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  • Published: 3 April 2024
  • ISBN: 9781784745363
  • Imprint: Chatto & Windus
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $34.99

The Husbands

A hilariously original twist on the romantic comedy, for fans of REALLY GOOD, ACTUALLY

Extract

The man is tall and has dark tousled hair, and when she gets back quite late from Elena’s hen do, she finds him waiting on the landing at the top of the stairs.

She yelps and steps backwards. ‘What –’ she starts, then tries again. ‘Who are you?’

He sighs. ‘Fun night?’

Carpeted steps lead up to the man and the dim landing. This is definitely the right flat, isn’t it? It must be: her key worked. She’s drunk, but she’s not drunk enough to commit breaking and entering by accident. She steps back again, and feels for the light switch, keeping her eyes on the stranger.

She finds it. In the sudden glare, everything is as it should be: the angle of the steps, the cream of the walls, even the switch under her fingers, a moment’s resistance then click. Everything except him.

‘Lauren,’ he says. ‘Come on. Come up and I’ll make you some tea.’

He knows her name. Is he – no, it’s been months since she had that guy round, and he was blond, he had a beard, this isn’t him. A burglar? How would a burglar know her name?

‘If you leave,’ she says, ‘I won’t report this.’ She will absolutely report this. She reaches behind to the door handle, and

tries to turn it, which takes a lot of fiddling but she isn’t going to look away, especially not now that – oh god – he’s coming down the stairs. She backs out of her flat and into the hall, takes careful steps until she’s grappling with the front door until that pushes open too, warm summer air thick behind her. Out through the spatter of irregular raindrops – but not so far that she can’t still see him.

He’s crossing the hall, then he’s outlined in the doorway, bright light behind him.

‘Lauren,’ the man says, ‘what are you doing?’

‘I’m calling the police,’ she says, digging in her bag for her phone, hoping it has battery left. The pocket where it should be is occupied instead by a tiny cactus in a painted pot, from today’s workshop. The phone itself is further down. It lights up and she rummages, grabs it, pulls it out.

But as she does, she sees the lock screen.

And: it’s a picture of herself, standing on a beach with her arm around the man in the doorway.

Two per cent battery, flicking to one. And his face. Unmistakable. And hers.

She grabs with her other hand for the little cactus, holding it ready to throw. ‘Stay where you are.’

‘Okay,’ he says. ‘Okay. I’m staying here.’ He’s taken a few steps outdoors, feet bare. She looks again: his face glowing from

the phone, his face in the night in front of her. He’s wearing a grey T-shirt and soft tartan trousers. Not trousers, she realises. Pyjamas.

‘Right,’ she says, ‘come out further,’ and he does, sighing, another half-dozen barefoot steps on to the pavement, and now she has enough space to edge around him towards the front door, past the closed blinds of the downstairs flat. ‘Stay there,’ she says, facing him as she circles. He turns, watching. She steps up through the door, on to the tiles of the hall, and risks a glance to confirm: yes, the closed door to Toby and Maryam’s to one side, the open door to her own flat directly behind her, familiar stairs, the right house.

‘Lauren,’ she hears the man say. She spins and shrieks and he stops, but she told him to stay where he was, and he’s moved! She slams the front door in his face, then steps quickly into her flat and slams and locks her own door. ‘Lauren,’ he’s still saying from outside. She thumbs her phone again to ring the police after all, but it lights up – his face – and then darkens. Out of battery.

Shit.

‘Lauren,’ and sounds of the outer door rattling. ‘Come on.’

She runs up the stairs and across the landing and grapples in the kitchen for her charger. She’ll phone someone, she’ll call Toby downstairs even. But then she hears footsteps, and the man’s coming up, and somehow he’s in the flat. He’s in the flat.

She spins and strides to the kitchen door. ‘Get the fuck out,’ she says into the landing, holding the cactus firmly. She’s ready.

If he comes any closer, she’ll throw.

‘Calm down,’ the man says, reaching the top of the stairs. ‘I’ll get you some water.’ He takes a step towards her, and she does it, she throws, but the cactus goes wide, past him, and it hits the wall and bounces off and rolls towards the stairs, thud, thud, thud-thud-thud, accelerating down the steps in an otherwise silent night, coming to a stop with a final thud against the door at the bottom.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ the man says, keys clutched in his hand. That’s how he got in: he stole her spare keys. Of course. Maybe he logged into her computer and changed her phone remotely, and that’s why his picture’s on her lock screen. Is that possible? ‘Fuck’s sake,’ he says. ‘Go and sit down. Please.’

