After months of toiling away in front of my computer, after innumerable drafts, rewrites and revisions, I've finally got my latest novel in to what I hope is something close to presentable/readable shape. To find out what people think of the story, I've decided to post the opening chapters here on my blog.
Although loath to give too much of the plot away at this stage, I feel it necessary to set the scene:
After a twenty year absence, Adrianna returns to her home town to avenge her mother's horrible drug-related death.
Pasted below are the opening two chapters of Three Days with Adrianna. I hope you like them. Any comments/constructive/deconstructive criticism gladly accepted!!!
The Part About Adrianna
As soon as she walked into the shop he knew she was Angie's daughter. The likeness was scary. He could've been back at his old flat twenty-odd years ago, staring at her mum through a late-night cloud of second-hand smoke.
'Are you Gary Talbot?' she asked, straight out.
Every instinct he had told him to say "no, sorry, he's away for a week". But something held him back; something he could never really explain–over the years he'd always been such a convincing liar.
'Yeah,' he said as casually as possible, placing the LPs he was about to price up down on the counter. Jesus, he thought to himself, she really is the spitting image of Ange, with the shiny coal-black hair, dark eyes, that rich
Mediterranean colouring, she was even the same sort of
height, not particularly tall but not particularly short, and had the same
shapely, curvy figure. 'How can I help you, love?'
At first, she didn't say anything. She just stood there, in this stylish navy-blue trouser-suit, looking all shy and unsure of herself.
'Well, it's not the easiest thing to…' she trailed off and lowered her eyes. 'What I mean to say is I–I wanted to talk to you about–about…' and she broke down in floods of tears, just like that.
'Hey, don't cry.' He walked around the counter and tentatively put a hand on her shoulder. 'Look. Why don't I turn the closed sign 'round, eh? Pop the kettle on, and you can tell me all 'bout it, get whatever it is offa your chest.'
'Yeah, you don't half look like your mum,' he said, warily, unsure of how to approach the situation, how to act–friendly, serious or defensive–he had no idea how much this girl knew, and what kinds of questions she wanted to ask. 'And you say your name's Adrianna, right?'
She nodded and took a sip of tea from a faded Manchester United mug that had been through the dishwasher one time too many.
'That's right. Named after my great-grandmother, so I've been told.'
After he'd brought the tea through, she'd confirmed what he already suspected: that she was Angie's daughter. Now she'd pulled herself together, she came across as a really well-spoken girl, educated, polite, classy, a little intimidating, in the way attractive women can, without really trying. And in no way could he tell if she was hostile towards him or not.
I never knew my real mum. I was brought up by foster parents. It was only a
year or two back that I got in contact with my real grandmother. Since then,
we've got to know each other quite well. I visit her every other week. And she's
told me a lot about my mum, important stuff, because it's hard not knowing
where you come from, not having any proper family, like reference points. All
my adult life I've felt like there was something missing, you know?'
And she went on tell Gary about her education and plans for the future, a first class honours degree, something to do with the sciences, laboratory research, and how she'd landed herself a dream job in Melbourne, Australia, how she was going to emigrate, how this was literally her last few days in England. As she did so,
nodded his head, said Yeah a few
times, and smiled encouragingly, not really knowing why he was listening to all
of this, or where it was heading.
'So, as you can imagine, I might not be coming back to
England any time soon. And I guess
I want to know more about my mum before she died, what kind of person she was,
what interests she had, what she did at weekends, just ordinary, everyday
stuff. Here.' She reached into her slim, stylish leather handbag and pulled out
an old cassette. 'I bet you recognize this, right?'
'Yeah,' he said, staring at his own scruffy handwriting on the track-list scribbled on the inlay cover. 'Bloody wars! You're going back a few years here. Look: Prodigy - Your Love, Zero B - Lock Up, Joey Beltram - Energy Flash, 2 Bad Mice - Bombscare, Krome and Time - This Sound is For the Underground. Ha!'
'And you remember doing this tape for my mum?'
