A Tale of Sport, Sex & Kiss 'n' Tell


‘I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing
that God ever created on earth –
certainly greater than sex,
although sex isn’t too bad either.’
Harold Pinter

Burnt onto the memory, to be retrieved at any time.

The relentless tick of time softens to a whisper when white figures walk across a green field on an English summer day. They walk in athletic grace to the hand flourishes of their captain who pulls and pushes them forwards, then backwards, conducting them as chess pieces to the tune of his strategy.

She sits and watches, one spectator amongst the thousands, breathing in the warm air, one hand resting on the book that lies on her lap, holding her other hand at eyebrow level, a salute to the sun that pours its Indian summer light into the stadium.

The men lift their caps, wipe sweat from their hands and splay their legs to a half crouch, every limb as still and supple as the panther before strike. The bowler counts deliberate steps away from the crease, licking his hand and rubbing the red ball, as hard as a cherry stone, high on his thigh. Reaching down, he scrapes fine dust from the earth and grinds it into the ball’s white stitched seam, then polishes it into his trousers, leaving streaks the colour of burgundy at hip and groin. He pivots to stare at the batsman who makes one last jab at the ground with his bat before settling into his ready position, the bat now tapping at his feet. The bowler begins a shuffled trot towards him.

Close to the pitch, six men encircle the batsman, their hands cupped, an open-handed prayer to the blue sky. The wicket keeper punches the leather of his gloves together and squats down as the outfielders walk in rhythm with the bowler’s movement, united in a slow dancing net of human muscle and sinew.

The bowler’s last strides lengthen in power and speed, his run now balanced and his arm windmills, propelling the red missile at 99 miles per hour, it smacks the pitch and rears up in searing flight. The batsman swings defensively. The knock of bat on ball reverberates in the air before the ball clips upwards into the sky and drops fast as a rock into the open hands of a fielder. The spectators around the ground rise in one, the man-song of joy filling the air.

The players hold their arms aloft, shouting at the umpire, who stands, his hands behind his back, a statute of stone. He pulls his right hand, shooting his finger upwards and says, ‘Out.’ Head-down the batsman’s posture slumps, he stares at the ground, removing one batting glove with his teeth, shoves the bat under his arm, his mouth moving violently, as if to curse the world.

She stands, drinking in the elation of the scenes before her, breathing in the heady atmosphere of a dying summer, her mind a swirl of day-dream and hope.

Later, as shadows begin their slow, inky cast, she steps from the car and soft-footed, makes her way through the crowds, their pleas for autographs buzzing into the mellow light of the fading sun. A young woman amongst a sea of men and boys, she moves through the path they instinctively create for her, aware of the intensity on her face, her long hair a waterfall of light. She wears all white but for the red poppies embroidered down the sleeve of the linen blouse that reveals her shoulders and skin like warm honey.

He walks ahead of the others, ignoring all the calls for his attention until.

Until he hears her call his name.

He turns and she is close and their eyes widen as they look at each other, a reflection of approval and desire. The crowds have hushed and some watch them murmur together, their two bodies leaning into each other, without touching.


Chapter One
Butterfly Kiss

‘The flapping of a single butterfly’s wings today
produces a tiny change
in the state of the atmosphere.’
Ian Stewart,
Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos

As Roberta Lawrence paces through the vast terminal of Heathrow’s fourth, she is seeking further signs that she should not be boarding flight no 249 for Barbados.

The first sign to precipitate this anxiety was a dream that had woken her, wrapped in the sweaty heat of tumbled duvet, at three in the morning. Against a background of gossamer cloud, a simple sentence had been whispered deeply into her ears by a voice she knows so well– her father’s.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll come to collect you.’

Which was pleasant. Except her father had died five years previously and she was about to embark an aircraft that will place her 35,000 feet up, flying at over 500 miles per hour, speeding through clouds she will barely see, and had hardly seen in her dream. Collect from where?

She can still hear his words now, thrumming in her brain like a hummingbird, as she weaves her way through the mass of passengers and airport staff. And it may be April,

but it is the eleventh, which she has taken for another possible sign. The cataclysmic vision of two planes torching the twin towers and the buildings fall to white ashes and dust is, she knows, seared onto everyone’s brain, but really, does she have to dwell on this brutalising iconic tragedy at this particular moment? She sees not one, but two policemen in black and white uniforms padding their arsenal of guns across the concourse. Bullet- proof clothing swells their stomachs like well fed magpies, and the nerves scratching at her throat are momentarily soothed. One for sorrow, two for joy.

