Monday, 3 October 2011

The Cushion Effect Chapter One Opening

What’s a girl to think? When her man, without any prior warning or consultation, makes an unforeseen transition from Austin Reed to Armani, what’s a poor girl to do?
And so it was that a husband, who had never paid any attention to fashion or the beau monde, came home to his Tudor cottage with a designer suit and a shopping bag emblazoned with the logo of a Jermyn Street emporium. Casually, as if it were an afterthought, he told his wife that a sports car would be delivered later that week.
It was only reasonable then, that as soon as possible, she’d reach for the telephone. And that’s exactly what Dr Catherine Lewis did the moment her husband announced this sea change. Or, at least, the moment his back was turned. Until then she found herself in a state of suspended animation, most unusual for her, breathing quietly, watching and listening for his every move. Her very world stood still with this enormity, a challenge to all she held dear.
Before supper husband Thomas took himself off to the gym for a workout. It was his knee-jerk response to the consultant’s workday. On weekdays when he stayed in London at his Barbican pied-à-terre it was the fitness centre on the corner of Beech Street and Aldersgate. Otherwise, the local health club in Maidenhead if he got home to Cookham Dean early enough. Once Catherine had seen his dark blue Volvo estate disappear up the road, she climbed the stairs to her study, composed herself and tapped out her best friend’s number.
She remonstrated with herself for her lack of desire to tackle him over his surprise announcement while waiting for the inevitable hook-up to Leanne’s answering machine. How she hated these contraptions. If Leanne wasn’t at home or was screening her calls she would rather not . . . her thought remained hanging in the air as she heard her friend pick up, the uninflected, cautious voice with its marginally transatlantic accent at the other end instead of the expected fatuousness of the recorded message.
‘Oh. Leanne. It’s Catherine. How are you?’ She fastidiously pushed a loose strand of hair back into place to the side of her forehead with her middle finger.
Of course she did not want to know the answer to the question, which she asked in a peremptory tone more professional than personal. As a general practitioner she made the same perfunctory interrogation of her patients scores of times a day. With them she would accentuate the second word, as if challenging their right to be ill and daring them to qualify for the free health care she would provide. With Leanne she stressed the last word, indicating her solicitous attention to the person, not to the state of wellness.
Their telephone conversations would automatically begin with this earnest enquiry. Then they would rapidly descend into an all points fitness check: physical, mental and emotional. But Catherine was anxious to dispense with their trusted formula in order to unburden herself of the new development. This was not normal.
‘Such a shock … sometimes I think I could set my clock by the regularity of his schedule and the consistency of his behaviour … not even discussing it … not even showing me … been shopping in St James’s he says … a shopping bag full of new shirts … I always buy his shirts … he hates shopping … it’s all I can do to get him into Austin Reed in Maidenhead to replace a worn pair of grey trousers … bloody suit bag over his arm … straight up to the bedroom and into the wardrobe with it … cool as you like … picks up his gym bag and on his way out just casually mentions this sports car … not some little MG or Mazda … turns out it’s some bloody beast of an Aston Martin … the best of British, as if I care … dealer’s special to avoid the waiting list … didn’t ever discuss it … not even a hint of guilt … cost a fortune even though it’s not new … great investment according to him … sure he can afford it, but why, that’s what I want to know, why?’

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