Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Available Now: Oppression by Dianne Noble

Dianne Noble


(99c/99p through 18 June)
When she tries preventing the abduction and forced marriage of 16-year-old Layla, Beth defies her controlling husband, Duncan, and travels to Cairo where she finds the girl now lives in the vast necropolis known as The City of the Dead. She’s hiding from her abusive husband, and incites fellow Muslim women to rebel against the oppression under which they live. Beth identifies with this and begins helping her.

Cairo is in a state of political unrest, and Beth gets caught up in one of the many protests. She’s rescued by Harry, who splits his working life between Egypt and England, and they eventually fall in love. When Harry returns home and Layla vanishes, Beth begins being stalked and threatened with violence. And then Duncan turns up...

Can Beth ever find peace, or will her hopes of happiness remain shattered?

Will Layla's ideals of freedom ever be fulfilled?

• • •

A solitary egg boiled furiously in the pan, billows of steam filling the kitchen. Duncan didn’t acknowledge her, just stared out of the window which ran with condensation, small pools gathering on the sill. Beth’s stomach clenched. The world had turned monochrome, the early morning optimism that today might be better, leeched away. What had she done – or not done – this time? Pointless asking. He wouldn’t answer. Yet another day of silence loomed, a day of sitting in separate rooms, eating at different times. Her gaze shifted from his rigid body to her dog, Jake, slumped in the furthest corner of the kitchen. His tail gave a half-hearted thump on the floor. He didn’t move, watched her with solemn eyes. She wrapped her arms around herself as the hall clock chimed the half hour and wondered how many days it would be this time.

Once she’d been able to focus on Duncan’s great sense of humour, his sensitivity, but now the good days were few. She couldn’t cope any longer with his suspicion if she left the house, the way he criticised, put her down. Was it her fault? Would things be different if she was different? Lost weight? Became a better cook? Went on top more often? She shook her head. When had they last made love? Her fault again, but desire wasn’t something that could be suddenly dredged up just because the other person’s mood had improved. It needed to be a slow build up and there was never enough time between his…episodes. Sex had come to resemble a fading newsreel.

She started as he got to his feet, the chair scraping on the tiled floor. He fished the egg out of the pan onto a plate and sat down again, his back to her. The sound of rasping filled the air as he buttered his toast before he cut it into quarters, the way he always did. He wore the navy blue bathrobe. She should have noticed the white one, the good mood one, had stayed on its hook on the back of the bathroom door. He hadn’t turned off the cooker. She watched the blue flower of gas, heard it hiss, listened to him tap the top of his egg with a spoon, then went into the hall and climbed the mahogany staircase, her feet soundless in the deep pile of the Axminster. Sitting on the edge of the bed, like a guest who has risen too early, she waited until she heard him go up to his studio on the third floor.

Jake rushed towards her, claws skittering on the tiles, when she came back down and opened the kitchen door. He pushed his head under her hand and tears stung her eyes. She dropped to the floor and hugged him, comforted by his warmth, the silkiness of his coat. It had been her sister’s suggestion to buy a Golden Retriever; she’d said they were loving and friendly dogs. Beth had never regretted her decision—she loved Jake to bits.

On the side stood the cast iron casserole dish containing last night’s lamb shanks, coldly congealed. She slid the dish into the fridge and took out a bottle of milk. Then she reached into the cupboard for the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, wrinkling her nose at the neat columns of Duncan’s vitamins, his bowel-opening fibre bars next to her Kit-Kats. A nutritional Nazi, her sister Maggie called him, said he despised anything pleasurable. The red polka-dot cereal bowl seemed too frivolous for the gloomy house so she put it back and took down a dark green one, tipped out a handful of cereal and poured milk over it. Her throat closed and she couldn’t swallow it. All the silent hours, all his rages, settled in her stomach in a single burning spot. She couldn’t do this anymore.

Beth’s spoon clattered into the bowl, splashing milk across the table as she jumped up. Out. She had to get out. A sliver of sunlight angled through the stained glass of the fanlight above the front door, sprinkling a waiting Jake with lozenges of red and gold light.

Beth buttoned her coat, pushed her feet into boots and jammed on a woolly hat. ‘Come on, boy.’

The sun struggled to rise above the elm trees as they set out across the frost-starched field. All around them the Yorkshire Dales rolled out like a gently rumpled bed, the querulous bleats of sheep filling the air. Cold scoured her lungs and she turned up her collar. Jake stretched himself into an excited run, turned and barked, tore back to her. She ran with him, on and on, her boots cracking the skin of icy puddles until the tension left her body.

‘Morning. Bit parky.’ A fellow dog walker, muffled into shapelessness, clutched a pink plastic bag as his spaniel squatted on quivering haunches, its expression embarrassed.

‘Certainly is. A white Christmas, maybe?’


Over an hour later when her fingers and toes had become numb, she knew she would have to return to the house. She dragged her feet while Jake ran backwards and forwards, barking furiously at crows pecking between the cart tracks. She hesitated outside the front door, then took off her gloves and felt in her pockets. Did she still have the car keys with her? Yes!

‘Let’s go and see Dad. You up for it, Jake?’

He’d pushed his way on to the back seat of the car almost before she had the door open. She held her breath as she reversed out of the garage - if she clipped Duncan’s Audi there’d be hell to pay – and edged out of the drive on to the B road which the council never gritted. The light had a raw, sharp edge and frost covered every branch like fur. She drove with caution, slowing right down on corners, only relaxing when she joined the traffic on the main Ripon road, which had been gritted. Now she didn’t have the constant worry of skidding, Duncan came into her mind. Why did she let him terrorise her like this? Had she always been so timid?

• • •

Dianne Noble was on a troopship sailing for Singapore at the age of seven and hasn’t stopped travelling since. Her last trip was to Moscow but her favourite place remains India. The atmospheric settings of her novels reflect her experiences.

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