Elizabeth McFarlane

Here is the beginning of Mind the Gaps, based on my husband’s cancer diagnosis last year. And an extract from a novel written while on the MA, called Wavelength. It’s a love story, but also about loneliness, featuring Ned, Sara and Herman.

I’m a writer, researcher and TV director. I’ve made programmes for the BBC and written for the national press (Guardian, Times, Telegraph). I won the W.H. Smith Young Writers’ Competition aged 16 (33,000 entries), which was judged by Angela Carter and Ted Hughes.

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Mind the Gaps.


Finding the beginning. 

How many steps are there between the waiting area and the consultant’s office? I was going to say there are ten but I didn’t count them. It’s not what you do. When they call out your husband’s name and you get up and walk with him, from the red plastic chairs where you have been anxiously waiting, past the desk where the receptionist is shouting down a telephone, into a room on the right where the consultant is sitting at his desk, an out-of-date computer humming in front of him, you’re not thinking: I wonder how many steps we have just taken? You’re thinking: where is my husband’s hand? 

But the steps might give me a foothold. Step one: how it began. The day I said, “You know, that lump in your neck looks a lot bigger.” 

Step two: The morning he cycled off cheerfully for the biopsy appointment. 

Step three: The night I told my mates about it at book group and Vanessa said, don’t worry about it, Elizabeth, if they found something they would call him in straightaway and it’s been two weeks already.

Step four: The next day – 9th of May, 2018 – when I took that phone call in the kitchen and a woman’s voice said, “Is Alexander McFarlane there, please?” And I turned away from the dresser and stared out of the window at the magnolia tree, which had finally flowered for the first time ever. 

Step five: Explaining it to our boys, when one was about to begin his GCSEs and another had his first year exams and a third lives hundreds of miles away, so I wouldn’t be able to see his face when I told him on the telephone. 

Step six: Writing about it. Here’s something I wrote about it on Sunday 12th of May at five o’clock in the morning. It’s the little things. Things like our dressing gowns hanging side by side on the back of the bathroom door. His dark blue with a hood, mine much smaller and fleecy. They touch each other. 

Step seven: His neck has been cut open from his ear to his chin then punched back together with metal staples. Each one speaks of violation, trauma, organs exposed and excised. I can smell the scent of dried blood as I approach the bed. It mingles with the stench of hand sanitiser I liberally pumped over my hands so I won’t give my husband a life-threatening infection. His mouth is lopsided. There’s a television on close by and a telephone ringing far off. 

Step eight: Hating myself for writing about it.

Step nine: Sitting at a computer, months down the line, trying to find another way to write about it.

Step ten: Retracing my steps.

Step one – suspicious minds.

Friday 10th of May, 2018, St George’s Hospital, south London, the ear nose and throat clinic, packed to the gills. People are standing because there aren’t enough red plastic chairs. A worryingly skinny man is agitated. He’s been waiting for more than two hours. He has throat cancer. He keeps jumping up and shouting this out, hoarsely. He keeps threating to punch someone. We’re lucky: we’ve only been here for an hour and a half and we have red plastic chairs to sit on. We’re near a desk where a harried receptionist is shouting down a telephone. All our stiff-backed optimism has drained away. We’re slumped and anxious. My arm is entwined in his. I’m stroking his hand. He’s not pulling it away. He has a copy of some P.G. Wodehouse or other. I’m holding The Scent of Dried Roses by Tim Lott. We’re staring at the pages. 

His name is called. I fumble to put my book away and as I do so he gets up and ahead of me. I catch up, take his hand, but then I have to drop it again as we turn into the room. Two chairs are facing the consultant’s desk, not placed close together. The consultant extends his hand towards us. We shake it. He’s Mr Tunde Odutoye and he’s huge. He must be six foot four. Where I’m from we call this ‘built like a brick shit house’ and this shoots through my mind. “Do sit!” We sit on the chairs, not close enough for us to hold hands here. I stare at Mr Tunde Odutoye. He stares back. What does he know? 

There’s a medical student by the window hunched on another chair, looking as if he’s trying to disappear into it. I hadn’t noticed him before. Do we mind if he stays to listen? 

 “Of course not! This is a teaching hospital. How else will students learn?” Alex says this, cheerfully, polite as ever.

“Two of our sons are students.” I say this, chipping in, wanting them to know: we’re a family, there are five of us. As if it makes any difference.

The consultant cuts to the chase. The biopsy is inconclusive but based on the size of the lump, which is ten centimetres now, and all his years of experience “… I have suspicions.” He pauses. “Do you know what I’m talking about?” He pauses again. “I mean cancer.”

