Published by Headline Review
Available in ebook and paperback (20 September 2018)
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and to the publisher for providing the extract. I have bought a copy of this to read as it very much appealed.
| About the Book |
If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.
If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.
But if they hadn’t seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.
Our life – no matter what happens in between – starts and ends with a heartbeat: our own personal rhythm, our own song. A song can rise and fall like the breath in our lungs; it can start with one solitary note and then expand with each verse: a family of sound. To me, however, a song has deeper meaning.
‘That’ll be eighty-seven pounds and sixty-six pence, please,’ the supermarket cashier announces, filling me with dread.
I can see, from your point of view, that this is not terrible news. A respectable amount for a family of three’s weekly shop. After all, the masculine-looking cashier clerk is not implying that I have one week left to live or that my skirt is tucked into my knickers. My problem lies with my bank balance; I know that today, 21st February, my bank balance totters along a tightrope of eighty pounds.
I hear the first bars of ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ by The Beatles. This may not seem a big deal. Songs are played in supermarkets worldwide; their upbeat tempos drive the dead-eyed shopper shuffle. But this is why the cashier’s few words fill me with fear: I try to explain my bank balance predicament.
‘Excuse me?’ the slightly alarmed, suet-faced cashier ques¬tions me, as well she might. You see, I’m not explaining my situation with a droop of my shoulders and a ‘life sometimes gets you down’ expression.
No. I’m not just hearing The Beatles’ classic: I’ve started singing it – theatrically. Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m singing – with gusto – The Beatles to a supermarket cashier? Well, the answer is, I don’t know. In fact, I’ve seen several different GPs in the past two years and not one of them knows. Nor do the consultants, specialists or psychiatrists (of which there have been many).
Let me tell you what I do know.
I woke up one blustery, icy January morning – nothing remarkable about that. There was nothing special about the fact that it was Grey Wheelie Bin Day, or that I was outside in my wellies, pink-marshmallow dressing gown wrapped around my Christmas-excess stomach, attempting to drag said bin up my steep drive. I say this is not special because my life, even then, was disorganised. Chaotic. Slapdash. If I had been the orderly, controlled person that I always intended to be every New Year’s Day, then my bin would already be standing outside my house: a brave soldier facing the elements, awaiting its disembowelment with resolute pride. If I had been that person, I wouldn’t have run out of de-icer the day before and so used boiling water to defrost the window of the car. There wouldn’t have been a frozen patch of black ice right next to the kerb. I wouldn’t have slipped backwards and cracked the back of my head against the path. There wouldn’t have been an ear-splitting scream from my eleven-year-old daughter when she found me bleeding and unconscious twenty minutes later. My distraught son wouldn’t have been filled with panic as he clumsily used his scouting skills to try to find my weak pulse and – of course – I wouldn’t have been lying with my own urine freezing against my legs while my children waited a lifetime for the ambulance to arrive: tears, fear and too much responsibility shaking their gangly developing bodies, as they anxiously debated how many chest compressions they should give me.
By now, here in the supermarket, I have really hit my stride, explaining all of the things that I just cannot buy to the cashier: my voice triggering a ripple of uneasiness through the shop. I watch – as I have so many times before – the expressions, first of shock, then uneasiness, and finally amusement, passing over their contemptuous faces. Now, be honest with me: how would you react? Would you look the other way? Point and jeer? Put yourself here, now, standing in this queue behind me. A mundane Thursday lunchtime and a thirty-something, petite brunette is singing ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ at the top of her voice at the checkout. Not only is she not a brilliant singer – although thankfully in tune – but just look at the facial expressions and hand gestures! Now come on, you’d have a good old gawp, wouldn’t you? I would! Just look at me! How is it possible to widen your eyes so much it looks as though they are about to pop right out and land, in all their spherical glory, on the grubby tiles? Oh here I go, repeatedly reinforcing the point that I couldn’t give two hoots about the material things in life because it really can’t gain you affection; have you noticed how my bottom is swaying like a pendulum? And just look at my index finger, wagging in front of the cashier’s podgy face! Have you noticed how red she has gone? Look at her squirming in her seat, frantically pressing the button to herald someone, anyone, to take this mad woman away. You’d think with a moustache like that, she’d have a bit more compassion for the unusual. Hasn’t she heard of waxing?