He turns off the light on the stairs, and switches on the landing light instead, the big square landing with all the rooms leading off it, the big grey landing she passes through a dozen times a day.

Which is, somehow, blue.

And it has a rug. It never had a rug before. Why is there a rug?

She can’t stop to look: the man’s walking towards her. She backs across the rug, which feels thick and soft even through her shoes, towards the door to the living room. It’s right above Toby and Maryam’s bedroom. If she screams, she thinks, they’ll hear. But even in the dark, the room doesn’t seem right.

She feels for the switch.

Click.

Light falls on more strange objects. The sofa is dark brown, and surely when she left this morning it was green. The clock on the wall has Roman numerals instead of normal numbers, and it turns out Roman numerals are difficult to read, VII, XIIIII, VVI. She has to squint to stop them from blurring. Her old vase on the shelf has tulips in it, her wonky lino print of an owl is gone. The books are wrong or in the wrong place, the curtains have been replaced with shutters. Most of the pictures are wrong and one of them – one of them is very wrong. One of them is of a wedding featuring – and she steps up to it, nose almost to the glass – her. And the man.

The man who has entered the living room behind her.

The husband.

She turns around and he holds out a pint glass filled with water. After a moment she takes it and notices, for the first time, a ring on her finger.

She transfers the glass to her right hand and spreads her left in front of her, turns it over palm up, ring still there as she folds her fingers in and touches it with the tip of her thumb. Huh.

‘Come on,’ the husband says. ‘Sit down. Drink up.’

She sits. The sofa is the same shape it used to be, despite the colour. And it has the same uneven give.

The husband sits too, over in the armchair, and at first she can’t see whether he’s wearing a wedding ring as well, but he leans forward and there it is: bright on his finger. He’s watching her. She watches him in return.

She is, she thinks, very drunk, so it might be that she’s missing something obvious. But she’s been given a drink by a man she’s never met before and, if anything, the fact that she may be unexpectedly married to him should make her more rather than less wary.

‘I’ll . . . drink this in a moment,’ she says, carefully, clearly, enunciating each syllable (although there do seem to be more of them than usual).

‘Okay.’

If he’s meant to be here, why isn’t he in bed? ‘Why aren’t you in bed?’

He sighs. ‘I was,’ he says. ‘You didn’t exactly make a stealth entrance.’

‘I didn’t know you were here!’

‘What?’ he says. ‘Look, drink the water and take your dress off and we’ll get you ready for bed. Do you need help with the zip?’

‘No!’ she says, and grabs a cushion, pulls it in front of her.

Shit. She’s never seen him before. She’s not taking her dress off in front of him.

‘Okay, okay, don’ t – shh, it’s fine, drink your water.’ His tired face. Round cheeks with a flush of red. ‘Okay?’ he says.

‘Okay,’ she says, and then, after a moment: ‘I’ll sleep here. So as – so as not to disturb you. You can go.’

‘Do you want the spare room? I’ll clear the bed –’

‘No,’ she says. ‘No. This is good.’

‘Okay,’ he says again. ‘I’ll get your pyjamas. And the quilt.’

She stays upright, still careful, as he leaves and comes back in. The pyjamas are her own old set that she bought from the big Sainsbury’s, the ones with Moomins on them, but the quilt is another new thing: dark-blue and light-blue squares, alternating, arranged like patchwork but it’s just a print. She doesn’t like it.

‘I know, but look at it this way,’ he says, ‘if you chuck up on it you’ll finally have an excuse to throw it out.’

This doesn’t make sense, ‘finally’, but everything is intense and confusing and she doesn’t want to argue. The room is buzzing gently.

‘Okay,’ she says. They seem to be taking it in turns to say ‘okay’ and sighing or waiting, which perhaps is what marriage is like; this is the first time she’s tried it.

The husband turns on a lamp and then turns off the overhead light. ‘You good?’ he says. ‘Do you want some toast?’

‘I had chips.’ She still has the taste in her mouth. ‘And chicken.’ She is a vegetarian but not when she’s drunk.

‘Okay,’ he says once more. ‘Drink your water,’ he adds again, just before he closes the door. She hears him in the kitchen, then the bedroom, and then nothing.

Well.

