Authors: Lesley Glaister
Tags: #Fiction, #Reference, #English as a Second Language
When Jo moves into the house next door with her little boy Luke, Marion is delighted. But soon Jo starts to take advantage, always asking Marion to babysit. Worse, she shows a bit too much interest in Marion’s husband, David. As for David, he says he thinks Jo’s a pest – but does he really? Is Jo the neighbour from hell, or is David hiding something?
Lesley Glaister is the author of eleven novels, several of which have won awards. She has written drama for Radio 4 and her first stage play was performed at the Crucible Studio Theatre in 2004. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Authors, and teaches fiction writing at Sheffield Hallam University. She lives in Peebles and Orkney.
By the same author
Honour thy Father
Trick or Treat
Digging to Australia
Limestone and Clay
The Private Parts of Women
Sheer Blue Bliss
Now You See Me
As Far As You Can Go
Nina Todd Has Gone
Are You She? (Ed.)
The Sandstone Vista Series
First published 2007 in Great Britain by Sandstone Press Ltd
PO Box 5725, Dingwall, Ross-shire, IV15 9WJ, Scotland
Sandstone Press gratefully acknowledges the ongoing,
non-financial support of Highland Council, Highland Adult
Literacy Partnership, Essex County Council Libraries,
Glasgow ESOL and others
The publisher acknowledges subsidy from the Scottish
Arts Council towards the publication of this volume
Copyright © 2007 Lesley Glaister
The moral right of Lesley Glaister to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
The Sandstone Vista Series of books has been written and skilfully edited for the enjoyment of readers with differing levels of reading skills, from the emergent to the accomplished
Designed and typeset by Edward Garden Graphic Design, Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland
Dedicated to the Reader
It’s the day Marion has been dreading. Her friend, Pat, from next door, is moving out. The removal van is there all day on Saturday and Marion helps Pat clean up after the men. She invites Pat round for tea before she leaves and gives her a tin of home-made biscuits to take with her.
After tea, David loads Pat’s last few things into her car.
‘I’ll miss you like mad,’ Marion says, giving Pat a hug.
‘We’ll keep in touch,’ Pat says. ‘And the lass who’s moving in seems very nice.’
‘Safe journey,’ David says, holding the driver’s door open for her.
Marion and David stand by the kerb and wave as Pat drives away. As the car disappears round the corner, tears come into Marion’s eyes.
‘Cheer up,’ David says, but Marion can’t help feeling sad. Pat was a good friend and a perfect next-door neighbour. She took in parcels and fed the cat when they went away. She was quiet and friendly and never complained or interfered. On Saturday mornings Marion and Pat always had coffee together. She was a good person to talk to.
A few days later, while Marion and David are eating breakfast, they hear another van arrive. David gets up and looks out of the window.
‘The new next-door neighbour,’ he says.
Marion gets up to look. She can only see the men carrying furniture. One of them carries a box of bright plastic toys.
‘She must have a child,’ Marion says.
David turns away. ‘More toast?’ he asks.
‘Do you think I should bake her a cake or something?’ Marion says. ‘Or no, I won’t have time. I’ll get a bottle of wine.’
By the time they get home from work, the van has gone. David begins to cook his special pasta with pepperoni and chilli while Marion goes round to say hello to their new neighbour.
A little dark-haired boy opens the door.
‘Is your mummy in?’ Marion asks.
‘Mum,’ he yells, ‘it’s a lady.’
A tall young woman comes to the door. ‘Hi,’ she says, eyeing the wine bottle.
‘Hi,’ Marion says. ‘I’m Marion from next door. Welcome to the street. David and I live there.’ She points.
‘I’m Jo,’ the woman says. She’s skinny with bright brown eyes and short red hair. ‘And this is Luke.’
‘I’m eight,’ he says proudly. ‘Do you have any kids?’
‘No,’ Marion says, ‘but we do have a lovely cat. He’s called Tigger. Do you like cats?’
‘I like all animals,’ he says.
‘Well you must come round and meet him.’
‘Well …’ Marion hesitates.
‘Shut up Luke,’ Jo says. ‘I’m sure Marion has better things to do.’
‘No, it’s OK,’ Marion says. ‘Why not come round? In fact, why not come and eat with us?’
‘Are you sure?’ Jo says. ‘I was about to phone for pizza.’
‘We can do an extra bit of pasta. Do you like pasta?’ Marion asks Luke.
‘It’s my second favourite food,’ he says.
‘What’s your first favourite?’
‘Pizza,’ he says.
‘Well, at least I’ve got a bottle of wine to bring!’ Jo grins and holds up the bottle.
‘Look who’s here!’ Marion says, as they go through the back door into the kitchen. David is slicing sausage while the pasta bubbles on the stove.
‘This is Jo and this is Luke,’ she says, ‘and this is my husband, David. I thought they could eat with us, David. Can you stretch it?’
‘Hi there,’ says Jo. ‘Hope you don’t mind?’
‘No, that’s fine.’ David stares at her for a minute. ‘Good to meet you.’
