I’ve gone on record before to say that I consider it one of my greatest personal professional failings that we don’t sell more of Graham Joyce’s wonderful novels. Now with his new book, the superb Some Kind of Fairy Tale, released today, that nagging dissatisfaction between what has been achieved to bring Graham’s writing to an audience and what hasn’t feels even sharper.
Here is a man who brings a huge heart and a rare understanding to his writing. He writes about ordinary people, ordinary families, often those who live in the Midlands of England. Nothing bizarre, nothing unusual, nothing striking here, you might think. But people’s hearts, the meshes of their families ARE bizarre, ARE unusual, ARE striking. The supernatural elements that do weave themselves into Graham’s novels tend to be quite low key, to be hinted at. It’s possible that they exist entirely within the minds of his characters. What they never do is overwhelm the reality of those characters, the impact of real feelings, real events on people’s lives.
Graham Joyce loves his characters too much for them to become playthings in an unrealistic supernatural game, he respects us as readers too much to ask us to care about anyone who is not carefully and lovingly drawn and he’s too damn good a writer not to balance human and supernatural drama with exquisite poise.
And with this new book he’s excelled himself. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is rich with the echoes of the English folklore and magic but its also a compelling family drama. How good is it? It’s Robert Holdstock and Angela Carter good.
And it deserves the widest of audiences. Give it go. If only to make me feel less guilty…
SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE
‘But we are spirits of another sort.’ Oberon, King of Shadows.
In the deepest heart of England there is a place where everything is at fault. That is to say that the land rests upon a fault; and there, ancient rocks are sent hurtling from the deep to the surface of the earth with such force that they break free like oceanic waves, or like monstrous sea-creatures coming up for air. Some say that the land has still to settle and that it continues to roil and breathe fumes, and that out of these fumes pour stories. Others are confident that the old volcanoes are long dead, and that all its tales are told.
Of course, everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does. I have a story and though there are considerable parts I’ve had to imagine, the way I saw it was as follows.
It was Christmas Day of that year and Dell Martin hovered at the double-glazed PVC window of his tidy home, conducting a survey of the bruised clouds and
concluding that it might just snow; and if it did snow then someone would have to pay out. At the very beginning of the year Dell had laid down two crisp twenty
pound notes on the bookie’s Formica counter, just as he had done every year for the past ten. The odds changed slightly each year and this time he’d settled good odds at seven-to-one.
For a White Christmas to be official – that is to force the bookmakers to pay out – a flake of snow must be observed to fall between midnight on 24 December and
midnight on 25 December at four designated sites. The sites are the cities of London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester. The snow is not required to lie deep nor
crisp nor evenly upon the ground and it doesn’t matter if it’s mixed with rain. One solitary flake would do it, fallen and melted, observed and recorded.
Living in a place somewhere between all of those great cities, Dell had never collected in all those ten years; nor had he seen a single flake of Christmas Day
snow hanging in the air of his home town.
‘Are you going to come and carve?’ Mary called from the kitchen.
This year they were having goose. After decades of turkey dinners on Christmas Day they were having a change; because a change is as good as a rest, and sometimes you needed a rest even from Christmas. Nevertheless the table had been laid out, just as in previous years. Crisp linen and the best cutlery. Two heavy crystal wineglasses that, year round, were kept in a box and stowed at the back of a kitchen cupboard.
Dell always carved, and he carved well. It was an art. He’d carved well when the kids were small, and he carved well now that there was only Mary and himself to carve for. He rubbed his hands together in a friction of delight, passing through to a kitchen warm and steamy from simmering pans. The cooked goose rested
under silver foil on a large serving plate. Dell pulled a blade from the knife block and angled it to the light at the window. ‘Gone a bit dark over yonder,’ he said. ‘Might snow.’
Mary was draining vegetables through a sieve. ‘Might snow? You haven’t put money on it have you?’
‘Hell no.’ He whisked the foil cover off the goose and rotated the plate to get a better purchase with his knife. ‘Just a thought.’
Mary tapped her sieve on the lip of the sink. ‘’Taint snowed on Christmas Day in ten year. Plates warming in the oven. Bring it through?’
Each plate boasted a plump goose leg and two neatly carved slices of breast. There were roast potatoes and four types of vegetable, all steaming in serving dishes. The gravy boat was piping and there was stuffing and sausages wrapped in bacon, and cranberry sauce.