She goes to the door and listens for a moment. Silence on the landing, and through the flat. She puts on her pyjamas, step by step like she’s in a school changing room: first the shorts over her pants, then the dress over her head, then the pyjama top on over her bra, then the bra off, unhooked and her arms wriggled out one by one until she can pull it triumphantly from an armhole, at which point she overbalances and tumbles back on to the sofa with a thump and a clatter as her dead phone falls off the cushions and on to the ground.

She freezes, waiting to see if the husband comes back. Nothing.

A creak, maybe. A truck or a bus outside, up on the main road.

At least now she’s sitting down.

Another rumble of a car outside. Maybe a train, further back, although it’s late for that. Perhaps she’s imagined it, and the husband.

If she hasn’t imagined him, there’s a strange man in her house. She pushes herself back up to stand unsteadily one more time. Quiet steps to the table in the corner, and she takes a chair and carries it – slowly, slowly – over to the door. She hasn’t ever done this before but she’s seen it in so many movies: you wedge the chair and it keeps the door shut, right? She sets it down and balances it, the back hooked up under the handle. It takes her a couple of tries, but finally it’s there, jammed in place, and she looks at it and goes to sit on the sofa and figure out what to do next, and then she’s asleep.


Chapter 2

She wakes to find that she’s feeling less drunk and much, much more terrible.

The room is bright, the slats of the shutters tilted to let in warm light, turning everything yellow.

She stands up. It goes mostly okay. Looks around. The chair she used to barricade herself in last night is on its side lying next to, but in no way blocking, the door, which is half- open, letting in noises from the rest of the flat: footsteps, a clatter.

The husband.

She is not feeling her best, but she picks up her dead phone and rights the fallen chair and peers out. The sound is coming from the kitchen.

She rushes across the landing into the bathroom, on tiptoe, and locks the door. She’s torn between emptying her bladder and throwing up; opts to prioritise the second, leaning over the bowl as she gives in to the rising thrust of a good drunken chuck.

Her headache dissipates right away, and her nausea subsides, leaving behind a glorious clarity that she knows will last for twenty minutes at most before her body realises it has outstanding issues to address. At the basin, she swirls water around her mouth, spits it out, then drinks again and swallows this time. She wants very much to brush her teeth, but on the corner of the sink sit two unfamiliar toothbrushes, one yellow, one green. Toothpaste on her finger, then.

It’s been a while since she last drank this much.

‘Lauren?’ the husband calls from outside the door, so close.

‘. . . Yes,’ she says. ‘Give me a minute.’

‘I’ll put on some breakfast.’

She stares at the door, waiting to hear him move away, then washes her face, cleaning away the last remnants of the night’s glitter and mascara. Takes her pyjama top off, wipes herself with a flannel: face, shoulders, under the breasts, under the arms. She can shower when she’s figured out what’s going on with the husband.

Her clothes from last night are in the laundry basket. He must have come into the living room while she was sleeping and picked them up. The dress is dry-clean only and the laundry basket is absolutely the wrong place for it, but underneath it she finds last night’s bra and a man’s shirt, boxers, a grey jumper she recognises as hers and a pair of leggings she doesn’t. Bra, jumper, then she swaps the pyjama pants for the leggings and looks in the mirror.

Concealer? Mascara? No. She’s not going on a date: she’s trying to find out why this man is in her house. She’s clean, or clean-ish, and that’s enough.

She unlocks the door.

The husband (cardigan, trousers) is in the kitchen, where the walls are not the yellow she remembers but rather the same blue as the landing. Her toaster (unchanged), a coffee machine (new), a tiny table with two stools squeezed in against the wall (new). Something is frying on the stove.

‘It’s alive,’ the husband says as she walks in. ‘Here,’ he adds, and hands her a coffee, turns back to the machine to make another. ‘Bacon’s nearly ready.’

‘I’m a vegetarian,’ she says without conviction.

‘There are no atheists in foxholes,’ the husband says.

There’s a charger plugged into the wall, its cord lying in a loop across the little table. She sits at the stool on the far side and connects her phone. He constructs a sandwich and puts it in front of her on the table.

If he was a murderer, he could have just murdered her last night – waiting till the morning and poisoning her with a bacon sandwich would be a roundabout way of doing it. And when she takes a bite, the sandwich is good, really good: crispy-edged, salty, buttery, the chew of fresh bread, the tang of brown sauce.