Alex turns to me. Everything stops. The consultant and the student seem to disappear. We look more deeply into each other’s eyes than we have ever done before. Thirty-two years of growing up together, twenty-two years of marriage, three almost-grown sons, all in one look. The gap between us dissolves. Every row, misunderstanding, when he was unreasonable, when I was petty, selfish, mean, stupid, mad, when he retreated into himself, the tears, tempers, tantrums, all of it gone. Only one thing left – love. A glimpse of a life without him, a glimpse of the end, and we both change forever.

“Do you understand?”

We turn back to Mr Odutoye.


The word cancer reverberating. Clichés springing fresh in my mind. You never think it’s going to happen to you. You don’t know what you have until… 

 “But we were always told that it’s a calcified lymph node,” I say.

“It’s not a calcified lymph node.”

“But he’s had biopsies before.” 

“Perhaps they missed the growth?”

A silence while we take this in.

There will be more tests. MRI. CAT scan. Alex will have an operation. It’s called a complete neck dissection. Mr Odutoye will cut his neck open from his ear to the chin and take out the lump and a salivary gland and some lymph nodes, and possibly his back teeth as well in preparation for radiotherapy.

“Will I be able to function normally without my salivary gland?” That’s Alex, completely calm.

“Yes,” booms Mr Odutoye. “You have six. Losing one will make no difference. But it may cause nerve damage to your face. You will probably have a wonky smile.”

I look at my husband’s face. I want to reach out and touch it, to stroke his bearded cheek along his jawline, but I don’t. I nearly say something stupid about saving his looks but I don’t do this either, thank God.

“Will I need chemotherapy?” again Alex.

“We don’t know.”

“When will you know for sure, if it’s cancer or not? When will the operation be? Can’t it be sooner? When will we see you again? Can’t that be sooner too?” 

All these questions are from me and the answers are: we will know after the operation, no it can’t be sooner and it would make no difference anyway, I will see you again on Wednesday 23rd of May for the test results and the date of the operation.

Wednesday 23rd of May is nearly two weeks away and that line “it would make no difference anyway,” combined with Mr Odutoye’s motionless stare as he delivers it straight at me, lives with me day and night for the next two weeks. 

What happens next? So hard not to slip into cliché again. ‘It’s a blur’. ‘I’m not sure what happened or in what order’ But all that is true. I know this: there’s more explanation, meeting a cancer nurse, he’s weighed and measured, forms are filled in, eventually we’re back at the reception desk waiting to be told the dates of the tests, where we bump into our neighbour, Mr Patel. Mr Patel adores Alex. Every time I see Mr Patel in the street he says “how’s Alex?” I’m clinging to Alex’s hand and we must look stricken but Mr Patel doesn’t seem to notice, he asks why we’re here. Alex mutters something about a lump. Oh yes, Mr Patel says, an abscess, isn’t it? We smile at him before saying good-bye. Finally, after three and a half hours, we’re free. 

It’s a beautiful day outside – sunshine, blossom, birds, flowers, all that stuff. None of it matters.

We walk through the sprawling hospital complex and out the other side saying hardly a word. We left our car on the street because there’s never space in the car park. We sit in it.

“We’ll get through this. It’ll be tough but we’ll get through it. It’s probably just a lump, nothing more. Once it’s gone you’ll be fine again. It’s been there for years after all, since 1994 when you had your wisdom teeth removed at the Royal Lister. It appeared after that, didn’t it? It’s slow-growing. It was five centimetres years ago. If it was something aggressive it would have killed you by now.”

None of this is what I’m really thinking. I’m really thinking is – our time is up. We’ve had a good run. It’s all my fault. I should have looked after you better. Fate is so clever: it’s punishing you when you are the best man I know, the best person I know, when it should be punishing me. It hits me that losing Alex would be far worse for the boys than losing me, partly because he earns the bulk of the money but also because he’s so capable. He’s our linchpin. He holds it together. I didn’t know.

He nods. He smiles. He tells me I’m lovely. He loves me. He can’t do without me. He’s so glad I was there. “You were brilliant.” 


“Strong. Pushy. I normally hate it when you’re like that.”

I laugh. “I know.”

We kiss. We say we love each other. His smell, his physical presence, it’s immensely reassuring and the thought that I might lose it … I’m not sure how to say what it is… it’s… shattering. Yes, it’s totally shattering. For the first time I realise what he means to me, what he really means to me. 

