Welcome to the first comic contemporary novel from Kate Abley. Sue, a nice lady from Chingford, was 18 in 1979. Now, thanks to an Alzheimer’s Drugs trial gone wrong, or right, she is 18 again. But she soon remembers that youth isn’t all plain sailing; she’s in the dating pool with her daughters, the political waters are stormy and the public-private octopus wants her mental capacity. Are Somali pirates the only people she can trust? Can she navigate herself to freedom?
Sashay, stride, and scuffle in great boots and brave hat choices, with Sue and her friends as they do battle with Big Fat Pharmas, off-piste agents and the DNA lottery.
Targeted Age Group:: adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I'm addicted to writing
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted to try and get inside the head of a woman totally different from me.
“So, this is illegal immigration," said Sue, "…Thank you, Yunis,” and Yunis smiled. She let herself be completely charmed one last time. “…If you’re ever in Chingford,”
And now that they would probably never see each other again it was safe to sigh into a proper hug. They even kissed, then they smiled some more. One great boot hit the jetty and she steadied herself before she lifted the second to stand on something solid, if not a little rickety, for the first time in about ten days. He handed over the hold-all and she nodded.
“Good luck,” said Yunis and he walked into the wheelhouse and ground the boat back into the black. Sue walked towards the bar she could see at the end of the jetty, found the pace for the great boots and walked with her head up having another bloody revelation. She was that woman, that woman with the long blonde hair and the great boots, a great stride and a hold-all over her shoulder. Taut-faced-tight-arsed and confidently walking along a jetty somewhere warm towards a bar. She looked just like that woman in the shampoo advert. Mind you, that woman’s hold-all was probably full of the swim-suit and evening dress she would need for the next cutaways. Not like hers. Her bag was loose and lumpy. The contents exposed what was too much backstory for a shampoo advert. Probably too much backstory for her. One-minute sitting on the Seven-Oh-Five reading in the Metro about Bloody Brexit; next minute, well next year, an 'illegal' bombshell cum lab rat with great boots. But she was definitely worth it. In all that time no-one had mentioned actual numbers, that’s how big they were.
She needed a drink and luckily she was now at the bar. A neon ad for a beer she’d never heard of lit a few odd tables and chairs and a couple of what? Fishermen? She tossed her head to let the breeze tussle her locks. Felt the grease and grime on her skull. Could do with some actual shampoo, and deodorant. She hadn’t had a wash of any kind for…well over a week, that was for sure. There was no point asking for cider or even gin, the place was basic. Having, much more recently than one would think, completed her daughter's GCSE Spanish exam coursework to Grade Nine standard she was able to order a cold beer with ease. She herself had done French.
She sat down outside under the advert, almost but not quite forgetting that she would look great in a strong light, and realised that she had started wondering again, as soon as she hit dry land. She had stopped wondering for a good three months. Too angry and frightened probably, too busy with escaping. Her own sister.
Now she felt safe enough to wonder again. But she hadn’t always been a wonderer, had she. When had all this started? Not with the metamorphosis and all the silly business that went with it. Before that. And would the other stuff have happened if she hadn’t started wondering in the first place? When was it? When the letter came? No, it was before that, but not much before. It was that morning. Yes, that Tuesday, no Monday morning. Her beer had appeared and she hadn’t said ‘Gracias’. She took a sip. She had a lot of time for Moslems now but drinking was great. That was it. When she had that other face, that was when.
That face had not been so different really. It was like a sculptor was making this face but instead of pushing wet clay with his thumbs from her mouth up and out to form her cheekbones he had pushed down. Then he had got bored or the phone rang and he hadn’t smoothed her off or made sure she was symmetrical. But it was the same face really. She had pored over this face for hours and so had other people. It had been measured and prodded and samples had, sometimes under great duress, been taken. It had been kissed too. She winced. Oh dear. There was indeed no fool like an old fool, even if they could pass for a sixth former.
She tried to properly think about her old face. It hadn’t been a bad face. Did she miss that face? She had looked fifty. Plenty of hair, not like Julie, Julie’s hair was definitely starting to get thinner, and you could see her scalp at the crown. But that was probably the stress. She used to do that, didn’t she; almost unconsciously and almost all the time. Compare herself to her friends, family, work colleagues, people she saw in the street. And in foolish moments models and actresses too. Yes, she used to do that a lot. How many hours would all those milliseconds of physical comparisons with other women add up to? Never mind men. Women were worse. What else could she have been thinking about?
