The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

Josie Silver


For my sister, forever my best friend.

How lucky we are to have each other. x





Prologue





Most of life’s defining moments happen unexpectedly; sometimes they slide past you completely unnoticed until afterwards, if at all. The last time your child is small enough to carry on your hip. An eye-roll exchanged with a stranger who becomes your life-long best friend. The summer job you apply for on impulse and stay at for the next twenty years. That kind of thing. So I’m completely unaware that one of my defining moments is passing me by when my mobile rings at 6.47 p.m. on 14 March, 2018; instead, I curse under my breath because I’ve got a Velcro roller stuck in my hair and I’m already running late.

‘Hello?’

I can’t help it; I smile as I tap on speakerphone and Freddie half shouts his greeting over the background road noise.

‘I’m here,’ I say loudly, hairpins gripped between my teeth.

‘Listen, Lyds, Jonah’s got car trouble so I’m going to swing round and pick him up on the way back. It won’t make much difference, ten minutes max.’

I’m glad he isn’t here to see the look on my face. Was it Princess Diana who famously said there were three people in her marriage? I get that, because there are three people in mine too. Not that we’re married yet; very nearly though. Freddie Hunter and I are engaged, and I’m officially almost the happiest girl in the world. I refer you back to my earlier statement to explain why I say ‘almost’ the happiest; because there’s me, there’s Freddie and there’s Jonah bloody Jones.

I get it; I don’t go a day without speaking to my sister, but Elle isn’t always here on our sofa drinking our tea and demanding my attention. Not that Freddie’s best friend is demanding, exactly. Jonah’s so laid-back he’s almost horizontal most of the time and it’s not as if I don’t like him – I’d just like him a whole lot more if I didn’t see so much of him, you know? Tonight, for instance. Freddie asked Jonah to the dinner without thinking to check with me first, even though it’s my birthday.

I spit the hairpins out as I give up wrestling with the Velcro and pick the phone up instead, irritated.

‘God, Freddie, must you? Alfredo’s is booked for eight and they won’t hold the table if we’re late.’

I know this from bitter experience: our work Christmas dinner there turned into a disaster when the minibus arrived ten minutes late and we all ended up eating McDonald’s in our Sunday best. Tonight is my birthday dinner and I’m pretty sure my mum won’t be impressed with a Big Mac instead of Chicken Fettuccine.

‘Chill your boots, Cinders, you won’t be late for the ball. Promise.’

That’s Freddie all over. He never takes life seriously, even on the once-in-a-while occasions when, actually, it would be nice if he did. Time is elastic in his world, he can stretch it to accommodate his needs – or, in this case, to accommodate Jonah’s.

‘Okay,’ I sigh, resigned. ‘Just keep your eye on the time, for God’s sake.’

‘Got it,’ he says, already turning up the car radio. ‘Over and out.’

Silence fills the bedroom and I wonder if anyone would notice if I cut off the chunk of hair knotted around the roller currently hanging off the side of my head.

And there it was. My life’s defining moment, sliding nonchalantly past me at 6.47 p.m. on 14 March, 2018.





2018




* * *





Thursday 10 May


Freddie Hunter, otherwise known as the great big love of my life, died fifty-six days ago.

One moment I’m cursing him for running late and ruining my birthday dinner, the next I’m trying to make sense of the two uniformed policewomen in my living room, one of them holding my hand as she speaks. I stare at her wedding ring and then at my engagement ring.

‘Freddie can’t be dead,’ I say. ‘We’re getting married next year.’

It’s probably a self-preservation thing that I struggle to recall exactly what happened afterwards. I remember being blue-lighted to A&E in the police car and my sister holding me up when my legs buckled at the hospital. I remember turning my back on Jonah Jones when he appeared in the waiting room with barely a scratch on him, just his hand bandaged and a wound dressing over one eye. How is that fair? Two get into the car, only one gets out again. I remember what I was wearing, a new green blouse I’d bought especially for the dinner. I’ve given it away to a charity shop; I never want it on my body again.

Since that awful day I’ve racked my brain countless times to try to recall every word of my last conversation with Freddie, and all I can remember is grumbling at him about cutting it fine for the restaurant. And then come the other thoughts. Was he rushing to please me? Was the accident my fault? God, I wish I’d told him that I love him. Had I known it was the last time I’d ever speak to him, I would have, of course I would. Since it happened, I’ve sometimes wished he’d lived just long enough for us to have one more conversation – but then I’m not sure my heart could have withstood it. It’s probably for the best if the last time you do something momentous passes you by unheralded: the last time my mother collected me at the school gate, her hand reassuring around my smaller one; the last time my father remembered my birthday.

Do you know the last thing Freddie said to me as he dashed back on my twenty-eighth birthday? Over and out. It was a habit, something he’d done for years, silly words that have now become one of the most significant phrases of my life.

I guess it was just so Freddie, though, to go out on a phrase like that. He had this insatiable lust for life, a lightness of attitude coupled with a killer competitive streak – fun but lethal, if you like. I’ve never met anyone with such a gift for always knowing what to say. He has – he had – a knack of making other people think they’d won when in fact he’d got exactly what he wanted; he walked into his advertising career and shot up the ranks like a meteor, eyes always on the next prize. He is – he was – the bright spark amongst us, the one who was always going to be someone or do something that made people remember his name long after he’d gone.

And now he bloody well has gone, his car concertinaed against an oak tree, and I feel as if someone has sliced me through and tied a knot in my windpipe. It’s as if I can’t quite get enough air into my lungs – I’m breathless and perpetually on the edge of panic.

The doctor has finally given me something to help me sleep after my mum yelled at him yesterday in the living room, a month’s supply of some new pill that he wasn’t at all sure about prescribing because he thinks grief needs to be ‘passed through sentiently in order to emerge’. I’m not making this shit up; he said those actual words to me a couple of weeks ago, before leaving me empty-handed to go home to his very-much-alive wife and children.

Living around the corner from my mother is a blessing and a curse in varying measures. When she makes her champion chicken stew and brings a pan round for us still hot off the stove, for instance, or when she’s waiting for me at the end of the road on a cold November morning to give me a lift into work – those times our proximity is a blessing. Other times, like when I’m in bed seeing double with a hangover and she appears in my bedroom as if I’m still seventeen, or when I haven’t tidied up for a couple of days and she looks down her nose like I’m one of those extreme hoarders in need of a reality-TV intervention, those times our proximity is a curse. Ditto when I’m trying to grieve in private with the living-room curtains still closed at three in the afternoon and the same PJs on as when she visited me yesterday and the day before; making me tea I’ll forget to drink and sandwiches I’ll bury in the back of the fridge when she’s upstairs cleaning the bathroom or outside pulling the bins down.

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