The thin, cold air and grey seal skies of the last days of a British winter have been left behind for the 10,000 occupants of the terminal. Cocooned by the heavily heated expanse of space, buoyed up with the glossy boutiques, cafes and duty free, everyone’s adrenalin is pumped up with the prospect of international travel. However, they represent a mere five percent of the total daily flow of passengers travelling in and out of the largest airport in the world so it is hardly surprising that the ground staff hold looks on their faces that speak of a weariness, a slightly defensive attitude as if at any moment, any one of the thousand they would check in could turn nasty, may complain of seating arrangements, a desire for proximity to the exits, a need to be seated away from the fat, the very young or the very old.

Roberta had therefore mirrored the slight smile of the ground steward as she checked in. Handing over her passport and her daughter, Mallory’s, she had increased the wattage of her own smile to full beam and enquired about an upgrade, believing that flying in the comfort of business class would help alleviate her fear, but her query had been met with the short, un-negotiable response, ‘Sorry, We’re full’. Heaving the suitcase onto the scales, she had acknowledged her own packing, a comment playing on her lips that while the suitcase housed both sets of their clothes, and while she was responsible for her own outfits and toiletries, she could not entirely guarantee her daughter’s. She had kept the quip to herself

however, these were nervy times in the airline industry, best to be polite, business-like. She was, after all, just a number to them. And her seat number today? 13A. Her smile had fallen away at the sight of that black typed sign on the boarding pass, sweetly acknowledged by the steward, who said, ‘Lucky for some,’ with an ironic nod of her groomed head.

So, there was sign number three. Roberta pulls her shoulder’s back, shoving her handbag and holdall over her shoulder as she slams the trolley into the metallic mouth of another. She must arrest this train of thought now. As for even considering the cliché of superstition as a ‘sign.’ She is a personal injury lawyer, for goodness sake! Her career is founded upon the dry logic of statistics, the rigid code of law. And she believes that the statistics for dying in a plane crash currently stand at one in 25 million. Depending, of course, on who is compiling the actuary figures. And still the sensation of butterfly wings dissolving in her stomach persists, along with the resounding echo of her father’s voice, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll come to collect you.’

The shutter boards clacking through their destinations only remind her of some dreadful air crash movie, and when she sees a little boy playing with a toy plane, it only serves to create the possibility of a wicked version of God, high in the skies, deciding to have a little fun and smashing one of his planes to the ground like a playground bully. She knows from her job that most accidents are caused by human error. And the odds are stacked in her favour, aren’t they?

Perhaps if she caught up with her daughter, she could distract herself from these tortuous thoughts. But Mallory, having stood wordless by her mother while they checked in, has adopted the stride pattern of an extremely independent toddler and while keeping her mother within view if she wishes, wants to give everyone around them the impression that they are not actually travelling together.

Mallory's’ mp3 player is all the communication she requires. The hiss and bass beat give her long jeaned legs a pleasing sway of rhythm that does not go un-noticed by nearly all who pass her. The men, especially, their discreet glances becoming head turning stares as they soak in her beauty with their eyes. Her hair, a silk sheet of pale bronze, swings as she walks. She holds her head high, her cat green eyes looking straight ahead, her steps exuding the coltish energy of a thoroughbred racehorse. She seems oblivious to the looks she receives, her insouciance only serving to increase further her level of attraction. Over the last two years Roberta has noticed an acceleration in this attention, and where once she had always felt a surging pride, she acknowledges that envy has now been added into the emotional mix. Whenever she walks alongside her 14 years old daughter, the glances seem to pass straight through her, or over her, alighting only on Mallory, rendering Roberta invisible. It was as if she were wearing a special cloak, designed for any woman pushing forty. Sometimes she has the sensation that she was gradually being rubbed out of life, like a fading antique painting, its colours muted with age, waiting for the hand of loving restoration.

