Something Only We Know

only we know


The Bad Mother’s Handbook

Swallowing Grandma

Queen Mum

The Daughter Game

Mothers & Daughters

Before She Was Mine

Bad Mothers United

First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2015
Copyright © Kate Long 2015

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Kate Long to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

PB ISBN: 978-1-47112-892-9
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-47112-893-6

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinbrugh
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY

For Amanda
















To get to The Poacher you park on one side of the canal, then walk across. As kids, Helen and I used to skip along the top of the lock gates to reach the far bank, while Mum
and Dad always took the sturdier option of the footbridge. Obviously now I’m grown up I ought to make straight for the bridge, no question. But I’m still seriously tempted by the lock
gate route.

I do love this pub. It’s part of our family history. It’s where we came to celebrate Mum getting her receptionist’s job, and Dad landing his first major haulage contract, and
when I heard I’d got into St Thom’s High, and the day my A level results came through. They brought me here for Sunday lunch the weekend before I went to uni; I was wearing this flimsy
gypsy top and I remember a guy off one of the narrowboats wolf-whistling me. One time I spotted a kingfisher in a tree by the toilet block and Helen missed it because she was arguing with Mum, and
afterwards she wouldn’t believe me, which is typical.

Hel’s currently stopped halfway along the bridge. First it was to empty out a stone in her shoe; now she’s leaning over as if to study the water and the clouds of tiny flies hovering
above its surface on this hot June day. Her red hair falls down, hiding her face, and in her white maxi dress she’s like some Victorian painting of a ruined maid contemplating suicide.

‘Get a move on,’ I say, coming up alongside her. She swings round and flashes a look at me. I don’t care. This is my day, and besides, unlike Mum and Dad, I’m immune to
her moods. For once she can do what I want.

‘Yes, come on, girls,’ calls Mum from the pub doorway. She’s trying to sound cheery, like a mother on an ordinary, carefree family outing.

I give Hel a slight shove and she detaches herself from the railing and drifts over to the courtyard. Already one or two people at the picnic tables are looking in her direction. A man winding
the handle at the lock gate stops to stare.

Inside the saloon it’s gloomy after the bright sunshine. ‘Table for four,’ Dad says to the bar lady. ‘We’ve booked. Crossley. One p.m.’

‘It’s my daughter’s birthday,’ adds Mum unnecessarily.

‘Mum,’ I say.

‘Twenty-three today!’

‘No one’s

But she only grins at me because she’s happy to be out, happy that we’re here together to share a nice meal in a normal family style. Which is so not what we did on Helen’s
birthday. Hel’s thirtieth was marked by a shop-bought pavlova with a single candle pushed into the centre. The meringue proved impossible to slice, crumbs exploded everywhere, and the whole
cake kind of deflated so all anyone got was a plate of soggy mess. It was what she’d asked for, though.

We’re given a table by the window. The light’s streaming in, making my sister’s hair look as though it’s on fire, a glorious pre-Raphaelite cascade. The little girl at
the table next door nudges her mother and whispers, ‘Who’s that?’ The mother shrugs. The child’s father keeps flicking his eyes towards us, to Helen’s long, slim neck,
her slender arms, her heart-shaped face.

Then we start with the fussing. Hel can’t read the swirly print on the menu, there’s nothing here she fancies, haven’t they heard of steaming, she has a headache coming on. She
turns the laminated sheet over and over.
We could have had a perfectly nice meal at home,
she vibes across the table at me.

My day, my choice, Helen.

Another great sigh, then she swivels in her seat to inspect the window and the countryside beyond. God knows what she’s expecting to see. An escape route, maybe? Might she leap up, wrench
the latch open and clamber across the sill?

‘I need the toilet,’ she says.

No she doesn’t.

Mum half-stands so Helen can squeeze past her. At the same moment a waiter appears, a boy of about seventeen with bum-fluff on his chin. Mum tells him we’re not ready. ‘I am,’
I say. ‘I could eat this bar mat I’m so hungry.’ But I’m wasting my breath.

We wait for what seems like a long time. I notice the little girl at the table next to us has slid her hair bobble up her arm and is pinging it repeatedly against her skin; I can see the red
mark from here. If I were her mum I’d be worried about that. The waiter walks by with a huge ice cream dessert and I follow it with my eyes till it’s out of sight round the corner. Dad
checks his watch, then goes to fetch a copy of the
Shropshire Herald
from the bar.

Eventually Mum says, ‘I think I’ll just nip to the loo myself, freshen up.’

For a while I read the back of the newspaper where Dad’s folded it over, assessing the layout of the page and the balance of the articles. The
always got a chatty
feel to it, upbeat and reassuring.
This county’s great
, it tells its readers.
You’re lucky to live here.
A story catches my eye about a young farmer who’s
trekked across a desert and raised a stack of money for WaterAid. There’s a photo of him smiling in a floppy canvas hat. He looks nice. The slightly bewildered pitch of his eyebrows reminds
me a bit of Helen’s boyfriend, Ned. I wonder about pointing this out to Dad. Then I happen to clock the expression of the barmaid who I think is also the pub manager. She’s clearly
cheesed off with us for taking so long.

