Sunday 1st January
And before Phil knew it, it was all beginning to get on top of him. At work, Jameson had to all intents and purposes retired; Jones was now the Senior partner and Phil the Junior. On paper anyway, but in reality he was doing easily as much of the work as Jones was. They still did the odd bit of business together too, they had three shop leases now, and the rent came in really handy, what with the girls growing up and needing school fees and uniforms and all that sort of stuff. He was still doing a few dodgy deals on the side too, but for some reason they always seemed to end up going wrong. Maybe it was his so-called partners, if they had been straight in the first place things might have worked out better, but invariably they were on the fiddle and Phil was there to cover up their mistakes – besides they were always so greedy that whenever they got a good thing going they would bugger it up by being stupid and taking too much cash out of the business. Phil had borrowed quite heavily too on one or two ventures, ostensibly to improve the house, and as long as he could repay the loans no-one asked questions, but this was the worst of it, he had to keep on doing new deals on the side to keep up with the repayments, so he felt more and more that it was like an ever tightening noose around his neck. And he only got away with it all because everyone thought he was so responsible; on the surface the smart and decent Solicitor, but just under that patina of respectability he was mired in worries and every time the phone rang Phil would dread what problem he might be dragged into this time. He sometimes wished he could just walk away from it all, but he was stuck, well and truly stuck, just like those poor flies were stuck fast to the strip of flypaper gently twirling in the summer heat of his office.
* * *
They grew up in a small market town in Suffolk, Jane and her sister Harriet, a quiet backwater really, but having nothing else to compare with, they thought everywhere must be the same or very similar. But that was not really true at all; they knew Ipswich was bigger, and noisier and all rush and push and even London wasn’t just a word in geography lessons, their Capital city – they had visited a couple of times growing up, so, though strange and a bit scary, it wasn’t unknown to them. Harriet seemed to love all the noise and crowds and the Underground trains but Jane hid behind her big sister’s skirts as Harriet leant forward to feel the rush of air as the train hurtled out of that dark tunnel’s mouth.
What Jane meant was that their town, Stowmarket, was everything to them, their horizon was literally the streets where the houses petered out into fields and hedgerows; and the attitudes they encountered, the way everyone was and behaved, just seemed the way the world must be everywhere. Later Jane realized it was a sort of complacency, a laziness, but they were never really taught to question things, either at school or at home, especially about the way things worked; the adult world, the ways in which society worked, these were simply never spoken of, it was just presumed that these two little girls would take their rightful and unquestioning place in that never really changing world of the nineteen-fifties..
* * *
Phil got a new car when Harriet was five and Jane would have been three; a Bentley. This was a really swanky shiny car with loads of chrome and real leather seats and walnut on the dashboard, and he used to take the family out on Sunday afternoons, all over the place. Jane liked Lavenham and all those pretty little thatched houses, but Harriet loved Ipswich, with its’ big buildings and shops and wooden trolleybuses. But her real favourite was London.
Phil took them there once or twice and they stayed in a hotel and had posh food in the restaurant, and they went all over the place, Trafalgar Square, Oxford Street and Buckingham Palace where the Queen lived, and into some really big shops like Harrods and Fortnums. Now, Harriet realised, this was what the big world was really like, and she couldn’t wait to grow up and be a part of it. Of course she was still only a little girl, so Stowmarket would have to do for now, but inside she knew it was only a matter of time, she just had to be patient until she could leave this tiny little place and its small minded people and start her real life, going out to restaurants and grand shops in London, or some big city just like it.
* * *
Harriet was becoming a real handful; June could never handle her, not like Jane. If she told Jane to do something like pass her the hairbrush she just did it, but Harriet would look defiantly at June, and ask why she needed it, or even tell her to get it herself, she was busy. June felt so weary that she gave up arguing with her and just let Harriet have her own way. But looking back she wondered if that just made her worse, not that anyone else seemed to notice. Phil could see no wrong in the girl.
“What a clever child” they all said, June’s neighbours and relatives “remarkable, and so well-behaved, she must be such a pleasure for you.” And this was because Harriet was clever, very clever at being nice, even to June, in front of relatives or her father, and then when the two of them were on their own her spitefulness would come out. It was as if she were saving it all up for June, that the nicer she was in company the nastier she would be to her mother when they were on their own. In a way June was always a bit scared of Harriet, she seemed much older than her years, and certainly treated her mother as an equal from an early age. At first June used to feel intimidated by her, but like everything else you tend to get used to it, and rather than discipline her she began to treat her with a bit of caution. She began to side-step any confrontation; it was easier to walk away than face her nasty barbed little sarcasms.
* * *