Excerpt of The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
(Page 5 of 5)
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Alexandra whirls around to see her mother advancing down the
lawn, babys bottle held out like a pistol. She watches as Dorothy
takes in the man, all the way from his light grey shoes to his collarless
suit. By the sour turn to her mouth, Alexandra can tell at once
that she does not like what she sees.
The man gives Dorothy a dazzling smile and his teeth appear very
white against his tanned skin. Thank you, but this lady, he gestures
towards Alexandra, was assisting me.
My daughter, Dorothy stresses the word, is rather busy this
morning. Sandra, I thought you would be keeping an eye on the
baby. Now, what can we
Alexandra! Alexandra shouts at her mother. My name is Alexandra!
She is aware that she is behaving like a cross child but she cannot
bear this man to think her name is Sandra.
But her mother is adept at two things: ignoring her daughters
tantrums and extracting information from people. Dorothy listens to
the story about the broken-down car and, within seconds, has
dispatched the man off down the road with directions to a mechanic.
He looks back once, raises his hand and waves.
Alexandra feels something close to rage, to grief, as she hears his
footsteps recede down the lane towards the village. To have been so
close to someone like him and then for him to be snatched away. She
kicks the tree stump, then the babys pram wheel. It is a particular
brand of fury, peculiar to youth, that stifling, oppressive sensation of
your elders outmanoeuvring you.
What on earth is wrong with you? Dorothy hisses, jiggling the
pram handle because the baby has woken up, squawking and tussling.
I come down here to find you flirting with some - some gypsy over
the hedge. In broad daylight! For all to see. Where is your sense of
decorum? What kind of an example are you setting for your brothers
And, speaking of them, Alexandra pauses before adding, all of
them, wheres your sense of decorum? She sets off up the garden. She
cannot spend another second in her mothers company.
Dorothy stops jiggling the handle of the pram and stares after her,
open-mouthed. What do you mean? she shouts, forgetting momentarily
the proximity of the neighbours. How dare you? How dare you
address me in such a fashion? Ill be speaking to your father about
this, I will, as soon as he
Speak! Speak away! Alexandra hurls over her shoulder as she
sprints up the garden and crashes her way into the house surprising,
as she does so, a patient of her fathers who is waiting in the hallway.
As she reaches the bedroom she is forced to share with three of
her younger siblings, she can still hear her mothers voice, screeching
from the garden: Am I the only one in this house to demand standards?
I dont know where you think youre going. Youre supposed to
be helping me today. Youre meant to be minding the baby. And the
silver needs doing and the china. Who do you think is going to do
it? The ghosts?
Excerpted from Hand that First Held Mine
by Maggie O'Farrell. Copyright © 2010 by Maggie O'Farrell.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.