‘I went in for an I-talian this year,’ Dell said, pouring Mary a glass of ruby-red wine and then one for himself. He pronounced the I in Italian the way you might pronounce eye-witness. ‘I-talian wine. Hope that goes well with the goose.’
‘I’m sure it will be lovely.’
‘Thought we’d have a change from the French. Though I could easily have had a South African. There was a South African on offer. At the supermarket.’
‘Let’s see shall we?’ Mary said, offering her glass for the clinking. ‘Cheers!’
And it was the cheers moment, that gentle touching of the crystalware, that Dell hated the most. Feared it and detested it. Because even though nothing was ever stated and even though the faultless food was served up with wide smiles and the clinking of glasses was conducted with genuine affection from both parties, there was always at this moment of ritual a fleck in his wife’s eye. A tiny instant of blade-light, razor-sharp, and he knew he’d better talk over it pretty damn quick.
‘What do you think of the I-talian??’
‘Lovely. Beautiful. A good choice.’
‘Because there was also a bottle from Argentina. Special offer. And I nearly went for that.’
‘Argentina? Well, there’s one we could try another time.’
‘But you like this?’
‘Love it. Lovely. Come on let’s see what you make o’ this goose.’
Wine was one of the fixtures of Christmas dinner that had changed over the years. When the kids were small both he and Mary had been content with a glass of beer, maybe a schooner of lager. But beer had been displaced by wine on the table for Christmas Day. Serving dishes were a recent addition, too. Back in those days everything was heaped on the plates and brought to the table, a ready-assembled island of food floating in a sea of gravy. Cranberry sauce was exotic once. When the children were small.
‘Well, what do you think of that goose?’
‘Bloody beautiful. And cooked to perfection.’
A tiny flush of pleasure appeared on Mary’s cheek. After all these years of marriage, Dell could do this. Just the right words.
‘You know what, Mary? All these Christmases we could have been having goose. Hey, look out of the window!’
Mary turned. Outside, a few tiny flakes of snow were billowing. It was Christmas Day and it was snowing; here, at least.
‘You have had a bet, haven’t you?’ Mary said.
Dell was about to answer when they both heard a light tapping at the front door. Most people rang the electrical bell, but today someone was knocking.
Dell had his knife in the mustard pot. ‘Who the hell is that on Christmas Day?’
‘No idea. What a time to call!’
‘I’ll get it.’
Dell stood and put his napkin on his seat. Then he went down the hall. There was a figure outlined in the frosted glass of the inner door. Dell had to release a
small chain and unlock the inner door before opening the porch door.
A young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, gazed back at him from behind dark glasses. Through the dark glass he could make out wide, unblinking eyes. She wore a Peruvian-style woollen hat with earflaps and tassels. The tassels made him think of bells.
‘Hello, duckie,’ Dell said briskly, not unfriendly. It was Christmas Day after all.
The woman said nothing. She gazed back at him with a timid, almost fearful smile on her lips.
‘Happy Christmas love, what can I do for you?’
The woman shuffled from one foot to another, not removing her gaze. Her clothes were odd; she seemed to be some kind of hippy. She blinked behind her dark glasses and he thought she looked familiar. Then it occurred to him that she was maybe collecting for some charitable cause. He put his hand in his pocket.
At last she spoke. ‘Hello Dad,’ she said.
Mary came bustling from behind, trying to peer around him. ‘Who is it?’ she said.
The woman switched her gaze from Dell to Mary. Mary stared hard at her, seeing something familiar in the young woman behind the dark lenses. There came a slight gagging sound from Mary’s throat; then Mary fainted clean away. Dell stumbled and only half-caught her as she fell. Mary’s unconscious body hit the stone tiles at the threshold with a thud and a sigh of wind.
Across the other side of Charnwood Forest at a ramshackle cottage on the road to Quorn, Peter Martin was stacking the dishwasher. Christmas dinner had been trashed a couple of hours ago and he was still wearing an acid-red paper crown from a Christmas cracker but he’d forgotten it was there. His wife Genevieve had her bare feet up on the sofa, exhausted by the responsibility of co-ordinating the domestic crisis of Christmas in a house with a dreamy husband, four kids, two dogs, a mare in the paddock, a rabbit and a guinea pig, plus sundry invading mice and rats that kept finding inventive routes into their kitchen. In many ways it was a house weathering a permanent state of siege.
