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Marshall sounded a little testy, and Lola said reassuringly, “Perhaps there will be one.”
He smiled up at her. “We’re calling it the Army Amo.”
“Amo amas amat,” she said.
Jackson said, “I don’t see why everything you buy has to end in o.”
“It’s really boring,” Pierrot said. “Like Polo and Aero.”
“And Oxo and Brillo.”
“I think what they’re trying to tell me,” Paul Marshall said to Lola as he presented her the bar, “is that they don’t want any.”
She took it solemnly, and then for the twins, gave a serves-you-right look. They knew this was so. They could hardly plead for Amo now. They watched her tongue turn green as it curled around the edges of the candy casing. Paul Marshall sat back in the armchair, watching her closely over the steeple he made with his hands in front of his face.
He crossed and uncrossed his legs. Then he took a deep breath. “Bite it,” he said softly. “You’ve got to bite it.”
It cracked loudly as it yielded to her unblemished incisors, and there was revealed the white edge of the sugar shell, and the dark chocolate beneath it. It was then that they heard a woman calling up the stairs from the floor below, and then she called again, more insistently, from just along the corridor, and this time the twins recognized the voice and a look of sudden bewilderment passed between them.
Lola was laughing through her mouthful of Amo. “There’s Betty looking for you. Bathtime! Run along now. Run along.”
Part 1 Chapter 6
NOT LONG after lunch, once she was assured that her sister’s children and Briony had eaten sensibly and would keep their promise to stay away from the pool for at least two hours, Emily Tallis had withdrawn from the white glare of the afternoon’s heat to a cool and darkened bedroom. She was not in pain, not yet, but she was retreating before its threat. There were illuminated points in her vision, little pinpricks, as though the worn fabric of the visible world was being held up against a far brighter light. She felt in the top right corner of her brain a heaviness, the inert body weight of some curled and sleeping animal; but when she touched her head and pressed, the presence disappeared from the coordinates of actual space. Now it was in the top right corner of her mind, and in her imagination she could stand on tiptoe and raise her right hand to it. It was important, however, not to provoke it; once this lazy creature moved from the peripheries to the center, then the knifing pains would obliterate all thought, and there would be no chance of dining with Leon and the family tonight. It bore her no malice, this animal, it was indifferent to her misery. It would move as a caged panther might: because it was awake, out of boredom, for the sake of movement itself, or for no reason at all, and with no awareness. She lay supine on her bed without a pillow, a glass of water within easy reach and, at her side, a book she knew she could not read. A long, blurred strip of daylight reflected on the ceiling above the pelmet was all that broke the darkness. She lay rigidly apprehensive, held at knifepoint, knowing that fear would not let her sleep and that her only hope was in keeping still.
She thought of the vast heat that rose above the house and park, and lay across the Home Counties like smoke, suffocating the farms and towns, and she thought of the baking railway tracks that were bringing Leon and his friend, and the roasting black-roofed carriage in which they would sit by an open window. She had ordered a roast for this evening and it would be too stifling to eat. She heard the house creak as it expanded. Or were the rafters and posts drying out and contracting against the masonry? Shrinking, everything was shrinking. Leon’s prospects, for example, diminishing by the year as he refused the offer of a leg up from his father, the chance of something decent in the civil service, preferring instead to be the humblest soul in a private bank, and living for the weekends and his rowing eight. She could be angrier with him if he were not so sweet-natured and content and surrounded by successful friends. Too handsome, too popular, no sting of unhappiness and ambition. One day he might bring home a friend for Cecilia to marry, if three years at Girton had not made her an impossible prospect, with her pretensions to solitude, and smoking in the bedroom, and her improbable nostalgia for a time barely concluded and for those fat girls in glasses from New Zealand with whom she had shared a set, or was it a gyp? The cozy jargon of Cecilia’s Cambridge—the Halls, the Maids’ Dancing, the Little-Go, and all the self-adoring slumming, the knickers drying before the electric fire and two to a hairbrush—made Emily Tallis a little cross, though not remotely jealous. She had been educated at home until the age of sixteen, and was sent to Switzerland for two years which were shortened to one for economy, and she knew for a fact that the whole performance, women at the Varsity, was childish really, at best an innocent lark, like the girls’ rowing eight, a little posturing alongside their brothers dressed up in the solemnity of social progress. They weren’t even awarding girls proper degrees. When Cecilia came home in July with her finals’ result—the nerve of the girl to be disappointed with it!—she had no job or skill and still had a husband to find and motherhood to confront, and what would her bluestocking teachers—the ones with silly nicknames and “fearsome” reputations—have to tell her about that? Those self-important women gained local immortality for the blandest, the most timid of eccentricities—walking a cat on a dog’s lead, riding about on a man’s bike, being seen with a sandwich in the street. A generation later these silly, ignorant ladies would be long dead and still revered at High Table and spoken of in lowered voices.
