her end of the table, taking out two more bourbons.
‘Nah, she only had that on her, and her door key. Gonna meet up with her today. Oh yeah, what’s the time? I have to ring and say yes.’ Isobel briefly flashes Hayley the handmade card before retrieving Emily’s home phone number.
Hayley snatches the card back for inspection. She starts to mimic a posh English accent, ‘And this fills me with im-mense gra-ti-tude. I am both over…whel-med and hum-bled by your good deed. Blo-ody hell!’ she exclaims. ‘Did you save the Queen ‘erself?’
Isobel grabs the card, and motions her friend to be quiet while she waits for someone to pick up. Meanwhile Hayley returns the bourbon biscuits back to the tin, minus the chocolate filling.
‘Urm, hello. Could I speak to Emily please? This is Isobel Richards. Yes, from last night.’
‘This is Isobel Richards,’ Hayley mimics.
Emily’s mum, Janie is on the other end. She speaks in a rush of thankfulness, ‘Oh what an amazing girl you are, Isabelle. Emily told me all about it. So nice of you. Very kind indeed. I’m Janie, Emily’s mum. So you received Emily’s card I gather? Are you both able to make tea today?’
‘Urm, I can, but…’ she pauses to think of an excuse, ‘my mum is sick.’
‘Pissed as a fart!’ Hayley shouts, screwing up her face.
Isobel, already stressed by trying to pronounce each word properly waves at Hayley to shut up.
‘She, has an upset stomach’ Isobel continues. Deciding to remove herself from Hayley, she walks out of the kitchen, opening the front door.
‘…AND SO I TOLD THAT CUNT, RIGHT…’ Isobel slams the door on her neighbour’s conversation and walks past the kitchen and down the hallway.
‘Oh poor her,’ replies Janie Sutton in her chirpily. ‘Send your mother our kindest regards. She must be very proud to have such an honest daughter.’
Looking at her passed-out-drunk mother through the crack of the living room door, Isobel replies, ‘Yeah, she is.’ Carol stirs to the sound of her daughter. Isobel gasps and rushes up the stairs into her bedroom.
‘Okey dokey, Isabelle. We shall expect you at teatime.’
‘Urm. So, what time should I get there?’ Isobel remains monotone.
‘Well, teatime…’ a silence, ‘so… four o’clock.’
‘Oh. Okay. See you then. Bye,’ Isobel flips her mobile phone shut and falls back onto her bed, exhausted from the mental concentration of having to speak to a posh person.
In another world entirely, Emily’s mother puts down the phone and chuckles to herself, ‘I forget that some children are not educated in the same way as you, dear.’ She smiles, ‘The girl doesn’t know when teatime is.’
‘Oh Mum,’ Emily groans. ‘You haven’t made her feel self-conscious have you?’ Emily cringes, as she hears her mother go on. Nobody cares about the Dutchess of Bedford.
‘Now why would I do that? Just an observation, that’s all.’ Janie begins to collect her keys and jacket to go shopping. She’s not happy. ‘Where exactly does this girl come from?’
Emily smiles at herself in the antique hall mirror, ‘Down the road.’ She glides her hands over the wooden panelling, following her mother, now in the kitchen digging out the reusable bags. ‘Mum, this will be so cool.’
Janie smiles into the kitchen cupboard. This is the first time in a long while that her teenager has used that adjective on her. She resurfaces, popping two shopping bags into her handbag before turning to her daughter, ‘So I’m doing something cool for once?’
‘Of course you are. I really feel like me and Isabelle clicked last night. Felt like meeting an old friend. Exactly what I need.’
‘Well, Emily dear, before you fill that pretty head of yours with dreams, can Mummy give you some advice?’
Emily shrugs, all set to mentally block what is about to come from Mrs Sutton’s lips.
‘Emily. It is right and proper to thank someone for a good deed. This tea will be just that. As far as friendship goes, darling, well, I cannot see it. Now, you have just about convinced me to invite a stranger into our home. But let me be clear. This is a one-off. I just heard the way that girl speaks and, well, your father will not approve of such a friendship.’
‘Mum, you haven’t even met Isabelle yet; and she can’t be a bad person. Look what she did for me?’ Emily looks at her mother with puppy eyes.
‘Emily, dear, I understand. You are a sweet girl. Heaven knows, had I stupidly left my bag on a wall, I would not expect someone to return it to me. You are very lucky indeed, but this really doesn’t mean you need to become friends.’ She pauses thoughtfully. ‘Perhaps I have made error of judgment here. I should have consulted your father before inviting–‘
‘No!’ Emily intercepts her mother’s growing angst, ‘No Mummy, really. You are quite equipped to make your own well-judged decisions, without,’ Emily pushes her chin in towards her neck, deepening her voice, she frowns, mimicking her father: ‘Mr Sutton getting involved.’
