Excerpt from Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting

A Novel

by Clare Pooley

Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley X
Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley
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    Jun 2022, 352 pages

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Iona opened the front door and called up the stairs, as she always did, "Bye bye, Bea! I'm off to the office. I'll miss you!"

The advantage of boarding the train at Hampton Court was that it was the end of the line, or the beginning, depending, of course, on which way you were traveling. There was a life lesson there, thought Iona. In her experience, most endings turned out to be beginnings in disguise. She should make a note of that one for the column. So, the trains were always-as long as you arrived early enough-relatively empty. This meant that Iona could usually occupy her favorite seat (seventh aisle seat on the right, facing forward, at a table) in her favorite carriage: number three. Iona had always preferred odd numbers to evens. She didnÕt like things to be too round or convenient.

Iona sat down, putting Lulu on the seat beside her, and began arranging her things in front of her. Her thermos filled with green tea, just chockablock with age-defying antioxidants; a bone china cup and matching saucer, because drinking tea out of plastic was beyond the pale in any circumstance; her latest mail; and her iPad. It was just ten stops to Waterloo, and the thirty-six-minute journey was the perfect opportunity to prepare for the day ahead.

As the train became busier and busier with each stop, Iona worked happily in her little bubble, wonderfully anonymous and blending into the background. Just one of thousands of identikit commuters, none of whom paid her the blindest bit of attention. Certainly, no one would talk to her, or to anyone else. Everyone knew the Second Rule of Commuting: you may nod to someone if you've seen them on a significant number of occasions, even-in extremis-exchange a wry smile or an eye roll at one of the guard's announcements over the tannoy, but you never, ever talk. Unless you were a nutter. Which she wasn't, despite what they said.

An unfamiliar noise made Iona look up. She recognized the man sitting in front of her. He wasn't usually on this train, but she often saw him on her return journey, on the 18:17 from Waterloo. She'd noticed him because of his exquisite tailoring, which ordinarily she would have admired, but it was rather ruined by an extraordinary sense of entitlement that only really comes with being white, male, heterosexual, and excessively solvent. This was evidenced by his penchant for manspreading, and talking extremely loudly on his mobile phone about the markets and positions. She'd once heard him refer to his wife as the ball and chain. He'd always get off at Surbiton, which struck her as a little incongruous. She gave all the passengers she recognized pet names, and he was Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader.

Right now, he did not look quite so pleased with himself. If anything, he seemed in distress. He was leaning forward, clutching at his throat, and emitting a volley of sounds somewhere between a cough and a vomit. The girl sitting next to him-a pretty young thing, with red hair in a plait, and dewy skin that she no doubt took for granted but would, one day, remember fondly-said, rather nervously, "Are you okay?" He was, quite obviously, not okay. He looked up, trying to communicate something to them, but his words seemed jammed in his throat. He gestured toward a half-eaten fruit salad on the table in front of him.

"I think he's choking on one of his strawberries. Or maybe a grape," said the girl. This was obviously an emergency. It hardly mattered precisely which piece of fruit was involved. The girl put down the book she was reading and patted him on the back, between his shoulder blades. It was the sort of gentle pat that was often accompanied by the words good dog, and not at all what the situation required.

"Here, do it harder," said Iona, leaning forward across the table and giving him a hefty thump with a closed fist, which she found rather more enjoyable than she should have done, given the circumstances. For a moment, there was silence, and she thought he was better, but then the choking sounds started again. His face had turned a mottled purple, and his lips had started to lose their color.

Excerpted from Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley. Copyright © 2022 by Clare Pooley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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