Excerpt of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
(Page 3 of 5)
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And I told. Simple little stories really,
not much to them. Just a few strands, woven together in a
pretty pattern, a memorable motif here, a couple of sequins
there. Mere scraps from the bottom of my ragbag. Hundreds
more where they came from. Offcuts from novels and stories,
plots that never got finished, stillborn characters,
picturesque locations I never found a use for. Odds and ends
that fell out in the editing. Then it's just a matter of
neatening the edges, stitching in the ends, and it's done.
Another brand-new biography.
They went away happy, clutching their
notebooks in their paws like children with sweets at the end
of a birthday party. It would be something to tell their
grandchildren. "One day I met Vida Winter, and she told me a
Anyway, the boy from the Banbury Herald. He
said, "Miss Winter, tell me the truth." Now, what kind of
appeal is that? I've had people devise all kinds of
stratagems to trick me into telling, and I can spot them a
mile off, but that? Laughable. I mean, whatever did he
A good question. What did he expect? His
eyes were glistening with an intent fever. He watched me so
closely. Seeking. Probing. He was after something quite
specific, I was sure of it. His forehead was damp with
perspiration. Perhaps he was sickening for something. Tell
me the truth, he said.
I felt a strange sensation inside. Like the
past coming to life. The watery stirring of a previous life
turning in my belly, creating a tide that rose in my veins
and sent cool wavelets to lap at my temples. The ghastly
excitement of it. Tell me the truth.
I considered his request. I turned it over
in my mind, weighed up the likely consequences. He disturbed
me, this boy, with his pale face and his burning eyes.
"All right," I said.
An hour later he was gone. A faint,
absentminded good-bye and no backward glance.
I didn't tell him the truth. How could I? I
told him a story. An impoverished, malnourished little
thing. No sparkle, no sequins, just a few dull and faded
patches, roughly tacked together with the edges left frayed.
The kind of story that looks like real life. Or what people
imagine real life to be, which is something rather
different. It's not easy for someone of my talent to produce
a story like that.
I watched him from the window. He shuffled
away up the street, shoulders drooping, head bowed, each
step a weary effort. All that energy, the charge, the verve,
gone. I had killed it. Not that I take all the blame. He
should have known better than to believe me.
I never saw him again.
That feeling I had, the current in my
stomach, my temples, my fingertips -- it remained with me
for quite a while. It rose and fell, with the memory of the
boy's words. Tell me the truth. "No," I said. Over and over
again. "No." But it wouldn't be still. It was a distraction.
More than that, it was a danger. In the end I did a deal.
"Not yet." It sighed, it fidgeted, but eventually it fell
quiet. So quiet that I as good as forgot about it.
What a long time ago that was. Thirty years?
Forty? More, perhaps. Time passes more quickly than you
The boy has been on my mind lately. Tell me
the truth. And lately I have felt again that strange inner
stirring. There is something growing inside me, dividing and
multiplying. I can feel it, in my stomach, round and hard,
about the size of a grapefruit. It sucks the air out of my
lungs and gnaws the marrow from my bones. The long dormancy
has changed it. From being a meek and biddable thing, it has
become a bully. It refuses all negotiation, blocks
discussion, insists on its rights. It won't take no for an
answer. The truth, it echoes, calling after the boy,
watching his departing back. And then it turns to me,
tightens its grip on my innards, gives a twist. We made a
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Setterfield