Emily’s mum giggles.
‘You shouldn’t mock your father. Or call him Mr Sutton.’ Mrs Sutton heads towards the door, grabbing her car keys on the way. ‘I’m off to Lordship Lane. You know what you have to do now?’ She points to the piano.
Emily stands straight and salutes: ‘Concerto number three in D minor, Ma’am.’
Her mother doesn’t really do impressions but plays along, ‘Piano exam in three weeks, soldier.’
Once Emily sees her mother drive away, she picks up the phone and presses the redial digits to retrieve Isobel’s number.
‘Hello, can I speak to Isabelle please?’
‘Speaking,’ Isobel answers, rushing back to her bedroom.
After a few minutes, Isobel returns with a huge smile on her face.
‘So what did posh girl say?’ Hayley sneers.
‘Her name is Emily,’ Isobel gives her friend a look. ‘She just called to tell me not to say nothing about the mugging to her parents. She said they would make her go hospital for a check-up, then police to record the crime, then lock her in the house for the rest of her life.’
‘What happened, love?’ Carol asks, back in the land of the living, putting a shaking lighter to the cigarette hanging from her mouth.
‘Can I have a fag, Carol?’ Hayley asks.
‘No. Buy your own!’
Hayley pokes her tongue out at Carol then takes another biscuit and begins licking out the chocolate filling.
‘Last night some girl got mugged and me and Jerome stopped it.’ Isobel hands her mum the card, ‘She posted this today and wants me to go over and meet her mum.’
‘Oh that’s nice,’ Carol stirs her instant coffee. ‘What a lovely wee card.’ Isobel grabs it back so that Carol doesn’t see the part that invites the mother along too. Not noticing this urgency, Carol takes her eye mask out of the fridge. ‘Well I’m proud. Now excuse me but I need to be in a dark place. Have fun. I’ll cook a roast later… if I get up.’ Kissing her daughter on the forehead, she drags her hangover upstairs. After a final lick, Hayley sneaks the biscuit back into the tin.
3.59pm. Isobel is standing outside 55 Pepys Road wearing her nicest top and jeans, with some black flat pumps and a matching handbag. 4pm. Isobel rings the doorbell.
5.05pm. Isobel is back at home, a slightly changed person. She opens the front door to the flat, floats upstairs to her room, falls back onto her bed and stares at the ceiling.
Marx and Engels, Emily thinks, looking at her mother. No that’s Communism. Start again. Think. Think. Eliza Doolittle!
‘Perhaps we should watch My Fair Lady while we wait for Mr Sutton?’ Emily suggests biting her lip. Come on Dover, move your bloomin’ arse!
Her mother cuts her a knowing look, ‘Emily please! And stop calling your father Mr Sutton!’
‘But Mummy, who says rich and poor can’t be friends?’
‘Emily, don’t put words into my mouth. I mentioned nothing about money. I am more concerned about your education. This is a big year for you and I do not want to pollute your environment with distraction.’
‘Mum, I want the same things too. This is all linked to my education. This is like, like performance art.’ Emily forms a theatrical pose.
‘You do not take performing arts, dear.’
‘A rich ethnographic study. From this I am sure to derive the highest possible A-Level grade the art department has ever seen. Not to mention the critical acclaim!’ Emily takes a bow.
Mrs Sutton bends down to pick up a cake crumb missed by the broom. Emily stares at her mother. Her antique pearl earrings are an everyday adornment, as is the modest necklace with a small ruby pendant and her gold bracelet. Her mother’s wedding and engagement rings sparkle as she fluffs her hair in the hallway mirror. For her fifty-two years, and at five foot six inches, she looks deceptively normal – in her polo shirt and navy trousers. On the face of it, Mrs Sutton looks like any other wealthy woman, except she’s a stickler for traditions to the point of being odd; her strict views of the world and its citizens results in her few friends and lots of time for gardening projects and local committees. Polite while keeping people at arm’s length. Whereas Emily dreams of parents who have an open house, let friends invite friends, who embrace the random.
‘And when I’m living in Paris,’ Emily continues, ‘you can read about me in the newspaper: “Emily Sutton: artist or social visionary?” You can say to yourself, I helped my daughter meet her muse.’
Emily’s mother puts on her royal blue cardigan. She stares at her daughter theatrically fluttering an invisible paintbrush around an invisible easel. ‘Emily, I don’t know where all this comes from. Neither from my side of the family, nor your father’s. Help me prepare supper and forget happened. Your father will be home from the golf tournament in…’ her immaculate fingers lift her sleeve to expose her gold watch, ‘precisely one hour. And he shall be expecting his supper on the table.’
Emily, poking her tongue at her mother’s back, vows to never be in a marriage as dull as this one. Like, ever. And with every intention of making Isobel Richards her new best friend, she follows her mother obediently to the kitchen.