Feeling the black-furred creature begin to stir, Emily let her thoughts move away from her eldest daughter and sent the tendrils of a worrying disposition out toward her youngest. Poor darling Briony, the softest little thing, doing her all to entertain her hard-bitten wiry cousins with the play she had written from her heart. To love her was to be soothed. But how to protect her against failure, against that Lola, the incarnation of Emily’s youngest sister who had been just as precocious and scheming at that age, and who had recently plotted her way out of a marriage, into what she wanted everyone to call a nervous breakdown. She could not afford to le t Hermione into her thoughts. Instead, Emily, breathing quietly in the darkness, gauged the state of the household by straining to listen. In her condition, this was the only contribution she could make. She rested her palm against her forehead, and heard another tick as the building shrank tighter. From far below came a metallic clang, a falling saucepan lid perhaps; the pointless roast dinner was in the earliest stages of preparation. From upstairs, the thud of feet on floorboards and children’s voices, two or three at least, talking at once, rising, falling, and rising again, perhaps in dissent, perhaps excited agreement. The nursery was on the floor above, and only one room along. The Trials of Arabella. If she were not so ill, she would go up now and supervise or help, for it was too much for them, she knew. Illness had stopped her giving her children all a mother should. Sensing this, they had always called her by nike air max 90 her first name. Cecilia should lend a hand, but she was too wrapped up in herself, too much the intellectual to bother with children . . . Emily successfully resisted the pursuit of this line, and seemed to drift away then, not quite into sleep, but out of thought into invalid nullity, and many minutes passed until she heard in the hallway outside her bedroom footfalls on the stairs, and by the muffled sound of them thought they must be barefoot and therefore Briony’s. The girl would not wear her shoes in the hot weather. Minutes later, from the nursery again, energetic scuffling and something hard rattling across the floorboards. The rehearsals had disintegrated, Briony had retreated in a sulk, the twins were fooling about, and Lola, if she was as much like her mother as Emily believed, would be tranquil and triumphant.
Habitual fretting about her children, her husband, her sister, the help, had rubbed her senses raw; migraine, mother love and, over the years, many hours of lying still on her bed, had distilled fr nike air max om this sensitivity a sixth sense, a tentacular awareness that reached out from the dimness and moved through the house, unseen and all-knowing. Only the truth came back to her, for what she knew, she knew. The indistinct murmur of voices heard through a carpeted floor surpassed in clarity a typed-up transcript; a conversation that penetrated a wall or, better, two walls, came stripped of air max all but its essential twists and nuances. What to others would have been a muffling was to her alert senses, which were fine-tuned like the cat’s whiskers of an old wireless, an almost unbearable amplification. She lay in the dark and knew everything. The less she was able to do, the more she was aware. But though she sometimes longed to rise up and intervene, especially if she thought Briony was in need of her, the fear of pain kept her in place. At worst, unrestrained, a matching set of sharpened kitchen knives would be drawn across her optic nerve, and then again, with a greater downward pressure, and she would be entirely shut in and alone. Even groaning increased the agony.
And so she lay there as the late afternoon slipped by. The front door had opened and closed. nike air max sale Briony would have gone out with her mood, probably to be by water, by the pool, or the lake, or perhaps she had gone as far as the river. Emily heard a careful tread on the stairs—Cecilia at last taking the flowers up to the guest’s room, a simple errand she had been asked many times that day to perform. Then later, Betty calling to Danny, and the sound of the trap on the gravel, and Cecilia going down to meet the visitors, and soon, spreading through the gloom, the faintest tang of a cigarette—she had been asked a thousand times not to smoke on the stairs, but she would be wanting to impress Leon’s friend, and that in itself might not be a bad thing. Voices echoing in the hall, Danny struggling up with the luggage, and c nike air max 90 sale oming down again, and silence—Cecilia would have taken Leon and Mr. Marshall to the pool to drink the punch that Emily herself had made that morning. She heard the scampering of a four-legged creature coming down the stairs—the twins, wanting the pool and about to be disappointed that it had been taken over.
She tumbled away into a doze, and was woken by the drone of a man’s voice in the nursery, and children answering. Surely not Leon, who would be inseparable from his sister now they were reunited. It would be Mr. Marshall whose room was just along from the nursery, and he was talking to the twins, she decided, rathe nike air max r than Lola. Emily wondered if they were being impertinent, for each twin seemed to behave as though his social obligations were halved. Now Betty was coming up the stairs, calling to them as she came, a little too harshly perhaps, given Jackson’s ordeal of the morning. Bathtime, teatime, bedtime—the hinge of the day: these childhood sacraments of water, food and sleep had all but vanished from the daily round. Br cheap nike air max trainers iony’s late and unexpected appearance had kept them alive in the household well into Emily’s forties, and how soothing, how fixing they had been; the lanolin soap and thick white bath sheet, the girlish prattle echoing in the steamy bathroom acoustic; enfolding her in the towel, trapping her arms and taking her onto her lap for a moment of babyish helplessness that Briony had reveled in not so long ago; but now baby and bathwater had vanished behind a locked door, though that was rare enough, for the girl always looked in need of a wash and a change of clothes. She had vanished into an intact inner world of which the writing was no more than the visible surface, the protective crust which even, or especially, a loving mother could not penetrate. Her daughter was always off and away in her mind, grappling with some unspoken, self-imposed problem, as though the weary, self- nike air max 1 evident world could be reinvented by a child. Useless to ask Briony what she was thinking. There was a time one would have received a bright and intricate response that would in turn have unfolded silly and weighty questions to which Emily gave her best answers; and while the meandering hypotheses they indulged were hard to recall in detail now, she knew she never spoke so well as she had to her eleven-year-old last-born. No dinner table, no shaded margin of a tennis court ever heard her so easily and richly associative. Now the demons of self-consciousness and talent had struck her daughter dumb, and though Briony was no less loving—at breakfast she had sidled up and locked fingers with her—Emily mourned the passing of an age of eloquence. She would never again speak like that to anyone, and this was what it meant to want another child. Soon she would be forty-seven.
