Published by Wildfire/Headline
ebook: 31 March 2017 | Paperback: 27 July 2017
It was a pleasure to meet Amanda at a recent Headline bloggers and authors event and I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Close to Me – her debut novel. I have the book to read but for my turn on this tour, I have an extract.
She can't remember the last year. Her husband wants to keep it that way. When Jo Harding falls down the stairs at home, she wakes up in hospital with partial amnesia - she's lost a whole year of memories. A lot can happen in a year. Was Jo having an affair? Lying to her family? Starting a new life? She can't remember what she did - or what happened the night she fell. But she's beginning to realise she might not be as good a wife and mother as she thought. Dramatic psychological suspense for fans of Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret, Clare Mackintosh's I Let You Go, and Linda Green's While My Eyes Were Closed.
The Day of The Fall
Cold and smooth, the flagstones of our hallway are reassuringly solid beneath me, each one a raised bump, the mortar crevices like emery boards to my touch, segmenting the repeating pattern. There’s no part of me I can move except for my left hand, and yet I feel I’m floating free.
‘Jo, can you hear me?’ my husband whispers, his skin damp to the touch as his top lip brushes my cheek. ‘Jo, answer me,’ Rob insists. ‘For god’s sake, Jo. Are you okay? Just answer me!’
A loud sound echoes down the hallway, thuds so imperative they pierce the darkness, pulling me up to the surface gasping. There’s someone at the door, shouting to be let in, but Rob ignores them, asking me over and over what’s wrong. I don’t reply, the words forming, then gone.
The door is opened, a chill blast of air rushing towards me as a woman’s voice draws near, calm and measured. Then at last blissful sleep, like a cool blanket enfolding me; releasing the tight fist of pain.
Consciousness arrives piecemeal; elements returning one by one, although I resist them. First there’s the light beyond my closed eyelids, then sounds and movement around me. I may have been lying here a while, or no time at all. I try to recall what happened, my fingers worrying at the stones beneath me, their cool touch comforting. I was on the landing, I know that much, and Rob was behind me, too close, his long strides outpacing me. ‘No!’
‘Jo, it’s okay, you passed out again, but I’m here to help.’ She smells sharp and astringent, her breath warm. ‘Please try to stay still so I can help you.’
I shiver, the cold air funnelling in through the open door, the wind whipping around the barn, relentless as always. I’d thought we could tame the elements, lay down roots, but, fifteen years on, the constant battering of the wind still disturbs me. Nothing fragile survives up here, stringy shoots plucked from tender soil, saplings bent then snapped, gates snatched from hands, car doors wrenched open and slammed closed, tearing fingernails and bruising shins. ‘We live at the top of a hill, what do you expect?’ Not this. Not every day.
‘Jo, do you remember what happened?’ Rob asks. ‘You fell, Jo. You fell down the stairs. Lost your footing. You were coming down in front of me. I tried to save you, Jo. I tried to save you.’ He keeps saying it, as if that will make me remember.
A pinch to my finger, a cuff to my arm, sensors stuck to my skin. I try to sit up, but Rob tells me to stay still, his palms under my armpits, hoisting me on to his knees, the bones of them angular beneath my back. I loll against my husband, too weak to struggle, his long limbs now encircling me, but his hold on me is too tight, I can’t breathe.
‘Jo, can you answer some questions?’ the calm voice asks.
‘She’s barely conscious!’ Rob shouts, his words slicing through me. ‘Can’t it wait?’
The reply is firm. ‘Rob, you need to move back, let Jo speak.’
I open my eyes to the bright light, the stairs stretching up and over me, dizzying. ‘I don’t want him,’ I say. Rob’s hands are hot on my skin, his fingers stroking my neck, my shoulder, pressing in. ‘Tell him to let me go!’ I struggle and cry out in pain, but she insists I stay still.
‘Can you move away, Rob? You need to let us do our job,’ she says, then she leans over me, her face above mine, asking me so many questions and I try to answer, to tell her where it hurts, how I am. ‘Can you remember what you were doing before you fell, Jo?’
I look up the stairs to Fin’s door. ‘I was sad,’ I tell her. ‘Because of Fin.’
‘Fin?’ the stranger echoes, her eyes kind.
‘It’s our son,’ Rob says, his hand now squeezing mine.
Pain shoots through my wrist and Rob drops my hand; says he’s sorry. He keeps repeating how sorry he is, and all I can think is, I don’t want him this close to me.
‘Just give us some space, Rob,’ the stranger tells him, taking my other wrist in her hand. ‘I’m giving you something for the pain, Jo.’
‘I don’t want him,’ I say. ‘Get him off me!’ The throbbing in my head takes over, a searing heat beneath my skull. I close my eyes, their voices slipping away.
Different lights when I open my eyes, brighter than before, and movement. We’re winding down the hill away from the barn, and there’s no siren, but speed, and so many wires, so many questions and Rob is beside me again, but I can’t get away from him because I’m tethered to the bed, strapped down, and now I don’t remember why I’d wanted to escape, although the urge hasn’t left me and when he touches me I flinch.
‘How old is your wife, Rob?’ the stranger asks, her face now in focus; younger than I’d imagined.
‘Jo’s fifty-five,’ Rob replies, his voice choked with emotion. He never cries; why now?
‘No,’ I whisper, my voice barely there. ‘Not yet.’
‘What did you say, Jo?’ Rob’s voice closer now.
I turn away, close my eyes, try to sleep, but I’m jolted awake by a thought. ‘The kids, do they know?’
‘I’ll ring them once we get to the hospital,’ Rob replies.
He shouldn’t worry them, I tell him. Especially Fin, he’s got enough to cope with on his first day.
‘First day?’ Rob asks. ‘Jo, what are you talking about?’
I close my eyes again, too tired to reply. My skull feels loose beneath my scalp, each bump and bend in the road spinning my head like a gyroscope. I imagine my brain sloshing around in liquid, like a foetus in the womb, its legs and arms kicking and punching from within. The need to sleep is overwhelming, but the pain keeps me awake, my lucidity only in thought, not speech. Why would Rob tell them I’m fifty-five; he’s normally such a stickler for detail? It’s two months until my birthday.
We turn a sharp corner and all I can hear is Rob’s voice, saying again that I fell, then he leans over me, his mouth almost touching mine and he whispers, ‘You’ll be fine, Jo. I promise.’
And I whisper back, ‘Don’t make me any more promises, you bastard.’
About the author:
Amanda Reynolds teaches Creative Writing in Cheltenham, where she lives with her family. Her past jobs have included selling clothes online and writing murder mystery games.
Close To Me is her debut novel.