Read 31 Dream Street Online

Authors: Lisa Jewell

31 Dream Street

31 Dream Street

By the same author

Ralph’s Party

Thirtynothing

One-Hit Wonder

Friend of the Family

Vince and Joy

www.lisa-jewell.co.uk

31 Dream Street

LISA JEWELL

MICHAEL JOSEPH

an imprint of

PENGUIN BOOKS

MICHAEL JOSEPH

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi – 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Mairangi Bay, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

www.penguin.com

First published 2007
1

Copyright © Lisa Jewell, 2007

The moral right of the author has been asserted

All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright
reserved above, no part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior
written permission of both the copyright owner and
the above publisher of this book

EISBN: 978–0–141–90057–5

Dedicated to Kay, my beautiful mother. 1944–2005

The simplest questions are the most profound.

Where were you born?

Where is your home?

Where are you going?

What are you doing?

Think about these once in awhile, and watch your answers change.

Richard Bach,
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant

Messiah
, 1977

Acknowledgements

Thank you to my friends on the Board. I forgot to thank you last time, so you go first this time, to make up for it. I have no idea how other writers manage without having a place like ours to go when things get tough (or lonely, or silly, or annoying). I’m grateful to all of you.

Thank you to Sarah B, for, amongst many other things, seeing that Leo really needed to be Leah and to Judith for your wisdom, counsel, loyalty and top-notch editing skills.

Thank you to Mari, Liz, Rob, John, James, Naomi and everyone at Penguin who works so hard to make my books eye-catching, legible and widely available. And a special thank you to Louise Moore, for everything you have achieved for me over the past five years. Thank you for your vision, your belief and your friendship.

But mainly, after a year during which at some points it was hard to believe that I actually had to write a book on top of everything else, thank you to my sisters, my father and my husband for being there. I couldn’t have done it without any of you.

Prologue

Leah peered through the gap between her curtains at the house across the road.

Detached from its neighbours by both its position and its appearance, 31 Silversmith Road was an eccentric building which stood alone. It rose three storeys and had been built a hundred and fifty years earlier by a pair of retired silversmiths who’d chosen the location for its sweeping views towards the Hertfordshire countryside. To fully enjoy the view they’d commissioned an ornate wrought-iron veranda which wrapped itself round the entire ground floor. Nowadays anyone sitting on the veranda would enjoy a view of nothing more inspiring than the terrace of characterless Victorian cottages opposite and beyond that the upper floors of three brutal tower blocks, sprouting from the wilds of Enfield.

The silversmiths, an unconventional pair, had chosen to decorate the exterior of their home with brightly coloured tiles picked up from their travels around the bazaars and flea markets of the world. On either side of the front door were richly coloured tiled panels depicting peacocks, which lent the house its unofficial local name of the Peacock House. In fact, when describing to people exactly where in East Finchley she lived,
Leah would often say – you know, just opposite the Peacock House.

It looked more intriguing at night when it was lit up from the inside. It reminded Leah of a ceramic lamp she’d had in her bedroom as a child which was shaped like a mushroom with windows and doors cut out and little ceramic people who lived inside. She’d often fantasized about living inside that little mushroom-shaped house, all snug and cosy and safe from the elements. The Peacock House made her feel the same way. It was so inviting with its stained glass and its ornate tiles, its hanging lanterns and gables and plasterwork lions with chipped noses.

As she watched, the front door opened, and the Girl with the Guitar emerged. She and Amitabh had nicknames for all the people in the Peacock House. As well as the Girl with the Guitar, there was Old Skinny Guy, Young Skinny Guy, the Teenager, the Air Hostess and Sybil (so-called because she changed her image so frequently and so dramatically that Leah and Amitabh were convinced she must have a multiple personality disorder). The Girl with the Guitar stopped at the bottom of the front steps and lit a cigarette. Then she pushed a shank of black hair behind her ear, slung her guitar case over her shoulder and headed left, towards the High Road, the tips of her stiletto-heeled boots issuing a sharp metallic clack as she went.

Young Skinny Guy watched her, as he did every night, from his window on the second floor. His face was illuminated, as ever, by the light from his computer
monitor and his expression, as ever, was one of quiet, lovelorn resignation. He was a strange-looking fellow, not unattractive, but seemingly intent on making the worst of himself. His hair was an unrestrained mass of curls, verging on an Afro, and he had equally exuberant muttonchop sideburns which sprouted from each side of his face like angel wings. He rarely left the company of his PC and Leah had seen him leave the house probably only five times since she’d moved to Silversmith Road.

Leah had no idea who any of the people over the road were. She didn’t know their names or their relationships. She had no idea who owned the house or what the set-up was. Was it divided into bed-sits? Was it a house share? Or some kind of strange interbred family? She’d lived opposite the Peacock House for nearly three years, yet she’d never had a conversation with anyone who lived there. Never even exchanged nods or smiles. Leah was a curious person by nature. She liked to know what was what, who was who, how everything worked and fitted together. But she was also a Londoner who played by the rules regarding personal space and keeping yourself to yourself. So she sat and she watched and she wondered and she waited because she knew that one day, somehow, she’d find a way to answer all her questions.

