Katie’s eyes roamed round the pantry as her mind processed its own inventory. Rice? Yes. Adulterer? That’s a bit harsh, your honour. Filter coffee? Half a packet. Unfaithful? You could call it that. French stick? Might have that for supper. Marriage vows? Need to review. Feeling sick about what you did? Definitely. Great sexual thrill. You bet.
‘Sweetie?’ Katie jumped. Her husband Tom was standing by the pantry door, peering at her.
‘You’re home early!’
‘We need to talk.’ He stared right at her. Oh God, not a ‘need to talk’ moment. Did he suspect? She didn’t actually do very much… She forced a cheery smile. But it soon slipped right off her face.
‘What’s wrong, Tom?’
‘Been repositioned.’ He looked about five-years-old. He was adorable. ‘Like I said might happen.’
‘Repositioned?’ The voice didn’t sound like hers. ‘Where?’
‘Australia,’ he said, as if in a dream. ‘Sydney.’ She stared at him, felt shivery, then walked past him and went upstairs and threw up in their brand-new Villeroy & Boch toilet. She’d never liked heat or spiders.
‘Why Australia?’ she asked quietly, downstairs again, staring into his intense grey eyes. Sitting white-faced in their farmhouse kitchen, clutching her paper napkin and looking round at their beautifully painted duck-egg blue walls, the black and white photos, the blown glass ornaments on the shelf from Italy, shining with a multi-coloured halo from the spotlight below, noticing the dust, the mundane things while the rest of her head was in a spin.
Like when my father died, she thought, all I could do was keep loading the dishwasher and watch baked beans slide off the plates – as if I could keep the stabbing pain away by worrying about how to clean the filter.
Tom paced up and down the wooden floors, his suede brogues making loud clipping noises.
‘Do you mean the E word…’ Her world was crashing around her. ‘Emigrate…’ Katie whispered, slightly hysterical by then, the napkin pink paper shreds. ‘We’ve just had all this done…’ Her voice trailed off, her hand gesturing to the granite work surfaces, the wooden floor, the gleaming glass extension that had robbed the garden of at least six metres. But in fact who cared what they’d had done to the kitchen? She wasn’t really terrified about leaving granite work surfaces; what she was terrified about was leaving her house, her home, England, Britain…
‘K-A-T-I-E.’ Tom said her name in a very slow, deliberate way. ‘Martin has just offered me a job as head of New Asian Markets for Trent Financial – he says it’s exactly up my street, says my CV is perfect. He told me, Katie, that at forty-seven, I don’t have many options.’ He closed his eyes, leant his head back, clutched the grey granite work surface. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open again. He stared at her. ‘It’s a great salary and they’ll pay all our moving costs. It’s not emigration, it’s…’ he hesitated ‘…for a few years, a contract. An opportunity, that’s what it is.’ He smiled shakily at her. He’s trying to be his usual self, his alpha male, mused Katie. An opportunity for him maybe, but it might as well have been a job offer to Pluto; she felt like she couldn’t breathe.
‘But shouldn’t we—’
‘What? Wait for me to get another job? The country’s in a total recession.’ He folded his arms. ‘Bankers are getting fired everywhere, Katie, don’t you see?’ He sighed. ‘We are mortgaged up to the neck – especially with the bloody extra borrowing on the extension—’ She scraped her chair back, guiltily, remembering the cost.
‘You wanted it as much as me. Wanted to show off to all your clients…’ she whispered.
‘Katie, sweetheart – I’ve had a hell of a day,’ he said sweeping his fringe from his forehead and looking across at her. The look said don’t challenge me; don’t knock me when I’ve been kicked in the balls today and have managed to come up for air already. It said don’t try me when we are up to our necks in debt and I feel like I’m drowning.
She supposed that was the beauty of working for such a massive financial player as Trent Financial, and that was the beauty of having an ego the size of Tom’s – you could get redeployed anywhere. She remembered when she’d first met him; he was the Financial Director of the publishing house she was working for and several years older than her. She’d noticed him straight away. Tom with his long lashes, with his sandy-blond hair and schoolboy fringe, his oddly dark eyebrows, freckled nose and square jaw. He was rather like an older Prince Harry.
She’d been working there for two years, slowly inching her way up from Sales Assistant, (‘Can you photocopy this whole book before lunch? There’s a love’), to Senior Staff Writer. It hadn’t been easy, but she’d loved the work and loved the industry. Born with printer ink running through her veins, she used to say.
Tom had tested her one day. ‘Katie?’
‘Get that proof from the colour printer, will you?’ She’d ventured into the room where the huge colour printers hummed away. Coming out of the machine before her proof (‘How to meet Justin Timberlake this weekend!’) had been a pink and flesh-coloured ensemble of places where the sun don’t shine in the female anatomy. Her face had taken on a similar hue of magenta.
‘All right?’ Tom had smiled, taking the proof from her hand and looking her straight in the eye. (This was his little test she later found out to see who’d sink, who’d swim in this particular publishing house that also churned out a number of distasteful top-shelf titles as well as her teen magazine.)
‘Fine. Want a cappuccino?’ she’d asked.
He’d given her a quick look and said with a faint smile, ‘Thanks. Latte. No froth.’ That was the first time she’d seen that look on his face, one that was a mixture of mirth and mischief.
She had learnt her trade there. An editor who would not give up until everything was perfect; a ‘small team’ (that’s three full-timers and three and a half days’ worth of Claire, the anorexic office assistant) so you were forced to learn each other’s roles. She’d learnt how to cheat so it didn’t show.
‘Katie?’ Tom was looking at her. He put his huge hand over hers. ‘Are you all right?’
God, where had all those days gone, she wondered and then shook herself, tried to smile at him and squeezed his fingers. They should eat. Yes, remember the beans. Eat in a crisis. She watched Tom pour himself his second single malt. She walked past him towards the fridge, then suddenly had to grip the side of the counter as hot blood flooded over her chest and rose, like crawling spiders legs up her neck and face: Australia?
If you would like to read some reviews of the books and see other interesting content, make sure you visit the rest of the stops on the tour:
Kendra Smith has been a journalist, wife, mother, aerobics teacher, qualified diver and very bad cake baker. She started her career in Sydney selling advertising space but quickly made the leap to editorial and went on to work on several women’s magazines in both Sydney and London. With dual Australian-British nationality, she currently lives in Surrey with her husband and three children.