0007464355

0007464355 by Sam Baker Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: 0007464355 by Sam Baker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sam Baker
her fists had clenched, jagged nails cutting half-moons into the fleshy part of her palms.
    ‘ Parlez-vous anglais? ’ he asked.
    The bossy woman behind the counter looked impressed.
    Helen shifted from foot to foot, cursing herself inwardly. A loaf of bread for God’s sake! Outed by a hankering for toast and Marmite. She should have been less greedy and stayed home, or less lazy and driven further. Either would have been better than this.
    Margaret Millward was still looking at her, if anything, her curiosity piqued all the more by Helen’s silence; head tilted to the side, ready to deploy sympathy and understanding the second Helen spoke.
    What Helen wanted to say was, Fuck off. Mind your own business. She wanted to tell the woman where to stick her nose and her General Stores and her only loaf of bread and fresh milk for a five-mile radius. She didn’t, of course. Hélène Graham wasn’t a fuck-off kind of girl. She was bon chic, bon gen . Tough as nails, but with the grandes écoles manners of someone descended from someone with a metro station named after them.
    Her Helen Lawrence fuck-you days were behind her.
    ‘Yes!’ she said brightly, ditching any pretence of a French accent. ‘Fluently.’ There was no point making life harder than it already was by having to pretend to speak pidgin English every time she ran out of milk.
    It was as if the whole shop – even Jeremy Vine who’d been chatting to himself from the transistor behind the till – exhaled and started pretending to go on about its business; pretending being the operative word. They may no longer be looking, but Helen could tell every last one of them was listening. Even the man in the suit, who looked as if he’d escaped from an episode of Yes, Minister and wandered into Emmerdale by mistake.
    ‘You must be Mrs …’ Helen paused, pretending to search for a name that was on the very tip of her tongue if she could only …
    ‘Margaret, dear,’ Mrs Millward said, as Helen had known she would. They always did, her type. ‘Margaret Millward. But you should call me Margaret.’
    To her right, the man’s shoulders shook and then he sneezed, a fake little atishoo, Helen thought, forced out, too little too late. ‘Bless you, Mr Markham,’ said the woman.
    ‘Thank you,’ he muttered.
    At least, Helen thought that was what he muttered.
    ‘We were very sorry not to see you, dear,’ Margaret Millward said slowly, clearly determined to persist in her idea that Helen could not understand.
    Helen stared back, trying to keep her face blank. Confused was the look she was after, but rude would do. Anything was better than what she felt, which was thirteen all over again and trapped in the school loos by one of those girls who had the teachers believing butter wouldn’t melt. They were everywhere, life’s Margaret Millwards: plaguing infants’ schools and colleges, offices and school gates – who knew, probably nursing homes too. The type who, when you met them for the first time, looked you up and down, taking you in head-to-toe, every hair out of place, every scrap of mud on your boots, every stain you thought successfully sponged off. That type, thought Helen, but Margaret Millward’s interest felt more dangerous. She wasn’t looking for mud and split ends and smudged mascara. She was looking for the cracks below the surface. Although, God knows, Helen thought, there should be enough cracks on the surface to keep her going.
    ‘I’m sorry,’ Helen said, when it became clear that she was about to lose her second face-off of the week. ‘You were expecting me?’
    ‘Thursday evening.’
    ‘I’m sorry?’ she repeated.
    ‘I sent you a letter. An invitation .’
    Helen rearranged her face into its best imitation of sudden recognition. ‘The blue letter?’
    The woman nodded, looking halfway between exasperated and intrigued.
    ‘Ah. I’m sorry,’ Helen said. ‘I didn’t realise … The rain … it was destroyed. The ink was unreadable.

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