MY COUNTERFEIT SELF by JANE DAVIS
Release Date: 1st October 2016
Publisher: Rossdale Print Productions
From the award-winning author of Half-truths and White Lies, comes an emotional story of hidden identities, complicated passions and tangled truths.
‘A compelling portrayal of the bohemian life of an activist poet, the men she loves, and the issues she fights for.’ Eleanor Steele, author
A rose garden. A woman with white hair. An embossed envelope from the palace.
Lucy Forrester, for services to literature, you are nominated for a New Year’s Honour.
Her hands shake. But it’s not excitement. It’s rage.
For five decades, she’s performed angry poems, attacked government policy on everything from Suez to Trident, chained herself to embassy railings, marched, chanted and held placards high.
Lucy knows who she is. Rebel, activist, word-wielder, thorn in the side of the establishment. Not a national bloody treasure.
Whatever this is – a parting gesture, a final act of revenge, or the cruellest of jokes – it can only be the work of one man. Dominic Marchmont, outspoken literary critic and her on/off lover of fifty years, whose funeral begins in under an hour.
Perhaps, suggests husband Ralph, the invitation isn’t the insult it seems? What if Dominic – the man they both loved – has left her an opportunity?
‘Completely gripping, excellently written and skilfully put together, I can’t recommend My Counterfeit Self highly enough.’ ~ Isabel Wolff, author of Ghostwritten
‘Lucy Forrester is a terrific protagonist, whose poetry is both art and a vehicle for powerful protest.’ ~ Ruth Jennings-Jones
‘What is it about? Honesty, the resilience of the human spirit, and taking a stand on the things you believe in.’ ~ Will Poole
“Christ!” Lucy’s shoulders jumped in their sockets. How could Ralph have crossed the lawn without her noticing? But here he was, in his black suit, and holding out a stiff white envelope. “What are you doing, creeping up on people like that?” she snapped. There’d been too many shadows, too many ghosts, this past week.
Ralph shrugged the corners of his mouth. “It looks important. But I can take it back inside if you prefer.”
“What kind of important?” Lucy narrowed her eyes and tucked the secateurs into her gardening belt.
“Well, for starters, it has an official seal.” Her husband was right to think that black drew too much attention to his eyebrows, which had remained defiantly dark, long after the rest of his hair had turned white.
“Oh, give it here!” Lucy thrust out an ungracious hand and snatched the letter.
After a few steps, Ralph made a half-turn. “Don’t forget. We need to leave for Dom’s funeral at ten forty-five. That’s leave the house, not time for you to start getting ready.”
Lucy had done her best to ignore the time. The thought of the coffin’s misshapen oblong shuddered through her. “Miserable so-and-so. I always hated the bastard.” The falsehood snagged in Lucy’s throat. Inside she was wailing; cursing the God she didn’t believe in. Angry at Dominic for leaving her. Guilty at the relief she felt now he was gone.
“I hope you don’t say the same about me once I’m safely out of the way.”
Huh! A harsh breath left her mouth. “You were never miserable.”
“Well, you might find it in your heart to hate Dominic a little less –”
“What? Now he’s no longer here to piss me off?” Her pooled eyes spilled over. Here she was, taking it out on the one person who didn’t deserve the sharp end of her tongue. Ralph only said what he’d said because he understood the truth. For both of them, Dominic’s absence was knife-like.
“Poor sod stuck around as long as he could.” Ralph moved away carefully, as if he was thinking where to make each footprint.
By the time Lucy had recovered her poise, he was almost at the patio. Safe to clasp one cold hand over her mouth. To grasp at a memory so intent on freeing itself. A snapshot. Dominic’s head thrown back; raucous laughter.
Not as he was when she’d last seen him, prostrate on a narrow cot, sucking something puréed through a plastic straw. No point in asking how he was feeling when the answer was etched on his face. Pretending she hadn’t seen the unfinished letter he’d left on the wheeled table that slotted over his bed, she’d dumped her handbag on top of the words he’d written: outlook bleak – as if it was the weather he was forecasting. Her eyes came to rest on his watchstrap, metal links hanging loose, a precise measure of how much of him they’d already lost.