We won’t tell the boys until we know for sure. Middle son is coming home for the weekend and it will be a good distraction, for both of us.

“Will you take the rest of the day off work?”

“No,” he says. “I’ll go in.”

He’s calm. He’s amazing. I drive us home in less than ten minutes, to our spacious terraced house near Tooting Common that he loves, that when we first moved into I overheard him refer to as his dream house. “I never thought I’d live in a house like this,” he said. Our life together is bound to that house, it’s the place where we can be the ‘us’ that no one else knows, not even our sons, and this is the place we retreat to now and in the coming weeks.

We need something to eat so I make scrambled eggs on toast. After we’ve eaten he sits at the kitchen island with his laptop, answering work emails. I sit on the wicker sofa by the doors which are open to the garden, but I keep getting up and going over to touch him. I stroke his face. I kiss that spot between his ear and his beard where I can smell his wonderful smell. I keep mentioning his smell because it’s vital. It’s HIM.

I ring my parents. I tell my mother everything, sparing her nothing. Why? Because I know how she will react and that it will annoy me, and it does. Why do I do this? 

“Oh, that’s not so bad then! They only have suspicions!”

I’m furious. I want my mother to be worried so I can reassure her. I know this in unfair. I can’t bear that she tells me it’s not so bad; that it’s bound to be okay. She tells me about people she knows who’ve had cancer. I walk up the garden so Alex can’t hear me. “Listen,” I hiss down the line, “they’re going to cut his neck open from his ear to his chin. There will be nerve damage.” All my containment and composure has gone. I’m taking it out on my mother. 

Alex goes to work. I go to the supermarket and walk round it like a zombie, another cliché but it’s true. I bump into a girl I know from my youngest son’s school, all smiley and chatty. I’m all smiley and chatty back. Of course I am, it’s what you do. When she says, so how are you, Elizabeth? I say, I’m fine! Of course I do. I can’t stand in a supermarket and tell a sixteen-year-old girl that I’m totally freaked out because my husband might have cancer. But I can tell my best friend.

When I get back, after I’ve put the shopping away, I ring Vanessa. She’s had breast cancer and she recovered. She’s calm, kind, fantastic. She says she thinks the lump, the growth, whatever it is, is contained, it must be, it’s been there so long. After I’ve spoken to her I cry for the first time. I cry so much over the next two weeks that I get an eye infection, and when I do, and visit the doctor to get antibacterial drops, she listens to what’s happening and shakes her head and reads Alex’s notes (which she shouldn’t) and says, “He’ll never be the same boy again, you know, your husband.” Then she sheds a tear. “Sorry,” she says, wiping it away, “I shouldn’t let it get to me like this.”

How did I not know that our life was perfect? Of course he’s ill, it’s why he’s always exhausted, it’s why he falls asleep on the sofa every evening. He’s been battling this for years. I think of how his breathing catches as he falls asleep; that little jolt. I google ‘lump in neck’ and scare myself half to death reading about lymphoma. I accidentally click on an image of a complete neck dissection. Then I find Mr Odutoye’s email address and write to him – Please make things happen faster. We have three sons. Alex is our whole world. I can’t get your words “it would make no difference’ out of my mind. It’s a mad email which receives an almost immediate reply from his secretary – Mr Odutoye is now on holiday.

Hours later, hearing his key in the door, his deep voice in the hallway, seeing him wheel in his bicycle, Alex, my husband, strong, solid, cheerful as ever, it’s such a relief that I rush to him, throwing my arms around his neck. We stand kissing in the hall. He seems so well. Surely he can’t have cancer?

Later still, in the kitchen, the four of us hug together, like we always do. Middle son tells us he loves it at university; he loves his History course. Youngest son puts some music on, all sixties stuff he knows I like. I begin chopping vegetables. The three of them are chatting. I look up at the scene – kitchen, family, music – it’s all so familiar and now it’s suddenly lit through filter of terror. We might lose all this.

At the supper table middle son tells us what he’s been reading, some psychology. What are our character flaws? He turns to his father. “Actually, you don’t have any flaws, Daddy.” I have to get up, grab at something from the table, it happens to be a large hand-painted bowl I just served the stir-fry in, one we bought in France four summers ago, blue concentric circles, on cream. I look for somewhere to place it in the bottom of the dishwasher. While my back is turned youngest son asks a question, “Yeah Daddy, what is it exactly that you do all day anyway?”

