Home Life

The girls had big weddings.Now theyr're all divorced and in therapy...
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Now and then, Jonathan and I buy a lottery ticket. We've never won anything, ever. In fact, most times I manage to select 18 numbers that are not picked.

We're just putting Biro crosses over this week's numbers outside the newsagent's and Jonathan is muttering something about how the lottery is a totally regressive tax, when I suddenly realise I know the woman coming out of the newsagent's on the Northcote Road.

"What is it?" he asks when I suddenly turn my head to the left and crouch over my ticket as though it were a school spelling test. "You've gone all funny."

"Nothing!" I feel the colour hit my cheeks, "Let's get back to the car."

"You've blushed," says Jonathan helpfully, once we're sitting in the car.

"You didn't see her? Long black straggly hair and a puffa jacket?"

"I don't know, maybe. What about her?"

"She's one of the Perkins!"

Jonathan pushes the Artist Formerly Known As Prince into the cassette player. The shunting beat of "Lovesexy" fills the car. "What are the Perkins?"

"The Perkins - you know, I've told you about them lots of times. That crazy family who lived at Estersham and had a tennis court and four kids and I hated them. All of them."

"Oh," says Jonathan. "One of your Gothic Childhood experiences."

Joan Perkins and my mother met at a keep-fit class. We had to sit and read comics while a load of mothers jumped and stretched and giggled. Mum looked embarrassingly sassy in a scarlet leotard and matching footless tights. She was keener on coffee afterward than keeping fit.

Joan was tall and skinny and smoked cigarettes out of a holder and wore a lot of sludgy, dark make-up that sat in the creases of a rather lived- in face. She wore fur coats of tragic-looking victims draped around her bird-hunched shoulders. Cruella, we called her; Mum said she was all right once you got to know her.

Her husband, a tiny, densely hairy, inarticulate man, was a dentist and made a Lot of Money. This meant he was working himself toward a nervous breakdown, but the family had a tennis court. Not much tennis was played, but friends were imperiously "allowed" to come and use it at weekends.

There were three Perkins girls - Lara, Alison and Louise, and a token Perkins boy called Edmund. He liked electricity and sweated a lot.

I hated going round there and I said so. I was 13. I had to go to tennis coaching there one summer holidays. I drank Coke afterwards and was sick. We wandered the garden while Mum and Joan sat in the kitchen and talked in low voices.

"I can't see what you have against the Perkins girls," Mum said.

"We have nothing in common."

"That's rubbish. Louisa is exactly your age."

What could I say? That she smoked? That she had a frightening amount of pubic hair that she showed me at every opportunity? That she tried to make me smoke and I hadn't yet acquired the necessary amount of cool to refuse without looking like a weed. That all she wanted to do was lie on her bedroom floor playing Cat Stevens records and looking through Jackie? That she knew less about sex than I did but was already halfway to doing it? That she bored me to death and scared me witless at the same time?

"And do you know what?" I told Jonathan, my hackles up from this fresh Perkins sighting. "Just because they had a tennis court and the girls were all sexually active from about the age of 11, everyone thought they were the bloody bee's knees - you know, the people to be seen with."

"This is what, 15, 20 years ago?"

"We used to have to go to parties there and Joan actively encouraged everyone to go up to the bedrooms and get on with it. I used to lock myself in the loo and wait for it to be over, but even there I couldn't escape because there were photos of Joan in the nude."

"Totally naked pictures?"

"Draped on sofas in a G-string and stuff. It was the early Seventies, remember. All Joan really wanted was for her kids to all get married and they all did except Edmund, who went to prison for drug dealing. The girls had big, fluffy white weddings, drinks on the tennis court, photos in the gazette and now they're all divorced and in therapy."

"Are you researching their biography or what?"

"I hear things. That was Lara, outside the newsagent's - I think she runs a deli now. I saw Louisa a few months ago, hogging a disabled parking space in Sainsbury's with her Range Rover."

"Maybe she is disabled." He holds out his red rag, waits for me to put my head down and charge. I swerve away.

"I just hate the way they were awash with local admiration because they were promiscuous and had a bloody tennis court. Anyway, their Dad left Joan finally, ran off with a Filipina nanny. And lost it all in copper futures."

Jonathan yawns. "I wonder whether a single number you've chosen will come up this week."

"The only thing I ever won in my life was a knitted rat."

"A knitted rat?"

"In a raffle for Save the Children. Actually, it was at the WI and it was pouring with rain and hardly anyone entered, so I'm not sure that counts."

"And don't tell me - the Perkins won a holiday in Marbella."

"I wouldn't be a bit supr..." Jonathan clamps a hand over my mouth.

Julie Myerson's new novel, 'The Touch', is published by Picador, pounds 12.99.