Of course he remembered. Back then, Ange could only have been fourteen or fifteen-years-old. It was around the time they first started knocking about together, when she'd walk along the beach from town, where Gary and his best mate Goosey used to hang out, light a camp-fire, drink and smoke themselves silly, and blast out music on a battered old beat box. Ange knew they were bad boys, small town rebels, was attracted to older lads with a dubious reputation, always in trouble with the police. At first, they didn't really like the idea of her leeching onto them. It could only lead to trouble, they told themselves, bring unwanted attention–an under-age girl cramping their style like that. But gradually, they got used to having her around, to seeing her trudging along the beach in her school uniform, got used to having a laugh and a joke (usually at her expense), getting this young bird so pissed and stoned she'd puke or pass out, taking advantage of her. "This music's ace," she said to
Gary one summer evening.
"Can you do me a mix tape, one I can listen to at home?" At the time,
he was big into dance music, him and Goosey used to go to illegal raves up and
down the country, and like most lads bang into his tunes, Gary prided himself on putting together the
best mix tapes around.
'You even wrote a little message on the back,' said Adrianna, pointing to the cassette in
hand. 'If you turn the inlay cover over, you can see.'
He did as she said, taking the cassette out and finding: To my very own little raver, Ange, E is the way forward. Drop as often as you can. Feel the love. Gaz. Gary almost winced at the blatant drug reference, sensing that this was perhaps the moment Adrianna would flip, go into one about the dangers of drugs, how this proved that he was somehow responsible for what happened to her mum.
'Yeah, yeah,' he said slowly, putting the cassette back in the case and closing it. 'They were, erm…different times back then, love, different music, different attitudes to stuff.'
But she didn't bring it up, shout at him or appear in any way angry or upset.
'Last year, I bought an old stereo at a car boot sale, one with a tape deck in it, just so I could listen to the tape.'
'Really?' He handed the cassette case back to her. 'What'd you think?'
Adrianna shrugged and rolled her eyes. A light, friendly, amused maybe even warm gesture, which made him feel a whole lot more comfortable.
'Not really my kind of thing–a bit manic, a bit out there.'
'Yeah, I s'pose. Then again, it's probably generational. If you liked the stuff people my age were listening to back then, music would never move on, would it? It'd be stuck in a rut.'
She nodded, shifted her weight, and slipped the cassette back into her handbag.
the reason I came to see you is that I want to ask a favour. Like I said
earlier, I want to know more about my real mum. I want to try and get a clearer
picture of her in my head.' She hesitated and bit into her bottom lip. 'I know
she was no angel. And I know she did a lot of mad stuff before she had me, but
it wouldn't feel right–leaving the country, leaving everything behind, my roots
and all that–without learning more about her life, where I came from.' She shot
him an anxious, hopeful look. 'So what I'm going to suggest is this: I'm
staying at a small hotel in town for the next few days, and wondered if you'd
give me a tour of the area, you know, places my mum used to visit, her old
haunts, if you like.'
'Really?' she beamed, flashing the whitest, straightest teeth he'd ever seen. 'That's so kind of you, Gary. It would mean the world to me.'
'So we can meet here, at the shop, tomorrow, late morning, yeah? And you'll show me around?'
Gary said into his mobile phone while angling
his neck, staring out of the shop window, watching Adrianna disappear up the high
street, 'the strangest thing just happened, mate. I just had a very odd
visitor, a very odd conversation.'
'Only Angie's bloody daughter–all grown-up.'
There were a few moments of silence.
'What?' said Goosey, all panicky and breathless, as if the information had only just sunk in.
'I know. It weirded me right out, brought back a lot of bad memories.'
'What'd she want? Why'd she come looking for you after all this time?'
'Wanted to know all 'bout her mum, didn't she? Look. You finished work yet? You fancy a pint? I think we should talk 'bout things, 'bout Ange, the past, 'cause I sense this daughter of hers ain't just gonna go away.'
