The car accelerated away from the lights and I said, ‘Will, what did you want to ask me?’

He looked uncomfortable. ‘You couldn’t sit in on the next two Saturday surgeries, could you? You do it so brilliantly.’

Naturally, the excuse was the ministerial diary, which ranked above everything else. All I was required to do in surgery was listen to small histories of disquiet and everyday injustice – hospital negligence, an intolerable neighbour, a wrong gas bill – and report back. Very often, it was a question of contacting the right people. They were at the top of the pyramid and Will had made it his business to know plenty of them, which was only sensible.

‘Will you, Fanny?’

‘Of course.’

That was that. When Parliament sat, Will lived in London during the week. When Chloe, our daughter, had been younger it had been weeks sometimes before I joined him but now that she was eighteen, I went to London regularly. The Savage dinner parties were considered something of a talking-point, which I put down to the good wine. In the old days, Will travelled to Stanwinton every weekend to nurse the constituency and his family, in that order. Now that he was a minister, his visits were less predictable: if he had a micro-squeak of spare time it vanished into the red boxes.

Confident and assured in his formal clothes, he smiled at me. ‘Thank you so much.’ It was his official voice.

‘I’m not one of your constituents,’ I informed him. ‘I’m your wife.’

Will did one of his lightning changes and stepped out of the politician’s mould into the person he really was. ‘Thank God,’ he said.

The coffin must have been heavy, for the undertakers had difficulty manoeuvring it down the aisle. An arrangement of red roses and green euphorbia rested on the top and the vicar was robed in gold and white. This was good. Pearl Veriker, a born bully, was going to meet her Maker in a suitably colourful manner after being felled at party headquarters by a heart attack – which, as deaths go, she might have chosen. I was certain she would have appreciated this outward show, especially the strict order of precedence observed in the seating. In my experience, the natural order of things was for the sitting MP and consort to walk at least ten paces behind the town dignitaries, but since Will had orchestrated his way into ministership the hierarchies had been hastily reshuffled and, today, we were accorded first-pew status.

Above the altar there was a stained-glass window of a procession of pilgrims making for a distant Paradise. The halos on a couple of men suggested they were already saints. Others, women, looked both exhausted and surprised that there was any hope at all of reaching the final destination. Over the years of – necessarily – close examination, my favourites had changed. As a bride, I had liked the strong, bold-looking knight who led from the front. Now my attention tended to focus on the tiny dog that lagged behind a nun in trailing black draperies. But I worried about all of them. It must have been so hard without clean clothes, a favourite pillow, a goodnight milky drink.

My hat, large-brimmed, black and not too witty – purchased in Harrod’s especially for these occasions – was a little tight. ‘Darling, your head has swelled from all the praise,’ said Will, as I struggled to put it on. The comment was not quite as light-hearted as it sounded. Even now, having been the sitting MP for almost two decades, Will could be jealous of his constituency. There was a silence as I struggled to smooth over a ruffled surface as I would have done in the past. But lately I had felt less flexible, less accommodating, sadder. ‘I’ve earned it, Will,’ I snapped.

Will was taken aback. ‘Yes, of course you have.’

Aware that I was being scrutinized, I adjusted the brim, which brought my view of the opposite pew into better focus. It was part of my function to be scrutinized and I had chosen my outfit with care. A slim-fitting black suit that did not shriek ‘Extravagance!’, modestly heeled shoes, and a warm, friendly lipstick. The effect was smart, clever (but not too clever), worn by a woman of confidence and conviction who had been broken in to the job. A Good Wife. I knew this because it had taken several attempts, and not a few discarded outfits, to get it right.

Will nudged me to attention. It was kindly and affectionately, rather than imperiously, meant. We functioned on nudges, my husband and I, little jabbing reminders of our duty, our tasks, our partnership. In the early days, I gave the nudges too. Now, for various reasons, I was more of a nudgee – but I reckoned that, in time, that would change too.

I let my hand rest briefly against his thigh, knowing that with this subversive, suggestive touch I would unsettle him.

On the other side of Will sat Matt Smith, the new chairman of the association, who sported degrees from Warwick and Harvard and had a lot of experience in think tanks. He dressed in linen suits, collarless shirts and lace-up boots, and talked about shifting voting patterns and focus groups. He was, he maintained, a professional.

On the other side of me Chloe picked at the cuticles of her left hand, which, at the last count, sported five silver rings, including a thumb ring that Sacha, her cousin, had brought back from his last gig up north. ‘It’s your job to attend funerals for old bats, not mine,’ she had stormed at Will. ‘Besides, I don’t believe in God.’

‘That puts you in the majority,’ Will pointed out, not unreasonably, then cracked the three-line whip.

I suppose every shared life, every separate life, has bloodstained patches and tattered remnants of compromise. Sometimes, too, the dull ache of small martyrdom.

Chloe now fixed her gaze dreamily on the pilgrims. She was a smaller, infinitely more delicate version of her father with fair hair and dark eyes. One day, she would be beautiful, and that promise gave me deep, unqualified pleasure.

The congregation sang, ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’, and Will delivered the address with good grace. I listened with only half an ear – his private secretary had already rung and asked me for any contributions. ‘She had a great heart,’ I said for I had grown fond of her.

‘Darling,’ Will commented later, ‘Not quite the right term.’

Again, I had turned on him without warning: ‘Shut up, Will. Just shut up. Please.

‘What is the matter with you, Fanny?’ he asked, a little bewildered, a little rattled.

After the service Chloe vanished. At the reception, Will and I consoled a shell-shocked Paul Veriker then went home, and Mannochie came too. This was normal. Along with everyone else, Will’s agent had been absorbed somehow into the running of our household. ‘He’s your real wife,’ I had told Will, more than once.

On the way upstairs, I paused on the landing. It was growing dark, the lovely mysterious moment of the day when I played the game of not-turning-on-the-light-until-the-very-last-minute. In that transition between light and dark, an observer becomes extra-sensitive to objects and to the textures of light and shade, of peace, happiness, disappointment, resdessness…

Like many things, the view out of the (faux) Gothic window had changed. One of the two fields we overlooked had been sold for development and was now home to twenty four-bedroomed houses. The second field had survived and the rooks still cawed and swirled above the beeches.

I leant on the sill. I knew myself better now and I had learnt that if I was quite still something surprising might swim up out of the spaces in my head. Sometimes a fleeting thought. Sometimes a revelation or a conclusion. Its chief element was always of surprise and I found myself craving the delight of discovery. One of the saints, I think it was Teresa, wrote that the soul has many rooms. So does a life, and a marriage. Motherhood too. I was increasingly curious to shine a light into each one.

But there was nothing tonight, except a faint sensation of despair, which made my eyes fill with tears. Why, I did not know.

I wiped them away and continued upstairs to our bedroom where I stepped out of the suit, brushed it, hung it up and put on some jeans.

Our bedroom was a depository. It was the sort of room that invited dumping and the dumped included a stool

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