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 the other side of the desk, the customers’ chair, wait- ing for her to complete her inspection. “Or an expla- nation for the outstanding mortgage forms you’ve still to process?” She thought of her own finances, in far better shape than these, of the spreadsheets she had plotted for years before her marriage, the pro- jections of her future earnings, the necessary asset stock, how much she would gain from the rent of her mother’s place, the likely life expectancy for a woman in her eighties with Parkinson’s disease and costly care. All of it, unlike the welter of mess in front of
her, spoke with an unflinching clarity: an only child would have the best of everything. And no child of hers would have less.
On the High Street, once she had left Davey Scanlon stammering and pale, with his clear list of targets for her visit in a month’s time, Marie walked down the High Street in the gathering dusk of the November af- ternoon. She could feel the chill of it, knew that with her selected date nearing, the clocks had gone back and now Brian was up even earlier, to grasp the last of the fading light. He was tired earlier of an evening now, an inert mass on the sofa, legs outstretched, mouth agape, insensate as she watched her detective shows. He would take some waking up, even though she’d frozen him out two months now in the bed. She’d to be fully rid of those hormones from the pill, the book said, be-fore any attempt could be made. Brian would be rewarded for his patience.
She found the shop, at the end of the high street, a small discrete place, with net curtains, at the cor- ner, the displays muted and delicate in front of
them, sketches almost in their pale filigrees of lace, against the whiteness of the nets. She’d never liked the words they used in these sorts of places: bras- siere and lingerie, hosiery and camisole, all fancy and French sounding with the scent of something murk- ier beneath, of brassers, whores and lingering, an image of street corners and women who smoked and wore too much lipstick, not decent people. But it was for the best, an investment and, when the woman,
a neat, pretty young thing greeted her with a “Good afternoon, Madam. Can I help you at all?”, Marie stepped up to the counter.
“You can,” she told her, “It’s something plain enough I’m after. But ... sensual.” It was the best word she could bring herself to say.
“Is it perhaps for a wedding?”
“That’s long past,” Marie said and, looking at the slip of a thing in front of her, drew a breath and forced the bravery of a smile on to her face. “No,” she said,
“this is, how shall I put it?” And she stepped a little closer to the counter, to look at the packs of tights and stockings that stood there, on a revolving stand. “To light a fire....” She let the phrase work on both of them and nodded. “But I’m needing something with a little class,” she said. “Nothing obvious.” She frowned at the fishnets stood their bold as brass at the counter. That would not do. Something I can put out, this fire, she thought. But she stilled those last words before they reached her lips.
“You’ve a beautiful, pale skin their, madam,” the as- sistant said. “Perhaps not white then. Maybe some- thing a few shades darker would suit you best.” And she stepped out and walked with Marie along the racks and hangers. “We’ll have to try a few things on to see, I’d say.”
Brian was still at the evening feeding when she pulled the car in to the drive and she saw his cousin, Stephen stood there in the yard, lit up by the yellow arc of the yard lights in his faded, filthy jeans lugging a bag of pellets from the feed store.
“How’s it going, Marie?” he asked, all gap toothed smile and acne. “You worked out a way to rob one of those banks of yours yet? We could do with an escape from these old beasts, I’ll tell you that. It doesn’t get any warmer out there in the lower fields at this time of year now.”
“Go on,” she said to him. “You go help himself down there or he’ll be waiting for you.”
“You’re fucking right he will,” he said, shifting the bag of feed further up his bony shoulder, before he froze, muttered, first, “Shite,” then, “sorry, Marie,” and turned to walk through the puddles and straw of the yard.
She shook her head at the sight of him, the scruffy child, and watched him enter the barn before she took the purple bag from the car and went into the kitchen, picking her way between the puddles lest she spoil her good business shoes. She closed the curtains of the bedroom, but not before she’d peaked again to ensure that the barn lights were on still, and pulled her purchases free of their tissue wrappings and
held them up, these slips and straps of silken deli- cacy before she clipped away the tags and labels they bore, laid them out, released the stockings from their packet and shook them out before her.
With the bathroom safely locked, she shook off her
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