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Needles and Pearls

Two Weddings and a Year After the Funeral



It’s half past seven on Sunday morning and I’m sitting in the kitchen knitting a pale pink rabbit and trying to work out what to wear today. All those programs where women with tired hair and baggy trousers emerge a small fortune later with a new bob and a fully coordinated wardrobe never seem to give you tips about what you’re meant to wear when you visit your husband’s grave on the first anniversary of the funeral. Especially when you’ve got to combine it with lunch with Elizabeth, the artist formerly known as your mother --- in --- law, who’ll definitely be expecting something smart, possibly in the little --- black --- suit department, or maybe navy, at a pinch. And since I -haven’t got a black suit, or a navy one, come to that, I think I might be in trouble.

Perhaps if I’d actually got some sleep last night things wouldn’t feel quite so overwhelming, but the sound of the wind and the waves kept me awake, which is one of the disadvantages of living by the seaside; it’s lovely in summer, all beach huts and day --- trippers coming into the shop when it starts to drizzle, but I’m starting to realize that winter can be rather hard going. It’s all freezing mists and gales, and when there’s a storm down here, you really know about it. Maybe if the house wasn’t ten minutes from the beach I might not have quite so many dreams where I’m shipwrecked and trying to keep two small boys afloat.

I finally managed to drop off around two, and was promptly woken by Archie shuffling in to let me know he’d had his space --- monster dream again. Which is something else that’s not quite as good as it sounds on the packet: how five-year-olds manage to combine being far too grown--up to wear vests now they’re at Big School with still needing night--lights and special blankets as soon as you’ve got the little buggers into their pajamas. Not that Archie really goes in for special blankets --- unlike Jack, who’s seven but is still firmly attached to the fish blanket I knitted him in honor of his new seaside bedroom --- but he’s still perfectly happy to wake his mother up in the middle of the bloody night to talk about monsters and the possibility of a light snack.

I’m writing another version of my never --- ending Things I Must Do Today list, while the rain pours down the kitchen window in solid sheets. We might not be able to match Whitstable for stripy sweaters and artistically arranged fishing nets, but we can certainly match them for pouring rain. We do have an art gallery in the High Street now that goes in for smart window displays involving a large wooden bowl and a spotlight, so we’re starting to get there; and what’s more, we’ve got houses that normal people can afford, and a rickety pier and newly painted beach huts that don’t get sold in auctions for more money than most people paid for their first house. Gran’s been renting hers for years, which reminds me, that’s something else to add to my list: I need to take another towel down next time we go to the beach; we took Trevor the annoying Wonder Dog for a walk yesterday, and Archie ended up in the sea again.

I’m making a pot of tea when Archie comes downstairs, with his hair sticking up in little tufts, wearing his pajamas, and the belt from his dressing gown, but no actual dressing gown.

“It’s no good just wearing the belt, you know, love. You’ll get cold.”

“No I won’t. I like it like this, it’s my rope, for if I need to climb things. And I’m not having Shreddies for my breakfast. I want a sausage, just sausage. I don’t have to have Shreddies because it’s the weekend. At the weekend you can say what you want and you just have it.”

How lovely; I think I’ll order eggs Benedict and a glass of champagne. Or maybe a nice bit of smoked haddock.

I’m rather enjoying my Fantasy Breakfast moment while Archie looks in the fridge and starts tutting. “We haven’t got no sausage.”

“I know.”

“Why not?”

“Because you said you hated sausages when we had them for supper last week.”

He tuts again. “I was only joking.”

Jack wanders in, looking grumpy. “I don’t want sausages. I want jumbled-up eggs.”

Apparently I am now running some kind of junior bed-and-breakfast operation. Perhaps I should buy a small pad and a pencil.

“Well, since we haven’t got any sausages, what about lovely scrambled eggs, Archie, before we get ready to drive to Granny’s?”

“Yuck. And anyway last time you made them you put stupid cheese in and they tasted absolutely horrible.”

“Well, it’s Shreddies or scrambled eggs. That’s it. So make your mind up.”

He sighs, while Jack stands in the doorway looking like he’s still half asleep.

“Did Daddy like cheese in his scrambled eggs?”

Bugger. There’s been a lot less of the Did My Lovely Daddy Like This? lately, but I suppose it was bound to resurface today.

“Yes, love, he did.”

“Well, I want mine with cheese then.”

Archie hesitates. “Well, I don’t. He liked them without cheese in too, didn’t he, Mum?”

“Yes, love.”

“And there’s no sausages?”


“Are you sure?”

Does he think I’m hiding a packet inside my dressing gown or something?

“Absolutely sure, Archie.”

“Well, I’ll have jumbled eggs, with toast. But not the eggs on the toast, toast on another plate.”



Ellen calls while I’m washing up the breakfast things.

“You’ll never guess what. Ask me who’s calling.”

“I know who’s calling, Ellen. It’s you, Britain’s Favorite Broadcaster.”

“Yes, but ask me anyway. Just say, ‘Who is this?’”

“Who is this?”