The nike air max 95 muted thunder of the plumbing—she had not noticed it begin—ceased with a judder that shook the air. Now Hermione’s boys would be in the bathroom, their narrow, bony little bodies at each end of the tub, and the same folded white towels would be on the faded blue wicker chair, and underfoot, the giant cork mat with a corner chewed away by a dog long dead; but instead of prattle, dread silence, and no mother, only Betty whose kindly heart no child would ever discover. How could Hermione have a nervous breakdown—the generally preferred term for her friend who worked in the wireless—how could she choose silence and fear and sorrow in her children? Emily supposed that she herself should be overseeing this bathtime. But she knew that even if the knives were not poised above her optic nerve, she would attend to her nephews only out of duty. They were not her own. It was as simple as that. And they were little boys, therefore cheap nike air max fundamentally uncommunicative, with no gift for intimacy, and worse, they had diluted their identities, for she had never found this missing triangle of flesh. One could only know them generally.
She eased herself onto an elbow and brought the glass of water to her lips. It was beginning to fade, the presence of her animal tormentor, and now she was able to arrange two pillows against the headboard in order to sit up. This was a slow and awkward maneuver because she was fearful of sudden movement, and thus the creaking of the bedsprings was prolonged, and half obscured the sound of a man’s voice. Propped on her side, she froze, with the corner of a pillow clenched in one hand, and beamed her raw attention into every recess of the house. There was nothing, and then, like a lamp turned on and off in total darkness, there was a little squeal of laughter abruptly smothered. Lola then, in the nursery with Marshall. She continued to settle herself, and lay back at last, and sipped her lukewarm water. This wealthy young en cheap nike air max trepreneur might not be such a bad sort, if he was prepared to pass the time of day entertaining children. Soon she would be able to risk turning on the bedside lamp, and within twenty minutes she might be able to rejoin the household and pursue the various lines of her anxiety. Most urgent was a sortie into the kitchen to discover whether it was not too late to convert the roast into col cheap nike air max d cuts and salads, and then she must greet her son and appraise his friend and make him welcome. As soon as this was accomplished, she would satisfy herself that the twins were properly taken care of, and perhaps allow them some sort of compensating treat. Then it would be time to make the telephone call to Jack who would have forgotten to tell her he was not coming home. She would talk herself past the terse woman on the switchboard, and the pompous young fellow in the outer office, and she would reassure her husband that there was no need to feel guilt. She would track down Cecilia and make sure that she had arranged the flowers as instructed, and that she should jolly well make an effort for the evening by taking on some of the responsibilities of a hostess and that sh nike air max classic e wore something pretty and didn’t smoke in every room. And then, most important of all, she should set off in search of Briony because the collapse of the play was a terrible blow and the child would need all the comfort a mother could give. Finding her would mean exposure to unadulterated sunlight, and even the diminishing rays of early evening could provoke an attack. The sunglasses would have to be found then, and this, rather than the kitchen, would have to be the priority, because they were somewhere in this room, in a drawer, between a book, in a pocket, and it would be a bother to come upstairs again for them. She should also put on some flat-soled shoes in case Briony had gone all the way to the river . . .
And so Emily lay back against the pillows for another several minutes, her creature having slunk away, and patiently planned, and revised her plans, and refined an order for them. She would soothe the household, which seemed to her, from the sickly dimness of the bedroom, like a troubled and sparsely populated continent from whose forested vastness competing elements made claims and counterclaims upon her restless attention. She had no illusions: old plans, if one could ever remember them, the plans that time had overtaken, tended to have a febrile and overoptimistic grip on events. She could send her tendrils into every room of the house, but she could not send them into the future. She also knew that, ultimately, it was her own peace of mind she strove for; self-interest and kindness were best not separated. Gently, she pushed herself upright and swung her feet to the floor and wriggled them into her slippers. Rather than risk drawing the curtains just yet, she turned on the reading light, and tentatively began the hunt for her dark glasses. She had already decided where to look first.③

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