The Museum of You – Carys Bray (Extract and Character Piece)

The Museum of You – Carys Bray

Published by Hutchinson

Hardback and Ebook: 16 June 2016

The Museum of You – Excerpt

When she got home from the museum Dad was kneeling in the hall. He’d unscrewed the radiator and his thumb was pressed over an unfastened pipe as water gushed around it. The books and clothes and newspapers that used to line the hall had been arranged in small piles on the stairs. Beside him, on the damp carpet, was a metal scraper he’d been using to scuff the paper off the wall.

‘Just in time!’ he said. ‘Fetch a bowl. A small one, so it’ll fit.’

She fetched two and spent the next fifteen minutes running back and forth to the kitchen emptying one bowl as the other filled, Dad calling, ‘Faster! Faster! Keep it up, Speedy Gonzalez!’ His trousers were soaked and his knuckles grazed, but he wasn’t bothered. ‘Occupational hazard,’ he said, as if it wasn’t his day off and plumbing and stripping walls was his actual job.

Once the pipe had emptied he stood up and hopped about for a bit while the feeling came back into his feet. ‘I helped Colin out with something this morning,’ he said. ‘The people whose house we were at had this dado rail thing – it sounds posh, but it’s just a bit of wood, really – right about here.’ He brushed his hand against the wall beside his hip. ‘Underneath it they had stripy wallpaper, but above it they had a different, plain kind. It was dead nice and I thought, we could do that.’

Dad found a scraper for her. The paint came off in flakes, followed by tufts of the thick, textured wallpaper. Underneath, was a layer of soft, brown, backing-paper which Dad sprayed with water from a squirty bottle. When the water had soaked in, they made long scrapes down the wall, top to bottom, leaving the backing paper flopped over the skirting boards like ribbons of skin. It felt like they were undressing the house.

The bare walls weren’t smooth. They were gritty, crumbly in places. As they worked, a dusty smell wafted out of them. It took more than an hour to get from the front door to the wall beside the bottom stair. That’s where Dad uncovered the heart. It was about as big as Clover’s hand, etched on the wall in black, permanent marker, in Dad’s handwriting: Darren + Becky 4ever.

‘I’d forgotten,’ he murmured. And then he pulled his everything face. The face he pulls when Uncle Jim is drunk. The face he pulls when they go shopping in March and the person at the till tries to be helpful by reminding them about Mother’s Day. The face which reminds her that a lot of the time his expression is like a plate of leftovers.

She didn’t say anything, and although she wanted to, she didn’t trace the heart with her fingertips. Instead, she went up to the bathroom and sat on the boxed, pre-lit Christmas tree dad bought in the January sales. When you grow up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story you’re forever skating on the thin ice of their memories. That’s not to say it’s always sad – there are happy things, too. When she was a baby Dad had a tattoo of her name drawn on his arm in curly, blue writing, and underneath he had a green, four-leaf clover. She has such a brilliant name, chosen by her mother because it has the word LOVE in the middle. That’s not the sort of thing you go around telling people, but it is something you can remember if you need a little boost; an instant access, happiness top-up card – it even works when Luke Barton calls her Margey-rine. Clover thought of her name and counted to 300.

When she went downstairs Dad had recovered his empty face and she couldn’t help asking a question, just a small one.

‘Is there any more writing under the paper?’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘She didn’t do a heart as well?’

‘Help me with this, will you?’

They pulled the soggy ribbons of paper away from the skirting and put them in a bin bag. The house smelled different afterwards. As if some old sadness had leaked out of the walls.

The Museum of You – Meet Darren

The Museum of You takes place during the summer holiday after Clover Quinn’s first year of high school. It’s a pivotal time for Clover who, on the brink of womanhood, is seeking independence and beginning to spend a lot of time thinking about her absent mother. But it’s also a pivotal time for her father Darren who is trying to step back and give her a little freedom, a difficult task given the past.

Darren is a bus driver. He once had plans to leave the town; now he spends every day circling it. Here he is, sitting on the steps of the war memorial during his lunch hour, trying to resist the urge to text Clover and find out what she’s up to:

Darren shuffles down a few steps, away from the pigeon and out of the shade. The stone warms the backs of his legs through his work trousers. He closes his eyes for a moment and tilts his face skyward. As he’s got older the world has shrunk. It sometimes feels as if everything is moving around him and he is stuck, feet in concrete. It’s understandable when he’s at home and the trains squeal past the house on their way to Manchester and beyond, but it also happens while he’s driving the bus; he sits at the wheel and it’s as if the houses and the trees and the fields are whipping past as he remains still, holding tight until he’s allowed to get off. He thought he’d be long gone by now, and yet here he is, circling the slight perimeter of his life: his old house, his primary and secondary schools, the parks, the hospital, the hospice. If he could go back to being a boy he’d retrieve every wish for time to accelerate; his rush to reach double figures, to be thirteen, to be seventeen – he made those wishes never believing there might be a day when he would wish in reverse – to be seventeen, and thirteen, and ten.

Darren enjoyed a happy childhood. If he thinks very hard he can retrieve a wisp of annoyance about the times when his mum made banana Angel Delight instead of butterscotch; he can mine some residual embarrassment at the way his dad insisted on wearing a shirt and tie whenever they went anywhere, even to the supermarket, as if without the reinforcement of the tie his neck might fall off; and he can access an ounce of indignation (tempered by a measure of relief) at not being allowed to go to a rave in Sheffield with his best mate Colin when he was 16. But it was happy. No-one died; no-one lost themselves. 

He would like to arrange equally inconsequential sadnesses for Clover. He has filled the house and garden with things she might want or need one day. It’s all for her, everything. Except what’s in the second bedroom. Those are Becky’s things; they entered the room years ago by via a weathering process; there were occasional downpours, when he swept up the stairs, arms full of her belongings, and there were times when he was surprised by a single object – an odd sock, a hair bobble, a book, a scarf, a letter – and he cradled it all the way to the bed, laying it down where she had slept, where he could no longer sleep. The room is a monument, and a dump. 

But Clover has plans and, unbeknown to Darren, she intends to spend her summer curating a museum in the second bedroom. Once, twelve years ago, Darren was surprised by the arrival of a baby. This summer he’ll be surprised again.

About the book:

Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories. 

Darren has done his best. He’s studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want – everything he can think of, at least – to be happy.

What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is full of her mother’s belongings. Volume isn’t important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be. 

But what you find depends on what you’re searching for.

About the author:

Carys Bray’s debut collection SWEET HOME won the Scott prize and selected stories were broadcast on BBC Radio Four Extra. Her first novel A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY was serialised on BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the Desmond Elliott Prize. It won the Utah Book Award and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. 

Carys has a BA in Literature from The Open University and an MA and PhD in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University. She lives in Southport in North West England with her husband and four children. Her second novel THE MUSEUM OF YOU will be published in June 2016. She is working on a third novel.

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