Will held out his cup for more coffee. ‘Fanny,’ he sounded a warning, ‘we can’t afford any wobbles. Otherwise we get dumped on.’

He meant the press. Not for the first time, I thought how strange it was that treachery and dissent reached so much wider than loyalty… or fidelity.

No, scrub that.

That last had caught me unawares, which it did from time to time. I had learnt to deal with any bruising it inflicted.

Will pressed on: ‘I know what you’re thinking, Fanny, but we have to do something before the world chokes.’ He stopped. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’

I shook my head. ‘Nothing.’

These days when I looked at Will, I no longer perceived the golden light that, when I first fell in love with him, had bathed him from head to foot. Now I saw differently and Will was only an element in a larger context: family, home, commitments. At forty-something, I had learnt many things, not least to reshuffle the priorities. Perhaps that was better, certainly more rational. All the same, I mourned the golden light. I missed it, and the intensity of my hunger to find out what Will was, my passion to possess him, and for him to possess me.

Again the eyebrows arched above the brown eyes. This time it meant: ‘Let’s sort this out.’ ‘Give it a chance, Fanny… yes?’ He smiled, willing the old intimacy to bind us together. If I played ball, Will would be comforted and assured that we were walking down the right track.

‘Trust me?’

‘Should I?’

He yawned theatrically. ‘Am I being pompous?’

In politics, or anywhere where power was the prize, it was hard to keep the layers of oneself glued together, and it was hard not to run with the hares. I understood that perfectly.

He got to his feet. ‘For goodness sake drive a pin into me if I get fat, boring or pompous.’ He looked briefly appalled. ‘On second thoughts, perhaps you’d better not.’

‘Would it be that easy to burst the bubble?’

He bent over and whispered, ‘Only you know the answer to that.’

Outside in the drive, the ministerial car nosed to a halt with a discreet toot of the horn. Will shoved his papers into his briefcase. ‘See you Friday’.

I sat quite still. Will’s hand pressed into my shoulder. ‘Fanny… the question of Meg.’

‘Is she a question?’

Meg had never been a question. She had always been a fact. A hard fact that sat at the centre of our marriage.

The pressure on my shoulder became almost intolerable. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘No, she isn’t.’

Meg and Will’s parents killed themselves in a spectacular car crash. The tangle of wreckage made it almost impossible to say who had been driving but, in some respects, it was irrelevant. Both were alcoholics, and the blood tests indicated that neither of them should have been at the wheel.

The children were cared for by grandparents too aged to cope. Four years older than Will, Meg had ended up cooking, cleaning, protecting and directing. She teased out Will’s halting French verbs, wrestled with his algebra and, by the time he left home to train as a barrister, had forgotten about herself. ‘It was as if there was a vacuum inside me, sucking up the person that was me,’ she confided, soon after she moved in with us, ‘and I could only fill it one way’

When she married Rob, another barrister, the drinking had been sly, furtive, but apparently under control. After Sacha was born, and the strains of marriage to a busy man became clear, Meg began to slip. Eventually, Rob said he could no longer live with her. Then he informed her he’d found someone else who would look after him and Sacha properly.

‘It was the “properly” that really hurt,’ said Meg.

‘Meg became my mother,’ Will said, when he asked me if she could come and live with us, ‘and my father. She gave up everything to make sure that I was all right.’

After Will had gone, I went upstairs. Our bedroom was still frowsty from the night and I threw open the window. A man wearing a bright orange jacket was walking up the road and the colour imprinted itself, vivid and garish, on my retinas. He did not seem to be in any hurry, and looked neither sad nor happy, just indifferent.

That’s how I felt.

I made the bed and pulled my mother’s quilt over it. With a forefinger, I traced the tree hung with red cherry blossoms. One of the flower bracts had been unevenly sewn. I often wondered about the creator and why she had made the mistake. Had it been deliberate? A gesture of rage, rebellion or misery?

Will’s clothes from the previous week were stacked on the chair and, working automatically from long practice, I set about sorting them – laundry basket, shelf, cupboard. Nowadays his ties were silk, and his shirts were soft and expensive, made in subtle colours with battens inserted into the collar points. Sometimes I remembered to remove them, sometimes not.

A shirt in hand, I sat down on the bed and buried my face in its folds. It smelt of Will, the Will I had always loved.

There was a knock on the door. ‘Fanny, are you there?’ Without waiting for an answer, Brigitte stuck her head round the door. ‘Yes, you are.’

Guiltily, I dropped the shirt. Although she was only a temporary feature of the Savage household, Brigitte had that effect on me and I was so thoroughly in awe of her that I was never sure if I employed her or she me.

Brigitte, who came from deepest Austria, disapproved of the Savage set-up – Meg’s oddness, Sacha’s coming and going, Chloe’s truculence – and she had a way of conveying this that made it matter. As a tactic, I admired it.

She glanced at the photograph on the dressing-table of a family group. Today, it appeared to draw particular disapproval. ‘The shopping list, Fanny, I cannot find it.’

‘Sure.’ I reached for the notebook, which was always beside the bed, tore off the top page and handed it to her. Brigitte scanned it. ‘You forgot the polish.’ She tapped her nose with a finger. ‘I don’t forget. Or the bread.’

She gestured with her large, capable hands in a way that expressed her desire to ensure that the Savage menage remained provisioned. It was a task that appeared to give her authority and purpose. Back home, Brigitte was an ardent, paid-up member of the Green Party and washed her hair in soap, never in harmful shampoo. It was a sacrifice worth making, she had explained. Observing the state of her hair, I am sorry to say that I did not agree.

‘I’ll take the laundry.’ She brushed past me, swept up the clothes and marched downstairs. The sound of raised voices informed me that she and Maleeka were agitating for space in my home.

Bearing a tray with a breakfast of mashed banana, toast and tea, I knocked on Meg’s bedroom door. There was a muttered ‘Come in’.

The room stank of whisky. Meg was lying on her side and I drew back the curtains.

She flung an arm across her eyes. ‘I suppose yet another apology is needed.’

‘Only if you wish.’

‘I don’t.’ She struggled upright.

I handed her a cup of tea. ‘Get that down you.’

Between mouthfuls, she asked, ‘Is Sacha OK?’

‘He kept watch. He’s probably asleep.’

Meg gave a wry smile. ‘Sacha says he writes his songs late at night. He says his mind is more receptive and fertile then.’

‘Does he?’ I knew what Sacha meant. When I was feeding Chloe as a baby, those small hours of the night provided strange, heightened interludes where, the baby at my breast, I was free from busyness, and at liberty to try and grope my way towards clarity and knowledge.

‘Why do I do it to him, Fanny?’

It was not the first time Meg had asked the question: nor, if both of us were honest, was it likely to be the last. I followed the uneven progress of the cup to her lips. ‘Would you like more help? We can organize it.’

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