“The future Mrs. Harry Williams. He asked me last night, when we were having dinner. On bended knee and everything --- he’d even got the ring. Tiffany. Serious diamonds. The works. It was absolutely perfect.”

“Oh, Ellen, that’s brilliant.”

“I know, although why he couldn’t have done it on Valentine’s Day is beyond me. He said he wanted to wait until his leg was out of plaster, in case he got stuck kneeling down, but I think he just couldn’t cope with the hearts and flowers thing.”

“That sounds fair enough.”

“I’ve always had a crap time on Valentine’s Day, so it would have made up for all those years when I didn’t even get a card.”

“You always get cards, Ellen. For as long as I’ve known you you’ve always got loads.”

“Only from nutters who watch me on the news, not proper boys.”

“Well, now you’ve got a proper boy, and the ring to prove it.”

“I know. Christ. I still can’t really believe it.”

“Tell me everything. What did he say? What did you say? Everything.”

“I tried to play it cool, so I said I’d get back to him once I’d reviewed my options, but then the waiter brought the champagne over and I just caved. Who knew he’d turn out to be the future Mr. Malone? Isn’t life grand?”

“I suppose we’d better stop calling him Dirty Harry now. It’s not very bridal.”

“Oh, I don’t know: Ellen Malone, do you take Dirty Harry as your lawful, I quite like it.”

“What’s the ring like?”

“Fucking huge.”

“Clever boy.”

“So will you be my bridesmaid then?”

“Don’t thirty-eight-year-olds with two kids have to be matrons?”

“Bollocks to that --- it’s too Carry On Night Nurse. I want you to be my bridesmaid; I’m thinking pink lace crinolines. With matching gloves.”

“Oh, God.”

“Or possibly Vera Wang.”

“That sounds more like it.”

“And the boys in kilts.”

“Harry, in a kilt?”

“No, you idiot, my godsons.”

“My Jack and Archie, in kilts?”

“Yes. What do you think?”

“I think it depends on how big the bribe’s going to be.”


“No problem then, although we’d better not let them have daggers in their socks or it could get tricky. Have you told your mum and dad yet?”

“I’m building up to it. Actually, it’s going to be one of your main bridesmaid duties, stopping Mum trying to turn this into a family wedding. I hate most of them anyway, and they hate me. I just want people I really, truly like.”

“So no need for a big church then, since there’ll only be about six of us.”

“Exactly. Here, talk to Harry.”

“Morning, Jo.”

“Congratulations, Harry.”

“Thanks, darling, and you’ll do the bridesmaid thing, because I’m counting on you to calm her down.”

“How exactly do you think I’m going to pull that one off?”

“Drugs? One of my uncles knows a bloke who can probably slip us some horse tranquilizers; that should slow her down a bit. You’ll have to do something or I’ll be forced to make a run for it.”

“Don’t you dare. Anyway, she’d find you.”

There’s a scuffling noise, and Ellen comes back on the line.

“Harry’s just fallen over.”

“Has he? How mysterious.”

“I don’t think his leg’s completely up to speed yet.”

“No, and it won’t be if you keep pushing the poor man over. He’s only just had the plaster off.”

“He tripped. Look, I’d better go, darling, he’s making toast and he always burns it.”

“Put a new toaster down on your wedding list then. A Harry-proof one.”

“Christ, I’d forgotten about the wedding list. God, the amount of money I’ve spent over the years on bloody lists. Brilliant: it’s finally payback time.”

“John Lewis do a good one, I think.”

“Please. I’m thinking Cath Kidston, the White Company. Actually, I wonder if Prada do a list --- I bet they do --- and I’m thinking registry office, like you did with Nick, so my mum ---doesn’t get the chance to cover the local church in horrible satin ribbon.”

“That might work, you know, like that man who wraps up whole mountains.”

“Yes, but Christo doesn’t dot mini-baskets of freesias everywhere, or make everyone wear carnation buttonholes. God, I wish I could see you. Why don’t you come up here for the day and Harry can limp round a museum with the boys while we start planning?”

“I’d love to, but I’ve got lunch with Elizabeth and Gerald.”

“Oh, Christ, I’d forgotten. Sorry, darling.”

“Do I have to wear black, do you think?”

“Of course not, sweetheart. Wear what you like.”

“She wanted us to go to the morning service at the church, but I said we couldn’t get there in time, so they’ll all be in their best Sunday outfits. James and Fiona and the girls will be there too. God, I bet they all have hats.”

“You could always wear your bobble hat.”

“So they look like they’re off to Ascot and I look like a tramp?”

“Just wear what you feel comfortable in.”

“You don’t think turning up in my pajamas will look a bit odd?”

“Not if you top it off with a woolly hat; very bohemian and deconstructed: Björk, with a hint of grieving widow. What about your black trousers, the ones you wear with your boots?”

“I’ve already tried them, but I can only get the zip done up if I lie on the floor. I think they must have shrunk.”