I freeze with the bowl in my hand. Daddy usually bats these sort of questions away. Daddy usually says, “My job is too boring to explain,” or, “Good question!” But now he says “Pass me a pen and paper.” 

I find an empty envelope on the pile of post on the kitchen island. It’s the envelope youngest son brought his mock GCSE results home in. I get a pencil from a pot shaped like a cow’s head. Back at the table the three of us lean across our empty plates smeared with soy sauce residue and watch him push his plate aside, sketch out what looks like a misshapen girl’s dress next to a length of skipping rope. “This is the British Isles here,” he points at the dress. “And this is the Netherlands here,” he points at the skipping rope. “I’m responsible for getting oil and gas from these fields here,” he points at a space between the dress and the skipping rope, “in the North Sea,” he draws corresponding lines back to the dress, “to the mainland here.” 

Our youngest son stares at the sketch. We all do. “Right.”

I have to get up again and go back to the dishwasher. I remove the hand-painted bowl. It’s not dishwasher proof. 

Somehow we get through the evening – having two of our sons around helps – but at bedtime, away from our children, we get as close as we can. Eventually he sleeps while I lie awake listening to his breathing. There’s the fear of what lies ahead, that he will be in pain, that we might lose him. There’s my stupidity in not realizing what I had. But over it all, like a layer of fetid dust, is the feeling that I want my mother.

from Wavelength, a novel.


Chapter eleven.


Word of the day: mutable – adjective, liable to change “the mutable nature of fashion”. Literary – inconstant in one’s affections.

He studied the menu. What was the most expensive thing? If he was about to lose his column he may as well go out with a bang. Maybe the Chateaubriand? Pricey enough, although it was for two people and he really didn’t want to share with his editor, way too intimate. If she was about to steal food from his plate figuratively speaking, he didn’t want to sit here and watch her stealing it from him for real. 

He stole a sidelong peak at her as she studied her menu. She was slim, with collar bones that jutted out like tent poles in a camping bag. She probably didn’t eat steak anyway. She was probably looking for something that was mostly kale, with some quinoa.

“So, Ned, what are you thinking?”

He knew she meant food-wise. He was actually thinking: for God’s sake, don’t take my column away from me. I know I’ve taken my eye off the ball lately and it’s been boring as fuck but it pays the mortgage and it’s the only thing keeping me sane. Being taken out for lunch was a sure-fire sign that something was up. Most likely that he was about to be fired.

“I was thinking the fish pie, perhaps.” 

“Fish pie?” She frowned.

He took a look around the room while his new editor continued to study the menu. At least she hadn’t dragged him over to the Oracle offices at London Bridge. He hadn’t been in the Harpo in years, not since the 90s, when lavish lunches with one’s editor were still a thing. It was the small dining room tucked away at the back. Opulent, mostly red and gold with no windows but lots of gilt mirrors. It was also, he couldn’t help noticing, full of men who were approximately his own age. His gaze came back full circle to rest on Daisy’s face. Apart from Daisy, of course, his youthful new editor. How old was she? Thirty-seven? Thirty-eight? Childless, no doubt. She never would have got this far career-wise with kids as well. She was quite attractive in an earnest sort of way. He didn’t usually go for red heads but she had a peachy face and nice hair. No make-up but her lips were glistening. Something was smeared on them, some sort of lip gloss like Alice wore. She had long full lashes too and… suddenly she was looking at him. He smiled. She smiled back. Now she really did look attractive, kind of, even though it was hard to see the woman beneath the steeliness. Did she like him? Probably not. She hadn’t hired him, after all. That was John, her predecessor, friend of a friend of Rebecca’s. John and Rebecca had been at Cambridge together. It definitely helped having a wife who moved in these circles. At the time, when John gave him the column, he had been writing a lot for the Telegraph. John was looking for what he called ‘fresh blood’, plus he was hell-bent on nicking anyone he could off the Telegraph. Actually getting the gig though, more than nine years ago now, that was down to the quality of the work. It had to be sharp. People had to actually read it. And enjoy reading it. And keep reading it. It was a shame John left to concentrate on those vapid detective novels. They had been getting on like a house on fire, especially down the pub. Maybe he should suggest a trip to the pub to Daisy? He couldn’t imagine getting on like a house on fire with Daisy. With Daisy it was more like the house was beginning to smoulder and the carbon monoxide alarm might go off at any minute. It dawned on him that what happened here in the Harpo in the next hour and a half would probably have repercussions, like that Blair/Brown nosh up at the Granita. He made a decision: he would agree to anything Daisy suggested.

“I really enjoyed that piece last weekend.”