Not that Roberta is unattractive. Over the years she has developed her own style, described by her friend Katie as ‘thrown together glamour.’ Tailored trousers, expensive shoes and well cut jackets are her wardrobe staples and her look is softened by the pleasing features of her classically pretty face with its large grey eyes, a slight upward turn in the nose, and a naturally full, almost pouty mouth, all framed with honey coloured hair. Her hands and neck are relatively line free and she keeps them creamed, knowing that these characteristics of the body can so easily be hallmarked with the stamp of time. As long as the mirror was not harsh, and the lighting reasonably soft, she can produce, with a deft application of ‘natural looking make-up’, a pleasing result, the icing on an overall package that says ‘I have lived, but there is still some living to do.’ Her torso still hints at curves, although if she fails to conduct a rigorous exercise routine at least three times a week she feels a thickening in the waist, a tightening in the arms of her jackets.

Mallory has passed through security and turns to seek out her Mother. Latching eye contact, she mimes with her hands the cupping sign for coffee and then, hoiking her bag onto her shoulder, splays her hands to inform that she is off to buy magazines. Roberta smiles her approval and steps up to place her two bags onto the belt of the security machine. She watches them squash their way through the black rubber vents into X-ray and looks at the man in front of her, dressed in baggy trousers, a thick sweater slung around his neck. He walks through the arch of the gate and a high pitched staccato beep fills the air, raising the heads of the security staff, and three of them move forward, toes clenched, at the possibility of a little action, a chance to do their job. The intermittent whining causes Roberta’s hands to stiffen and her heart rate bump up a beat, but there is no drama, nor further sign. A couple of rogue coins in the man’s trouser pocket are the culprits and he is cleared after fisting the change into a saucer and moves through the arch again.

She holds her breath as she passes under the detector, feeling naked and insecure, wondering if X Ray specs have been invented. She steps out of the wired up gateway, preparing to exhale, when she is beckoned over by a gaunt security man, directing her with his white- gloved hand, indicating come hither with his index finger of prophylactic doom. Oh dear, she catches her breath, another sign.

She walks over to the wooden trestle table, unwarranted guilt filling her lungs, her hands clammy with perspiration.

‘Morning Mam. These yours?’

She affirms weakly, looking at her possessions, a large black designer handbag and the scruffy tapestry holdall. She thinks about the tiny brown prescription bottle of tablets, ordered by begging letter via her GP. Not valium, but still, a sedative or sorts and this ‘mother’s little helper’ is on prescription, it is legal, it must be fine, although she does not need any public reminders that she has a fear of flying. Then there is the additional embarrassment of the shabby tapestry holdall sitting on the table, like a tramp at a black tie ball. No wonder she didn’t get an upgrade.

He begins by plundering the contents of her handbag, unzipping the make up purse and then looking at her face as he prods two fingers through the ample contents, which seem to contradict the natural effect she likes to achieve. An opened packet of tissues, passport and airline documents and her wallet, heavy with coins and three month’s backlog of receipts, a brush matted with a cobweb of hair, two chocolate bar wrappings, scrunched into tight balls, and a photo of Mallory aged four dressed as a fairy, are inspected, then put back.

His arm disappears beyond his elbow as he roots around in the large holdall, pulling out the contents that include two books, a legal thriller and a collection of romantic poetry, a bottle of water and a cotton jumper. He discovers two pairs of knickers, white lace, bottom- covering, clean. Thank Goodness. She may be 41 but she occasionally, still follows her mother’s advice – ‘always wear nice underwear dear, just in case, you know, you get run over.’ Or plummet from the sky from six miles up. He moves them, carefully, to one side and pulls out the last item – a large toiletry bag. Uh Oh. For some reason this feels like the grand finale, the airline security version of pulling the rabbit out of the hat. Something is nipping at her conscience, but the detail is lost in the fur of thoughts now whirling in her head.

He unpeels and stretches the flower patterned bag wide, moving his fingers around the various contents, face cream, sun tan lotion, blister pack of paracetamol and a sachet of hair conditioner are all laid to one side, and then he finds the brown bottle. He holds the tiny glass container of tablets up to an imaginary light, giving it a heavy shake and raising one eyebrow at the same time. Six pills rattle loudly. Roberta can feel her face flush and she holds one hand to the warmth, as if to assuage the heat. He puts the bottle away and then routing deeper, past the face flannel, under the cotton wool pads, his rubbered fingers unearth a pair of nail scissors, a small canister of hairspray, tweezers, and finally, with a dramatic flourish, like an efficient waiter brandishing a silver fork, he finds and lays down the metallic nail file on the table. He stares at the items and then at Roberta.

‘Oops’ she mouths, soundlessly.

