I loved Guy Fawkes Night. Many of my most treasured childhood memories revolve around this event. It was such a novelty to be out at night in the cold and dark, watching the Catherine wheels and Roman candles, and rockets shooting into the sky from the end of the garden. With our woolly mittens on, we tried to eat potato skins filled with a cheesy baked potato mash and we scalded our tongues drinking soup from earthenware mugs. I still love fireworks and those smoky autumnal smells - the burning wood and leaves from the bonfire, mixed with the gunpowder from fireworks and the sharp metallic scent of sparklers (not to mention roasting swede!) - still vividly evoke the excitement I felt as a child.
I am taking part in a Halloween Giveaway Blog Hop, organised by Francine Howarth at http://tgunwriter.blogspot.co.uk/. Several writers are involved and we are all offering books as prizes. If you want to take part visit Francine's website, or simply answer the question below and you've a chance to win an e-copy of my recently released book - FLY OR FALL.
Q. In the prologue to FLY OR FALL, the television is on. The antics of which cartoon character (the name please) trigger in Nell the sense that the ground is falling away beneath her feet?
Answers in the comment section. The winner will be announced on Saturday November 2.
FLY or FALL
The cartoon rabbit ran straight off the edge of the cliff. He hung, oblivious to his predicament, feet pedalling the empty air. There was a snigger, halfway between laughter and derision, from the twins.
Perhaps belief is everything, I thought. If you believe you’re still on the same level, that life hasn’t changed, you won’t see the void which has opened beneath your feet. And if you don’t see it, you don’t fall. Inevitably the rabbit did stop running, did look down. I felt with him the nightmare lurch of panic, the sudden plunge downwards as he dropped out of frame. The result was explosive. As the dust cleared a precisely incised, rabbit shaped crater was revealed at the foot of the cliff.
‘I still can’t believe the amount of money....’ I murmured, with a dazed shake of my head.
‘So? What’s your problem? Any normal person would be jumping for joy.’ We were speaking quietly; the twins had yet to be told their father wanted to move, let alone that, without even putting the house on the market, we’d received an eye-watering offer for it.
‘I’m not arguing,’ I defended myself half-heartedly. ‘But I suppose I’ve always thought the amount it might sell for was academic. We have to live somewhere. Your job’s here, our friends are here, the kids go to school here. Why sell?’
‘We’ve been through this. There’s nothing to keep us, not really. Why stay in Battersea when we could live in the country? Clean air, green fields, a house with a proper garden and a driveway ... maybe even a garage ... to park the car off-road?’
I hadn’t reacted the way he’d wanted and expected, and I could hardly explain why to myself let alone to him. Why did I have such a sense of foreboding? If I agreed to sell and move out of London, our lives would change in countless superficial and practical ways but, to use Trevor’s words, they’d be changes which most normal people would regard as improvements to the style and quality of life. To him it was a no-brainer. Why stay in a property worth so much money when we could sell it and move somewhere better but cheaper in the country. Deflated by my reaction to his plans he had to work hard to keep his irritation in check.
‘But it’s such an unremarkable house.’
‘For God’s sake, Nell. Where have you been? You’ve heard about the property boom?’
‘But it’s smaller than the others in the terrace, with a much smaller garden. I never in a million years thought.... Anyway, what about your job?’
He sighed deeply. ‘I’m a teacher, I can get a job anywhere.’
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘I’m not dragging us off to the depths of the country on a wing and a prayer. I’ll make sure I’ve something to go to. I may quit teaching altogether.’
‘But you love teaching?’
‘I used to,’ he retorted darkly. I felt I was being drawn into an Alice in Wonderland world where all my certainties were being turned upside down. ‘Look, the whys and wherefores are not important … the important thing is this.’ He waved the formal offer at me. His taut, flushed face betrayed his excitement, as he contemplated a very different future to the one I’d envisaged.
‘I don’t want … we don’t need so much money. Wealth can be very corrupting.’
He sighed again. ‘Of course it seems a lot to us because we’ve been scraping along for years. It’s only recently things have eased up a bit. But we’ll still need a house to live in.’ His tabby, greying beard received another vigorous raking. ‘We’ll only have the balance to play with.’
‘I know that.’
‘Sure, our lives are going to change. But we are who we are. It is possible to be comfortably off, to have a few hundred thousand in an investment account, without abandoning your ideals. Unless you truly believe our principles are so flaky? The kind you adopt when you’re poor then slough off like a snake’s skin as soon as your circumstances improve?’
‘No one really knows how they’ll respond to temptation until they’re exposed to it. It’s a leap into the dark. Perhaps I am going to develop a taste for furs and diamonds and love-affairs. And you? Fast cars and bimbos?’
‘Do try to keep a sense of proportion. It’s not that kind of dosh.’
‘I am joking.’ But as I said the words I knew I wasn’t joking, not really. I had cloaked my real misgivings in the facile.
‘Anyway, how come you get to have love-affairs and I get the bimbos?’ he added, with a rueful smile. ‘Sounds a bit discriminatory to me.’
‘What is the male equivalent of a bimbo? A gigolo? A toy boy? Chance would be a fine thing.’
Much of the discussion so far had been conducted in this half-joking, half-serious vein. My insides still bubbled with a mixture of shocked surprise and apprehension, bordering on hysteria; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. For me it was still too soon to properly and calmly evaluate what all this would really mean to us. At length he spoke again.
‘You think I don’t understand, but I do.’ His tone was now conciliatory, bordering on the condescending. I remained silent, repressing the urge to flash back, ‘Good for you.’
‘I know all this has been a shock. I know the last few months since Beryl died, have been hard on you. Losing your surviving parent has got to change your perspective on life and the way you live it. Even when she had long ceased to be the mother you knew. We always knew you’d inherit the house. The probate will soon be sorted and we ... you’ll get the title deeds. What the house is worth is the only new element for you.’
But not for him? Had he been comparing house prices for years? Weighing up what my mother’s death could mean for us? I sensed a ‘But’ coming, possibly an ultimatum. Did he want to secure my compliance here and now? Yet, as he proceeded, I saw apprehension in his eyes.
‘Seriously, Nell, it’s down to you. If you really don’t want to sell the house and realise some of the profits by moving out and down-pricing, then I can’t force you.’
I glanced away from his intent stare, back towards the TV, which now flickered in the corner without its cynical audience of two. Since I’d last looked, Bugs Bunny had not only survived his fall but had triumphed over his pursuers, in the interim mysteriously achieving a lifestyle of wealth and opulence. As the title music swelled the final frame revealed him lying back complacently against a pile of harem cushions, a jewelled turban balanced between his ears, the inevitable carrot held pinched in his fingers like a cigar.
‘Beats me why you can’t just accept it and rejoice?’ Trevor persisted doggedly. ‘Our ship’s come in. It’s our turn.’
He made my misgivings seem increasingly nebulous and perverse. How could I continue to resist? One moment I’d felt like I was at the edge of a precipice, facing a leap into the unknown, yet still clinging to the possibility of retreat. Now I realised the world had shifted on its axis; there could be no going back. The secure ground had vanished from beneath my feet. I had only two options left – to fall or to fly.