She’d had a few permanent furrows on her brow and Sue ran her fingers over her forehead as she squinted into the Monday morning mirror back in Chingford not even a year ago. Deeper wrinkles, definitely getting deeper. Not laughter lines anymore. More than Jan…even though her sister Jan was nearly four years junior, she looked ten years younger. Mind you. Jan was rich; money for facials, money for a personal trainer, money for enough sleep, money not to worry constantly about money. Money to think she could treat other people like lab rats, even her own sister.
The breeze in whatever country Yunis had dropped her off in was warm but quite strong and a shiver ran down her spine. She had never so much as slapped anyone. But she had truly belted Jan over the head with that jug in the hospital. And when she didn't fall immediately, she had belted her again. With the hope that she wasn't dead and another nip from her glass, Sue pushed Jan's flickering eyes as she fell from her mind.
In that old mirror back in Chingford the shiver of deeper and older resentments temporarily ironed out a couple of lines as her eyes narrowed. Jan wore too much makeup; it clogged her pores and made her look washed out. But Sue still had fewer wrinkles than her best friend Julie, Julie had loads and they were both Fifty-Eight. And Linda, her second-best friend. Linda smoked. Sue’s crêpe covered hands moved down to beside her eyes and the crow’s feet felt deeper too. Less than Julie, more than Jan, less than Linda. Good skin, not too blotchy, not too red, better than Linda-and-Julie.
It took a moment to recognise the old feeling; guilt ebbed up from her belly and into her mind. Comparing looks with Julie was wrong. Julie was always tired, from getting up at three in the morning to put her mum back to bed. Or traipsing from work to the hospital and then the shops. That was why she’d said yes to all this business in the first place. If Alzheimer's was genetic then Julie might be screaming down the street in her nighty one day. Julie had aged ten years looking after her mum, more, and, had she put her in a Home by then?
Yes, her mum was already in the Home because Julie was finally coming out on Friday, or was it the Friday after? No, it was that Friday wasn't it, the day after Brexit. That had been the first surprise, the first big event for her hadn't it? Time wise, if you put everything in order, which she hadn't had time for. Still didn't really. She had to wait for Albin. She took a swig of the unknown but rather tasty beer.
The mood that night in the pub had been odd really. All those people quiet from getting what they had voted for. The Elizabeth was definitely a Brexit pub. It was like they had all won the lottery and didn't want their friends to know or something. No, not like that. A strange atmosphere. Subdued. Was it because it had been such a close-run thing?
Everyone had close ties with someone who had voted the other way. There was less than two percent in it. Perhaps they didn’t want to rub it in. Not that anyone she knew had properly fallen out over it.
Was it because no one expected it? The papers, the TV, the polls, they all said they would lose. Was it because of the campaigners? The winning side had been 'led' by a bunch of politicians that no one, not even the Brexit voters in the Elizabeth, really liked or trusted. They were still Politicians.
Was it because the drinkers in the Elizabeth just weren't used to getting their way? Tory or Labour, it didn't make any difference, no one ever listened to people like them. Sue didn't know why it had been so strange in there. But except for the odd bit of laughter maybe the mood had been dampened in some way.
Was it the silent self-suspicion that they might actually be Racist like all the 'Remoaner' journalists were screaming in the London her parents had run away from? But that word Remoaner hadn't happened yet had it? Had it? She hadn’t been home since March and those last few months had been a bit chaotic.
Had she voted Brexit because she was Racist? She would have to wonder on that some more.
Anyway, Julie had forgotten to vote because her mum had had a bad few weeks and the girls were Remainers.
Julie had looked about Seventy that night. Sue had actually felt guilty that her own mum had died quickly. Now she felt guilty that she had run away and left her best friend to carry on, day in day out, without her.
She took another gulp of beer and looked shamefully down at the great boots. This slow, what had Julie called it after a few Gins, ‘living death’ of Alzheimer's disease, was killing part of Julie as well as her mum. Julie had been despairing. One minute a glimpse of the old feisty (to put it politely) woman who had brought her up and then hours and hours of confusion, panic, not knowing who anyone was or what was going on.
Sue rallied and sat up under the neon used to the fact that her breasts would come with her. Julie's mum and Julie were why Sue was here, sort of. She had wanted to help hadn't she. It was not her fault that the drug trials had gone wrong or right or whatever. It was not her fault she was on the run from her own bloody sister and that horrible, bloated, greedy 'Big Pharmer' she had married.
She didn’t want it but the image of that red-faced Fat Bastard with his lank and slimy hair, this time dressed like an actual farmer; complete with a piece of straw dangling from his thin purply lips, flashed across her consciousness like a subliminal frame spliced into an advert for shampoo.
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