Set in the very English suburbia of the 1960’s where everyone has tidy front gardens and lace curtains, Junction X is the story of Edward Johnson, who ostensibly has the perfect life. A beautiful house, a great job and a wonderful wife. The trouble is he’s been lying to himself all of his life. And first love, when it does come, hits him and hits him hard. The object of his passion? The teenaged son of the new neighbours.
Edward’s world is about to go to hell.
Published November 2011 by Cheyenne Publishing Cover designed by Alex Beecroft
I suppose the cliché beginning to this should be “it was on a day just like this…” but that’s just in books. The truth is that the day couldn’t have been more different.
Today the hail hits the window in a tattoo of cold and up to now; it’s been summer, hasn’t it? I look back over what seems to be centuries of time that stretch between the first day I saw him and today and I hardly recognise myself. And Alex? Oh Alex changed outwardly with the times and the fashion, donned the motley, but inside he was the same from the first moment to the very last. I certainly don’t recognise me. How could I? Blue serge, black serge, bowler hat. I was the product of my youth – the jelly-baby man he accused me of being. Pre-fab Ed. A million of us: getting up, getting fed, getting on trains, getting to work, doing the hours and coming home. I was just like all the others.
Or I thought I was. No. That’s not true, and if I’ve learned anything, in the time we’ve had, it’s the value of truth. The value of it, at least. I knew I wasn’t like that. Oh, I went to work with the others, I had the nice house in the nice district. Valerie was the envy of my colleagues for her Nordic beauty, her fame, her talent and her capability to throw together an impromptu fondue night for bosses or colleagues with a mere hour or so’s notice.
I fitted that mould he talked of exactly – exactly – and I had the image so pin-stripe perfect that most people looking outside would only have seen Ed Johnson, the man with the pretty good – if not perfect – life, and been convinced by it. All most people would see was the stockbroker with shiny shoes and would never had have guessed the secrets behind the suit and the earnest expression. It’s so easy to fool people.
That morning as I crawled out of bed and yawned my way to the bathroom, there should have been portents, there should have been a dead raven on the lawn, a comet livid and bloody searing the sky, but of course there was nothing more epic than sparrows and starlings squabbling over the last crumbs.
In the shaving mirror I saw Valerie float past the open bathroom door, and I realised that it was going to be another one of those mornings. She had that glittering hardness to her face, and she had on the red and orange housecoat that always spelled trouble. It would seem my penance of sleeping in the spare room had not papered over the cracks of the night before and battledress was the choice of the day. Camouflage, for Valerie, came in clashing colours.
From the end of the hall I could hear the twins preparing for what sounded like a campaign to take over the world, by the sound of it, rather than getting ready for the first day back at school. Mary seemed to have the upper hand, judging by John’s screams so I left them to it, Mrs Tudor would sort them out after I’d left. If Valerie wasn’t going to get involved, neither was I.
As I thought back on the night before, I realised that the battle may have been won, but the war was still raging, a cold war, which was worse than any frontal assault my wife could rage. Unless I gave in, there would be days of this. A hard stiff cheek to be kissed at the front door as she did her wifely duty and saw me out of the house, pursed lips and the slightest frown between those delicate brows. I sighed, and wiping the last of the soap from my face, I grabbed my tie from the hook and trotted downstairs, pondering my campaign choices.
I stopped on the landing, using the reflection of the window to arrange my tie. The front garden was looking a bit crushed by the last few weeks of sun, and as I made a mental note to speak to the gardener at the weekend, a movement caught my eye. Crawling along the wrong side of the street was a large removal van. One of the men hung his head out of the side window as if he was checking the house numbers. It stopped, as I had half expected it to, next door. Finally, I thought, as I made my way down to the dining room, all thoughts of Valerie’s skirmish pushed aside, it looked like we’d be getting new neighbours at last.
“Good morning, darling,” I said, firing an opening salvo as I slid onto my chair. Valerie’s face was a mask of ice, but she handed me The Times and a cup as Mrs Tudor appeared from the kitchen with the coffee pot and my breakfast. Then she buried herself in the Telegraph, for which I was grateful. I didn’t want a re-engagement in front of the help.
Mrs Tudor poured out some coffee and placed a plate of eggs and bacon in front of me. I gave her a secret grin, unseen by Valerie and Mrs Tudor’s bushy grey eyebrows raised in mock despair. I wondered if hostilities were going to be extended all day, whether she would take her vitriol to the tennis club and expend it, or whether I would come home to the same cold shoulders I was experiencing now. My stomach gave a complaining wince as I wondered if I would get away with playing squash again tonight, instead of coming straight home. Filling my wife’s coffee cup, Mrs Tudor retreated into the warmth of the kitchen with an audible, irritated sigh. Mrs Tudor and Valerie were not the best of friends. In fact, if it had been up to Valerie, Mrs Tudor would have been replaced with someone called Inga or Helga, an au pair, like her friends had. She considered Mrs Tudor to be old fashioned and Not Quite The Thing.
But to me, Mrs Tudor’s old fashioned ways were part of her charm. I wanted the children to have someone in their lives the way I’d had. Mrs Tudor reminded me of my nanny; she had smelled of flour and polish and she was big enough to wrap her arms around the world. Mrs Tudor had been John and Mary’s nanny, and now that they didn’t need her full-time, she came in for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening. It wasn’t perfect – she was exposed to Valerie too much for one thing – but the alternatives were worse. Stealing strangers? No thank you.
Mrs Tudor’s ways were the way of the Victorian nursery, nursery teas, change of clothes when the children get in from school and the “seen not heard” ethos. Old Fashioned, yes, but it was how I liked things.
That morning however, they were certainly being heard, even from the dining room. I wondered if Valerie even knew how good she had it, the mythical Helga would be more interested in finding English boys than making sure that the children were brushing their teeth, or not ripping each other’s ears off. The escalation of noise caused Battleship Tudor to sail past in the direction of the stairs and I relaxed a little. In a few seconds there would be blissful silence again.
I watched Valerie over the rim of my coffee cup, wondering the best way to breach the barricades. I decided on daily news; that seemed safe enough.
“There’s a removal van pulled up outside next door,” I told her with a practised forced cheerfulness. My stomach gave another brief twinge, as if something inside was as sick of these frosty mornings as I was. “Looks like someone is moving in at last.”