Book Extract: Whatever Makes You Happy, By William Sutcliffe

Three women invade the lives of their grown-up sons

Sitting alone in Matt's strange, soulless cavern of an apartment, Carol wondered how the other two were getting on. Perhaps she was the only one who had gone through with it. Even right up to the last moment before she rang the doorbell, she had been on the brink of backing out and heading home. The chances of Helen and Gillian being as brave as her, and of getting away with it, seemed low.

She took out her mobile to ring and find out, then stopped herself. She didn't want to know; she didn't want to be put off. What her friends did was no longer the point. Now she was here, she just had to think about her and Matt. The fact that he hadn't turned her away did not, of itself, amount to a significant achievement. It was just the start. She had to focus on her objective, which was to help him.

Carol would never have thought of herself as the kind of person likely to snoop, least of all in breach of the trust that a host has placed in a guest, but Matt wasn't really a host, and she wasn't really a guest. She knew it wasn't her flat, but it was, in a sense, the next best thing. He was her son and she loved him. She'd never do anything that wasn't in his interests.

By this logic, just the fact that she wanted to look around made it justifiable, and she decided to start by looking under his bed. The first stage of the operation was research. She had to find out more about who he really was. Specifically, she had to seek out the gulf between how he presented himself to her and who he really was. Under the bed seemed like a logical place to begin.

The main thing he kept there, she discovered, was dust. Dust and sports equipment, the combination of which told her that he was the kind of man who enjoyed buying his gear more than using it. This didn't come as much of a surprise. Throughout his childhood he'd been the same, nagging for a particular must-have Christmas present from October, only to lose interest in it by the end of Boxing Day.

A small, black, interestingly un-sporty box caught her eye just as she was about to stand up. She reached through the shag-pile of dust to claw it free from the corner in which it was wedged. The box had no lettering or logo on it, but was solidly made out of expensive cardboard. This was a woman box, not a man box.

Carol sat on the bed and opened it up. Inside, on a bed of artfully crumpled red tissue-paper, was a pair of handcuffs, two tubes of "Lick Me Lubricant" and "Spunky Cappuccino Chocolate Body Paint", and a small string of beads that had presumably been left in the box by accident. Tucked down the side of the crêpe paper was a tiny envelope, on the front of which was the letter "M", written in a swirling, feminine hand.

It wasn't entirely without a pang of conscience that Carol pulled the card from the envelope. She had fallen out with Matt in the past over her slight tendency towards nosiness, but the fact is, if it is your job to empty your child's bedroom bins, you simply will stumble across things that may not have been intended for your eyes. She knew she had, on occasion, overreacted. She could see now that her reaction to his fountain pen refill kit, which really had looked startlingly like a syringe, had been a little hysterical, but she had only been trying to do the right thing. Everything she had ever done for her child had always been only for him. But the difficult thing with children was that they never forgot or forgave anything. You could get a thousand things right, but it was the one thing they objected to that would be remembered.

It occurred to Carol that, with each passing generation, parents seemed to be getting more lenient with their children, while children got stricter with their parents. How long would it be, she thought, before things went full circle, and teenagers started beating their parents when they misbehaved?

As an envelope-opening pang override, Carol asked herself what kind of person could possibly not look. What freak of self-control would stop herself reading the card? Anyone lacking that curiosity would be inhumanly self-absorbed. Such a person would be, above all else, a terrible mother. It was, therefore, in her capacity as a good mother that she opened the card and read it.

The front of the card was blank cream, textured with thin, shallow ridges. The inside said:


You have been a very bad boy.

I am going to have to punish you.




Who was K? What had Matt done? How she had punished him didn't require too much figuring out.

Carol realised that her hands had begun to tremble, and beads of moisture were prickling at her neck. Was her son a pervert? Did this count as bondage? Did people really do this? Normal people? Was this something a mother should worry about? Were there self-help groups for this kind of thing?

Carol had another look at the tubes. On closer inspection, they seemed like they had been used once. Enthusiastically. Unsparingly. But only once. The lid of the box, moreover, had been just as dusty, if not even dustier, than the squash and tennis rackets. Once, on reflection, probably wasn't enough to class you as a pervert.

Carol put the tubes back in the box, her fingers working with clumsy haste as she rearranged the tissue-paper into its previous position. She felt suddenly rather hot, and began to think she might be blushing. Lurid images were now flashing into her mind, of a variety she didn't know her subconscious even housed.

She clapped the lid on the box, pushed it firmly back to a distant corner among the under-bed filth, and stood up. She walked briskly to the kitchen and swallowed down a tall glass of water, its coolness on her tongue and lips dispelling the sordid murk that had begun to cloud her mind.

She washed her hands, twice, sensing as she dried them a tiny and rather surprising upswell of maternal pride. Women wanted her son. Not just mousy, bland women, but women like "K", who were capable of going into heaven knows what kind of shops and emerging with small black boxes of unspeakable items.

You wouldn't want your son to marry a K. You certainly wouldn't want a K as the mother of your grandchildren. But there was a certain pride in discovering that your son knew how to handle one. It was a little like mountain-climbing. You wouldn't like the idea of your child going, but you'd feel proud when he got back home safely.

The world was full of Ks, and always had been, even though they had only recently opened shops for them. Carol knew there was a K in every Tube train, every office, every supermarket, and next time she found herself near one, she resolved to feel a little less scornful, and a little less intimidated.

As for Carol's research, this was important and discouraging news. Her pursuit of an explanation for the lack of grandchildren had immediately taken a step forwards. Now she knew the scale of the task. If Matt was to produce for her the babies she so craved, he had to travel from a K to a breeder.

The idea that Carol would be able to have any effect on his taste in women at all, let alone such a radical one, suddenly struck her as ludicrously ambitious. Unless, these days, there were women like K who also wanted children. It was possible. There was no limit to the increasing demands that men felt they could make on women, and a touch of whorishness in the bedroom had quite possibly, since her day, been added to the menu. But how she would find such a woman, or persuade Matt to take an interest in her, she had no idea.

© William Sutcliffe, 2008

'Whatever Makes You Happy' is published by Bloomsbury at £10.99

About the author

William Sutcliffe was brought up in London and lives in Edinburgh. His previous novels include 'New Boy', 'Are You Experienced' and 'The Love Hexagon'.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy