And just like that everything changes.

*

Four days after Christmas, John came up to me, his lovely little face dark with confusion.

“What does my mum look like again?” he asked, evidently struggling.

I answered before I gave myself time to think.

“Transparent.”

I shouldn’t have said that, though it did seem to end some doubts.

“Oh in that case, she’s been standing on the other side of the road for days.”

I rushed to the living room window and there indeed stood Justine, underdressed and quivering in a transparent raincoat over a purple velvet tunic. She was wearing those squashed caveman boots that are everywhere and a fair isle woollen hat with a bobble as big as her head.

She had come for her son, it turned out, and I called Peony down from her room for support as I made Justine repeat her garbled monologue about needing to start again as a mother and give it her all this time.

Peony took me aside and told me: “We have no choice, Mum. I’m only his guardian if she’s not capable and even then with her permission.”

“But his education? His life here with us? Me? What about me?”

She simply hugged me in answer and we packed his bags and said goodbye.

“For now,” I emphasised as I zipped up his jacket. “It’s goodbye for now. Remember that.”

He nodded solemnly and reached up for his mother’s claw…hand, sorry, hand.

 

*

 

Peony went with him to ease the shock of the change. She’s much wiser and certainly more caring than we give her credit for, my dear good girl. She has kept me posted on how things are working out – relatively well – and is there for him when he comes back each day from his new school. (I knew some good would come out of her constant state of unemployment.) Justine’s parents are once more bankrolling their daughter’s whims.

So I was left to mourn. Mother was quiet and tactful, bereft herself. Laurence was solicitous, calling round all the time to take me out to dinner and I went at first but then we both got bored with comfort eating and that stopped.

And then about two weeks ago the phone rang and it was Amanda Asquith. We used to work together.

“I know you got a redundancy package and everything but there’s been a sudden up-turn in work and it’s your old department and they wondered if you would come back, part-time and everything. Would you be interest… and everything?”

“Yes,” I said.

Just like that, as quick as smacking a mole with a mallet. Yes.

Never mind that when I left I left for good, that I said I’d never go back, that I told myself it was time to call myself a writer, a proper writer, and not a part-time anything.

“There are two new partners. One’s an American. He’s a man. And the other one’s a woman. Oh and that man one is American. Did I say that?

Can I work with Amanda again? Can I work at all – running around after a bunch of lawyers, picking up their pieces, sorting out their days?

Well we’ll soon find out. I start tomorrow.

 

 

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