The Daughter In Law – Nina Manning (digital sample)

Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘The Daughter in Law’ by Nina Manning.

Prologue 

I sat very still and felt the fear wash through me as the reality of the situation became clear. Little shots of pain pulsated around my body; my abdomen contracted. I felt dizzy and realised that at any point I could lose consciousness. I never thought it would be so easy to surrender myself but teetering on the edge here, I was faced with a choice: carry on or give up. 

I tried to cast my mind back to a time when everything made sense, but I couldn’t remember when that was. He was supposed to save me. Now I was lost and another part of me was missing. What was the point in fighting any more? Where could I go from here? I knew I deserved this. It had been inevitable. I had got away with it for too many years already. This was my comeuppance. 

Yet somewhere deep within me, a spark was still ignited. If I concentrated hard enough, I could feel it whirring quietly, like a small vibration. An instinct was pushing me forward, forcing me to fight and recover what was mine. It was a desire that was becoming more urgent. I knew what I needed to do and somehow, I would try to push past the weight of despair to find my way to the light again. To find my way to my love. And to the beautiful gift that was stolen from me. 

Page BreakChapter 1 

Annie 

My favourite room is the spare bedroom at the front of the house. It gets all the light in the morning and looks so inviting. I’ve done it up like a picture I saw in a lifestyle magazine: a checked throw across the end of the bed, floral sheets and hooked back curtains, a little wicker chair in the corner with a few well-read paperbacks stacked on top of it, and a white vase on the bedside table. It really is the most comforting place to be. Of course, no one ever uses it. I like to keep the house looking nice. But it was only ever going to be me and my son. 

Getting out of bed was particularly hard this morning. It has been every morning since Ben left. I keep thinking, what is the point? I’ve been feeling that empty hopelessness for several months now. Since Ben deserted me. 

For her. 

I’d heard all about empty nest syndrome but I never imagined for a moment it would happen to me. I never actually thought he would leave. I thought we would just keep existing together. Forever. 

He kept so much of his stuff here initially, that I felt sure he would return – but just last month, he came and took the lot. 

It’s so quiet here now. It was quiet anyway, that’s why I took the house. It’s the house I grew up alone in with my father, but fled from as soon as I was able to support myself. 

How do you define an unhappy childhood? In those days it was unheard of to make an allegation about your relative. I accepted the violence – it was, after all, part of him and all I had ever known. Throughout my motherless upbringing, the beach house provided a sanctuary for me with plenty of places to hide. I got stealthier as I grew and with my legs pulled up tightly into my chest and my head pressed to my knees, I would squeeze myself into an alcove, the airing cupboard or the shed with the ringing sound of my father’s threats in my ear. Later on, I would sneak out and find my way back to my bedroom past my father’s drunken snores. The next day he wouldn’t remember a thing. Had I not been able to escape down to the shore to skim pebbles or poke about in rock pools, then I would have run away sooner. The sea kept me safe. But as soon as I turned sixteen I took myself hundreds of miles away. I never heard a whisper from my father, who had told me daily I reminded him too much of my brazen excuse of a mother. Then he was dead and the beach house was mine. I left it sitting empty for a while, too scared to return, too busy trying to salvage my own marriage. Then Ben arrived and I knew it was time. 

When I returned here all those years later with my son, it was fairly run down and rotting in places I couldn’t get to, much like my father for all those years. The brown weather-worn cladding needed a sand down and varnish and the white framed windows were peeling, but overall the exterior wasn’t so bad. I did the best I could with it and I could overlook most of the natural decay when I scanned the vast horizon and breathed in the fresh sea air. 

It’s a remote spot, perched right on the edge of the peninsular before it slopes round into the sea. Standing in the garden or looking out of the window, you would be forgiven for thinking there were no houses for miles, but there is one around along the shore and to the left and then they begin to scatter more frequently as they feed towards the village. People rarely walk this far down as the shore is a little more rustic with huge pieces of driftwood and great mounds of seaweed washing up daily. Besides, the stretch of beach at the end of the garden and over the low battered wall essentially belongs to me. We are protected a little from the wind by a few surrounding trees, but it does get a little breezy here at times. But when it’s still and the sea looks like a flat piece of mirror you could walk across, that’s when I love it the most. Of course, I love the waves too, especially the ferocious ones that thrust themselves towards the wall. I like to watch those waves and feel my own fury in them. 

A house on the seafront, much like a savannah plain, is the perfect spot to see when enemies are approaching. And anyone who tries to come between me and my son, I consider an enemy. 

But despite the weather and the waves, I know the house is empty. And although I try to fill my days with mundane daily tasks, I too feel empty. I need to feel fulfilled again. I need my son back. Back where he belongs. 

There’s no one downstairs humming a tuneless song whilst they make their breakfast. There are no dirty trainers in the hallway, or piles of washing in the laundry basket. There are no toast crumbs on the kitchen side, or butter streaks in the marmite. The house is so eerily quiet. I have never experienced this. Not since having Ben. I forced all the bad memories away from the time I lived here as a child and made it all about me and Ben. It’s our sanctuary; our hub. Our place away from the world. 

Now he’s gone. He hardly texts or rings. She has him wrapped around her little finger. Calling all the shots no doubt. 

