Mostly I write funny. It comes easy to me – making people laugh has always seemed to make up for any lack of appropriate clothing, political knowledge, or ability on the hockey field. But I don’t always read funny or think funny. And every so often the darker, stranger, and more dangerous thoughts push up like butterflies from inside, and take the form of a book. This time it’s in the shape of Eden, which is a love letter to Cornwall, to 1988, to the Smiths, to New Cross and Manchester back streets, to Daphne du Maurier, and to turning 18 that long, hot summer. It’s published in July by Walker, but they’ve released the cover and an extract (and new covers for Wonderland and Paradise, which I’ll post over the next few days). So here they are. I hope you like them, as these, of all the things I’ve written, are a big fat piece of me and what I felt like at eighteen, and what I wanted to be, and knew I wasn’t.
Eden by Joanna Nadin
“I wait for my heart to slow and then I begin the game of “what ifs” and “if onlys”. What if I could turn back time? Would Eden still stand? Would Bea still be alive?”
After Evie’s cousin Bea is killed in a house fire, she returns to her childhood home of Eden, full of guilt for what might have been. She is not the only one seeking redemption. Bea’s boyfriend, Penn, arrives in Cornwall, desperate to atone for a terrible mistake. And as Penn and Evie’s feelings for each other intensify, Evie slowly unravels the dark truth behind Bea’s tragic death…
I still dream of Eden. Not the burnt, broken shell it is now, nor even the sweating, stifling coffin it became that last summer, when it was shrouded in dust sheets, awaiting burial like a corpse. No, the Eden in my mind is the one from my childhood when my entire world was contained within its cool, granite walls and high hedges, and my imagination played out on its velvet lawns and in the creeping dampness of the woods.
The slightest, strangest thing will open up a chink in my veneer: the curve in a flock-papered wall; the plastic taint of squash from a child’s beaker; a nettle sting on a grazed knee. And then through this crack the memories swarm; teeming from unfathomed depths into my conscious, like the swift surge of ants across a careless drip of jam. I remember the faded roses on the drawing room carpet under my always-bare feet; bright rhomboids of light from the leaded windows that cast their own tessellation on the black and white check of the hallway tiles; the sound of Bea’s breath, the comfort of its steady rise and fall as she lay in the narrow wooden bed next to mine. Then, these clear-as-yesterday sensations are joined by other fleeting glimpses in time: thirteen-year-old Bea reading, stretched across a princess bed in a turret, locked away from our world and immersed in another; sixteen-year-old Bea holding court in the back room of a smoky pub, its carpet sticky with spilt lager and Coke and patterned with the fallen ash from her cigarettes; almost-adult Bea’s laughter spilling out through the trees like bright butterflies as sweet-sixteen-year-old me runs down the path to the boathouse to meet her. An unceasing parade of Kodak moments surround me; a swirling dustbowl of memory that lifts me up and sends me soaring. Like Icarus seeking the sun, I fly so high that the trees become the odd, spongy miniatures from a toy train set, the house a shrunken version of itself rendered in painted plastic, and the creek a sliver of foil stuck down with a brush and glue.
Then I see them: Bea and a boy; my boy – Tom – or one I want for my own. Their brown-limbed bodies are close, too close; their fingers touching; now, their lips; a hot hand on a sand-spackled back; a sound, his, of pleasure; then my own, of disgust. Bea could have had anyone. So why him? Why Tom? And I begin to fall; a giddy, stomach-swirling tumble down towards the water; a fall I cannot possibly survive. I hit the surface, and my breath is knocked from my body, but I don’t sink. Instead I’m thrown, gasping, onto the shore of the “now” me: the writer, her fingers poised mid-sentence above a keyboard; the mother kneeling at the refrigerator door, milk carton in hand; the wife wrapped around the familiar curve of her husband’s spine in a bedroom twenty-something years and two hundred and more miles away from Eden.
I wait for my heart to slow and my breathing to even out into a tick-tock rhythm, like a clock counting out a life in hours and minutes. And then I begin the game. Not an I-spy or a who-am-I or any of the charades that Bea and I would conjure up and convolute to fill a rainy afternoon or dark winter morning, but a darker game, filled with the danger and deliciousness of truth or dare. It is a game of “what ifs” and “if onlys”. If I could turn back time; if I could have been different – looked different; if I had said this and not said that. Would there have been a different ending? Would Eden still stand? Would Bea still be alive?
But the game is pointless. For I can’t change what has been. Only what I take from it. Besides, paradise is not lost in a single day. Eden didn’t fall in the furnace of that afternoon, nor because of the match struck a year before by a single kiss. A kiss that at the time meant everything, meant the world – or at least the end of mine – but which I know now was worth less than nothing. The truth is that decay had crept in long ago, though I, rose-tinted, and blinded by hope didn’t see the flames already crackling beneath my feet. A tinder set for every loss, every argument between me and Bea, every “wish you weren’t here”; kindling stacked on high over months and years, until Eden’s very foundations were a dessicated, precarious heap, waiting for a single Lucifer to be dropped.