Peter was a gentle, red-haired bear of a man. Standing at six-four in his socks, he moved everywhere with a slight and nautical sway, but even though he was broad across the chest there was something centred and reassuring about him, like an old ship’s mast cut from a single timber. He felt bad that they’d had Christmas dinner without having his mother and father over. Dell and Mary had been invited, of course, but there had been a ridiculous dispute about what time dinner should be served. Genevieve wanted to sit down on the stroke of one so that they could all get their coats on in the afternoon and drive up to Bradgate Park or Beacon Hill for a healthy blast of wind. Mary and Dell liked to eat later, and at leisure, and certainly not before three; they’d done all the walking and blasting they cared for. There wasn’t actually a row. What followed was more of an impasse and a sulk, followed by a default decision no party was happy with, that this year they would sit down to separate dinners.
Peter and Genevieve anyway had a daughter who was fifteen, a boy thirteen and two more girls of seven and five. Whenever they went over to Mary and Dell’s they
garrisoned the place, moving in like a brutal occupying army. It was always easier and more relaxed to stay put in the cottage and this year that’s what they did.
Meanwhile Peter had bought thirteen-year-old Jack an air-rifle for Christmas, and Jack was sitting in the yard hoping for mice or rats to turn up. He lounged on an old exploded sofa his dad hadn’t got around to taking to the tip. Like a grizzled old-timer from a country cabin he held the butt of the gun on his thigh
and pointing skyward.
Peter put his head outside the back kitchen door.
‘Don’t wave that fucking thing around. If you catch anyone I’ll rip your head off for sure,’ Peter said.
‘Don’t worry Dad, I’m not gonna shoot my fuckin’ sisters.’
‘And don’t swear. Right?’
‘And don’t wave it around.’
Peter went back inside to stack the dishwasher. He went through to the trashed dining room and was dithering what to do with the carcass of the turkey when the phone rang. It was Dell.
‘All right Dad? I was just going to call you. When I get the kids lined up to say Happy Christmas and all that.’
‘Never mind that, Pete. You’d better get over here.’
‘What? We’re about to go for a walk.’
‘Come over anyway. Your sister’s here.’
‘You heard me. I said your sister’s here.’
Peter felt dizzy. The room swam. ‘Dad, what are you saying?’
‘She just showed up.’
‘She can’t have done.’
‘Come over Pete. Your mother’s had a bad turn.’
‘Dad what the fuck is going on?’
‘Please come over son. Please come over.’
There was a note in his father’s voice he’d never heard before. Dell was clearly very close to tears. ‘Can you just tell me what’s happened?’
‘I can’t tell you anything because I don’t know anything. Your mother fainted. She fell badly.’
‘Okay. I’m coming.’
Peter put the receiver back on its cradle with a gentle click and crashed down on to a hard chair that lived beside the phone. He stared at the debris of Christmas dinner still littering the table. Pulled-crackers and mottoes and plastic toys and paper crowns were strewn across the room. He suddenly remembered he was still wearing his paper crown. He took it off and held it in his hand, between his knees.
He got up and moved through to the living room, swaying slightly as he went. The television was broadcasting softly while the three girls were sprawled on the carpeted floor playing with Lego bricks and dolls by the lopsided Christmas tree. A cosy coal fire burned in the grate and two lurchers lay on their backs before
the fire, their legs in the air and their teeth bared in grins of pure canine pleasure. Genevieve snoozed on the sofa.
Pete went back into the kitchen and filled the electric kettle. He stood watching it boil and contrary to received wisdom it boiled pretty damn quick. He made a
cup of tea for Genevieve and one for himself, gazing at the tea diffusing from a teabag. At last he was roused by the snap of an air-rifle pellet as it struck the outside wall.
Carrying the tea through to the living room, he kneeled before the sofa, then leaned across Genevieve and woke her with a kiss. She blinked at him. Her cheeks were red.
‘You’re a sweetheart,’ she said sleepily, accepting the tea. ‘Did I hear the phone go?’
‘You did hear the phone go.’
‘Who was it?’
‘Are they still speaking to us?’
‘Yes. I have to go over there.’
‘You do? Anything wrong?’
Peter exhaled a puff of air. ‘Tara came back.’
Genevieve looked at Peter for a moment as though she didn’t know who Tara was. She’d never met Tara; but she’d heard plenty about her. She shook her head quizzically, knitted her brows.
‘Yes,’ Peter said. ‘Exactly.’
‘Who is Tara?’ said Zoe, their fifteen-year-old daughter.
‘That’s impossible,’ Genevieve said. ‘Isn’t it?’
‘Who is Tara?’ asked Amber, the middle daughter.
‘I’ve got to go over there.’
‘Should we all come?’
‘There’s no point us all going.’
‘Who the heck is Tara?’ Amber asked again.
‘Your Dad’s sister.’
‘Dad has a sister? I never knew Dad has a sister.’
‘No, we don’t talk about her,’ said Peter.
‘Why don’t we talk about her?’ asked Josie, the youngest. ‘I talk about my sisters. All the time.’
‘I have to go,’ Peter said. ‘Is there petrol in the car?’
‘Is Dad leaving us on Christmas day?’ Amber said.
Genevieve got up off the sofa and winced as she stepped barefoot on to a Lego brick. ‘He won’t be gone long.’ She followed Peter out into hallway and waited
while he put on his shoes and his coat. ‘Will you?’
‘Do you want a hug?’
‘Yes. No,’ said Peter. ‘Not right now.’
There was another slap as an airgun pellet hit the wall outside.
‘Wonder has no opposite; it springs up already doubled in itself, compounded of dread and desire at once, attraction and recoil, producing a thrill, the shudder of pleasure and of fear.’
Peter drove to Anstey via Breakback Lane. It wasn’t the direct route. He had an idea that he should call on Richie Franklin and tell him the news, but he knew he
wouldn’t. Shouldn’t. Couldn’t. It didn’t stop him driving that way.
The roads were almost deserted, it being Christmas Day. Picked out like lonely ships on an ocean, one or two isolated vehicles passed him along the way, tyres
hissing on the wet roads. The sky was laden with snow but it fell only in brief flurries, not settling, instantly melting on impact with his windscreen, barely enough for him to activate his screen wipers.
At the Outwoods he slowed down and turned into the car park. It was empty and lonely. He had some cigarettes hidden in the glove compartment. This was what passed for contraband in his life now: he’d given up because the girls had been counselled that smoking kills and they cried whenever they saw him spark up a
ciggie. But he kept a stale packet hidden for moments like these. He got out of the car and surveyed the bare winter trees grouped around the clearing of the carpark. The trees were golden and grey and somehow asleep, off-guard. It was bitterly cold. He tasted a flake of dry tobacco on his tongue and his first drag on the cigarette made him cough. The cigarette smoke hung like a grey rag in the cold air, and so did the sound of his cough.
The Outwoods was one of the last remaining pockets of ancient forest from which Charnwood took its name. It nestled at the spot where the three counties of
Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire almost touched, and seemed neither to belong to nor take its character from any of them. It was an eerie place,
swinging between sunlight and damp, flaring light and shadow; a venue of twisted trees, its volcanic slopes of ash and granite ruptured by mysterious outcropping
crags of the very oldest rocks in Britain.
He didn’t like it.
The last time he’d seen Tara was here in the Outwoods. It had been May of that year and they had walked through the woods, and the bluebells at that time had been astonishing. They had sat on the golden lichen-stained rocks and talked about the future.
Peter flicked his cigarette to the ground half-smoked and stamped it into the earth. Then he climbed back in his car.
Sometime later he parked right outside Richie’s house but left the engine running. It was almost a challenge, inviting someone to come out and ask him what
he was doing; but no one came. No one even so much as glanced out of the window. Richie’s house was a council property in what might once have been a row of houses tied to a local landowner. Squat, badly built and grimy little peasant-hutches. Peter knew them well because he’d been raised in an identical house five
doors away. Richie, having inherited the property from his mother, still lived there.
There was a light on in Richie’s house, but deep, low and at the back. There was a single living room that ran the depth of the house. The dim light only made the
house look cold and uninviting. Just go up to the door, Peter told himself, and when he answers the door just say Tara’s back, that’s all you have to do. Tara’s back.
But he couldn’t. He and Richie hadn’t spoken in a long, long time, and two words might as well have been two hundred thousand words. He couldn’t do it. He
made a curse under his breath and drove away.
‘Come in, lad.’ Dell spoke in a strange kind of whisper.
‘Where is she?’
‘Are you going to take your coat off? And your shoes? We’ve got the new carpet.’
Peter took off his coat and handed it to his father before untying his shoelaces. He felt a wave of frustration with his father, that at a time like this he was concerned with clean carpets, but said nothing. He made to move down the hall but he felt the flat of his father’s hand on his breastbone.
‘Don’t go upsetting anyone. Your Mum’s had a fall.’
‘I’m not here to upset anyone!’ Peter tried to keep the keening note out of his voice. ‘Is she through here?’
