The Real World: extract

‘So,’ Colette’s mother said, ‘are you and Lydia going to get married?’

Colette dried three bone-handled knives and added them to the pile on the table before she answered. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Mm?’ The raised eyebrows and neutral, interrogative sound came from Dr Russell’s diagnostic toolkit; the mug of sweet tea now cooling on the side was all Mum. Colette was fooled by neither.

‘It depends.’

‘What does it depend on? Money? Because you know we’d help.’

Colette tried not to squirm. ‘I know. It isn’t really money.’ That was not quite accurate. She tried again. ‘We’re not nearly at the point where that’s what it depends on.’

‘You’ve been together a while now.’

‘Four years,’ Colette agreed. She hesitated. Lydia’s plans were young and nebulous and private, and the whole question was not something that her mother would necessarily understand. She compromised by saying, ‘At the moment, we’re holding out for a church wedding.’

Her mother touched her gently on the shoulder. ‘Oh, darling.’

‘I know.’ The sympathy hurt.

‘And is that realistic?’

‘Probably not.’

‘Would it matter which church?’

Colette finished drying the cutlery and hoisted herself up to sit on the edge of the worktop. ‘We don’t talk about it much, because yes, it would matter, and until one or other of the Methodist Church and the Church of England sorts itself out, it can’t be either of ours.’ She looked at her mother from this unaccustomed viewpoint, noting her angular frame, her neat bob of grey hair, her pale skin sallow from too much time indoors, her black-rimmed spectacles. Was she was seeing her own future? It felt unlikely. It was possible, of course, that she would remember to wear her own glasses more, that her fine brown hair would become better behaved as it greyed, but she could not see her own life settling into the tidy boxes of her parents’. ‘You’d want us to, then?’

‘Of course I would.’ She passed the neglected mug of tea to Colette. ‘I’d like to see you settled.’

Colette scowled at the Power Ranger on the side of the mug. ‘We’re twenty-four. Well, I am. Lydia isn’t even that.’

‘I know, darling, but perhaps when you’ve finished your PhD…’

With more force than she’d meant, Colette asked, ‘Don’t three grandchildren keep you occupied without wedding planning as well?’

‘They all adore Lydia,’ Dr Russell said serenely.

‘As do I. That wasn’t what I meant.’ With her thumb, she picked at the frayed edge of the cuff of her hoodie.

‘We’re all very fond of her.’ A little hesitation. ‘I don’t want to nag. It’s just that you should know that we do think of her as one of the family, and if you wanted to make that official, we’d be delighted.’

With a slight feeling of guilt, Colette played the Get Out Of Jail Free card. ‘Lydia’s parents wouldn’t feel that way, of course.’

Her mother looked dismayed. ‘Oh. No. I suppose they wouldn’t.’

There was probably no need to rub it in, but she did anyway. ‘They wouldn’t come.’


‘I’m afraid so.’ It was not a lie. Colette slid down from the side to hug her mother. ‘I do appreciate you letting me know you’d be happy about it. Just… give it a year or so, OK? Things might change.’ She did not specify which particular things those might be. ‘Does anything else need doing?’

Together they looked around the kitchen, at the broad pine table with the children’s paintings drying on sheets from the Bromsgrove Standard at the far end, at the latest batch of Christmas cards stacked unopened on the side, at the rain spattering the window.

‘No,’ her mother said, ‘I don’t think there’s anything that can’t wait.’

Colette rinsed both their empty mugs under the tap, running a cloth around the rims, and left them in the draining rack. ‘I’ll go and see if Lydia’s escaped from the babies.’

‘Do. I want to talk to Hannah about… well, things.’

Beyond the kitchen, the house was quiet enough that Colette noticed the creak of the stairs, a sound that had once been as familiar and unremarkable as her own breath. Now she found herself picking her way, mindful of the possibility of sleeping toddlers behind the door at the top of the stairs. She turned the corner onto the landing, and pushed open the door of her own room.

There was a mattress on the floor, but Lydia was on the bed at the moment, flat on her stomach, reading, with her chin propped on one hand and her feet in the air, crossed at the ankle. The light from the bedside lamp turned her tawny hair into a tangle of gold, and her skin to honey. When Colette shut the door she closed the book and placed it on the windowsill, then rolled onto her back. ‘Everything OK?’

Colette smiled down at her. ‘Fine. Mum’s gone looking for Hannah, I assume to talk gruesome gynaecological details over gin and tonic.’ She kicked her slippers off and came to lie on the bed alongside Lydia. ‘I had a text earlier.’

‘Mm?’ Lydia pulled her closer.

Colette buried her face in the softness where the collar of Lydia’s rugby shirt met the warm skin of her neck. She stayed there for a few moments before asking, cautiously, ‘How would you feel about meeting Jess?’

‘As in, your ex-girlfriend?’ So far as Colette could tell, there was nothing more than curiosity in Lydia’s voice.

‘As in, my ex-girlfriend. And her current girlfriend, whose name is Izzy. I know nothing more than that.’ She added, ‘We can be busy if you don’t want to.’

Lydia thought about it and then shrugged her shoulders, so far as was possible. ‘Yeah, why not? Unless you don’t want to.’

‘I really don’t mind either way,’ Colette said, and then adjusted that to, ‘I think it would be nice to see her, but it’s been a while. It might be horrifically awkward.’

‘Well, let’s find out,’ Lydia said cheerfully. ‘When?’

‘She suggested the twenty-seventh.’

‘Oh, we’ve got all of Christmas to get through, then. What happens next today?’

‘Dinner, I suppose. Mum seemed to think that Dad was going to make punch. Be careful of it. He doesn’t stint on the booze, Methodist or no Methodist.’

‘Noted.’ Lydia turned onto her side, pulling Colette towards her, so that they lay thigh to thigh, face to face. ‘What I really meant was, does that mean we’ve got the rest of the afternoon to ourselves?’

The Real World

Copyright © 2020 Kathleen Jowitt