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The Education of Ivy Edwards extract

Chapter 1

 

Working from home

 

 

I am trying to teach my mother that saying sorry is different to being sorry. The sort of lesson you might give to a three- year-old, only this three-year-old is sixty-seven.

‘Ivy, do you want a little gin?’ she asked, opening the door to the study and giving me her classic pout.

‘No, Mam. I am meant to be working.’

‘Ivy, I’m bored. Your father’s alphabetising his maps again and you’re not speaking to me.’

She was right; I wasn’t speaking to her.

‘Can we be friends now, please? I’ve said sorry.’

‘Mam, come off it. Anna’s not even pregnant yet and where is all my stuff?’

Despite having quite a sizeable family home, my mother had decided that my room was the most appropriate to turn into  a nursery for my sister’s not-yet-fertilised egg.

‘Ivy, darling, don’t be like that. I needed something to do.

You won’t let me plan anything.’

 

I ignored this comment and got on with my work. She sighed and walked out the door.

There was no way I was letting her get involved in planning my wedding. If you knew her you’d understand; she’d want a lavish affair befitting the Royal Family – not quite tiaras and thrones, but almost. When I told her she was only allowed six friends to the wedding she went ballistic and said I was ruining her life. This is exactly why I wanted Jamie and I to pay for it; I thought it would stop her meddling. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if she’d had a financial stake in it.

I tried to carry on working but I could hear her pottering in the kitchen. When Mam is restless, she potters like nobody’s business. She’s got to be busy all the time, or, as I would call it, busy doing nothing, a phrase she loathes because she knows it’s true.

‘But Ivy, darling, what about golf?’ She can’t play.

‘But Ivy, darling, what about all my charity work?’

Getting drunk with Linda in the name of a rare disease doesn’t count.

We got her the Game of Thrones box set for her birthday to get her to sit still for once, but it backfired. She ended up using her iPad to make notes, messaging the family WhatsApp group after each episode to see if she’d got the plot right, asking our opinion on every single detail and going on and on about how attractive Kit Harington is. We had no choice but to block her from the group.

I found her in the kitchen, reorganising some Tupperware.

She looked up at me and frowned.

‘What’s wrong with your hair, darling?’ she asked. ‘I don’t know, what’s wrong with it?’

‘It’s a bit flat,’ she mused. ‘OK . . . ’

‘I wish you’d wear it down more.’ ‘Well, it’s easier up.’

‘But is easy always the better option, darling?’

 

I ignored this as I focused on her outfit. She was dressed in a bright-green polo shirt, with matching capri trousers and a stripy visor. I asked her where she was going.

‘To the club, darling, of course.’ ‘Mam, you don’t play golf.’

She turned around and looked at me with utter contempt. ‘Ivy, you are so negative. You know I have weak wrists.’

 

I decided that 3pm was the cut-off time for working from home on a Friday – especially when it’s Mam’s home in Wales – so I put my trainers on and went for a run. I couldn’t get Anna out of my head. Once you  say you’re  trying for    a baby, that’s it, it becomes public domain. Everyone starts asking questions and all you want to do is tell them to piss off and mind their own business. Mam wasn’t a great help. Her way of solving any problem is to get the gin out, and I don’t think you should be drinking that much gin when you’re trying to get pregnant. If ever at all.

 

I ran four miles before I landed on Gramps’ doorstep. The door was always open, and I don’t mean that in a neighbourly sense; he was just getting a bit forgetful. I found him, as I always did, on the sofa with a black coffee in hand, watching the Welsh-language TV channel, S4C.

I passed him the paper I’d picked up on route and kissed his forehead as I propped myself down beside him. He took one look at it and grunted, ‘But I wanted the Sun, babes.’

‘Well, tough. This is actual journalism.’ ‘Why can’t I read what I want to read?’

‘You’ll like this – there’s a feature about Woody Allen’s son and how everyone thinks he’s Frank Sinatra’s. They’ve included loads of photos of Sinatra too.’

‘He doesn’t look Jewish.’ ‘What are you on about?’

‘The son. I saw a photo of him, mun.’

‘That isn’t a real word, and you’re being annoying.’ ‘I’m only winding you up, babes.’

‘Can I change the channel?’ ‘No, you bloody well can’t.’ ‘You don’t even speak Welsh.’ ‘So? God’s language, this is.’

I ignored him and opened Brides magazine. ‘What’s that shit you’re reading?’

‘Anna said there’s a dress I’d like in here.’ ‘Your sister’s twp.’