Unbearable. Dominic, who’d lived life more fully than anyone she’d ever met, who never just walked into a room but arrived, coattails flying. Reduced to eating baby food. As Lucy had told Ralph repeatedly over those last weeks, she was no good with hospitals, the corridors of magnolia, the flowered curtains, the chairs upholstered in wipe-clean PVC.
“It’s just Dom. You don’t need to put on a performance.”
“It’s alright for you,” she said. “You’re a man. You and Dominic can mull over the cricket for a good few hours.” Besides, there was not and there never had been just Dom. Not for her and certainly not for Ralph.
Ralph, of course, had more experience of hospitals and hospices. He’d spent hours sitting by bedsides in the second half of the eighties and the early nineties, at the height of the epidemic. Sitting by a bedside, just holding a hand.
“How can you bear to do it?” she’d asked.
“It really doesn’t seem like enough,” he’d said. “Not when you see what they have to go through.”
Lucy had tried to contain her fears when Ralph arrived home with words she’d never heard before. Pneumocystis carinii and Candida, sarcoma lesions and cryptococcal meningitis. First, there had been the fear of blackmail and exposure. Now this thing would cast another shadow over their lives. Ralph distanced himself with complicated terminology. To Lucy, the terrible disease would only ever be AIDS.
“You’ve been tested?”
“Yes, I’ve been tested.”
She bit her lip. She was not his mother. She wouldn’t continually ask if he was being careful.
Dominic’s disease was cancer, not AIDS. But she knew how the well-thumbed liturgy of the bedside vigil brought it back for Ralph. All of those deaths. All of those dear loved ones.
On the final occasion Lucy visited Dominic – and by then he was in St Jude’s hospice – Ralph wasn’t there to act as a shield.
There had, though, been one small satisfaction. “You’re wearing the pyjamas I bought you,” she said, smoothing a ridiculously expensive silken sleeve. That had been her quiet rebellion, her refusal to buy cheap just because he wouldn’t get much wear out of them.
Dominic didn’t reply, at least not in any way she would have wanted. His eyes, huge in his skull, pleaded I’m trapped. An agonising moment. A voice, somewhere that might have been inside her whispered, I’ll do it. Whatever you want. But before it could form itself into anything more concrete the moment was broken.
“Would you like me to pray with you?”
Lucy turned to see a woman standing in the doorway, dressed plainly, a silver crucifix hanging around her neck.
Dominic gathered every ounce of strength and barked, “Fuck off!” The woman shrank into herself, and, as she backed away, he actually hissed. The two of them had clutched their sides: Lucy, howling in joy and agony; Dominic shaking with the effort of trying to rein in his ferocious joy, lest he trigger another unstoppable spasm of coughing. It was the last joke they shared. The last words she heard him say.
Though Lucy rarely prayed, the interruption had sparked something inside her. With her sides still aching, she pleaded silently: Help him find it in himself to let go. How could he carry on when there was so little of him left?
She excused herself, saying that she needed coffee when what she really needed was escape.
In the cramped ladies’ toilets, Lucy splashed her face with cold water and blinked at her shocked reflection.
You can do this.
Because what choice was there? Five years ago, it had been a false alarm. Death had donned his black hooded cloak but Dominic had resisted. Not this time. By the time she arrived back at his bedside, Dominic had slipped away. She noticed the silk scarf knotted around his neck, a cast-off of Ralph’s. He would be pleased when she told him. She couldn’t for the life of her remember if Dominic had been wearing it earlier. That detail would go on bothering her.
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ABOUT JANE DAVIS
Jane Davis is the author of seven novels. Her debut, Half-truths and White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award and was described by Joanne Harris as ‘A story of secrets, lies, grief and, ultimately, redemption, charmingly handled by this very promising new writer.’ The Bookseller featured her in their ‘One to Watch’ section. Six further novels have earned her a loyal fan base and wide-spread praise. Her 2016 novel, An Unknown Woman won Writing Magazine’s Self-Published Book of the Year Award. Compulsion Reads describe her as ‘a phenomenal writer whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless.’ Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey, with her Formula 1 obsessed, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she is not writing, you may spot Jane disappearing up the side of a mountain with a camera in hand.
Social Media Links
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