“I think I may have been overdoing it slightly on the biscuits when I’m in the shop. And it’s bound to rain. Do you remember how much it rained at the funeral? I thought the vicar was going to fall in at one point, or Archie, and Christ knows how much therapy you’d need after falling headfirst into your dad’s grave. Quite a lot, is my guess.”

“The bastards would probably make you sign a direct-debit form before they let you in the door.”

“Do you think I should take flowers? The boys have written letters and drawn some pictures.”


“They spent hours on them. Jack’s done one of the new house, to show him where we’re living now, and Archie’s done one of Trevor, and a boat. But I haven’t got anything to take.”

“Darling, you should have reminded me. Look, I can drive down. What time are you leaving?”

“No, it’s fine, I’m just fussing. Flowers will be fine. I’ll get some at Sainsbury’s on the way, and you have a lovely day celebrating with Harry. I’ll call you when I’m back.”




“Nothing. It’s just I feel such a fraud. I should be the grieving widow, but I’m still so furious with him. I thought I’d be into the acceptance thing by now, or maybe even forgiveness, but I’m not. I mean I forgive him about the affair. It’s weird, but I’m really past that. Maybe my mini-moment in Venice with Daniel helped me with that one, sort of put everything into perspective, and stopped me feeling like a total reject.”

“I’m sure it did, darling.”

“But I still can’t forgive him for planning to leave the boys. I’m nowhere near closure on that one. Nowhere near.”

“Of course you’re not. Why would you be? Christ, he finally gets promoted and you think you’re off to a new life as the Wife of the Foreign Correspondent, but it turns out he’s having an affair and wants a divorce, and the night he tells you he manages to kill himself in a car crash. Why would you have closure on something like that? It’ll take years.”

“Thanks, that’s very encouraging.”

“Darling, you’re doing great, fantastic, actually. Instead of going under you’ve got on with it, with all the debts and the second bloody mortgage he didn’t even bother to tell you about. You’ve sold up and moved to the back of bloody beyond so you can work in your gran’s wool shop, and before you say it, yes, I know it’s your shop now, and you’ve made a brilliant job of it and you’re new best friends with the Diva and everything. Official knitting coach to Amazing Grace, but still. I’d be fucking furious with him. In fact it’s a good job he crashed that car because I’d have killed him myself if I’d got my hands on him. Bastard.”

That’s one of the best things about Ellen: she’s so brilliantly partisan. She never sees both sides of the argument, or tells you to calm down and think about it from someone else’s point of view. And she was so great last year, with the funeral and everything. Christ knows how I’d have got through it without her.

“I know, Ellen, but it was partly my fault, you know.”

“Oh, please, not the guilt-trip thing again. How could it possibly have been your fault?”

“I should have known, about the money. I should have worked it out. And if I’d been less wrapped up in the boys, maybe I would have noticed how bored he was getting. When I think about it, I could see he was unraveling, but I tried to ignore it. He got so furious when I tried to talk to him about it, so I left it.”

“And I suppose it was your fault he was shagging the teenage UN worker, was it?”

“She was twenty-six, Ellen.”

“Twenty-six, sixteen, makes no difference, just better clothes. Now pull yourself together, darling. He fucked up, big time. And it wasn’t your fault, but you’re left picking up the pieces. It’s bollocks whichever way you look at it.”

“I suppose so. Although I love living here now.”

“I know you do, Pollyanna. You’ve always been good at seeing the bright side what’s that lemon thing again?”

“If life deals you lemons, you just make lemonade.”


We both start to giggle.

“What a load of rubbish --- it sounds just like something your Diva would say, like her line about how people can only turn you over if you let them; it’s all in your karma.”

“Yes, but I think there’s some truth in that, you know.”

“Oh, definitely. It’s very good karma if you’re incredibly rich and freakishly thin and your last three movies were hits. Not quite so easy if you’re working in Burger King and the onion rings have just got flame-grilled into oblivion.”


“How is our Amazing Grace, by the way? Is motherhood suiting her?”

“Very much, last time I saw her. And she’s looking even more fabulous than before she had the baby, sort of glowing. I know it sounds like rubbish, but she really is. And the baby’s gorgeous. I’m doing a new-baby window display for the shop; I’ve been knitting baby things for days now. It’s been a bit weird --- it reminds me of knitting when I was pregnant with Archie, which hasn’t exactly helped.”

“You’ll be fine today, you’ll see. Now are you sure you don’t want me to come down?”

“Sure. You’re right. It’ll be fine, and at least there’s been some good news today.”


“My best friend’s getting married, and I’ll be in peach Vera Wang with gloves and a bobble hat.”

“Call me when you get home, promise?”


“And if Elizabeth gets too annoying, just hit her. Pretend you’ve gone into widow hysterics and deck the old bag. You’ll feel so much better, trust me.”

“I must just try that.”

“Hurrah. God, I really wish I was coming down now.”

Needles and Pearls
by by Gil McNeil

  • Genres: Chick Lit, Fiction
  • paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Voice
  • ISBN-10: 1401341292
  • ISBN-13: 9781401341299