Tabloid headlines flash in front of her eyes. ‘Lawyer’s Anti Terrorist Tools Exposed!’, ‘Heathrow Security Discover Housewife with the Real Weapons of Mass Destruction’.

Not that she would ever use these items in that manner. It’s just good to know they’re around, rather like having your keys bunched in your hand if you’re walking home at night, alone.

She folds her arms around her waist.

‘We’ll have to confiscate these items Madam.’

The glimmer of a smile creases one side of his thin mouth. He raises one hand and points a bony finger at a large white sign with black symbols slashed through with red crosses. So much for her sign seeking. She’d missed the biggest sign of all. Oh, how he is going to chuckle with his mates later, in his tea break, over a cup of tea and stale biscuits. He will be bent double, hiccupping with laughter as he regales the story of how he prevented one woman from boarding with items that would unleash hell on any suspected terrorist.

She reels away from table, drunk with shame, trying to shut down the crackle of the jumbo sized plastic bag as her offending items are thrown in, believing that she is being observed by other travellers for all the wrong reasons. She decides to lose herself in the maze of Duty Free in an attempt to calm down before she locates Mallory.

White lab coated women, their faces glossy masks of make-up, stand in strategic positions at the entrance, spraying their guns of perfume, filling the air with the chemical stench of combining scents. Roberta moves through quickly, past the golden pyramids of chocolate, the daylight cellars of wines and spirits and the stacked cartons of cigarettes. The desire to smoke rises in her like the words of a favourite love song.

She walks out of the store, determined to batten down the smoky seduction of memory trying to make space in her head, and heads for one of the numerous coffee stops. She will treat herself to a frothy latte, with a double shot of caffeine, the only bad habit she will not relinquish. Well, caffeine, and chocolate, and good quality red wine. And she needs to take one of those sedatives, possibly two, in order to counteract the effects of the caffeine, so by the time she boards the plane, she will be in a state of hazy stupor, anaesthetised to the rising wash of panic thudding through her veins.

Mallory sits in a bucket seat close to the departure lounge desk, her long legs crossed at the ankle, twitching her head to the music pounding her eardrums. Over three hundred people are packed into the lounge but she remains locked into the sound track of her musical world until a baby of indeterminate sex, strapped in a pushchair and pulling at a bottle of water stares at her. The baby is twirling a fat finger in its mop of hair and barely blinking, and seems determined to hook her attention. Mallory winks and pulls her tongue quickly, like a lizard snaring a fly. The baby giggles, a delicious cackle, and holding the bottle away from its mouth, bounces it up and down, scattering a mist of droplets to the air. Mallory grins and gurnies, cross eyed, putting one finger on her nose. The baby snorts in delight, and attempts to mimic her, landing a chubby finger on its cheek, making them both laugh.

Roberta approaches, breathing heavily, her jaw moving frantically. She sits down heavily.

‘Gosh, got a bit delayed there. Never mind, here now, did you get the magazines?’

‘What?’ Mallory extracts one ear plug and looks at her mother’s face, then mouth, and the slightest look of disdain shadows her own features..

‘What are you chewing?’

‘Ur, Chewing gum’.

Mallory’s smooth forehead creases, a curious frown. She leans into her Mother and sniffs.

‘It smells funny’.

Roberta coughs as the peppery nicotine hits the back of her throat.

‘New brand of mint, I think. Which magazines did you get? Vogue looked good, someone had it at the off...’

She stops as she notices Mallory is staring at something to their right, her lips slightly open, dazed.

‘Oh My God, look, look who it is’. She hisses. ‘No, don’t stare’. She puts one hand up to her mouth.
‘It's him.’

Her gaze has sharpened, the pupils in her eyes dilating like camera lenses. Three metres away a young man walks between two bulky men in funereal black ties and suits, wearing sunglasses. He is slight in build, wearing designer jeans, white t shirt and a battered leather flying jacket. His hair, dark as a raven’s wing, feathers the pale, perfect complexion of his face. There is a lupine quality to him, and his eyes are translucent, like a husky dog’s. Pale opal blue in colour, they manage to take in a view of everyone in the terminal lounge with the power of a lighthouse sweeping dark rocks.

Roberta does stare for a moment, as do nearly all the other passengers, and a vacuum of silence descends, a few seconds of quiet as heads raise up, distracted from their reading and chat, halted by the sight of the rock star Tomas Delfino.