It was a real shock when Ben told me he had met someone. It was more of a shock when he told me he had gone and got himself married. He had been spending a lot of time at her house, that I knew. But I had no idea things had evolved so quickly. And to have done it without telling me, his own mother, first. We used to be so close. I am not coping so well. 

I did the right thing, of course. I invited them over for something to eat – mostly because I needed to get a good look at the woman who thinks she has replaced me. 

But I know it’s only temporary. I can’t be replaced. My son can’t live without me. 

The thought of her coming into my house tomorrow, the woman who I have never met who has taken my son away from me, was almost too much to bear. But I caught the despair before it developed into something more distressing and just felt thankful that Ben was coming home to see his mum. 

I stood in the front spare room, letting the light from the morning sun heal me all over. The faint salty smell from the shore just a few feet away creeps through the open window. I could hear the gentle lap of the waves and I like the way a little of nature sneaks inside. Even on a bitter winter’s day like today this room brings with it a feeling of hope. A promise that today will be the day. It’s encouraging me to feel something. And I can. Just about. The sun edges around the house to my bedroom later in the day – at different hours depending on the season – and occasionally I take my time to lie down and bask in its glorious rays. I almost go into a state of meditation. I’m not a meditator. I wouldn’t even know if I was doing it right. But something about it feels so relaxing that it must be doing something to my soul. 

I looked out of the window at the ocean at the way the morning light glitters across the tips of the waves. It still fills me with awe and a profound sense of invigorating peace. I couldn’t possibly be anywhere else but here. I chose well when I decided to raise a family here. 

Ben and I made some glorious memories. 

I like to get out at least two or three times a week. Since retiring from the pharmaceutical business a few years ago, I have endless units of the day to fill. Of course, when Ben was here I filled it with tending to his needs. Now it’s just me and the sudden spate of time before me every day. 

I drove my little blue Fiat car into the village, found a space in one of the bays and took my basket into the small greengrocer’s. It’s so nice that certain things just stay the same. I’ve been going there for over twenty years and it is still owned by the same lady that owned it back then. 

I walked into the grocer’s and heard the sound of the bell above the door let out its familiar ping. June looked up from behind the counter and beamed one of her smiles. 

‘Hello, Annie.’ 

‘Hello, June.’ I walked over to the vegetables and started placing items into my basket all the while thinking about what I would cook tonight. 

I have been so used to whipping up meals for the two of us that now I find cooking for one difficult. Ben has such an appetite that it was like cooking for a family of four. He would always go in for second and third helpings and finished up the leftovers without hesitation. 

So I started to freeze meals, my intention being that every time Ben visits I can send him off with a batch of homemade food. But he hasn’t visited. Not for over a month. And I cannot conceal the contempt I feel, the anger that begins in the pit of my stomach and then consumes me so I feel the need to run out to the wall at the bottom of the garden and scream into the vast ocean. 

I can’t imagine for a moment that Ben’s new wife has time to stand and cook a meal at the stove like I do. Of course, I couldn’t always cook. There was a time when cooking terrified me. But I had to do it. It was expected of me and once I began, I enjoyed it. Being able to create something from raw ingredients and watch it develop into something wholesome and magnificent is truly a satisfying experience. 

‘Any tomatoes today?’ June hollered, wrenching me from my thoughts. ‘Got some lovely ones over here.’ She pointed to a large box of ripe red tomatoes next to her. 

‘Oh yes, go on then.’ I walked over to the counter. ‘I’ll take six.’ I thought about Ben as I watched June choosing the tomatoes and how he loved one grilled for his breakfast. 

‘How’s things today, Annie?’ June took a brown paper bag and started dropping the shiny red fruit into it. 

‘Oh, you know. Same as,’ I said as I looked away from her and out of the window. 

‘How’s that boy of yours getting on then?’ 

I began imagining Ben as a small boy when he would run around this very grocery store and help me count out the vegetables. 

‘Yes, you know, same as usual.’ I felt a pang in my stomach, a gut tightening feeling and I was overcome for a moment with sadness that Ben wasn’t that little boy any more, that June couldn’t comment on his floppy dark locks and tell me he was the apple of my eye, and I would nod and say yes, he was my everything. 

‘They are so busy at this age, aren’t they? Flitting about. No time to think of anyone but themselves.’ 

I nodded. ‘Yes, but he loves his mum.’ I didn’t even consider that I should share the news about his marriage. Or the other news. 

June smiled at me and handed me the brown paper bag. 

I left the grocer’s with the dinging of the bell in my ears. As I stepped out of the shop I turned right to go to the butcher’s. Between the grocer’s and the butcher’s was a small electrical store selling LED TVs and docking stations and all the modern appliances young people couldn’t live without these days. As far as I was concerned the shop was an eye sore. And as for that colossal TV screen in the window, I mean, who needs a sixty-inch television in their lounge? But today as I passed, I couldn’t help but turn my head to look at the image showing on the TV that towered above me and suddenly something was so very familiar. I tripped slightly and the basket slipped from my fingers. I didn’t look down at the tomatoes that had fallen out, but I knew the ripe fruit would now be a red smashed mess around my feet. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. I could feel bile rising in the back of my throat and I thought I could very well be sick. The size and imposition of the TV was instrumental in showing in full HD colour, a news report with the headlines underneath. 

And above that, the face of the person I’d hoped I would never see again. 

 

We hope you enjoyed this extract. To read more, buy the novel here: https://amzn.to/31c76W6