Peter took a step into the living room and stopped just inside the doorway. His mother lay on the couch. She was sipping tea and had an ice-pack on the knee she’d cracked when she’d slumped to the floor. But Peter was more interested in the woman nursing Mary from the armchair next to the sofa. Even though she
wore dark glasses, it was his sister Tara: of that there was no doubt.
Tara stood up. She seemed an inch or two taller than he remembered. Her soft nut-brown hair was maybe a darker shade, and still fell around her face in a tangle
of curls. Behind the shades and around her eyes there might have been one or two lines but she hardly seemed to have aged. She just looked pretty grubby, like she’d been living rough.
‘When did you cut your hair?’ she said.
‘Oh. That would be about fifteen years ago.’
‘You had such lovely long hair!’
‘Everybody did then. Do I get a hug?’
‘Of course you do.’
Peter stepped forward and he held his sister in his arms. She held him tight. He inhaled the smell of her. She didn’t smell like he remembered. Now she smelled
of something belonging to the outdoors he couldn’t identify. Rain, maybe. Leaf. Mushroom. May blossom. The wind.
It was a long time before she broke the clinch. Peter looked over at his mother stretched out with her icepack and her leg up on the couch. She gave him a pained smile and dabbed at her eye with a tissue.
‘So where you been, Tara? Where you been?’
‘She’s been travelling,’ Dell said.
‘Travelling? Twenty years is a lot of travel.’
‘Yes it is,’ Mary said from the couch. ‘And now she’s come back home. Our little girl has come back home.’
Tea being the drug of choice in the Martin household, Dell concocted more of it, thick and brown and sweet. After all, they’d had a bit of a shock; and whenever they had a shock or an upset or experienced a disturbance of any kind they had poured tea on it for as long as any of them could remember. The fact is they poured tea on it even when they hadn’t had a shock, and they did that six or seven times a day. But these were extra special circumstances and Peter knew he had to wait until the tea had arrived before he could begin any line of questioning. Even when the tea did arrive, the questioning didn’t go well.
Peter had hardly taken his eyes off his sister since his arrival. The same half-smile hadn’t escaped the bow of Tara’s lips since he’d walked into the room. He
recognised it as a disguise of some kind, a mask; he just didn’t know quite which emotions it was intended to camouflage.
‘So where exactly has all this travelling taken you, Tara?’
‘Goodness! All over.’
‘Really? All over?’
She nodded solemnly. ‘Pretty much, yes.’
‘Tara already told us some of it, Peter,’ said Dell.
‘Rome. Athens. Jerusalem. Tokyo. What was that place in South America?’
‘Lima. In Peru.’
‘Really? Travelling all this time? Constant travelling?’
‘Pretty much, yes.’
‘Well,’ Tara said. ‘I might have settled here or there for a few months, but always with a view to moving on.’
Peter nodded, but he was only pretending to understand. He scrutinised his sister’s clothes. She wore threadbare jeans with huge bell-bottoms, of a kind that
had strayed way out of fashion when he was a young man and had probably come back in again. She wore a grubby dress over the top of them and long strings
of beads. A woollen cardigan was a couple of sizes too big for her, the arms of which reached to the tips of her fingers but failed to hide her dirty fingernails.
Peter couldn’t help himself. ‘You look like you could do with a bath.’
‘Steady on,’ said Dell.
‘But Tara,’ Peter said. ‘No word? Not even a postcard? No goodbye, no announcement, no—’
‘I know,’ said Tara. ‘It’s unforgivable.’
‘Do you know what you put these two through? What you put us all through?’
‘Before you came, I said to Mum and Dad that I will understand it if you hate me.’
‘We don’t hate you,’ Dell said. ‘No one hates you.’
‘But—’ Peter tried.
Dell cut him short. ‘Peter. I know there’s a lot to get into. But I won’t have you say anything to scare her away again. Okay? I won’t have it.’
‘I’m not going away again,’ Tara said.
Peter ran his hands through his close-cropped hair.
‘What about you?’ Tara said. ‘Tell me about your life.’
‘My life?’ Peter said. ‘My life?’
‘Mum says you have children.’
‘Get the photos, Dell. Get them,’ said Mary, too quickly.
‘Tell me yourself,’ said Tara. ‘I want to hear everything.’
Peter sighed. ‘I married a lovely girl I met at university. Genevieve. We’ve got three girls and a boy.’
‘Tell me their names!’
‘Well, my eldest is fifteen going on twenty and her name is Zoe and—’
‘That’s a lovely name.’
