Summer Secrets - Jane Green


London, 2014

Lord knows, most of the time, when I’m facing an evening on my own, I am absolutely fine. If anything, I relish that alone time, when my daughter is with her father; the luxury of eating whatever I want to eat, the relief at not having to provide a nutritious meal for a thirteen-year-old picky eater.

I can curl up on the sofa and watch things my daughter would groan at—documentaries, news, a great three-parter on the BBC—or putter round the kitchen listening to Radio 4 with no one complaining or demanding I put on a radio station that plays nothing but pop music.

Tonight I seem to have itchy feet. Tonight I am restless, and restlessness is always dangerous for me. Restlessness has a nasty habit of leading me to places I’m apt to regret. I have learned from bitter experience that when I feel like this, I need to keep busy.

I have been told to watch out for H.A.L.T. When I’m hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it means I have to do a better job of taking care of myself. Tonight I am definitely hungry; tonight, like every other night for the last eighteen months, I am definitely lonely.

I phone the Chinese restaurant at the top of Elgin Avenue and order some noodles and spare ribs, then get up and open the kitchen cabinets. I’ve been putting this job off for months. My former husband is fanatical about order. He was the one who kept everything neat and tidy, all the pots and pans organized. Since he’s been gone, the place is a disaster.

It looks perfect when you walk in, but open any cabinet and you have to immediately catch the bowls and dishes that come tumbling out, freed from the restraint of the solid wooden door.

I start with the cabinet that holds the sieves, amazed at how I have managed to amass seven sieves and colanders of various shapes and sizes, when I am now only cooking for Annie and me. I put five of them on the charity pile and keep going.

Breadboards are added, bowls I have been given as presents that I’ve never liked but didn’t have the heart to give away. Cracked dishes, chipped glasses, all go on the pile. As the boxes fill up, I start to feel better, busy, useful. It is almost meditative, as if cleaning out the clutter of my cabinets is somehow cleaning out the clutter in my mind.

I reach to the very back, feel something round, pull it out, and freeze.

A bottle of vodka.

Half full.

I have no idea what it’s doing there, didn’t know, hadn’t remembered. It must have been there for months, maybe years. When I was married, my vodka had to be hidden, every nook and cranny in the house turned into a hiding spot for my secret shame.

I haven’t held a bottle of vodka in a very long time. I can’t tear my eyes away from the glistening glass in my hand. I listen to the sloshing inside the bottle, so comforting, so familiar, and my heart starts to pound.

I can almost taste it, poured over ice cubes and left to sit until it is ice cold, a twist of lemon if possible, no problem if not.

I feel it slipping down my throat, the silky smoothness, the slight burn as it hits my chest, the warmth that instantly rises, removing the loneliness, the hunger, whatever pain is lurking there.

I know what I should do. I know I need to pour this down the sink, but before I do, let me just sit here a while longer, worship at the altar of the god to whom I was once enslaved.

Surely that won’t do any harm.


London, 1998

For as long as I can remember, I have always had the feeling of not quite fitting in, not being the same as everyone else.

I’m certain that is why I became a writer. Even as a toddler, at nursery school, junior school, I was friendly with everyone, without ever being part of the group. Standing on the outside, watching. Always watching. I noticed everything: how a sideways glance with narrowed eyes could say so much more than words ever could; how a whisper behind a delicate hand had the ability to destroy you for the week; how an outstretched hand from the right girl, at the right time, would see your heart soar for hours, sometimes days.

I knew I was different. The older I grew, the more that difference felt like inadequacy; I