Singer and bass player with his band Blowbach, his music, a mongrel mix of rock and classical, may not be to everyone’s taste, but two platinum selling albums and a constant media exposure have ensured his infamy. They continue to look, sure in their knowledge of him, gleaned in a hundred clips from the television, a continual smattering and splashing of information in newspapers and magazines, thousands of hours of air play for his music. They know his habits, (Marlboro Lights, Jack Daniels whiskey,) his loves (fresh faced models hovering around the age of 18) his hates (rival rock bands, parents,) his homes (Ireland, New York, South of France), even choice of drug (busted for cocaine, cannabis to ‘assist’ his ‘song-writing’).

Tomas Delfino wears the demeanour of someone who is used to being observed at all times in public. He walks lightly, slowly, nodding his head and smiling at the animated chatter of two female air stewards who are directing him to a panel of white, a door in the grey wall behind the departure desk. As he steps through he turns and looks again at his audience, honing in on Mallory with a glance that is fleeting, but intense. She pulls out her other ear plug and licks, then bites her bottom lip.

‘You should have got his autograph,’ says Roberta.

‘That’s so uncool,’ snaps Mallory. ‘He’s even better looking in real life. I can’t wait to tell Ana. Can’t believe I left my mobile at home. Can’t believe I’m listening to his music, and there he is. That is so random. Do you think he’s going to Barbados? On the same plane?’

‘Doubt it darling.’ Says Roberta, slowly, as if to calm her jittery daughter. ‘Probably heading for a private jet.’ And then mutters to herself in a tone of forced reassurance, ‘For his own private island.’

Roberta looks out of the plate glass windows to the expanse of tarmac and runways, to the airport trucks and cars and the baggage loading vans, criss crossing the perimeters of the secure areas. Their plane sits waiting, an enormous white goose of metal, being force fed its vast fuel requirement via a hatchway below its beak where the pilots will sit. The thick tubing snaking its way up into the plane reminds her of an umbilical cord, attached to the petrol tanks, on solid ground. Which is where it should remain. Not flying off, its belly weighted with a thousand suitcases. She has chewed all the nicotine from the gum and her jaw aches, she swallows back a wave of nausea. She takes out the mangled piece of rubber, folding it tightly into a tissue in her bag.

Mallory stands up, and, holding the reins of her headphones, flips her head up and down, causing her thick mane of hair to swoosh, as if her hair was wet and she was emerging from the sea. A man sitting nearby studies her, his eyes alight with interest. The woman sitting next to him reaches for his hand, crushing it so that he winces, and lowers his gaze back to the floor.

‘Don’t do that,’ says Roberta. ‘One day you may knock yourself out. You could just brush your hair like everyone else.’

Her daughter sighs, raising her eyes upwards, and re-inserting her earplugs, sits neatly back into her seat, turning the volume dial up on her music, tapping one foot furiously.

The tune to It's Not Unusual by Tom Jones begins to ring out from Roberta’s handbag, rising in volume, demanding a response. She grapples with the bag’s interior, placing tickets and passport between her teeth, scrabbling to take the call. As she picks up the phone she drops the passport from her mouth, like an obedient dog dropping a newspaper. It could be work, she could be called back into the office for an emergency meeting. ‘Oh please, please,’ pleads her inner voice. ‘ How dramatic, to be pulled back from the plane so close to take-off. I knew my instincts were right.’ But the phone’s ring stops, switching into voice mail. She looks at the tiny window, widening and then closing her eyes to see the number.

Missed call: Number unavailable.

‘Hi Darling. Its me. Amazing time, didn’t go to Greece, I’m in Africa, going on safari tomorrow with…,’ The voice is disturbed by a long distance crackle then continues, ‘longing to see you, amazing…,’ another break, then, ‘voodoo. Suppose you might already be in Barbados. I’ll be back next week, hope...’ The message guillotines.

Roberta replay’s Katie’s words, pressing the phone snug against her ear, attempting to pick up the missing diction, but it plays the same message.

How comforting to hear her voice though. Lucky Katie Springer, sunning herself in Kenya, free as a bird, and it sounds as though she has met someone. It would seem that her best friend’s life was changing for the better.

