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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
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  • First Published:
  • Aug 7, 2018
  • Paperback:
  • Jul 2019
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Print Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

It all started a month ago. A Friday morning. I was glancing around the room, wondering what I'd done with my television magazine, when I noticed.

It was facing the wrong way. The elephant on the mantelpiece. It always points towards the window, because I read somewhere it brings you luck. Of course, I know it doesn't. It's like putting new shoes on a table, though, or crossing on the stairs. There's a corner of your head feels uncomfortable if you don't follow the rules. Normally, I would have blamed one of the uniforms, but I always go over everything with a duster after they've gone. There's usually a need for it and it helps to pass the time. So I would have spotted it straightaway. I notice everything.

"Do you notice anything different?"

Miss Ambrose had arrived for our weekly chat. Fidgety. Smells of hair spray. A cousin in Truro. I decided to test her. She scanned the room, but any fool could tell she wasn't concentrating.

"Look properly," I said. "Give it your full attention."

She unwound her scarf. "I am," she said. "I am."

I waited.

"The elephant. The elephant on the mantelpiece." I prodded my finger.

"It's facing towards the television. It always faces towards the window. It's moved."

She said, Did I fancy a change? A change! I prodded my finger again and said, "I didn't do it."

She didn't take me seriously. She never does. "It must have been one of the cleaners," she said.

"It wasn't the cleaners. When I went to bed last night, it was facing the right way. When I got up this morning, it was back to front."

"You haven't been dusting again, have you, Florence? Dusting is our department."

I wouldn't let her find my eyes. I looked at the radiator instead. "I wouldn't dream of it," I said.

She sat on the armchair next to the fireplace and let out a little sigh. "Perhaps it fell?"

"And climbed back up all by itself?"

"We don't always remember, do we? Some things we do automatically, without thinking. You must have put it back the wrong way round."

I went over to the mantelpiece and turned the elephant to face the window again. I stared at her the whole time I was doing it. It's only an ornament, Florence. No harm done. Shall I put the kettle on?"

I watched the elephant while she rummaged around in the kitchen, trying to locate a ginger nut.

"They're in the pantry on the top shelf," I shouted. "You can't miss them."

Miss Ambrose reappeared with a tray. "They were on the first shelf, actually. We don't always know where everything is, do we?"

I studied her sweater. It had little pom-poms all around the bottom, in every color you could possibly wish for. "No," I said. "We probably don't."

Miss Ambrose sat on the very edge of the armchair. She always wore cheerful clothes, it was just a shame her face never went along with it. Elsie and I once had a discussion about how old Miss Ambrose might be. Elsie plumped for late thirties, but I think that particular ship sailed a long time ago. She always looked like someone who hadn't had quite enough sleep, but had put on another coat of lipstick and enthusiasm, in an effort to make sure the rest of the world didn't ever find her out. I watched the radiator again, because Miss Ambrose had a habit of finding things in your eyes you didn't think anyone else would ever notice.

"So, how have you been, Florence?"

There are twenty-five grooves on that radiator.

"I'm fine, thank you." "What did you get up to this week?"

They're quite difficult to count, because if you stare at them for any length of time, your eyes start to play tricks on you.

"I've been quite busy."

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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