She had started to avoid pork even before she went vegetarian; pigs are as clever as a human three-year-old, she heard once, the same day she went to her nephew Caleb’s third birthday party, and that was it. But throwing out a sandwich now wouldn’t save any pigs. And by the fourth or fifth slow bite, she is feeling a little bit better.

‘So,’ the husband says, sitting opposite her with a sandwich for himself. ‘Good night?’

It had been such a good night. She remembers painting the cactus pots in that little shop, then drinks while the pots dried, then a big dinner, and karaoke, and a cocktail bar, and then dancing, and more drinks, and shoving late-night chips into her face, salty and greasy, while Elena took photos of the two of them posing in the mirrored tiles of the chicken shop, its lights glowing warm in the cooling night. She remembers Elena promising not to abandon her for a married-person life of married-person things, you know I would never. She remembers climbing to the top floor of the night bus to Norwood and sitting down and seeing the moon impossibly huge in the sky. She remembers looking out at London through the spatter of summer rain on the window, traffic lights and strangers and kebabs and the wide bridge and the long journey towards streets where the city relaxes and spreads into suburbs.

And then: arriving home, and finding the husband.

‘Yeah,’ she says. How does a conversation with a husband work? ‘What about you? What did you get up to?’

‘Went for a swim,’ he says. ‘Tidied up a bit. Helped Toby fix that window so they won’t get in trouble with their landlord.’ Okay, she thinks, the husband knows Toby. He continues: ‘Finally put those boxes up in the attic. Might turn over the veg patch today.’

He sounds very industrious. She doesn’t have a vegetable patch, but perhaps he’s brought it with him. The whole flat has become a spot-the-difference puzzle: more cookbooks, the dent in the wall from when she swung the door too hard that time has disappeared, a light is still sitting askew in its socket. The cactus pot she painted yesterday is on the windowsill, and the cactus lopsided inside it. The husband must have collected it from the bottom of the steps for her. He does seem nice.

Which doesn’t stop it from being disturbing that he’s here. He appeared while she was out. If she leaves and comes back, might everything be normal again? ‘I’m . . . going to go for a walk. Clear my head,’ she tries.

‘Want some company?’

‘No, I’m okay.’ Maybe she’s misunderstanding something and as soon as she gets a little air, it’ll all make sense.

She finds socks, shoes, keys. Back in the kitchen for her phone, which has charged to thirty per cent. The husband is chewing cheerfully on the last of his sandwich. She opens the fridge for a hangover Coke but there’s only a can of grapefruit-flavoured water. She takes that instead.

Down the steps and outside, and she looks back at the house, those new shutters.

The rest of the street. Houses, an empty skip halfway up towards the main road, trees and their green leaves. She walks away from the house, counting twenty steps, then looks behind her: the shutters are still there.

When she reaches the corner, she can see the bus stop from last night. As far as she can tell, it’s the same as it always was. Behind it, the petrol station, and kids talking over each other, their bikes leaning against a wall. She crosses the road, sits down on the bus stop’s tilted bench, and pulls her phone out.

The lock screen is still her and the man, standing together, the sea behind them.

She touches the screen, and it demands a passcode. Maybe this, too, will have changed; but, no, it unlocks to the code she’s used for years.

She opens her photos first, and scrolls backwards through last night. The bus ride, the chicken shop, the bar, the other bar, the pottery workshop with everyone’s plant pots lined up together, Elena’s with the diamond patterns, Noemi’s with its elegant looping dicks. Fine. Then she filters to show selfies only, skims the past year: some with just her but more with her and the husband, squinting into the sunlight. Further into the past: he’s still there, in and out of the pictures. He has a beard. It’s gone again. They’re on a hill. They’re by a tree. They’re in front of a swan; the swan is approaching them; she’s trying to feed the swan; the swan isn’t happy.

She looks up from the impossibility of it, the man’s face on her phone against the sunny day. One of the kids at the petrol station is kicking a plastic bottle along the pavement while the other keeps goal. A taxi pulls in across the road and lets someone out.

She checks her sent messages: lots of hearts to Elena, I LOVE YOU I KNOW YOU’RE GOING TO BE SO HAPPY, and a photo back from her of their chicken-shop reflections captioned It must be difficult for everyone else that we’re so beautiful. In another thread Lauren finds she has sent a HOME SOON I WILL SEE YOU HOM SOON YESS HELLO SOON to – ah, here we go – a Michael.

