Excerpt from Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Three Things About Elsie

by Joanna Cannon

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon X
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
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  • Published:
    Aug 2018, 384 pages

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Sarah Tomp

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"We've not seen you in the dayroom very much. There are lots of activities going on, did you not fancy card making yesterday?"

I've got a drawer full of those cards. I could congratulate half a dozen people on the birth of their beautiful daughter with one pull of a handle.

"Perhaps next week," I said.

I heard Miss Ambrose take a deep breath. I knew this meant trouble, because she only ever does it when she needs the extra oxygen for a debate about something.

"Florence," she said.

I didn't answer.

"Florence. I just want to be sure that you're happy at Cherry Tree?"

Miss Ambrose was one of those people whose sentences always went up at the end. As though the world appeared so uncertain to her, it needed constant interrogation. I glanced out of the window. Everything was brick and concrete, straight lines and sharp corners, and tiny windows into small lives. There was no horizon. I never thought I would lose the horizon along with everything else, but when you get old you realize whichever direction you choose to face, you find yourself confronted with a landscape filled up with loss.

"Perhaps we should have a little rethink about whether Cherry Tree is still the right place for you?" she said. "Perhaps there's somewhere else you'd enjoy more?"

I turned to her. "You're not sending me to Greenbank."

"Greenbank has a far higher staff-to-resident ratio." Miss Ambrose tilted her head. I could see all the little lines in her neck helping it along. "You'd have much more one-to-one attention."

"I don't want one-to-one attention. I don't want any attention. I just want to be left in peace."

"Florence, as we get older, we lose the ability to judge what's best for us. It happens to everyone. You might enjoy Greenbank. It might be fun."

"It's not much fun when no one listens to what you say." I spoke to the radiator.

"Pardon?"

"I'm not going. You can't make me."

Miss Ambrose started to say something, but she swallowed it back instead. "Why don't we try for a compromise? Shall we see how things go over the next . . . month, say? Then we can reassess."

"A month?"

"A reevaluation. For all of us. A probationary period."

"Probation? What crime did I commit?"

"It's a figure of speech, Florence. That's all." Miss Ambrose's shoes tapped out a little beige tune on the carpet. She pulled out a silence, like they always do, hoping you'll fill it up with something they can get their teeth into, but I was wise to it now.

"It's Gone with the Wind tomorrow afternoon," she said eventually, when the silence didn't work out for her.

"I've seen it," I said.

"The whole world's seen it. That's not the point."

"I was never very big on Clark Gable."

I was still looking at the radiator, but I could hear Miss Ambrose lean forward. "You can't just bury yourself in here, Florence. A month's probation, remember? You've got to meet me halfway."

I wanted to say, "Why have I got to meet anybody halfway to anywhere?" but I didn't. I concentrated on the radiator instead, and I didn't stop concentrating on it until I heard the front door shut to.

"He had bad breath, you know, Clark Gable," I shouted. "I read about it. In a magazine."

* * *

There are three things you should know about Elsie, and the first thing is that she's my best friend.

People chop and change best friends, first one and then another depending what kind of mood they happen to find themselves in and who they're talking to, but mine has always been Elsie and it always will be. That's what a best friend is all about, isn't it? Someone who stands by you, no matter what. I can't say we haven't had our arguments over the years, but that's because we're so opposite. We even look opposite. Elsie's short and I'm tall. Elsie's tiny and I have big feet. Size eleven. I tell everybody. Because Elsie says there comes a point when feet are so large, the only thing left to do is to boast about them.

Excerpted from Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Cannon. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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