Three whole weeks, not a bloody word, not a simple phone call telling us where she were, didn't know nothing 'bout no static caravan up the coast, worried sick we were, had no other option than to call the police, even if it meant getting the social services involved, even if it meant that the baby might be taken offa her. I mean, she'd wandered off so many times, said she were just popping out to the shops, or to visit a friend for a cuppa tea and a fag, and we wouldn't see hide nor hair of her for days, just dumped the baby on us, see, left us right in the lurch. And when she finally came home she'd have great big bags under her eyes, her beautiful hair were all matted and greasy, stinking to high heaven, smoke, booze, you name it. Then all she'd wanna do was sleep, go up to her room and not surface till the next day. Only this time it were different, I said to my Albert, bad as Ange had been in the past, she'd never dream of being away this long. It weren't right. It didn't make no sense. And we tried phoning round her friends, even the rough druggy bastards from town, the two lads she always used to knock 'bout with, but they swore that they hadn't seen or heard from her for a good coupla weeks. In the end, like I said, we had to get onto the local police, had this horrible smarmy young constable call round to the house, still in his bloody twenties, still had bum-fluff on his face, knew Ange of old, see, knew she'd been in trouble in the past, had a bit of a reputation round town, for drugs and what have you, and for that reason, her safety and well-being weren't important, like whatever might've happened to her, however horrible, were her own fault, didn't say as much, but we could tell, by all these snidey comments like: did you give your daughter any money, Mr and Mrs Carboni, did she say who she was going to be seeing? If so, are they also involved in the local drug scene? And we had to keep on at 'em, the police, I mean, to make 'em take us seriously, had to call 'em everyday, hassle 'em, tell 'em to get their fingers outta their arses, that our girl had a baby daughter who were missing her something chronic, and that it were a small town, that she couldn't have gone very far, but all we kept getting back were: unfortunately, we've had very few significant leads to follow up on, but rest assured, we're doing everything in our power to find your daughter. If it ain't have been for Ange's friend, Katie I think her name were, remembering her saying something 'bout visiting that caravan, we wouldn't have found her for months. Apparently it belonged to one of those tossers from town, the ones we spoke to before, shared it with a cousin or something, had it gifted 'em in their granddad's will, used it as a bit of a party place by all accounts, 'specially in the summer months. That's when I knew them lads had been lying when we asked 'em if they had any idea where Ange could be–how else would she have got the keys, eh? Never forget that awful phone call, when the police rang to tell us that they'd found Ange's body, that she'd been dead for a considerable amount of time, considerable, I asked 'em, how long's considerable? It were only later I found out that she'd been lying there, all on her own, dead, God rest her soul, for the best part of two and a half weeks, over a bloody fortnight! When he did his autopsy or whatever you call it, the coroner reckoned that she'd had liver or kidney failure, that her vital organs ruptured, nigh on exploded, due to chemical excess, just like that, that more likely than not she had a massive seizure, like a stroke, started bleeding from every orifice in her body. My Albert, her father, had to go down to the morgue to identify her, said she were in one helluva state, all bloated and puffy, that her skin had turned this horrible bluey-green colour, that half her hair had fallen out at the roots. And he knew that were the case 'cause he tried to touch her, don't know why, it were just a natural kinda reaction, to reach out and touch her face, the top of her head, like saying goodbye, knowing that's the last time he'd ever see his little girl, and a great big clump of her hair came away in his hand. Don't bear thinking 'bout, do it? Next day, the police had those evil wankers, those druggies in for questioning, but they closed ranks, said they didn't know how Ange had got into the caravan, that she must've climbed in through a window or forced a door, that they had no idea what drugs she'd been taking or who she'd got 'em from, despite the fact she had little or no money on her. And 'cause the police couldn't prove nothing, that they didn't have any witnesses or material evidence as they called it, linking them two lads to any of the drugs found at the scene, they couldn’t do nothing 'bout it, couldn't prosecute, they had to let 'em go scot-free. That's when we started to hear whispers, you know, rumours 'round town, 'bout how them two lads had given Ange some dodgy pills to try, like a bloody guinea pig, how they planned to have a big weekend up at the caravan, that they'd given her the keys a few days in advance, said they'd meet up with her on the Friday or Saturday, only when they got round to it they found her lying there, dead, and didn't have the decency to call the police, call us–her mum and dad–so we could come and take her away, give her a respectful funeral, a proper send-off, 'cause they were scared that they'd find out 'bout those pills. They just let our little girl, our only daughter rot away in that caravan, like she were nothing more than a piece of meat, like road kill splattered at the side of a motorway, that she were dirt, that her life didn't mean nothing. And that's something I can never forgive 'em for, that's something those bastards should have pay for for the rest of their lives.