‘Oh good, another made-up Welsh word.’ ‘What?’

‘Nothing.’

Gramps’ language had got a bit more colourful recently. Last time I came down to Wales, I found him on the porch effing and blinding at the kids in the street, calling them little shitting cunts. They were only about five. He called out Mam’s friend Linda in Tesco the other week when he saw her pick up a packet of Digestives. Now, one might argue that Linda doesn’t need those Digestives, but that’s beside the point.

I flipped through the bridal pages, failing to hide my frus- tration over the extortionate cost of everything. How can flowers – which are essentially perishable goods – cost an average of £2000?

‘You’re all out of sorts today, babes,’ Gramps said. I put the magazine down and let out a big sigh. ‘Did you know Mam threw away all my stuff?’

Gramps started to laugh so hard that he almost choked on his coffee.

I started to laugh too. ‘It’s not funny!’ I cried.

‘Your mother is—’ He took a long pause as he struggled to find the right word.

‘Totally mad?’ I chimed in.

‘Restless. That’s the word, babes. She’s restless.’ ‘But it’s my room.’

‘Don’t you think you’re a bit old for this?’ ‘What, to want to keep my stuff?’

‘Ivy, you have your own place in London, mun. So what if she moves you to the smaller room to make room for Anna’s little one.’

‘Yes, but, said little one isn’t even here yet.’

‘If preparing for the baby helps your mother cope with it all, it can only be a good thing.’

He was right. It wasn’t just me who was worried about Anna. ‘I really hate it when you get all old and wise on me,’ I said. ‘Be nice to her, she’s the only mother you’ve got.’

I squeezed his hand tight and gave it a kiss.

‘Show me the photo of Gran again, on the beach when she’s pregnant,’ I said.

‘I thought you’d never ask.’

 

Whenever we’re together, we talk about my grandmother. He’s got a framed photo of her next to the sofa; she’s wearing a red swimsuit, her hair all done up and bright-red lipstick. She looks sensational. I miss her so much and I didn’t even really know her. There’s a box under the sofa that he gets out every time I come around: more swimsuit shots, their wedding day, Gran and Mam on the swings in the park. This routine goes on for about fifteen minutes; he says how much he misses her, how hard she fought to beat her cancer and how, despite her tumour being inoperable, they never lost hope. Then, with- out fail, we watch Sleepless in Seattle. We must have watched it about a hundred times together. When it gets to the part where Sam says, ‘I knew it the first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I’d ever known,’ he always gives my hand a squeeze, and I’ll look over and there’ll be a tear rolling down his cheek. People just want to be loved, don’t they?

 

As I walked back home later that night, I rang Anna. ‘I wish you could’ve come home this weekend,’ I said.

‘I know, I’m sorry. But I’m in court all of next week and I’ve got to clear some of this mounting paperwork.’

‘Yeah, I know. Hey, what do you think about my hair?’ ‘What?’

‘My hair, Anna.’

‘I understand the question, Ives. It’s just a bit random.’ ‘Jamie once told me I had hair like Penelope Cruz, but Mam

says it’s flat.’

‘Penelope Cruz? Come off it.’ ‘Not every day! On a good day!’ Anna laughed.

‘You know Mam lives for comments like that, Ivy. At least it means she buys you fancy shampoo.’

‘That is true, she’s the only person who can get me away from Herbal Essence.’

‘Which nobody has used since 2005.’

‘Piss off, Anna. Anyway, have you heard from Mark? I can’t get hold of Jamie.’

‘Why are you so worried about my husband leading your fiancé astray this weekend?’ Anna mocked.

‘I’m not worried; I want a text message, that’s all.’ ‘Lower your expectations, Ives.’

‘It’s nice that Mark invited Jamie along.’

‘Yeah, it’s good for them to have some proper bonding time, before he’s officially part of the Edwards gang. Speaking of which, did you like any of the dresses in Brides?’

‘No, I hated them all.’

‘Ha, I knew it. Look, you don’t have to buy an expensive dress, you don’t even have to buy a wedding dress for that matter, but I’d like you to open your mind to considering buying a nice dress.’

‘Why did you stress the word “nice” like that?’

‘Because you live in old ripped jeans and shabby T-shirts and all your socks have holes in them.’

‘They do not!’

‘They do. Listen, I’ve got to go; Grey’s Anatomy is back on and I can’t find the remote to pause it.’

‘I thought you had loads of work to do?’ ‘I do!’

‘Yeah, whatever. Speak to you later.’ ‘Bye! Love you.’

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

What not to do on a Monday

 

 

I got back to London late Sunday night and found Jamie in bed. When I woke the next morning, he was facing me, half asleep. I moved closer towards him and pressed my lips against his, moving my hand down to his crotch. He opened his mouth and I ran my tongue over his lips to wake him up a bit more. I put my hand into his boxers and he moved his hands onto my bum and grabbed me tight, his kisses deepening as he did so. As I went to pull off his boxers, he flipped me over so that I was on my front and took off my underwear, before taking his off too. I was glad of this: it was far too early for a blow job. When we first started going out, there were a lot of blow jobs. I tried hard to make it look like I was enjoying them because in my head I thought more blow jobs meant more chance of him saying, ‘I love you,’ a theory which now seems a little off. Now, they were bi-monthly, which is still too much in my opinion, but I was learning that, in adult relationships, compromise is key.

He bit my ear and pushed my head against the pillow as he entered me. His hands moved to my chest and I could feel his hot breath on my back as he thrust hard against me. My hands moved to the headboard to steady myself, and then, just like that, it was over. When he was finished, he kissed my cheek and walked out of the room.

 

When I came out of the shower a little later, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, fully clothed, staring out the window. I went over to the drawers to take out a bra, finding one      of those annoying ones that looks sexy but is in fact totally impractical – no clips, just get it over your head and hope for the best type thing. I caught his eye in the mirror; he was still staring, unmoving.

‘Are you OK, Jamie?’

I turned around to face him and his eyes met mine. His face was expressionless.

‘Ivy, I don’t want to go to Thailand.’

‘Jamie, I’ve spent ages sorting out an itinerary; it’s not like we can just rock up. We have to book places.’

I rambled on about how much time we had off, how I knew he wanted to go to the Maldives, but Thailand was much more adventurous.

He shouted my name to interrupt me. I was still trying to pull the bra over my head.

‘It’s not just Thailand, Ivy. I don’t . . . ’ ‘What is it?’

‘I don’t think I want to get married.’ ‘Don’t be a dick, Jamie.’

‘I don’t want to get married, Ivy.’ ‘What?’

‘I don’t think I can see a future with you anymore.’ ‘You were literally just inside me.’

‘I know how you like it in the mornings.’ ‘What?’

‘I thought it would relax you.’ ‘What?’

‘Ivy, I’m trying to be honest—’

‘Hang on, is that why you wouldn’t look at my face?’ ‘I’m sorry, Ivy. Maybe I should go.’

‘What? No. What?’

I looked down at the unmade bed; there was a stain of semen from earlier, still a little wet. He went on, but I kept staring at the stain.

‘It’s a fucking Monday!’ I shouted.

 

I’ve never understood people who choose to come back from holiday on a Sunday. Why not come back on Wednesday or Thursday? That way, you can minimise time in the office and have the weekend to get over the inevitable post-holiday blues. The same principle applied here – why would he do this on a Monday?

He said he’d been feeling like this for a while. He was under a lot of pressure. He didn’t feel excited about the wedding. He said lots of things that I couldn’t register. There could have been a riot outside the front door and I wouldn’t have known any better. I couldn’t speak. I have no idea how much time passed before he walked out the door.

 

I stood with my bra hanging around my neck. There was  a framed photo of us on the wall; we were in Florence, he’s kissing my neck and I’m laughing. It was only taken three months ago. What happened?

Jamie has always experienced low periods where he goes to a place of darkness, somewhere I can’t reach him. He jokes that I’m his defibrillator, the only one who can spark joy out of him when the black clouds loom over. I’ve tried my best to be supportive, to listen, to cajole him into talking about his feelings, but he always assures me he’s fine. We exchange a few tense words but, inevitably, the conversation moves on. The last time it happened was shortly after our trip to Florence. As soon as we got back home, he began obsessing over work. He would go over every minor detail of his day with me, picking at everything, trying to analyse what people said to him, and why. I always blamed his father, for never telling him that he was doing a good job, or that he was proud of him. But deep down I knew it was more than that. Jamie needed professional help, but it was hopeless telling him that. That day, he’d come home from work irritable and argu- mentative again. After kicking off at me for not having had time to pick up the Nespresso refills he’d asked for, I went into the bedroom to give him space to cool off. After a short while, he came in holding a beer and sat down beside me on the bed.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘It’s OK.’

‘I just need the weekend to clear my head. Dad’s been on at me for weeks now about this client . . . ’

I moved closer to him and took his hand in mine.

‘I’m worried that the job – being with your dad – is too much for you.’