‘Hey, I’ll round them up, shall I?’ I say to Dad, pushing my chair away.

He gives me a tired smile. His hair’s started to thin lately, I’ve noticed, and the buttons on his shirt are straining across his belly. I don’t like to think about him getting

When I open the door to the Ladies’, Helen’s bowed over the sink and Mum’s standing next to her, stroking her shoulder.

‘They’re waiting to take our order,’ I say.

‘Yes, you go, we’re on our way,’ Mum replies.

I don’t move an inch. ‘Stir yourself, sis.’

‘That’s right, sweetheart, come along.’ Mum pulls at her arm so that Helen’s slim frame leans briefly against her bosom. Hel bears it for about two seconds, then wrenches
herself free and pushes past me to the exit.

Finally we’re all at the table reciting our orders – roasts for Mum and me, lasagne for Dad, fishcake starter as a main for Hel – and I know I ought to try and relax. The
food’s on its way and what happens after that’s not my problem. It’s really not. I want to enjoy myself. I want just one meal to be special and pleasant and untainted by angst.
But Helen’s mouth is set in a determined line and her eyes are wide and anxious. Above the lace neckline of her dress, her collarbone stands out, betraying the clenched way she’s
holding her body. I know that even though she’s officially recovered, even after all these years, she still finds eating in public a trial. I get that. It’s not her fault. It’s
probably always going to be hard for her. So why did Mum insist she came? Why couldn’t we leave her at home as she wanted? For a moment I imagine asking this out loud, and hear in my head
Mum’s inevitable response:
Because she’s your sister.

‘You look nice, anyway,’ says Mum, nodding at my new top, a cerise scoop neck that I chose because it makes the most of my boobs. ‘And your hair, you suit it bobbed, and
darker. It’s smart. More officey.’


‘Doesn’t Jenny look nice, Don?’

Dad nods.

‘I ought to. It’s my birthday.’

‘That’s right,’ says Mum. ‘Every girl should look nice on her birthday.’

Nice. Yes, that’s my limit. Not like Helen, stunning and mysterious, with her huge sad eyes and her high cheekbones, a mournful copper-haired princess in need of rescuing. I’m too
solid, too grounded in ordinariness.

Instantly I hate myself for thinking like this. I don’t want to harbour ungenerous thoughts on my birthday. I love my sister, even if she is a pain. Only, just for once, I’d like
today to be a tiny bit more about me. Is that so wrong?

I don’t know why but suddenly I’m compelled to swivel round and check out what the rest of the pub is doing. And it’s as I’d have predicted. The waiter, the little girl
and her dad, the old men by the beer pumps, the scruffy ramblers who’ve just walked in, the bar lady herself: not one of them is looking at me. They are all looking at my beautiful


When we got home that night I heard Mum say to Hel, ‘You were great. You did really well.’ I was on the landing, putting my new top in the washing basket, and I
thought about the end of the meal, where the rest of us had tucked into pudding while my sister sat and watched as usual. I don’t know who finds these situations harder, her or us.

Laundry sorted, I took myself into my bedroom to check my phone and to go through my presents and cards again, the way you do on your birthday. There’d been nothing yet from Owen, although
I wasn’t that surprised as I knew he was busy travelling home from Glastonbury, plus his mind’s generally on higher concerns than boyfriend stuff. I’d get something off him
eventually. Aside from that I’d had a good haul: a green silk scarf, new jewelled sandals, a subscription to
Private Eye
, a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s
in a retro
slipcase, posh cleansing milk, a giant block of Galaxy from the girls at zumba, a box set of
Being Human
, vouchers, money, a stack of cheeky Facebook messages from far-flung college mates.
There was also a text from Ned asking how Hel had managed at the meal.

And a happy birthday to you, Jen!!
I typed back. He rang straightaway.

‘Obviously that,’ he said. ‘I wrote it in my card, if you remember.’

‘I know. I was just messing. And thanks for the book. It looks funny.’ He’d bought me a collection of newspaper misprints and humorous headlines.

‘My pleasure. You OK?’


‘You sound teed off.’

‘No, I’m fine. Tired. The new job’s still quite stressy. But the meal went OK. Helen settled, in the end.’

It was true she had stayed in her seat, eaten her fishcake and green salad, chatted a little. Anyone glancing over probably wouldn’t have noticed she was on edge.

‘That’s good,’ said Ned. ‘Sorry I couldn’t have been there. I did try to skive off work but they weren’t having it.’

‘We missed you.’

‘Get away.’

‘We did. You’re our family’s steadying influence. You’re our metronome of sanity.’

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