Married to Jack Springer for fifteen years, Katie had returned to their grand home in Wandsworth two years ago to find her husband sitting in the kitchen, a half drunk bottle of brandy in front of him. He was leaving her, for someone he’d met at work, called Sam. She had taken the news well, admitting to herself that she had for some time imagined, if not fantasised, that some lithe secretary would tempt him out of their marriage, which for many years had been less of a partnership, more of a sinking ship. And Sam, it seemed, would be the beach on which Jack would wreck. They had become a couple who held up to the outside world a very different image to the reality of their internal lives, externally smiling luxurious wealth, but sharing, privately little. She could imagine a future without him. However, when she realised that Sam was not a Samantha, her long past with him began to disintegrate as well. Katie’s calm acceptance of the separation, something that she had initially viewed as inevitable, began to leak bitter resentment and boiled up into hot anger, a dormant volcano suddenly exploding into life.

‘Never mind metrosexual. He is a greedy, sodding, multi-sexual.’

She had spat out on one of many nights she and Roberta had stayed up, drinking, talking divorce, a subject Roberta knew something about, although her own circumstance, her divorce from her husband Conrad, was far less dramatic, considerably more controlled.

‘How could he, all those years, knowing, just knowing that he’, Katie had faltered, then gulped another shot of tequila, her eyes blazing with indignation.

‘Am going to destroy all my brain cells with this, wipe the past, so it’s blotted out.’ She had held the shot glass up, and stared at the fireplace, debating whether to throw it, a token to aid the smashing of her past.

‘I am going to obliterate 15 years. Oh, but what about my boy, my Finn?’

The births of Finn and Mallory had initiated the bond of friendship between Roberta and Katie. They had met at post natal classes, both holding their tiny blanketed babies to their chests, in that paradoxical style, a combination of firm strength, but also soft and tender, as if carrying the most precious of all bunches of flowers. They had agreed years later that it had been a type of ‘friends at first sight’ sort of moment, cemented when, as the practise nurse droned on about bathing baby, breast feeding baby, and stating again the six weeks hiatus before sexual relations should commence, Katie had whispered into Roberta’s ear ‘Don’t know about you, but sex is last thing on my mind. And next time, if there ever is a next time, I am going to insist on a caesarean. Who wants a fanny like the M6?’

Roberta had snorted with laughter, and the nurse had looked on both of them as naughty schoolgirls, in a classroom full of serious, hormone heavy mothers.

Roberta looks at Mallory, her leg and foot still tapping to the beat of Blowbach, staring dreamily at the white panel door through which Tomas Delfino had exited. She and Katie had conceived big plans for Finn and Mallory, even jokingly planning a future marriage, chuckling with glee at the prospect of arranged marriage and ‘Mother In Laws’ being best friends. How distant that possibility was now. They hardly ever saw Finn. A year ago, having endured the trauma of his parents divorce, he had demanded that he should go to boarding school, preferring, he announced, ‘the company of strangers, rather than be caught up in the confused shenanigans of his parents.’ And so Katie, with long stretches of time in front of her, and a substantial divorce settlement in the bank, had taken her best friend’s advice to heart, a motto that Roberta had stolen from a Judith Gist quote:’ get a lawyer, get a job, get laid’. Katie had leapfrogged from ‘lawyer’ to’ laid’, but spending money, going on adventures, seeking new love, Roberta supposed this was job-like, especially post 40. High maintenance management plus an open mind plus determination seemed to be the job spec required to secure a new mate these days. Lucky Katie. It sounded as if she was getting laid in Africa. And what was that about voodoo? Roberta takes the little white pill with a swig of water and listens to her friend’s message again, serving as it does, to distract her further into another person’s journey, away from the thought of her own impending flight.

Twenty minutes later they are strapped into their seats on the plane. Mallory pants hot breath onto the freezing cold of the oval window, painting hearts onto the thick glass, scoring them through the middle with an arrow. Roberta flicks violently through the magazine that lies on her lap, looking at every polished photograph but absorbing nothing. Needles of sweat prick at her armpits, and her instinct is still telling her to get off the plane. The sedative is clearly not working. As the engines begin their long wind-up, her heart beats upwards, in sync with their whining roar.

