Please enjoy this free extract taken from Chapter One of Kate Galley's The Second Chance Holiday Club which publishes in eBook and Paperback in December 2022.
This extract begins on page 7 of Chapter One.
‘Oh, Eve, it breaks my heart to think of you being alone. Is there anything I can say to persuade you to come?’
‘Carol, I’ve spent most of my married life alone. You know how often Tony was away – I think I can cope.’
I wonder for a moment what would happen if I accepted the invitation, though. Carol doesn’t really want me to stay. It’s her birthday in a couple of days and she’s probably got her daughters and grandchildren visiting – I’d be in their way. I can picture my sister trying to enjoy her special day with her perfect family: cake, presents, balloons – they always go over the top – and then offering lonely, childless old me, sad and pathetic looks. It’s tempting to call her bluff, though, just to hear her try to squirm out of it, but I let her off the hook; I really haven’t got the energy for games.
‘I’m honestly OK. I’ve got to get used to being on my own. Thanks, though; it means a lot,’ I say, although really it means next to nothing.
‘Well, make sure you eat one of the meals I left in your freezer. You need to keep your strength up, take your mind off the pain.’
Am I in pain? I’d certainly been in shock when I first heard Tony had died, but that’s to be expected when the police turn up on your doorstep and tell you your husband’s been found dead in his car on the hard shoulder of the M3. A heart attack; nice and quick, they’d said, he wouldn’t have suffered. In fact, he was halfway through cleaning his reading glasses, his outdated 2013 road atlas open in his lap, a neat diamond ring in the top pocket of his best suit. He was supposed to be at an antiques fair in Sevenoaks, Kent.
By the time I saw the ring, it was in a sealed plastic bag along with his own wedding band. They clinked together like something to celebrate, teasing me. The policewoman handed it over and smiled sympathetically, said what a lovely surprise it would have been and what a shame he’d never got to give it to me himself. I’d agreed, a smile fixed to my face, and then spent the whole of the bus journey home trying to pull it from my ring finger where it was wedged, having never made it much past the end of my fingernail.
‘I’ll speak to you tomorrow, then. Perhaps I’ll pop over in the afternoon,’ she says, but I don’t answer, hoping my silence is enough on the matter. ‘Sleep well, Eve.’ And then she’s gone.
For a moment I want to phone her back, tell her I do need her, that maybe it would be best if she did come and stay. I could pretend to play the part of the grieving widow, and it wouldn’t even have to be a part – I could try to do it for real. There would be no ring, no letter, just the memory of a dear dead husband and Carol’s sympathy. I could forget about the drawer, ask my sister to tip the contents into bin liners and leave them for the dustmen. They’re due in the morning – it could all be gone, nothing to sort through, nothing to find. But there is something hiding in the third drawer down – a siren call I know I’ll be unable to resist much longer. Tony has been dead for ten days and I’ve been restraining myself all that time. ‘Your husband is resting with us,’ the funeral director had advised me. It was hard to think of him there, cold, still; neither word I’d usually associate with my husband. It was as if he hadn’t really gone. But he has now, and he’s safely in the ground so he won’t be popping up behind me while I’m rummaging.
With a large glass of sherry in my hand, I walk back towards Tony’s study, but deviate at the last minute into the dining room. I feel a burning need to see something. Opening the door of the teak sideboard, I pull the wedding album out from underneath Aunt Sylvia’s best linen tablecloth. The lace one has disappeared – to Carol’s, probably.
I can’t remember the last time I looked at our wedding photographs. So many of the assembled guests have long since died, so the moment to reminisce has ceased and instead has become an awakening to my own mortality. I quickly flip over the paper leaf and straight to me and Tony on the steps of St Mary’s Church. My wedding dress had been my mother’s and probably the only thing I’d managed to procure before Carol. A fact that had kept a small smug smile on my face until Carol had said she wouldn’t be seen dead in that hideous old thing, anyway. Looking at it now, I have to wonder if she’d had a point. It had to have a panel added to allow a little more give in the stomach area, and my mother, the seamstress and myself had all played a game where we’d agreed it was just because I was a bit fat. How could it possibly have been fifty-eight years ago? I pick up my drink and swallow half in one go.
I’d always told myself that Tony was a strong man, but if I’m honest, he looks terrified in this photo. Flicking through the album to check his expression in each one, I can see his fear give way to something a little more relaxed, something closer to resignation. I’ve never looked so closely before. Usually I’m focused on myself: was the set of my hair old-fashioned, even for 1964; should I have worn more make-up for the camera; was it obvious I was pregnant? The trouble with photographs is they tell stories that are probably best left in the past.
I close the book with a thump and put it back in the box, back in the sideboard. A sob begins in the base of my throat, but I swallow it down until it sits as an angry lump in my stomach. After turning out the light behind me, I refill my glass and take it into the study.
I lift the items from the drawer and lay them on top, but it’s the envelope I’m most interested in. My hand closes around it and I pull it gingerly towards me as if it’s either precious or flammable, perhaps both. On it is the name Margaret, written in my husband’s clumsy hand. That’s it, nothing else, no address and no surname.
‘Margaret,’ I say out loud, rolling the name around my tongue, checking it for familiarity. ‘Margaret Pringle,’ I try again, with less conviction, but then the other woman never got to be Mrs Pringle. I imagine myself saying: Have him, he’s yours – he snores and leaves the toilet seat up. He’s eighty, you know. But that’s the sort of thing Carol would say, not me. Besides, Tony is dead – there won’t be another Mrs Pringle now.
My eyes are drawn to the ring still in the plastic bag on the desk where I left it when I got home from the police station. A circle of gold, set with numerous diamonds nestled into the band itself, somewhere between an engagement and a wedding ring. I’m sure there’s a name for that style of ring, but I can’t seem to grasp the word.
I pick up the envelope again and slide Tony’s letter opener through the top, pull the paper out, smooth it with my hand, then take a breath.
My dearest darling Maggie,
I have something I want to tell you, something I need to tell you, but it’s going to be as hard for you to hear it as it is for me to write it.
I stop reading, quickly folding the paper shut against my chest. A chill shoots through me like a frozen fist and for a mad moment I wonder if it’s Tony’s, but I don’t believe in ghosts. With the letter still clutched in my hand, I leave the room and hover for a moment outside in the hallway, listening for… what? There’s nobody here. Then walking back into the study, I close the door behind me anyway, just to be sure.
Lowering myself into his chair, I unfold the letter and begin to read.
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