The Widow’s Tale Extracts

The opening few pages

When I ran out of the house I don’t think I had any real idea where I was going. Although I must have had an inkling that I was doing more than just popping out, or I wouldn’t have packed a bag.

By the time you get to my age you pick up your keys, purse, specs case, etc., quite instinctively whenever you set foot out of the front door. But I’d also managed to grab a couple of fistfuls of clothes and stuffed them into a hold-all, so I must’ve known that I didn’t intend to be back for at least a day or two.

Great chunks of the journey are decidedly patchy. But I do remember winding down the window at one point and screaming. I was having trouble breathing. No – that’s not quite right. I felt as if I was losing my mind. So I wound down the window and put my head out, in the hope that the wind in my face would help snap me out of whatever terrible and terrifying place I’d got myself caught up in. Then I remember screaming, long and hard, out into the night.

I’m just relieved I didn’t cause an accident. Honest to God, I could have easily killed myself and anyone else who happened to cross my path. That stupid Jag is too bloody big and too bloody powerful. I’ve never liked it. But I’d left my lovely little Audi round at Ginny’s, so the Jag was all there was.


That’s the word I imagine the police would have used if they’d encountered me. ‘The crazy woman in the stupid car was driving erratically when we pulled her over,’ is what they would’ve written in their report.

I remember finding myself on the M11 – a motorway for which I hold a fair bit of affection, if that’s not a totally ludicrous thing to say, since I also have tremendous affection for other things, such as old brooches and small furry animals and even one or two people. But one way or another I found myself heading north on the M11. Then it was just a matter of whether I stopped off at Cambridge, or turned right and headed over towards Walberswick and Southwold or carried on up to the north Norfolk coast. And it was clear straightaway which option I’d take.

Prior to that I’d just wanted to get the hell out of London. I’d somehow managed to find my way onto the M25, then headed east. I remember that series of soulless underpasses near Waltham Abbey. Then off onto the M11. Then up here.

I filled the tank somewhere just short of Cambridge and asked for directions. And perhaps because he was dealing with a woman – and, come to that, a woman with a puffy, tear-stained face – the young lad in the garage simply suggested I follow signs for Norwich, then pick up signs for any of the towns along the north coast. Then I left him to his magazine and the two of us carried on with our lives.

So by then I must have been a little more coherent. Although I’d be hard pressed now to say with any confidence whether it was eight o’clock or midnight – only that it was probably somewhere in between.

If the rest of the journey is vague it’s a different sort of vagueness, born out of exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion, perhaps, but quite different from the lunacy of that first hour or so. I remember reaching the coast road and turning west along it and, a little later, pulling off into the village and squeezing down the narrow lanes. And suddenly being aware of little houses all around me, with their lights out and, presumably, people sleeping in them. I remember pulling up by the quay, yanking on the handbrake and turning off the engine. And how incredibly quiet and dark it was. I didn’t even get out to stretch my legs or fill my lungs. I just sat there and listened for a good five or ten minutes. Then I climbed into the back seat and pulled my coat over me and apart from turning over once or twice in the night the next thing I remember is waking up about six o’clock this morning, with the sky just beginning to lighten and me dying for a pee.

I’ve never been particularly big on breakfast. A cup of tea and a ciggie and I’m fairly happy, so this morning was a regular breakfast, just without the cup of tea. I’d snuck out onto the saltmarshes to relieve myself. Then sat in the car for a little while. I strolled up and down the quay a couple of times. And eventually headed up into the village.

I suppose by then I’d decided to see about some accommodation. My original plan was to book myself into the hotel, for nostalgia’s sake – just for a night or two. But as I was wandering up and down I saw the little letting agents. And I thought, why the hell not? So I went back to the car and checked myself in the mirror, to see precisely how deranged I currently looked. Then, on the stroke of nine o’clock, as soon as the girl flipped over the ‘Open/Closed’ sign, I sauntered in.

She showed me round three quite different places – one huge, very swish and terribly minimal . . . one ramshackle affair on the edge of the marshes . . . and this rinky little place in the middle of the village, which was by far the cheapest but the price was really neither here nor there. The reason I plumped for it is the fact that it’s tucked away. Which is rather strange, given that I only legged it out of London last night because I felt so dreadfully hemmed in. But clearly being tucked away up here in Norfolk is quite different from being hemmed in down there.

Back at the office – or shop, or whatever you’d call it – whilst the girl was tapping away at her keyboard I slowly leaned forward to have a peek at her screen. As far as I could tell, the cottage wasn’t booked for a clear month or so. The girl did her best to stop me looking, as if she had personal access to the mainframe of the bloody Pentagon, but I’m long past giving a donkey’s dick about what some girl her age thinks of the behaviour of a woman of mine.

I’ve taken it for a week. God only knows what I’ll be up to seven days from now. I’m currently finding it difficult getting from one minute to the next. It was only when I’d shut the door behind me and dropped my bag on the floor that I finally felt as if I’d landed. Then promptly burst into tears. Which is possibly some kind of record of restraint, on my part. I’ve usually had at least a couple of crying jags by mid-morning.

The only thing on my to-do list right now is to get my head down and grab a little shut-eye. I don’t want to hang about. Don’t like waking from a nap to find it any darker than when I closed my eyes. I find that troubling in the extreme…