Oh Christ, am I about to spin? Yep, here I go, hands stretched out like a demented traffic warden as I do a full turn and did I just . . .? Yep. I’ve just punched the air. Did you see me? I actu¬ally punched the air as I held my final note.
Silence. Not a peep from a grumpy child. Not even the beep of a scanner. All I can hear is the last of my self-respect shattering into tiny pieces.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. And there we go. Three seconds is all it takes the British public to turn a deaf, dumb and blind eye. But I know they’re there, sniggering behind raised hands, texting their friends, uploading me to YouTube (yes, that’s happened – nineteen times, the last time my technologically gifted kids checked), filing it away to tell their friends over drinks tomorrow night.
Breathing heavily, I fumble in my bag and with a shaking hand – no doubt a side effect from all the finger wagging – try to pull out my bank card.
‘Sorry,’ I mutter, ‘but could I take the beef joint back? I, um, I,’ breathe, ‘I don’t think the card will . . .’ Calm. Down.
For reasons the medical talents of this country can’t explain, my ‘condition’ seems to be triggered by stress. That is to say, I’m not a singing, dancing act all the time. When the symptoms started to present themselves – first in the form of ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor, swiftly followed by an encore of ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline – I didn’t dance at all. I just sang. My voice a captive beast, clawing and writhing out of me: desperate to be heard; desperate to escape; desperate to destroy. The dancing is a fairly new addition. Dr Ashley suggested that this might be a way for my subconscious to control the situations out of my control, by turning my outburst into a more ‘acceptable act’. Quite how grinding to ‘Boom! Shake the Room’ in the middle of the leisure centre changing rooms makes it a more acceptable act, I don’t know. Most of the time, I’m perfectly normal.
I try to give – I glance at her name badge – ‘Sue’ a reassuring smile.
Uneasily, she nods slowly, retrieving the beef from the packed bag, maintaining eye contact as if I’d just pulled out a gun, instead of paying a heartfelt tribute to John and Paul.
Stay calm. Breathe. She looks like a man and her name is Sue . . . Oh chuffing hell. Don’t think about Johnny Cash, stay calm. I’ll be fine as long as nothing else happens. Breathe. Don’t think about it. As I pass her my debit card, I can hear the questions in the air and the muted comments of ‘freak’ shoot through with a ‘lunatic’ chaser. I can feel it begin to pulse through me: the urge – the release which my broken body is desperate for. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it.
I close my eyes briefly and concentrate on the sound of my breathing. I’ll be fine as long as I don’t think about that song, but it’s fine. See how I’m calming down? As long as I keep thinking about something else, I’ll be out of here and home. My affliction nothing more than a story for others to devour.
‘Really?’ She smirks to the other clientele. ‘Melody? Your name is Melody?’
I know; the irony is not lost on me. Several of the psychiatrists I have been to have implied that this may be a genuine link between my subconscious and my ‘condition’. Another superior ‘we’re all in this together’ smirk nearly sends me into dangerous territory, but I keep breathing. Keep thinking of what I’m having for tea and ‘Sue’ will soon be but a distant memory. Sue. Sue. Sue.
| Author Bio |
Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire, with her partner and four children. Her spare time consists of writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day.
Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since her childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.
The Songs of Us was inspired by Emma’s love of music and her ability to almost always embarrass herself, and her children, in the most mundane of situations. She was so fascinated by the idea of combining the two, that she began to write Melody’s story. Working full-time with a large family meant that Emma had to steal snippets of ‘spare’ time from her already chaotic and disorganised life; the majority of her novel was written during her lunchtime in a tiny school office. She never expected to fall so deeply in love with the King family and is overwhelmed that others feel the same.