“Mmm.” She didn’t look up from the menu. “Which one?”

“You know, ‘In the cat’s cradle: at home with the Rees-Moggs.’ Very funny.”

“Oh yes.” 

Now she did look up so he smiled again, full on. 

“I really like the new look, too, so does Rebecca. She was only saying the other day that she prefers the mag on newspaper paper rather than glossy paper.

Was this too much? He was laying it on with a trowel. He had no shame whatsoever.

She nodded. “And cheaper. We need to cut costs. The fish pie, you say?”

“Yeah, definitely.”

“Funny, I didn’t see you as a fish pie man.”


“No. More… steak.”

“Steak. Yeah. I used to eat a lot of steak but, you know, it’s not a good choice, is it?”

“Isn’t it? Not good?”

“You know, the planet and all that.”

He knew she cycled to work. She probably had a bunch of cats and never took long haul flights on principle. 

She nodded again and looked back down at the menu. 

A waiter appeared. 

“Right, so. Ned?”

“Yes, the fish pie, thanks.”

“No starter?” 

“Oh! Well, um, no, I don’t think so. Are you having a starter?”

“Yes,” she looked up at the waiter, biting her bottom lip. “Yes, I’ll have the foie gras and then the guinea fowl with a side order of chips and some greens.” Then she snapped the menu shut and placed it on the table. “Ned? You’re sure you want fish pie?”

He smiled again.

“Have a starter, Ned. I don’t want to be eating here alone. I saw escargot on there. Have escargot. It’s so rare to see escargot on menus these days. People have gone squeamish, I think.”

He ordered the escargot and the guinea fowl to follow but then said no when she tried to press chips on him as well. He didn’t feel terribly hungry. 

She ordered red wine. The waiter left.

“So, how are things with you, Ned?” 

He noticed with surprise that she was quite ample breasted for a skinny woman, that her shirt buttons were struggling to contain the capaciousness beneath. He looked away quickly to find that there was a man at the next table, balding, black-framed glasses, one of those advertising Moby look-alikes, who was also looking at Daisy’s chest and then at him, and then back at Daisy. He wondered if the man thought they were a couple. He was quite flattered by the idea. Daisy must be fifteen-years younger. Did he still have it? Would be still be able to pull a woman fifteen-years younger than himself? He had an inkling that he would. He deliberately hadn’t worn his glasses today because he thought they piled on the years. He pulled himself up sharp. This was his new editor! What the fuck was he thinking? Having a meal with a woman who wasn’t your wife was a minefield, particularly when you were preoccupied with sex because you couldn’t remember the last time you had any. He resolved not to look at Daisy below the chin again. He could not afford to have her catch him ogling her breasts.


“Rebecca? The kids?”

“Great. All good. The kids, well, you know, two are at university now. Ed’s still at home. He’s a good kid. Not really into working too hard though, you know…” (She probably didn’t know, not having any kids herself.) “…. and Rebecca, well, you know Rebecca, she…”

“Not really. I don’t know Rebecca. I mean, you do write about her quite a bit but I imagine she’s not quite like that.”

“Well, no, she’s not. I mean, she…”

“Actually, I really like this new character you’ve brought in recently – Melvin.”

He took a sip from his glass of sparkling water. 

“You were on television talking about him, weren’t you?”

He had an alarming thought. “You didn’t see that, did you?” Then the minute he said this he felt foolish. Of course she didn’t see it! 

“Well, no. I heard about it, from people in the office. Apparently the gentleman has gone down a bit of a storm, or rather the idea of him. He’s whipped up quite a lot of sympathy. I guess it’s the zeitgeist: loneliness. Plus he’s rather dapper and charming, apparently.”

“Yes,” he said, just as the wine arrived for Daisy to sample.

She swirled and sniffed. “Delicious.” 

The waiter poured more into her glass, then filled his. Ned took a big gulp.

“We’ve had emails about him, and stuff on Twitter.”

“About Herman?”

“Who?” She scowled.

“Melvin, I mean Melvin.”

“Yes, about Melvin.” The scowl disappeared. “Readers wanting to know how he is.”

He drank more wine.

“Well, so, the column, Ned.”

He put his wine glass down and concentrated on Daisy’s face. She had a tiny chicken pox scar just above her left eyebrow.