The husband is called Michael. She scrolls up through the messages.

Another one to him, from two days ago: Lemons, washing up liquid, thx!

Another: a picture of a pear with big googly eyes stuck on it.

One from him, a few days earlier: Almost there see you in five.

When she searches her own messages for Michael, she finds she’s mentioning him constantly to everyone: Michael’s away for work, Michael’s training for a half-marathon so he can’t come out to the pub, Michael’s bringing panzanella to the barbecue. Michael this, Michael that. Nobody has responded with What the hell, who’s Michael?

Well. If her friends know about him, maybe one of them can explain.

She finds Toby in her phone; the husband mentioned him, and he lives downstairs, he should know what’s going on. Hey, she messages, am I married.

An almost immediate reply: Last I heard, he responds. Tall kid, nice face. Lives with you. You know the one

Okay when did we get married

The response: 14 April. Is this a quiz? Do I win?

14 April. This year? A couple of months ago, if so. There weren’t any pictures of a wedding in her photoroll, but she looks in her messages instead, and eventually finds, sent to her mum:

These are the first few – we’ll get the rest from the photographer in a month or two.

And then, four photos.

A group shot first, the one she saw in the living room. Her in a cream dress, long sleeves, flared skirt to mid-calf, pink heels, a bunch of pink flowers (not roses, something else). No veil. The husband, Michael, in a dark-brown suit. Her mum. Her sister and Elena and a woman she doesn’t know are bridesmaids in different shades of green. Strangers: his friends, his family.

The next photo: just her and the husband, dancing. Looking at each other. He’s smiling, she’s serious.

The next: signing papers.

And the last: her and Michael again, kissing. She touches her lips. They’re dry.

So, she had a wedding.

She’s married. She has a husband, who is back at the flat.

A message from him pops up on the screen, as if to confirm: Hey if you pass a shop could you get a light bulb? Screw-in, not bayonet.

She almost drops the phone – it’s as if he’s caught her spying on him – but she calms herself and messages back, Sure. That’s the kind of thing you say, right?

Okay, what else? First, she searches Michael in her email and finds a surname: Michael Callebaut.

She has also, apparently, become a Callebaut. Well. It’s a step up from Strickland.

She googles the husband but there are a bunch of Michael Callebauts, so she adds ‘london’, scrolls through the image results. God, does she even remember what he looks like? Yes: there he is, gazing at her, a headshot in front of stone.

It’s from an architectural firm that lists him halfway down their ‘About Us’ page. The company’s website has pictures of churches, a library, a hall in the City, a fairground. She can’t always tell whether their designs are real photographs of things they’ve built or computer mock-ups of things they’ve imagined.

An architect, though! What a perfect job for a husband. Ambitious yet concrete, artistic yet practical, glamorous yet without an industry-wide drug problem. No wonder he’s filled in the dent in the kitchen wall and planted a vegetable garden. Wait, might her job be different in this new world? She checks, and no: she’s still a business advisor at the council, persuading companies to move to Croydon and helping local residents set up new projects. Her calendar is highlighted blue instead of green, but it has most of the same meetings, maybe in a different order.

Still. Plenty of other changes to be getting on with. ‘Lauren Callebaut,’ she says out loud, trying it out. She opens the can of water and takes a sip. It’s metallic and unpleasant, somehow tasteless and sour at the same time, but she takes another. Perhaps this is her new life: she drinks grapefruit water now.

She walks back slowly, carefully, picking up a light bulb at the petrol station and dawdling, stopping a moment at the corner to her road, trying to give normality a chance to re-establish itself; but as she nears the house she can still see, in the living-room windows, shutters instead of the curtains that were there yesterday.

The front door: no. Not yet. She circles around the side instead, sidles past the bins, takes in the house from the back, looks up towards the bedroom and the kitchen where she can see that a ceramic jar she has never owned is sitting just inside the window, stuffed with utensils.

The garden has changed a little. Toby and Maryam’s side, visible across the low fence, is the same as always, enthusiastically started but erratically maintained. Her half – hers and Michael’s, she supposes – is looking a little better than it used to, with the vegetable patch at the back (it’s very minimal, some peas and a lettuce). A row of pinkish flowers along the fence. A bowl half-filled with dry pellets by the outdoor tap. She has a cat. Or Michael has a cat? They have a cat together?

What is my cat called she messages Toby.