‘And then came Jack, he’s thirteen. Running wild. Then a bit of a gap because we weren’t . . . well, we did, and we had Amber who is seven and Josie who is five.’
‘Amber has webbed-fingers,’ Mary said.
‘Small thing,’ Tara said, smiling. ‘A very small thing.’ Then her smile dropped for the first time. ‘I’m sorry I missed it all. I really am.’ Suddenly Tara vented a huge sob. She squeezed her eyes shut and her lip trembled. She wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve and sniffed. ‘I’m sorry I missed it all. They sound so wonderful. Are they like you?’
‘God help them if they are.’
‘The boy is the spit,’ Dell said helpfully. ‘The girls take more after their mother.’
There was a silence. Dell had a photograph album that he handed to Tara. ‘These are all old. It’s all digital now, isn’t it? Things change so fast.’
Tara studied the photographs. ‘But they do look like you!’
Dell turned to Tara. ‘Zoe even looks a bit like you.’
‘She’s almost the same age as you were when you left,’ Peter said. He looked at Mary. She shook her head at him in fierce warning.
‘Will I get to meet them?’ Tara said.
‘Of course. If you want to.’
She held up the photo album. ‘Where was this photo taken?’
‘Oh that one’s in Greece. Before we had the kids. You said you were in Athens didn’t you?’
‘Not for long. Couldn’t get out quick enough.’
‘So where were you in Greece?’
‘Crete. Some of the islands.’
‘Really? Genevieve and I lived for a whole year in Crete. Were you ever in Mytilini while you were on Crete?’
‘Yes, one or two nights I think. But I just passed through.’
‘Wouldn’t that be amazing? If you were there the same time we were there?’
‘These things are possible.’
‘What year was it?’
‘Peter, stop interrogating the girl, will you?’ Dell was wringing his hands. ‘Look she’s hungry and I’m going to rescue what I can of Christmas dinner and we’re
going to sit down and enjoy it and you can sit down with us too.’
‘I’ve had my Christmas dinner, Dad.’
‘Okay, but no more questions.’
‘Don’t you think this is a day for questions? You realise we are going to have to tell the police?’
Tara looked startled. ‘Is that really necessary?’
‘You bet it is!’ cried Peter.
He explained to her what had happened after Tara had walked out of their lives some twenty years earlier. He explained how everyone had feared the very worst;
feared that she’d been abducted or killed. That there had been wide-ranging searches conducted. That neighbours and friends had, along with a huge force of police
officers, carried out searches at the Outwoods and at every other place they could think that she might have gone. That her photo had appeared in all of the local
newspapers and some national ones; that her face had appeared on national TV; that known sexual offenders had been dragged in for interrogation; that not a clue
had turned up, not a hair from her head; that the search was eventually scaled down; that her mother and father went into a state of shock and mourning from which
they had never entirely recovered; that he and her boyfriend-of-the-time Richie, who had himself fallen under a cloud of suspicion, had continued to search the
countryside and local beauty spots for months and even years afterwards.
‘They had frogmen searching the pools and the lakes, Tara. It went on for days. Weeks. Yes, even after all this time I think we have to inform the police, don’t
Tara looked ashen at these reports.
Suddenly Mary was on her feet, the ice-pack slithering to the floor. ‘Stop it! Stop it! All I know is that Tara has come home for Christmas Day and it’s a miracle to have her home and I don’t want to hear any more talk of it! I want no more questions today! Peter, you can stay here and be pleasant or you can go straight back to your family. That’s an end to it.’ And with that she collapsed back on the couch.
‘You don’t have to go,’ Tara said gently. ‘I’m the one who should go.’
‘No,’ Peter said. ‘It’s just . . .’ He didn’t want to say any more, because he couldn’t think of a single thing to say that wouldn’t be a direct criticism of his sister’s outrageous and hitherto unexplained behaviour. He hauled himself to his feet. ‘Look, I should get back. The kids. It’s Christmas Day. Maybe you could meet them. Tomorrow. What do you say Dad, do you want to bring Tara over tomorrow?’
‘That sounds perfect. All right with that, Mary?’
It was all right with everyone; it was all right because for the moment it got Peter out of the house.
Peter went to the door and Tara followed him. She hugged him again, and with her back to Dell and Mary she narrowed her eyes at him and made a shape of her
lips, as if to tell him she had something to say to him, but not in front of Dell and Mary.
He wished his parents a Happy Christmas. Then he regarded his sister sadly. ‘Happy Christmas Tara,’ he said.
‘Oh my. Happy Christmas, Peter.’