“I like Melvin. He’s breathed new life into it. To be honest I thought things were getting a bit stale, a bit predictable, a bit… trapped in the domestic landscape, you might say. I had planned to wind up Archway Postcards. You do it very well, nobody does that sort of family dynamic better than you do, and it’s what a lot of readers like and are familiar with. But the danger with these things based on wry domestic observations is that over the years there’s a lot of repetition. I think we were straying a little bit into that territory, to be frank, Ned.”

Ned took another sip of his wine and looked straight at the spot on her shirt where the buttons threatened to burst open.

“Bringing a new character in like this though, well, it’s fresh, it’s provided another perspective. I think it’s rather genius.”

The starters arrived. Hers had toast and his had implements. He had forgotten about that. It was years since he ate snails. 

She tucked into her foie gras while he grappled with the slippery snails. The implement looked gynaecological. The more he pressed its handles the less grip he had.

“Well, I… thank you.”

“I think we need more Melvin. Laura in the office said you’re having him over for Christmas so I had a bit of a thought about that.”

He grabbed one of the escargot shells with the implement a little too quickly and firmly and it flew off the table. Fortunately Daisy was looking down at her shirt readjusting her posture so she didn’t see. 

He thought about leaving the table to get up and go and look for it but quickly ruled this out and put the implement down, trying to coax another of the little buggers out with a tiny fork instead. He had consumed one solitary snail in the time it had taken Daisy to eat half her foie gras and toast. 

“I’d like to send a photographer, if you don’t mind.”

“A photographer?” 

He had been dreading this for years: updating the photo. His byline was so old it barely resembled him, which was how he liked it.

“When Melvin comes over. I think it will make a great piece. I don’t want to play up the culture clash thing too much, but, you know, it’s there, isn’t it? He: Jamaican, and he worked as a welder, or so Laura tells me. You: English, and you went to boarding school, and then to university, and now…”

He managed to eat two more snails and actually relish their slippery garlicy butteryness sliding down his throat towards his stomach. He wasn’t being sacked, not yet anyway. She liked what he had written recently. She wanted to send a photographer to take a picture of him, with Melvin, who was Herman, who he had met once, and had no idea what his surname was, or where he lived. 

Daisy popped the last piece of foie gras-smeared toast into her mouth and announced she was popping to the loo, then left the table. He looked down at his plate: still six of the bastards left. He put the fork down, drank some wine, put the glass down as well, studied the backs of his hands resting on the starched white tablecloth. They were wrinkled with liver spots speckling the back. When did that happen? When did that actually happen? When was the day that the hands had been smooth and blemish-free and then the next when they weren’t? Did it even happen like that? Overnight? No doubt it crept up by increments, day by stealthy day, until there it was: your fresh pink hands were wizened claws on the end of your saggy-skinned arms.

He watched Daisy come back into the room and traverse the tiled floor, past tables full of men: Tarquins and Quentins and Ruperts, who were all probably at Oxbridge back in the day, rogering pigs’ heads together. He never had liked the type, although he mixed with enough of them. Daisy had gone to Oxford too. Most of the people on the paper had gone to one or the other, except for him. Had he been made an editor by now, as he always thought he would be, he would have broken the mould. 

All the Tarquins and Quentins and Ruperts turned to look at Daisy as she passed. She had what you might call an ‘interesting’ dress sense. Today she was wearing a full length swishy mauve skirt with high heels and an enormous blue and mauve swinging bead necklace. He supposed she was attractive and that was why they were all looking at her. Or perhaps it was because she was the only woman in the room apart from two waitresses. “She was beautiful,” he thought, “but not like those girls in magazines.” He felt proud that he was the only man in the room with a young female companion. She sat back down at the table and drank more wine.

“Actually, I was just thinking in the loos there, Ned, I was thinking: you and Melvin is too good a thing to miss. I think we should do a whole Christmas feature on it, link it to our Christmas charity appeal this year – Lifeline – that charity encouraging people to ring the elderly. What do you think? You and Melvin – ‘This year I invited a lonely pensioner to join us for Christmas. This is what happened…‘”

Now she was close to him again he noticed that her shirt had finally given up the struggle and burst open exposing her bra beneath. It was pink. ‘Hot pink’. Coincidentally it was the same colour as the underwear the woman in the house behind had been sporting lately. He never would have thought that his new editor, Daisy Makepeace, wore hot pink lingerie. The blue and mauve beads had arranged themselves around her breasts forming a bejewelled frame. She must have walked across the room like that, with her shirt open, which is why all the Tarquins and Quentins and Ruperts were looking at her. He wondered how on earth he was going to tell her. Then it dawned on him: he wasn’t going to. 

Elizabeth McFarlane, February 2019.

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