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Publish Year note: First published in 2005
Returning to Manchester, her broken home, Esther moves back to the flat she used to share with her best friend Donna. Surrounded by empty gin bottles, with her past life safely taped up in stacked cardboard boxes, she proceeds to turn her back on a 'real world' that seems meaningless and absurd. Instead she lives in her own head. Then she meets Newton, a care-worn American wanderer with a drinker's face and an angel's smile. Newton changes everything. But for how long?
incidents I was really crying over other things about myself. I was lost back then. When I did finally finish with him I wanted him to say sorry for the way he’d been to me and what he’d done. I even thought I would stay with him if he did. He said, ‘My only regret is that I never fucked you hard enough.’ When I was away for a while after that he didn’t come to see me. No one did except Donna. A package arrived there though, and it was that Penny Black, in its splintering plywood frame. Another
Donna lived with her gran, a place we used to frequent after our walks when we were teenagers, both of us in our black cords, tin badges on our cardigans. We would commandeer a corner and whisper private jokes. The jukebox had old punk tunes on it then and the students from the college across the way would stand round the pool table, drinking long Cokes and watching Rising Damp on the silent portable. I always used to underline things in my books about days like that. Marina Tsvetaeva:
half-full mugs and scraps of scrawled-on paper everywhere. ‘As you can see: I’m currently – riding the crest of a slump,’ I say. ‘Excuse the . . .’ I sweep a hand around the carnage, but he isn’t looking anywhere except at me. There are unfinished books everywhere: resting open on my bed like pitched roofs, like dead birds. He picks one up as he sits down next to me. ‘These are what you put your arms around at night,’ he says. ‘Yeah,’ I nod at my knees then look right at him. ‘They’re not
‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ That makes me petrified, makes me feel ice cold. The worst that could happen. It would be the least successful phone call in the history of creation. I imagine my laden Hello and his voice thin, cheery, indifferent. ‘Donna, stop it,’ I say, ‘stop it.’ I look at her to show I mean it. Now she’s leaning forward in her seat, with her eyes shining and an unsure smile. ‘I’m sure his life’s not like mine. He probably has hobbies, a personal life. So he doesn’t
the bag so she could look in. She took out another one, a scummy pale green basket, and put it next to her. ‘What else have you thrown out? Tell me. Why do you always have to make more work for me?’ ‘Have you found my cards, Mum?’ my brother said. He was still standing in the doorway, breathing heavily. My mum put her arms deeper in the bin bag and looked up at me. I could smell the rotten food: a dry smell and a slimy smell together. So, you tell me, would it be worse if I were to leave her