Fifteen Years Earlier

1 August 1990

Toby,

Jemma and I are leaving for Cape Town tomorrow morning. I’m sorry we’ll miss your wedding next week, but I’m sure you understand.

I am enclosing a set of keys. I have bought you and Karen a house as a wedding gift. Peter got it at auction. I haven’t seen it, but Peter assures me it was a good buy. In need of some TLC, but structurally sound. Which is just as well, as this house also represents your inheritance. I thought it best you have something now as I will be abroad for the foreseeable future and, once Jemma and I start our new family, things will get complicated in terms of who gets what. Much simpler this way.

Property is the thing, Toby. You’re on the ladder now. I can see big things happening with the London property market. Make the most of it.

Peter says there’s one snag. A sitting tenant. I’m sure he’ll be able to advise you on how to get him out. I’ve enclosed Peter’s card, if you need him.

I wish you and Karen all the best for Saturday. Jemma and I will raise a glass of champagne to you both as the sun sets over Camps Bay.

Nothing much else to say except good luck, I suppose.

Best,
Reggie/Dad

In August 1990, Reggie Dobbs came to the bitter conclusion that raising his only son had been a complete waste of his time, his money and his sperm. He still recoiled at the memory of what bearing this gigantic heffalump of a boy had done to his first wife’s young, firm body and had never forgiven him for it. The enormous infant had continued to grow at a disgusting rate, six foot three at thirteen and thin as a streak of piss, useless at sports, covered in spots, not a pretty sight. Toby had inherited his model mother’s height, but sadly not her looks. It was unnerving, craning your neck to look up into the ineffectual gaze of your gigantic son, looming over you like an overgrown bird of prey.

They’d sent him away to school at five years old and tried to make more babies, but none had come. And then Angela had died and Reggie had been stuck with this one son, a giant, a waste of space who claimed to be a ‘poet’. Reggie said, ‘Poet?! You look more like a teapot in that ridiculous hat!’ But somehow, by some incredible stroke of luck, this strange boy of his had found himself a woman – a woman who was prepared to marry him. Not a beautiful girl, but then Toby should be grateful for what he could get.

He wanted to give them something, as he wasn’t going to be a part of their lives, so he’d sat down with his accountant and concluded that his son was worth
£
75,000;
£
3,000 for every year of his life. He gave this money to his property broker and told him to get the best he could for it at auction.

And then he and his third wife slipped into the
first-class cabin of a 747 and flew to Cape Town, where another property broker was waiting for them with the keys to a penthouse apartment overlooking the Atlantic. Reggie didn’t leave Toby a forwarding address or a telephone number. He just disappeared.

Reggie wondered about Toby from time to time, especially after the kids arrived. He wondered if Toby and Karen had had children, if he was a grandfather yet; he wondered if Toby was happy, if he’d managed to make a living out of writing his wretched poetry or if he’d grown up and taken responsibility for himself. He doubted it very much. But mostly he didn’t think about Toby at all. Mostly Reggie just drank vodka, ate rich food, avoided his family and wondered when he was going to die.

2 September 1990

Dear Toby,

This isn’t working. Marriage isn’t what I thought it would be. I expected more, not just you and me and a smelly old man rattling around inside a big, damp old house without a penny between us. I think I’ve realized that I don’t love you enough to live in penury with you. I thought I did, but I don’t. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize this earlier, but I think it took something dramatic like getting married to clear my head of my silly, over-romanticized view of you.

You’re a good man, Toby, but you’re not enough for me. Please don’t hate me,

Karen xx

A ROOM OF YOUR OWN?

Finchley-based poet, unexpectedly alone

in rambling Victorian mansion, has four big

bedrooms to fill. Shared kitchen and bathrooms.

Rent negotiable, but reasonable.

Preference given to artists and performers.

Please write to tell me why you should live here.

November 1990

Dear Lonely Poet,

My name is Ruby Lewis, I am sixteen years old and I’m a singer. My mum threw me out last week because her ugly husband kept hitting me. Which was my fault, apparently. I’m staying with this man at the moment. He’s thirty-two and he thinks I’m twenty. I don’t really like him, but he lives in Camden which is really cool. Anyway – I’d really like to come and live in your house because it sounds really cool and because you sound really cool and because I can’t afford to pay proper rent. One day I’m going to be the most famous singer in the world and then I’ll buy you a Lamborghini to pay you back. Please let me live with you. You won’t regret it.

Lots of love,
Ruby xxxx

April 2002

Dear Sir
,

My name is Joanne Fish and I am an actress. I am thirty-one years old, single and currently living in New Cross. I do not have much experience ofsharing houses, but I was attracted to your advert because I am currently at an interesting and unexpected juncture in my life – a crossroads. Your advert struck me like a neon sign on a long and circuitous journey. I realize you will have received a thousand responses to your advert and that the onus is on me to make myself appear more interesting and needful than the other nine hundred and ninety-nine, so I will try my best
.

Other books

Rivals by Janet Dailey
Nervous Water by William G. Tapply
The Divine Invasion by Philip K. Dick
Between Black and Sunshine by Francis, Haven
Lakhoni by Jared Garrett
Acts of Malice by Perri O'Shaughnessy
Shortstop from Tokyo by Matt Christopher
The End of Darkness by Jaime Rush