Oh! Someone calling to wish me a happy birthday!
‘Hello?’ I chirp.
My heart simultaneously races and plummets at the sound of his voice. ‘Hi,’ I return, a little too brightly. Gitface is not going to ruin an already grim day.
‘Happy birthday,’ he says.
‘Thanks.’ Actually, I’m rather touched he’s remembered.
‘So how is it, now you’ve reached the big 5-0?’
‘Fine. Great. Really good! I’m having a tea par...’
‘Eliza,’ he cuts me off. ‘There’s something I um … well, I need to talk to you.’
He clears his throat. ‘You know the financial situation at the moment?’
‘Your financial situation or the global financial situation?’
‘One and the same thing. Both in crisis. That’s what I need to talk to you about.’ His business voice has kicked in. ‘I can’t keep forking out. You’re going to have to stand on your own two feet.’
‘Four between us. Eight, actually, counting Dusty.’
‘I think you should go back to work,’ he says.
My heart thuds. This is the moment I’ve been dreading. To have and to hold, till death us do part. Ha. Till I get pregnant and it turns out you’ve been rogering half the male population of Hong Kong, more like. Hollow vows.
‘It’s about time,’ says Gitface.
My mind is racing. What’s the best line of counter-attack? His Achilles’ heel? Nope, doesn’t have one. Tug on his heartstrings? Nope, none of them either.
‘Eliza, don’t do this. Can’t you be reasonable about it?’
‘I haven’t said anything yet.’
‘I know that silence when I hear it. Passive resistance.’
Maybe I’ll tackle his word of honour? You said we’d always have the flat in Chelsea! You said you’d always provide for us! ‘Don’t worry,’ you said. ‘I’ll see Lily through school and university, set her up in her own flat. I’ll always be her father.’ Yeah right, as Lily would say.
‘Lily’s only 12,’ I point out.
‘Well, that’s about the right age to go to secondary school, isn’t it?’
‘She just moved school, remember?’ I’m boiling now. ‘You were the one who evicted us and made us rent this godforsaken shoebox in the sticks!’
‘I thought you liked it there with all your old schoolfriends around…’
‘Yes, well it’s fine, now we’re getting used to it,’ I snap. ‘But my point is, she was perfectly happy in London, and all set to move to secondary school at 11, when you had the bright idea of her going to my old school to get her in the swing of boarding for Marlborough.’
‘Well it made sense at the time. Before the stock market crashed again.’
‘So now you’ve disrupted our lives once – well, twice actually, counting your first little bombshell – you want to do it all over again? Lily’s just beginning to make local friends. She’s only got one more year at the Manor. If we move her again... well, the disruption... I don’t think it’s fair on her. And if she’s going to pass the Common Entrance...’
‘There is no Marlborough, Eliza. I haven’t got the money.’
‘But we’ve had her down since birth.’ I am incredulous. He was insistent that any child of his had to go to his alma mater. Besides which he has millions. He can’t have lost them all.
‘As a goodwill gesture...’ he begins.
‘Thanks a bunch!’ I blurt out.
‘...I’ll pay your rent until the end of term.’
The rent? He’s cutting us off completely? My heart is now skittering around like a mad horse in a horsebox. ‘And what are we going to live on after that?’
‘That’s what I’m trying to tell you. You have to get a job, like everybody else.’
‘Doing what? You know I don’t have any qualifications. I haven’t worked for over 20 years!’
‘I know. I’ve allowed you to become lazy.’
He changes tone. ‘Fifty,’ he says thoughtfully. ‘You can look back on this as the day you finally grew up.’
If this telephone had a wire and he were on the same continent as me, I’d throttle him with it.
‘Yes, you’re right,’ I say. ‘A very good plan. I can feel myself growing up as we speak. I’m going to start applying for jobs this minute. Goodbye.’ I slam the phone down. At least I would if you could slam phones down these days. In fact I jab the on/off button, breaking my fingernail in the process.
Aaagh! On so many levels.