He wipes his hands on a tea-towel before shaking hands, first with Jo and then with Luke.
‘Where’s the cat?’ Luke says.
‘See if you can find him,’ Marion says and Luke runs off to look.
‘Sorry I’m such a mess!’ Jo says. She’s wearing dirty jeans and a T-shirt with a rip under one arm.
‘Don’t be silly,’ Marion says, ‘it would be a strange person who moved house in their best clothes.’
‘How’s it going?’ David asks. He tips more pasta in a pan.
‘OK,’ Jo says. ‘I think!’
‘It’s meant to be the second – or is it the third? – most stressful thing you can do, moving house,’ Marion says. ‘Nearly as bad as divorce.’
Jo looks down.
‘Oh God, sorry,’ Marion says.
But Jo shakes her head. ‘It’s OK,’ she says. ‘I took the bastard for every penny he was worth!’ and she laughs. Then she sees Marion’s face and stops. ‘Only joking!’.
‘But you are divorced?’ Marion says.
‘Sort of. Anyway, this is a new start for me.’
David opens the wine and pours three glasses.
‘Here’s to a new start,’ he says. He holds up his glass.
‘Cheers,’ Jo says.
‘A new start,’ Marion says.
‘Look Mum!’ Luke comes back into the room with Tigger in his arms.
‘You’ll never get rid of him now!’ Jo giggles and takes a swig of wine.
Jo stays so late that Luke falls asleep on the sofa and David carries him back next door. Seeing David with Luke in his arms gives Marion a pang of sadness. They have been trying for a baby for years. They’ve had all the tests. There’s nothing wrong with either of them. But she cannot get pregnant.
Marion sighs and begins loading the dishwasher. They drank three bottles of wine and she has to get up for work in the morning. What a disgrace! Still, she thinks with a smile, at least we get on OK with our new neighbour. She’s certainly very different to Pat!
Early on Saturday morning the doorbell rings. Marion and David are still in bed listening to the radio and drinking tea.
‘Leave it,’ David says.
‘Maybe it’s the postman.’ Marion gets up and puts on her dressing gown while David grumbles about having his lie in ruined. Luke is standing at the door. He’s still in his pyjamas with bare feet.
‘Can I play with Tigger?’ he says.
‘Come in,’ Marion says. She makes him some toast and honey. David comes down to get more tea.
‘Where’s Mum?’ he asks.
‘Still asleep,’ Luke says. ‘She sleeps in at weekends.’ He squeaks a rubber mouse at Tigger.
‘Lucky Mum,’ says David.
Luke tries to pick Tigger up but he meows and runs away.
‘Make him play with me,’ Luke says.
‘You can’t make him play,’ Marion tells him. ‘How about another piece of toast?’
‘I like chocolate spread best,’ he tells Marion when he leaves.
‘I’ll get some for next time,’ she promises.
Later Jo comes round to borrow some milk.
‘Want a coffee?’ Marion says.
‘I hope Luke didn’t wake you up?’ Jo sits down.
‘He was a bit early,’ Marion says, ‘but I don’t mind.’
‘Where’s David?’ Jo asks.
‘He plays footie on Saturday,’ Marion says, ‘and 5-a-side on Sunday. Or else he’s out watching a match at the pub.’
‘So you don’t see much of him?’ Jo says.
‘Enough!’ Marion says.
Jo laughs. She has a big smile and very white teeth. They drink coffee and chat about the people in the street.
‘So you’re just divorced?’ Marion asks.
Jo looks down and bites her fingernail. ‘I don’t like to talk about the past,’ she says.
‘Sorry,’ Marion says. ‘Does Luke see much of his dad?’
‘I’m working on it,’ Jo says. ‘Oh, by the way, could you babysit for me tonight? I’m going to a party.’
‘Fine,’ Marion says. ‘We’re not going out. You can bring Luke here.’
After Jo has gone, Marion looks in the mirror. Her face is pale and her hair is brown and flat. Compared with Jo she looks plain and fat. Pat never made her feel like that.
When David gets home, he says, ‘We won! And we’re going out to celebrate!’
‘I can’t go out,’ Marion says. ‘I’m babysitting Luke.’
‘But I’ve booked a restaurant,’ he says. ‘I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘I can’t let Jo down,’ Marion says.
‘Bloody Jo.’ David stomps upstairs.
‘It’ll be fun,’ Marion calls after him. ‘We can rent a DVD. And make popcorn.’
David stands at the top of the stairs looking down at her. He shrugs his shoulders. ‘OK,’ he says, ‘if that’s what you want.’
Jo comes round with Luke at 7 o’clock. She’s wearing a silky black dress with a low neckline. Her hair is spiky and her lips are shiny red.
‘You look lovely,’ Marion says, looking down at her own brown cardigan and furry slippers. I must go on a diet, she thinks.
‘Don’t know what time I’ll be back,’ Jo says.
‘It doesn’t matter. Luke can sleep here,’ Marion says. He snuggles under her arm.