The House on Fortune Street
The letter came, deceptively, in the kind of envelope a businesslike friend, or his
supervisor, might use. It was typed on rather heavy white paper and signed with the
pleasing name of Beth Giardini. Sean read the brief paragraphs twice, admiring the
mixture of courtesy and menace. Perhaps it had escaped his notice that he was
overdrawn by one hundred and twenty-eight pounds? As he doubtless recalled, the bank
had waived the penalty last time; this time, regretfully, they must impose their normal
fee. Would he kindly telephone to discuss the matter at his earliest convenience?
Sitting in the empty kitchen, surrounded by the evidence of Abigails hasty departure,
Sean understood that he was suffering from what his beloved Keats had called bill
pestilence. When he was still living in Oxford, still married, most people he knew,
including himself and his wife, were poor but their poverty hadnt seemed to matter. Of
course he had yearned after expensive books and sometimes, walking at night, he and
Judy had stopped to gaze enviously through the windows of the large lit-up houses, but
for the most part his needs had fitted his income. In London, however, living with
Abigail, the two had rapidly fallen out of joint, as Sean was only too well aware. This
letter was not the result of any reckless extravagance. For six months he had been trying
to cut back on photocopying and refusing invitations to the pub.
Now gazing at Abigails plate, rimmed with crumbs and one glistening fragment of marmalade, he did his best not to dwell on all the steps, large and small, that had brought this letter to his door. Instead he concentrated on the hundred and twentyeight pounds, not a huge sum but a serious amount to borrow and, realistically, he would need more, at least two hundred, to remain solvent. On the back of the envelope he jotted down dates and numbers: when he might receive his small salary from the theater, when various bills were due. The figures were undeniable, and irreconcilable.
He tried to think of people from whom he might borrow: his brother, one or two Oxford friends, his old friend Tyler. Much longer and more immediately available was the list of those whom he could not ask; his thrifty parents and Abigail jostled for first place. But then his second slice of toast popped up, and so did a name: Valentine. Sean had vowed, after their last book together, not to take on anything else until he had finished his dissertation, but such a vow, made only to the four walls of his study, was clearly irrelevant in the light of this current emergency. At once the figures on the envelope grew a little less daunting. With luck Valentines agent would be able to find them another project soon. And if he knew he had money coming in, Sean thought, he could phone the bank and arrange a sensible overdraft.
He was reaching for the marmalade when he heard a sound at the front door. Thinking Abigail had forgotten something, he seized the letter, thrust it into the pocket of his jeans, and tried to impersonate a man having a leisurely breakfast. But it was only someone delivering a leaflet, one of the dozens advertising pizza or estate agents that arrived at the house each day. In the silent aftermath Sean couldnt help noticing that his familiar surroundings had taken on a new intensity; the sage-colored walls were more vivid, the stove shone more brightly, the refrigerator purred more insistently, the glasses gleamed. His home here was in danger.
Four days later Sean was sitting on Valentines sofa, scanning the theater reviews in the newspaper, while across the room Valentine talked to his agent on the phone.
So, itll be the usual three payments? The response elicited brisk note taking. Then Sean heard his name. Yes, Sean and I are doing this together. Hell keep my nose to the grindstone.
Excerpted from The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesey. Copyright © 2008 by Margot Livesey. Excerpted by permission of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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