Jane Rusbridge Author of The Devils Music and Rook

Opening Pages

An unputdownable and beautifully written novel Tania Hershman


 

I’m alone under a high sky. Clouds race across the blue, skim in reflected shoals over puddles and hollows in the wet sand. I’m holding Susie’s rubber bucket. Far away, made small by distance, a man digs for lugworms.

You’re in charge, Andy, my mother said. She picked Susie up and put her on one hip. They went to get ice-creams.

My shorts are wet and clinging. I have tipped out Susie’s morning collection of slipper shells, bits of razor shell, the joined pairs of purplish shells she calls butterflies, and now the bucket is filled to the brim with water. Tiny cracks appear in the stretched rubber handle. The water’s surface glints, tilting like a flipped coin; the slanting O almost reaches the lip. It will spill.

I put the bucket down. At my back the sea heaves and drags.

The rubber bucket is old. Once, it was mine.

I look up towards Jelly’s carrycot, a long way away on the pebbles. Then down to the edge of the wet sand where Jelly lies on my towel by the pool I’ve dug for her. She was lumpy as a bag of coal in my arms and nearly as heavy; my chin knocked on her head and my bare feet burned on the pebbles. But she was too hot and squashed in her carrycot. She couldn’t stop crying. Further up the shingle bank my mother’s empty deckchair billows red and white stripes. Honey is circling, nose down. Round and round Jelly and our pool. I see Jelly has rolled onto her stomach. Honey sits down. She barks once; twice. The man digging for lugworms pauses and looks up, a foot on his spade. Goose bumps rise on my arms.

And now my mother is racing, skidding down the steep shingle slope, a clutch of ice cream cornets held high. Pebbles bounce and slide. Far behind, by the row of beach huts with their shuttered doors Susie holds her arms high, hands like starfish, stiff in the air.  My mother reaches the pool. She stands rigid. The ice creams topple and fall. She bends to scoop Jelly from the sand and wraps her arms around her. My mother lifts her face to the pale sky, her mouth wrenched open. And that’s when I hear the high pitched sound, a keening that goes on and on and doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop when the lugworm man throws his spade to the ground and begins to run, doesn’t stop when the bucket drops at my feet, doesn’t stop when I’m crouched low, hands covering my ears.

 

You can buy The Devil’s Music online from Foyles, Bloomsbury and Waterstones

or order from your local book shop.