She texts her sister, Nat, too, Quick question, what do you think about my relationship situation, and Elena, Was anything weird for you when you got home last night?

She gets a call right away from Nat, and answers, but it turns out it’s Caleb with Nat’s phone.

‘Auntie Lauren!’ he says. ‘Do you want to listen while I do some karate?’, then there’s rustling noises, and a yell, and a thud.

‘Caleb,’ she calls, ‘Caleb. Is Mummy there?’

‘No! She’s giving Magda a bath! I’ll do the kick again.’

At this point she’d take any adult. ‘What about Mamma?’

‘No! They say getting Magda in the bath is a job for two! Did you hear it?’

God, she loves him but this is not the time. ‘Caleb. I’m going to have to go. Give Mummy her phone back, okay? And tell her to call me. You can send me a video of the karate, all right?’

‘I’ll give it to her if you get Uncle Michael!’ Caleb says. ‘Uncle Michael always listens to me.’

Huh. Maybe Caleb has more to contribute to this than she thought. ‘Yes. Caleb. What can you tell me about Uncle Michael?’

‘He loves it when I show him my good kicks,’ Caleb says decisively. ‘And his favourite dinosaur is the triceratops and his favourite bird is the swan.’

‘And you’ve seen him a lot?’

‘I’m his favourite nephew!’

‘Caleb. Do you remember the wedding? When Uncle Michael and I got married?’

‘It was boring,’ he says. ‘Tell Uncle Michael to call me about some kicking,’ and he hangs up.

She looks at the phone.

‘Are you okay?’ Toby says from the other side of the fence. He’s on the steps outside his back door, holding his phone. Steady voice, big dimple, unflattering baggy T- shirt.

It’s good to see not everything has changed.

‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘just – I didn’t have a husband yesterday. And now I’ve had a husband for months? Who likes to practise kicks with my nephew? I mean, as far as I can tell he’s perfectly pleasant.’

‘I like him.’ Toby has always been good at taking things in his stride. During lockdowns the two of them had hung out in their respective gardens while Maryam was at the hospital, drinking cups of tea and chatting quietly, and he had been dependable and unruffled and a comfort in the strangeness. It feels good to say, out loud, what’s happened now.

‘It’s very surprising,’ she says. ‘And apparently we’ve got a cat?’

‘Yeah?’

‘What’s it called?’

‘Gladstone,’ he says.

‘Like the prime minister?’

‘Yeah, because of the sideburns, you said.’

Lauren is sure she doesn’t know what Gladstone’s sideburns looked like. What did Gladstone do? How racist was he? Does she have a problematic cat? This is perhaps not her most pressing issue.

‘How long have I been seeing Michael?’

‘Wait, do you really not remember? Are you – did you hurt yourself? Do you want me to get Maryam?’

‘No, I’m fine,’ she says. ‘I don’t need a doctor. I’m just joking, ignore me, I’m good.’

Around the front, she hesitates again. The main door, the tiled hallway, her own front door, the stairs.

‘Hello,’ she calls out, tentative, and the husband pokes his head out to look down from the landing. ‘Welcome back,’ he says. ‘Good walk?’

‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘Sure.’ Up the stairs, one at a time.

‘Did you get the light bulb?’ the husband asks.

‘Oh,’ she says, and fishes in the bag, holding it out as she reaches the top. ‘Yeah, here.’

She’s going to have to tell someone what’s happened, she thinks. Maybe she’s even going to have to tell this man, this husband.

But first, she needs a little sit. ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’

‘That’d be great,’ he says. ‘Just gimme a sec. The attic light was out when I was up there yesterday, let me change it while I remember.’

‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘okay.’ She heads into the kitchen while he stays on the landing and pulls the ladder down – hears him jerk it to one side at the place where it always catches, like he’s lived here for years. In the fridge, she is confronted by three different milks in a row: oat, cashew, dairy. God, and what if he drinks it black? He’s an architect, after all. She’ll just have to ask, and if he thinks it’s weird then so be it. Maybe it’ll be a way into a conversation that she still doesn’t know how to start. ‘Do you want milk?’ she calls out, stepping back on to the landing with the blue mug in her hands.

‘What?’ says an entirely different man, climbing down the ladder from the attic.


The Husbands Holly Gramazio

A brilliantly original, funny and astute debut that examines how we navigate life, love and choice in a world of never-ending options

Buy now
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