He couldn’t look me in the eye. He looked exhausted . . . defeated even.

‘I know you haven’t been sleeping – you’re up and down to the bathroom about fifteen times a night. You’re drinking more and more . . . ’

‘I’m sorry, Ivy.’

‘Don’t be sorry. There is no need to be sorry. Talk to me, that’s all.’

‘I’ll talk to Dad about spreading out some of the key accounts.’

‘OK,’ I said.

 

I knew that, if I pushed it, he’d end up feeling worse than he already did, so I chose to say nothing. I put my arms around him and nuzzled my head into his neck. I loved the smell of him after a long day at work. His hair was a mess and his shirt was buttoned down a little lower than his chest, revealing the tiniest bit of dark curly hair.

‘I know I’ve been difficult, Ives, and I know you’re only trying to do what’s best for me.’

‘That’s all I ever try to do,’ I said, kissing him.

‘That’s why I love you. You’re always looking out for every- one, aren’t you?’

He pressed his lips hard against mine and I felt my whole body melt into his.

I didn’t feel like I was losing him then. Maybe I should’ve been paying more attention.

 

I couldn’t go into work. I rang Anna, but she didn’t answer, and I couldn’t face ringing Mam – not yet. I went to call Gramps but stopped myself; I didn’t want to worry him. A day ago, I was in his house showing him photos of wedding dresses in Brides magazine. What happened? Jamie’s words whirled around my head. He said he hadn’t been happy for a while, but none of that was to do with me, surely? And why didn’t he say something earlier; give us a chance to work on it? I was stressed, apparently. I don’t think I was. I was concerned about Anna, but I wasn’t stressed. And anyway, what does it matter if I was stressed? I had to listen to him go on and on about work and the pressure from his father. Why wasn’t I allowed to have problems? Where was my shoulder to cry on?

I grabbed my coat and headed for the park. I had my pyjama bottoms on, muddy running trainers, a jumper ridden with holes and a silk bomber jacket. In Hackney, this passes as acceptable attire, but I had the look of someone on the verge of a complete breakdown. A man got in the lift as I headed downstairs, took one glance at me and started shifting his feet anxiously as we made our way to the ground floor, petrified of making eye contact. I didn’t realise until later that morning, but I’d picked all the skin around my ring finger, and my left hand was stained with spots of blood.

 

I stopped at a corner shop and bought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter before lying down on the grass. I couldn’t process a single thought; I just had to lie down. I smoked cigarette after cigarette until I felt sick with dizziness. I don’t know how long I was there for, but, before I knew it, it was lunchtime, and Broadway Market was filling up with people on their break. My stomach growled, and I was reminded that I’d not eaten since the train journey back to London on Sunday night. I couldn’t face food. I couldn’t face anything. I picked myself up and walked towards the canal.

 

I kept checking my phone to see if Jamie had messaged.   I kept going into my settings and making sure the volume was on loud, when I knew full well it was. I remember him messaging me the day before, when I was in Wales; seeing that banner appear on my screen and smiling at the thought of hearing from him. He was hungover after going out with Mark to watch the greyhounds race. Mark had made a point of saying how ridiculous it was that, despite us having lived in Hackney for over a year, they still hadn’t had a proper East End booze-up. Jamie had said the level of organisation for the weekend was like a stag do. He’d seemed so excited. What sort of psychopath goes out on the piss with their fiancée’s brother- in-law the day before he splits up with her?

 

I opened Instagram – there we were last week, at brunch. He had ketchup all over his mouth and I was trying to lick it off, laughing as I did so. I took a photo of us; his cheeks were stained red and he was pretending to be annoyed with me. He’d commented: ‘You’re lucky I love you’. He looked so cute. I looked so smug. What the fuck happened?

My phone rang; it was Mam. She always likes to check in at lunchtimes, usually out of boredom. I braced myself and took a deep breath but before I could speak she was already off on one.

‘I think we need lobster as a transitional dish,’ she said. ‘Mam, please—’

‘I know you don’t want me to get involved but I think it would send the right message.’

‘Mam—’

‘Lobster and champagne. Very classy, very us.’ ‘Mam, can you just—’

‘I’m not interfering, but we could get oysters for the canapés and wouldn’t lobster be such a fabulous accompaniment?’

‘Just stop for one second, Mam.’ ‘Darling, what is it?’

‘He’s gone . . . Jamie . . . he left.’

With those words, my knees buckled beneath me and I sank to the ground. The tears came so fast that it was hard to breathe. I hadn’t cried yet, and when it rains, it pours.