‘You beat me to it,’ she says.
‘Guess what,’ I say, grimly.
‘I know. But it’s not so bad!’
‘It’s terrible!’ I say. ‘And how do you know, anyway? I haven’t told you yet.’
‘You can’t pretend you’re still 43 to me,’ she laughs. ‘People are always asking how you can be so much younger than me if we were at school together!’
‘Oh no, not that. The horror of turning 50 has paled into insignificance. Gitface has just rung to say he’s cutting us off without a penny. Lily’s going to have to change school. I’m going to have to get a job. Which is ridiculous, as well he knows, because I can’t do anything!’
‘Oh Eliza. But he can’t do that, can he? Legally?’
‘I don’t know. He says he hasn’t got any money left, but he must have, mustn’t he? He had millions.’
‘I think you should ring your lawyer before you do anything else. Sorry, I'm in the middle of making soup, but I want to hear all about it when you come over, OK?’
Soup. Hmmm. I open the fridge and do a quick scan. Feta cheese has gone fetid. Chuck that out. I take a bite out of a lump of cheddar and stuff a handful of baby salad leaves straight from the bag into my mouth. Right, call Helen.
Helen’s at lunch. Quite relieved, since my indignation has turned to gloom at notion of ever having to speak to family solicitor again. Not that she’s not very nice. Just feel overwhelming sense of being pulled by invisible threads (attached to invisible poisoned darts that are stabbing me in the back) to a time and place I’d put behind me.
Will call Dan instead. He usually makes me laugh.
‘Hulloo!’ he says in his fake jolly country gentleman voice. ‘Happy Easter, Lize!’
‘Fanks, Dan,’ I respond in the daft voice that my brother and I reserve for each other. Then, rapidly changing back to an ominous tone, ‘Guess what.’
‘Bastard Gitface-features has just called up to tell me he’s pulling the plug on my divorce settlement.’
‘I’m surprised he’s been able to pay it for so long,’ says Dan.
‘He’s a bloody multi-millionaire!’
‘In which case, why is he pulling the plug?’
‘Because, allegedly, he has no money left.’
‘Where’s it gone? On your shopping?’
‘Ha ha. Bad investments, I imagine. He must be lying, though. Surely. It can’t have all gone.’
‘What did he say?’
‘He said that he’s lost everything in the financial crisis and he’s not going to shell out for Lily’s school fees or our rent any more. I thought it was fishy when he sold the Chelsea flat last year, but he couched it in all these ‘won’t it be nice for you and Lily to go and live in the country near your schoolfriends and Lily will love your old school’ kind of terms. He said he wanted to streamline his operations or consolidate his assets or something, but maybe he was already skint and needed the money to pay off his debts. For rent boys probably.’
‘This sounds to me very much as if his toyboy has finally left his wife and they’re taking his children on themselves, and they’re going to prioritise his children over his own flesh and blood, which really annoys me. And if he comes near me, I’m going to run him over. Has he started to wear newly trendy clothes? Because that’s starting to annoy me too and if he’s doing that I’m going to take him out and punch him.’
‘Since he lives in Singapore currently, I’m not sure about the clothing… but I think you’re right. Why would he keep on paying this long and then suddenly pull the plug? It’s always when they move on in their personal life…’
‘… that their old life is history. If I were going to Singapore, which I’m not, I’d punch him. But I am going to France at the end of the month and travel is travel and I’ll keep an eye out for him and if I see him I’ll punch him.’
There’s a pause, then Dan continues. ‘Wait a minute? He’s a wanker! Hasn’t he just been given a massive bonus?’
‘In his defence, I think they’ve made loads of cuts at USBC…’
‘Well I hope they’re going to save a nastier fate for him than being given the sack.’
There's a pause while we imagine suitably nastier fates, such as being trapped naked in a jar full of Singapore's fattest cockroaches, before I ask, ‘So what am I going to do?’
‘Are you seriously telling me you haven’t set up a fund between you to pay for Lily’s education?’
‘Well, not per se. But we agreed on the maintenance, which included private school fees to the end of time, university fees, etc, and we had it finalised by the court, so it should be legally binding…’
‘Except he’s been embezzling it.’
‘Effectively, so it seems.’
‘Can’t you do him for theft?’
‘Hmmm.’ That’s a thought. ‘A bit like Robert Maxwell.’
‘Is that what he did? Steal everyone’s school fees?’
‘There you go. Sue him!’ There’s a pause, while we consider this. I’ll run it past Helen. ‘Have you thought of selling your body?’ continues Dan in an encouraging voice. ‘Mind you, 50 years old, you’re not going to get much.’
‘You’re just going to have to get a job, like other people.’
‘You’re saying that in a distinctly Gitfacey way.’
‘Maybe it’s a male way? Do you think you’re above getting a job?’
‘No! I’d love a job.’
‘So on the positive side, this is the opportunity you’ve been looking for…’
‘No! Because I haven’t got the experience to do anything that I should be doing at my age.’
‘Ah. So how are you going to pay for Lily’s school fees?’
‘Well, I thought Uncle Dan might…’
A great guffaw erupts in my ear. ‘Unfortunately, Lize, Uncle Dan has five cows, four pigs, six sheep, eight chickens, four geese, two horses, five acres, a tractor and a barn to keep in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.’
‘Thanks. So I suppose I’m just going to have to use the dreg-ends of my inheritance which will last for about another term and a bit…’
‘Well if that’s all you’ve got, you might as well spend it.’
‘What else are you going to do with 10 grand?’
‘Really? You don’t think it’s worth anything? A lot of people would give their eye teeth for 10 grand.’
‘Yes, but only with a view to spending it...’
‘…Not with a view to keeping them in their old age, because 10 grand’s not enough to live on. No, I think you should use it to keep her in a nice cossetted prep school environment and get her really accustomed to it before taking her out and shoving her into a nice rough comprehensive. Only, having spent the last of your inheritance, you won’t even be able to afford to buy her a decent knife.’
‘Are you saying I should take her out then?’
‘No. I think it would be a bit mean taking her out half way through the year.’ Dan is sounding serious now. Though it's hard to tell the difference between his serious and his deadpan sarcastic. ‘Keep her in till the end of the summer term and then take a view…. Right, I’m where I have to go now. Good luck, Lize, and...' he switches into daft brotherly speak, '...hap-py birfday, Loize!’
‘Fanks,’ I say pathetically.