Unlike everyone else, seasoned air travellers one and all, she focuses her attention on the attractive air steward going through the safety procedures, but the only thoughts that plunders her mind are, ‘come on let’s be honest here, if we’re going down, would we really care about the strip lighting? And are there really life jackets under the seat?’ She doesn’t check, in case there aren’t, noting that it probably be a good place to put a bomb. Instead, she looks up the aisle, to the cockpit door, cranking up an image of the captain and co-pilots, calmly applying their cross-checking procedures, in supreme control. The plane reverses from the stand, and begins its long rumble towards the runway. Maybe she should start praying now. Normally, she saves the prayers until the swoop of take-off but she feels so nervous she could be physically sick and she stares at the white paper bag, caged into the pocket in front of her. She turns to look at Mallory who is staring out of the window, her long hair a curtain obscuring her own view of terra firma. When was the last time they went to church? Christmas – Mallory singing a solo in the school choir. An occasion that had made Roberta’s heart sing with pride, rather than swollen her soul with prayer.

They are sat on the wing, statistically, the safest place and she forces herself to picture the spears of the engines, pregnant with power. The engines are half way through their slow scream to acceleration and she imagines she can feel the weight of the captain’s responsibility, by way of a strange osmosis filtering down through the compressed air that hisses over her head. ‘If I screw up now’, he might be thinking, ‘the stats are high that we’re all going to die.’ Only of course, he would never think like that, god-like confidence must be a pre-requisite for the job. The omnipotence overwhelms her, spiking her brain with fear. Her life was in someone else’s hands, someone she doesn’t know, will never meet and she doesn’t like it one jot.

The plane turns into the path of its allotted runway, and the engines commence their full throttled yell before taking the tons of metal and luggage and flesh fast along the short tread of tarmac and into their final thrust, a deafening soar. The rattle of force causes a locker to crash open. Roberta is throwing up the prayers now, one after the other, an internal meditation of ‘ Please God, Please God, don’t let us go down’. She looks at her hands, gripping the armrests so tightly that the bones of her knuckles protrude. The plane strains against the pull of gravity and she feels it at her lower back, super-gluing her to the seat, forcing her to think about sex, the thrill of concentrated pressure, although she can’t recall ever having sex this powerful.

Then, the silence. When the roar of engine dies and the aircraft banks and seems to slow so hard that it hovers, suspended at whim, floating in the air, a glider waiting to drop a couple of miles through the grey sky. Her ears are pressurised, but she strains, waiting, feeling to hear that the engines are still working. She closes her eyes. Instead she hears the seat belt signs beep and blink off and the measured rise and fall of the tannoyed voice of an air steward assure her of the arrival of hot and cold beverages, and the promise of a microwaved brunch.

Mallory has plugged herself into the plane’s music system and is pushing the button changer on the channels, attempting to release her seat belt with her left hand.

Roberta stops her with her arm and says, ‘No darling, better keep it on in case of sudden turbulence. Unless, you need the loo.’ She looks out of the window, and the plane rises again, taking them up to a flash of deep pink light, and a carpet of cloud that seems both dense and whispy, like candy floss.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll come to collect you.’

Well, if her father was around, she supposed this was where he would be, in this rose tinted heaven. The brilliant morning sun bouncing off the cloud infuses Mallory in a halo of orange and pink light. Gently, she removes her daughter’s hand from its pushing of buttons and holds it, kissing the centre of her soft, barely lined palm. Confident that no-one can observe them in their two seat enclosure, Mallory responds by holding onto her Mum’s hand and says:

‘I’m glad you’re coming. I mean, I would have been ok on my own, but it’s nicer to travel with someone, isn’t it? I think that Dad is pleased that you’re coming as well. ’

Mallory snuggles into her and Roberta puts her arm around to encircle her beauty, as if she were her baby again, smelling the top of her head, inhaling the freshly washed warmth of her hair, kissing the tiny stream of her parting, the white bone of her scalp. Mallory reaches to softly hold her Mum’s face still and delivers a butterfly kiss to her cheek, her long dark eyelashes fluttering fast, a ritual learnt when she was two, and never forgotten.

‘Flutterby’, she whispers, the word she had used for butterfly until she was three.

Perhaps the sedative has taken hold, or perhaps it is the love for her daughter that flows through her, burning up the anxiety faster than snow melting in sun, but Roberta is now sure that her faintly ridiculous sign-seeking is more to do with the obvious, the urbane, rather than anything dramatic or life-changing. Sometimes one’s instincts can be completely wrong. She recalls that there is a scientific principle, called Occam’s Razor, ‘All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one’. And the real reason she does not want to go to Barbados, strikes her, in a thunderbolt of clarity.

She doesn’t want to attend her ex husband’s wedding.

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