but intriguing and perfectly possible.

He tied and retied his dressing-gown cord several times. ‘What did Italy do to you?’ he asked. ‘And can I have some of it? At one point, I wondered if you were going to stay there.’

I replaced a bottle of claret – a disappointing 1997 Haut-Marbuzet – in the rack and straightened up. ‘I might have done/ I said. ‘I thought about it.’

He ran his hands through his hair, as if in search of the old Will, the one who had been so full of optimism and vigour. ‘I would have gone mad,’ he said, ‘or taken to the bottle.’

‘Not a good joke.’

‘Not a good joke,’ he admitted.

‘After I’d got over the relief of being on my own, Will, I realized I wouldn’t like being without you either.’

‘Good.’ Will got up to check the latest figures on the television. ‘That’s very good.’

I picked up the full rubbish bin and carried it outside. Daylight was well advanced and a shaft of light fell on the garage door. With a curious half painful, half pleasurable squeeze of my heart, I perceived a suggestion – a hint – of the texture and colour of the Casa Rosa.

‘Francesca,’ said my father. ‘You live here in Stanmnton, of course, but you are a Fiertina.’

Well, I was, and I wasn’t. I cherished his metaphor, and the story of making the hillside bloom. From bare hillside to the lushly fertile – ‘my grandfather’s wood, my father’s olive-grove, my own vineyard’ – in three generations, went the saying. But even he would have to concede that he had been talking about a time that was long ago. My father had not been in Fiertino when the workmen rolled up the road in the mechanical diggers and constructed the row of pylons which marched up the slope. Nor had my father been sitting in Angelo’s where the talk was of olive subsidies and of house conversions.

But I would not think about Casa Rosa now. Not yet. I walked across the lawn. The house was behind me, an emptier house than it had been for years, in which the movement of things and people had dwindled. My territory. After all, after everything, I had grown used to its spaces and awkwardness. We had rubbed along together, it and I – the ugly windows, the laurel hedge, the kitchen that never quite gelled. Even the kittens on the tapestry stool and I had come to an understanding. Like it or not, the house had been the terroir in which Will and I had conducted our marriage and made the effort to shape our lives. And, yes, I too had grown powerful within it.

I went back inside and folded up clothes and tidied papers and unopened post. As I moved through the rooms, I listened out for that elusive trace, that tiny echo, of the presences that had once filled them.

Will had gone back to bed and I discovered him huddled on his side. I slid between the sheets, pulled my mother’s quilt over us and put my arms round him. He felt cold and lifeless. I kissed his cheek and my hair fell over his face, and I whispered to him that we would survive, it would be all right, and that I loved him.

‘I was thinking about Meg,’ he said. And what more I could have done. How do you think she would have felt? I know what your father would have said. “Look at it this way.’”

I laughed.

After a moment, Will turned back to face me. ‘I like it when you laugh,’ he said.

About The Author

Elizabeth Buchan lives in London with her husband and two children and worked in publishing for several years. During this time, she wrote her first books, which included a biography for children: Beatrix Potter: The Story of the Creator of Peter Rabbit. Her first novel for adults, Daughters of the Storm, was set during the French Revolution. Her second, Light of the Moon, took as its subject a female undercover agent operating in occupied France during the Second World War. Her third novel, Consider the Lily, hailed by the Sunday Times as ‘the literary equivalent of the English country garden’ and by the Independent as ‘a gorgeously well-written tale: funny, sad, sophisticated’, won the 1994 Romantic Novel of the Year Award. An international bestseller, there are over 320,000 copies in print in the UK. Her subsequent novel, Perfect Love, was called ‘a powerful story: wise, observant, deeply felt, with elements that all women will recognize with a smile – or a shudder’. Against Her Nature, published in 1998, was acclaimed as ‘a modern day Vanity Fair… brilliantly done’ and Secrets of the Heart was praised by the Mail on Sunday as ‘a finely written, highly intelligent romance, without any of the slushiness usually associated with the genre’. Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman was described by The Times as ‘wise, melancholy, funny and sophisticated’. Her most recent novel is The Good Wife.

Elizabeth Buchan has sat on the committee for the Society of Authors and was a judge for the 1997 Whitbread Awards and Chairman of the Judges for the 1997 Betty Trask Award. Her short stories have been published in various magazines and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

For further information on Elizabeth Buchan and her work go to www.elizabethbuchan.com

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