Thursday, 19 November 2015

Giveaway: Doesn't Everyone Have a Secret by Sue Shepherd






Meet Penny Littlejohn

Penny Littleton left her flat; she closed the shiny red front door behind her, tapped the brass door-knocker three times and skipped down the small stone steps, counting ‘one, two, three’ as she descended. This was the routine that she’d done every morning for about the last two years, ever since the day that she’d tripped on the top step and fallen. The routine had developed and now she felt immensely uncomfortable if she tried to leave without doing it.

‘Morning. It’s a lovely day,’ she called to the postman.

He was used to this behaviour, so without so much as a raised eyebrow he waved and responded with, ‘Yeah. I think it’s going be a warm one.’

Penny was a PA to a businessman; he was in the public eye a lot, which unfortunately meant that so was she. She felt embarrassed whenever people saw her odd behaviour, even though the postman was kind enough not to comment. She was going to have to do something about her habits.

Tapping the roof of her car three times before getting in and driving to work, Penny realised that she couldn’t even remember why that routine had started.

Bustling in to the office, she immediately telephoned her boss. ‘Mr Clarke, hi, it’s Penny. I’m calling to remind you that you’re doing another motivational speech at the Golf Club today. They were really pleased with the one last year. They were … well … umm … motivated!’

‘Yes, yes, I know Penny, you texted me last night before you went to sleep at about midnight!’

‘Did I? Yes I think I did. I know I did. But then it’s better to be safe than sorry.’ Penny tried a nervous laugh.

‘There’s safe, there’s really extra safe and then, unfortunately, there is you. Penny, I’m really sorry but I am going to have to say something to you which I’ve been meaning to say for a while; if you can’t curb the amount of times you remind me about things, and the number of times you check that inanimate objects haven’t sprouted legs and toddled off, and the number of times you insist on touching my bald head for luck, I’m going to have to let you go!’

‘Yes, Mr Clarke, you are absolutely right and no one could blame you for … do I really touch your head, Mr Clarke?’

Mr Clarke roared down the telephone, ‘Yes, Penny, you do; once in front of a TV camera and once when we met the bloody Prime Minister.’ Taking a breath he tried to calm down because he did feel great affection for Penny despite the fact that she’d never lived up to the efficiency her CV had promised. In a softer voice he added, ‘You’ve holiday due to you, Penny. It would be a good time for you to take it now, things are quiet. Take a couple of weeks off, I’m quite able to control my own diary for a while. If it all gets too much for me, I’ll ask my sister to help out. Get some help for your er … erm … ticks and come back refreshed. You could see a therapist or something, there’s no shame in it. I’ll even foot the bill … OK, Penny?’

‘If you insist, Mr. Clarke. Sorry erm … I could do with a bit of a break actually. I am owed holiday, yes, sorry.’ Whilst talking, Penny had tidied up all the paperclips and was silently counting them. She found it very comforting to count objects. Next she counted the spotlights in the ceiling, even though she knew off by heart how many there were. Twelve, a comforting number, because it was divisible by three.

Tuning back in to the telephone call, she added, ‘Now don’t forget you have the Golf Club today and it’s your sister’s birthday next week and …’

With a sigh and almost in defeat, Mr Clarke declared, ‘I can manage, Penny, honestly.’ If he was honest, sometimes it was easier when she wasn’t there but he would feel awful if he had to let her go.

Penny didn’t want to say it, but the need was so strong. It was like a tight ball in her ribcage, she knew she couldn’t hang up without asking, ‘Sorry ‒ one last thing, Mr Clarke?’

Mr Clarke answered almost in despair. ‘OK, anything, any one thing, as long as it really is the last thing.’

‘Can you check that your gas rings are off, please? I didn’t check them when I left your house after going through the mail with you last night. You know I always like to check them just in case I might’ve bumped into them and switched them on by accident.’

‘If they weren’t turned off, Penny, I would be lying on the floor gasping my last breath.’

‘Yes I know that, Mr Clarke, and I really do wish that was enough for me, sorry, but could you just check again please, for me?’

There was the sound of Mr Clarke making his way into the kitchen, a sigh as he bent down, and then he finished the telephone call with, ‘They’re off, Penny, and so are you. Go get some help, take a break and call me in a couple of weeks to let me know how you’re doing.’


Doesn't Everyone Have a Secret? is out now.



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