Excerpt from All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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All the Lonely People

by Mike Gayle

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle X
All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle
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    Aug 2022, 400 pages

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Kim Kovacs
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1
NOW

Moments before Hubert met Ashleigh for the first time, he had been settled in his favorite armchair, Puss curled up on his lap, waiting for Rose to call. When the doorbell rang he gave a tut of annoyance, wagering it was one of those damn courier people who were always trying to make him take in parcels for his neighbors.

"Would you mind accepting this for number sixty-three?" they would ask.

"Yes, me mind a great deal!" he would snap. "Now clear off!" And then he would slam the door shut in their faces.

As he shifted Puss from his lap and stood up to answer the door, Hubert muttered angrily to himself.

"Parcels, parcels, parcels! All day, every day, for people who are never in to receive the damn things! If people want them things so much why them no just buy it from the shops like everybody else?"

With words of scathing condemnation loaded and ready to fire, Hubert unlocked the front door and flung it open only to discover that the person before him wasn't anything like he'd been expecting.

Instead of a uniformed parcel courier, there stood a young woman with short dyed-blond hair. In a nod toward the recent spell of unseasonably warm April weather, she was wearing a pink tank top, cut-off jeans, and pink flip-flops. Holding her hand was a small child, a girl, with blond hair, also wearing a pink top, shorts, and pink flip-flops.

The young woman smiled.

"Hi, there. I'm not disturbing you, am I?"

Hubert said nothing but made a mental note that should he need to contact the police, he could tell them that the woman spoke with a funny accent. To his untrained ear it sounded Welsh or possibly Irish, though he couldn't be entirely sure it was either.

She held up her hand as if in surrender.

"It's okay. I'm not trying to sell you anything or nothing. I just came round to say hello, really. We've just moved in next door."

She pointed in the direction of the block of low-rise flats adjacent to Hubert's property.

"We're new to the area and don't know a single soul. Anyway, this morning I was saying to myself, 'Ash, you're never going to get to know anyone around here unless, you know, you start talking to people.' So I called round to see the couple in the flat below, but I think they must be out at work. Then I tried the family across the hallway, but they didn't open the door, even though I could hear the TV blaring away. So then I tried all the other flats and got nothing—all out or busy, I suppose—so I got Layla ready and took her to try the mother and toddler group at the library, but it's just closed due to funding problems apparently, so…"

She paused, looking at him expectantly, perhaps hoping for a smile or a nod of comprehension, but Hubert remained impassive.

The young woman cleared her throat self-consciously but then continued.

"My name's Ash, well, it's Ashleigh, really, but everyone calls me Ash. And this little madam here"—she glanced down at the small child—"is my daughter, Layla."

The little girl covered her eyes with both hands but peeked up at Hubert through the cracks between her fingers.

"Layla," said Ash, her voice warm with encouragement, "say hello to our lovely new neighbor, Mr.…"

Ashleigh looked at him expectantly but Hubert continued to say nothing.

"I think she's a bit shy," said Ash, returning her attention to Layla. "You won't believe it to look at me but I used to be dead shy too when I was a kid. Wouldn't say boo to a goose, me. My mam was always saying, 'Ashleigh Jones, you won't get far in life being shy now, will you?' and my nan would be like, 'Oh, leave the poor child alone, Jen, you'll give her a complex.' Then Mam would say, 'I just don't want her to get set in her ways, like,' and then Nan would say, 'She's only a babby, she's too young to get set in her ways.' Then Mam would roll her eyes like this…"

Excerpted from All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle. Copyright © 2022 by Mike Gayle. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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