CHAPTER ONE Extract
My life began like a fairytale – I was born under a roof of stars in the plum orchard at the bottom of the garden. It would’ve stayed that way if my father hadn’t stolen me away.
It was as I awoke on the morning of the winter Solstice, not long before my fortieth birthday, that I heard Gangan’s voice in my head after an absence of many years.
“Magic happens, Fable dear,” she said. “Be ready.”
The voice was thread-like and silvery but it carried a hint of her laughter. I had no idea if she was alive or dead. When our daughter Cara was born, Tony persuaded me to stop trying to trace Gangan and my mother, Jasmine.
“It’s best to draw a line under that episode of your life,” he’d said. “After all, people like that would only be a bad influence on her.”
“You’ve never met them,” I’d said. “You don’t know what they’re like.”
“They may not still be alive,” he’d said bluntly, his mouth pulling tight at the corners. “And where your mother’s concerned – once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I want Cara to grow up with more chances than you’ve had. I don’t want her to have any problems – there’s enough in life as it is without introducing alcoholics and gypsies into the equation.”
Tony knew nothing about my childhood – other than what he’d gleaned from my father just after our marriage. He hadn’t been interested when I’d tried to tell him some of the magical stories that had shaped my world.
“Best to draw a line under the past and move on,” was his motto. I’d also discovered that he was good at re-writing history. A few weeks ago I’d overheard him on the phone telling someone he worked with about how he’d grown up in Epsom and had tennis lessons every Saturday. When I challenged him about it, he denied that he’d said it.
“You must be imagining things again,” he said coldly.
Since his mother died last year, and he stopped speaking to his brother, I must be the only person who knows he grew up in a terraced house with no bathroom in the back-streets of Croydon. Whatever he says about my childhood, we had an indoor bathroom at ‘Starlight’ so why has he always imagined that I grew up in a primitive environment?
The problems with our marriage began to show before Cara was born. For over sixteen years I’ve tried to pretend everything’s fine, now I know it’s time to move on. All destructive family situations rely on the characters involved continuing to play the same parts. Change only happens when someone stands up and says ‘I want to be the princess, not the goose girl.’ I was ready to make that change now – but I didn’t know how.
As soon as I heard Gangan’s voice the memories began flooding back. When I was a child, we always celebrated the Winter Solstice with a bonfire, roasting chestnuts and potatoes in the ashes. Then we’d have tarot readings and make wishes for the New Year.
After Tony and Cara had left the house, I stood washing the breakfast dishes looking out at the frosted garden to where the first pink streaks that heralded the sunrise showed behind the houses at the bottom of our garden. Plane trails gleamed apricot and crimson across the bleached canvas of the sky. Thoughts and memories felt like tangled wool inside my head and I didn’t know how to begin to unravel it.
“Magic happens, Fable dear,” said Gangan’s voice – a little stronger now, “but you have to help yourself.”
I left the washing up in the sink, ignoring the mass of sticky toast crumbs on the breakfast table, and went outside, gathering the things I needed as I went. From our back garden, I knew I’d be able to see the sun rise behind the rectangular gap between two houses in the road behind us.
I wrapped myself in an old car rug, sat cross-legged on a scrap of carpet on the lawn and waited. The air was sharp and clear, smelling faintly of apples, and my breath hung in white clouds.
The sky above the horizon intensified from coral pink to crimson, yellow and gold as the orange ball of the sun rose into the sky. As it did so, I made my wishes feeling a champagne bubble of excitement in my stomach.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Tony was white with anger, his voice barely rising above a whisper. He grabbed my wrist, dragging me indoors, banging my head against the kitchen door-frame in his haste to get me indoors before the neighbours saw.
“How long’s this sort of thing been going on?” he demanded.
“What d’you mean?”
I caught sight of myself in the hall mirror. My auburn hair looked wild, my face pale with shock. A bruise was starting to show above my right eyebrow which would no doubt be passed off as another of ‘Mum’s accidents’ when Cara came home from school.
“What d’you mean?” he mimicked, his pin-stripe suited body poised to strike at me. “What am I supposed to think? I come home because I’ve forgotten some papers for court to find you doing some weird ritual in my back garden.”
“I was watching the sunrise,” I said, my lips feeling stiff and dry. “I’m sorry if you think that’s weird.”
The phone rang. Tony answered it, slamming down the receiver when he’d finished speaking.
“You’ve made me late now,” he said accusingly. “And get this place cleaned up before I get back. The kitchen’s a disgrace.”
He left and I spent a few minutes finishing the breakfast dishes and cleaning the kitchen table. The fizzy excited feeling was still inside me, despite Tony’s reaction - a renewal of the earth’s energy that matched the need for change inside me.
I felt too fidgety to stay in the house. I needed to do something to mark the occasion. I pulled on my purple woollen jacket and gloves and walked into Enderbury town centre – going via the footpaths so that I could look at the frost-rimed leaves and rosehips, walking slowly looking for clues in nature like Gangan always told me to.
Her voice was silent now and I almost wondered if I’d imagined it this morning – after all I’d been sleeping badly for sometime. Then near the old market hall I discovered a new shop. The name in black gothic lettering above the fuchsia pink door said “Synchronicity.”
“There are no coincidences, Fable,” Gangan used to say. “Synchronicity – that’s what makes the world go round. Magic happens, and all stories are true.”
It was Gangan who’d told me that fairytales were the original counselling tools. “Very useful things, fairytales,” she’d chuckle, wiping a dribble of saliva from her whiskery chin, “and completely wasted on children. They’re problem solving tools really.”
She wore twin sets in sugared almond colours – cream, pink, lilac and purple – and a silver pendant with a large pink crystal in it.
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