She was good at what she did—acrylics, gels, shellac, nail art—and was proud of the attention she gave to her job, even if trade was sparse. It was the first thing she’d ever done that didn’t involve selling her body in one way or another. Marriage to Tommy was a financial transaction too, of course, but to Crystal’s way of thinking, you could be lap dancing for the fat sweaty patron of a so-called gentlemen’s club or you could be greeting Tommy Holroyd with a peck on the cheek and hanging his jacket up before laying his dinner before him. It was all part of the same spectrum as far as Crystal was concerned, but she knew which end of it she preferred. And, to quote Tina Turner, what does love have to do with it? Fig all, that was what. There was no shame in marrying for money—money meant security. Women had been doing it since time began. You saw it on all the nature programs on TV—build me the best nest, do the most impressive dance for me, bring me shells and shiny things. And Tommy was more than happy with the arrangement—she cooked for him, she had sex with him, she kept house for him. And in return she woke up every morning and felt one step further away from her old self. History, in Crystal’s opinion, was something that was best left behind where it belonged.
Modern physical appearance?
Crystal was hovering around thirty-nine years old and it took a lot of work to stay in this holding pattern. She was a construction, made from artificial materials—the acrylic nails, the silicone breasts, the polymer eyelashes. A continually renewed fake tan and a hairpiece fixed into her bleached-blond hair completed the synthetic that was Crystal.
A man whose daughter has just finished high school…
He was grinding toward fifty and for the last three months he had been living in a one-bedroom flat behind a fish-and-chip shop, ever since Wendy turned to him one morning over his breakfast muesli—he’d been on a short-lived health kick—and said, “Enough’s enough, don’t you think, Vince?,” leaving him slack-mouthed with astonishment over his Tesco Finest Berry and Cherry. Ashley had just set off on her gap year, backpacking around Southeast Asia with her surfer boyfriend. As far as Vince could tell, “gap year” meant the lull between him funding her expensive private school and funding her expensive university, a remission that was nonetheless still costing him her airfares and a monthly allowance.
As soon as Ashley had fledged, on an Emirates flight to Hanoi, Wendy reported to Vince that their marriage was dead. Its corpse wasn’t even cold before she was internet dating like a rabbit on speed, leaving him to dine off fish and chips most nights and wonder where it all went wrong. (Tenerife, three years ago, apparently.) “I got you some cardboard boxes from Costcutter to put your stuff in,” she said as he stared uncomprehendingly at her. “Don’t forget to clear out your dirty clothes from the basket in the utility room. I’m not doing any more laundry for you, Vince. Twenty-one years a slave. It’s enough.” This, then, was the return on sacrifice. You worked all the hours God gave, driving hundreds of miles a week in your company car, hardly any time for yourself, so your daughter could take endless selfies in Angkor Wat or wherever and your wife could report that for the last year she had been sneaking around with a local café owner who was also one of the lifeboat crew, which seemed to sanction the liaison in her eyes. (“Craig risks his life every time he goes out on a shout. Do you, Vince?” Yes, in his own way.) It clipped at your soul, clip, clip, clip.
He had trudged through his life for his wife and daughter, more heroically than they could imagine, and this was the thanks he received. Couldn’t be a coincidence that “trudge” rhymed with “drudge.” He had presumed that there was a goal to be reached at the end of all the trudging, but it turned out that there was nothing—just more trudging.
Despite being 67, Atkinson is familiar with Internet app culture:
Craig, the lifeboat man, had been jettisoned apparently in favor of the smorgasbord of Tinder.
“If only I’d listened to my poor mother,” Wendy said as she itemized the belongings he was allowed to take with him. Wendy who was getting so much money in the settlement that Vince barely had enough left for his golf-club fees. “Best I can do, Vince,” Steve Mellors said, shaking his head sadly. “Matrimonial law, it’s a minefield.” Steve was handling Vince’s divorce for him for free, as a favor, for which Vince was more than grateful. Steve was a corporate lawyer over in Leeds, and didn’t usually “dabble in divorce.” Neither do I, Vince thought, neither do I.
Now that regular novels are mostly about LGBTQIA characters and people with glamorous urban jobs, maybe mystery novels will end up being the best record of cisgender heterosexual working class life in the 21st century? Certainly they have always covered people in social classes ignored by writers of typical literary novels.
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