Today I am pleased to be taking part in the blog tour for Stronger Than Skin, the latest novel by Stephen May. Stronger Than Skin was published by Sandstone Press on 16th March 2017 and for my blog tour stop I have an extract from the book!
When I was a kid I would have flown up this hill, hardly noticed it was there. It’s harder now but, despite the pain in my legs, despite the effort to get proper breaths, despite the uncomfortable stickiness under my arms, I am still glad to be out in the sun and the breeze, looking forward to seeing my family. It’s been quite a day. The lessons have been all right – but there’s been coursework marks to enter into the system, plus a moany faculty meeting, plus an appointment with parents disappointed with the progress their kid is making. I didn’t know what to say. Charlotte Phillips is a grade B student making grade B progress. She’s doing all right. But all right is just another word for failing as far as Mr and Mrs Phillips are concerned. They want an A star child and it’s just never going to happen. Difficult.
But that’s over for now. Let’s worry about poor Charlotte Phillips and her ferocious tiger parents on Monday. It’s the weekend. It’s all about Katy, the kids, the Bump. Katy’s given up work today, started her maternity leave, left the solicitor’s practice behind for a while, so she’ll be in a good mood. She might have made a cake.
I am just minutes away from getting sticky, giddy hugs from Ella and Jack. My favourite part of the day. Our kids are at the stage when they’re always thrilled to see me. Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy’s back! Yay! Look! Daddy! Look! I get a version of this every day and it never gets old.
I wonder about the random facts I’ll get from Jack. Because there will be some. He’ll tell me there are only two sets of escalators in Wyoming or that a slug’s bum is on its head, while Ella tells me who her new best friend is and all the hundreds of things that are absolutely mega awesome about her.
As I get closer to home I’m thinking about what I’ll cook tomorrow. Saturdays I like to do something adventurous, something a bit complicated. This weekend I think it might be lamb shawarma with saffron rice. Something Middle Eastern anyway. That’s the cuisine I like playing with at the moment. It’s good that Ella and Jack are prepared to experiment with food too. In this – as in so many things – we are lucky with our children.
Maybe we’ll have some people over – maybe Katy’s best mate from the solicitor’s, Amanda and Nick Campbell and their twins. We haven’t seen them since the summer. About time we all got together again. Short notice though, should have sorted it out before this.
Finally, I am past the Tube station, heading into City Road, easier going now, getting ready for the to turn into Haverstock Street. Only a couple of hundred metres to go. A handful of happy, more or less freewheeling seconds before I am back in the bosom of and all that. Now that I have conquered the hill I feel strong. The good old endorphins of exercise chasing away the bad old cortisol of stress.
Here’s where I see something that should alarm me, but it doesn’t. Not at first. I have maybe lost the habit of wariness. Lost the ability to hear the universe speaking, to recognise its way with signs. The universe will always punish that.
Two people, a man in police uniform and a woman in smart casual but with an obvious law enforcement walk, are emerging from either side of their Vauxhall Astra, and all I feel at first is an everyday kind of curiosity. Oh my goodness, police in our road. One of them plainly a detective. Not something you see every day.
I am just seconds from home, the wild sparring of Ashkenazy’s piano and Farrell’s cello at its most passionate, the police already making their ponderous, almost reluctant way down the driveway, when an instinct for self-preservation kicks in. When I realise what it means. What it might mean.
I am almost level with my own front door. A reclaimed door painted the brightest holiday yellow. The male officer has his hand on the doorbell. He straightens his shoulders. He has the look of a man with a difficult job to do. I take that in.
Instead of turning in to my drive, I put my head down and, with my face covered by helmet, goggles and scarf, coast past without glancing to my left, though in my peripheral vision I see the door open. It will be Ella doing that. Opening the door to callers is a job she insists is hers. I can’t see her worried frown beneath her dark fringe, but I know it must be there. No one opens the door to the police without anxiety, do they? Not even a child.
This extract has been posted as part of the Stronger Than Skin blog tour, you can check out the other stops on the tour on the dates and blogs below: