A Desirable Residence - By Madeleine Wickham Page 0,1

growing even more hot. ‘We just can’t. We won’t have enough to pay back the bank, and we only got the mortgage for the tutorial college on the basis of selling the house. We had some people interested in it then; they actually made an offer.’ She stopped. A tide of humiliation seeped through her. How much older than this young man was she? And here she was, blurting out all her money worries; looking to him for an answer.

But he didn’t look as though he had one. His fingers ruffled the papers on his desk anxiously; he avoided her eye. ‘I’m confident that if you reduced the asking price by the amount I suggested, we would have a sale within a very reasonable time-scale,’ he said. He sounded as though he was reading from a prompt card.

‘Yes, but we need more money than that!’ cried Liz. ‘We’ve got a mortgage to pay off . And now we’ve got a business to run. And what’s a reasonable time-scale anyway?’ Too late, she realized her error. The estate agent’s head shot up, an unmistakable look of relief on his face at having been given a question he could answer.

‘Ah, well, these things always take a certain length of time,’ he began. ‘We’ll be promoting the house afresh, highlighting the reduced price, targeting a different purchaser altogether.’

As his voice droned on, happily outlining the benefits of local advertising and colour photography, Liz’s gaze wandered. She felt suddenly drained, worried and fearful. She had not, she realized, taken the sale of the house seriously enough. When the first buyers had pulled out, she had almost been pleased. She could hardly bear the idea of strangers in their home, using their bathroom, their kitchen, sunbathing in their garden. Even though she had been the driving force behind the move in the first place.

Of course, Jonathan couldn’t understand that. One night, several months ago, she had broken down in a torrent of weeping at the thought of leaving the house for good, and he had stared at her in amazement.

‘But you were the one who wanted to do all this,’ he had said, almost shouted. ‘It was your idea to buy the tutorial college in the first place.’

‘I know it was,’ she wailed, tears streaming hotly out of her eyes. ‘But I still don’t want to leave this house.’ He gazed at her for a few seconds in stupefaction. Then his expression changed.

‘All right, darling, then we won’t.’ His voice suddenly firm, he lifted her chin and looked into her teary eyes, in a gesture straight out of a 1940s film. ‘We’ll stay here. We’ll stay where we’re happy. I’ll phone the solicitors tomorrow.’

‘Oh Jonathan, why are you so stupid!’ Liz jerked her chin out of his grasp impatiently. She wiped her nose with her hand and pushed it exasperatedly through her hair. A second wave of tears, feeble and benign, squeezed their way onto her cheeks. ‘You never understand anything. Of course we’re not going to stay here.’

She had given a huge, shuddering sigh, and got up to close the window. When she returned to bed, Jonathan was facing the other way, not out of resentment, she was sure, but out of complete bewilderment. And she had realized that she really wasn’t being fair on him. Jonathan was inherently cautious; naturally unambitious. It had taken a lot of her enthusiasm to persuade him into this enterprise. And here she was, weeping distressingly at him, worrying him unnecessarily.

‘Sorry,’ she had said, taking his narrow hand, watching his shoulders relax. ‘I’m just tired.’

Since then, she had gone to the other extreme; maintaining a blithe, positive approach that swept them all along, through the documentation, delivery vans and detritus of the move; into the shabby little flat that they were now to live in; out of safety and into precarious uncertainty. While Jonathan paced anxiously about the small, dusty rooms of their new home, searching for plug sockets; while Alice shuffled around blackly, in conspicuous, unspecified teenage gloom, she had been the one to smile, and throw open tea chests and sing Beatles songs, cheerfully mismatching tunes and lyrics. She had been the strong one; the face of reassurance. But now reassurance seemed to have slipped adroitly away from her, as though recognizing too great an adversary in the tidings of this fresh-faced, droning messenger.

‘A good interior makes all the difference,’ he was saying, as Liz’s senses snapped back into focus. ‘There’s a lot of competition out