Sometimes I Lie Page 3

As the clock counts down to the top of the hour, everyone moves into place. Madeline and I make our way to the studio, to resume our familiar positions on a darkened centre stage. We are observed through an enormous glass window from the safety of the gallery, like two very different animals mistakenly placed in the same enclosure. Jo and the rest of the producers sit in the gallery. It is bright and loud, with a million different-coloured buttons that look terribly complicated given the simplicity of what we actually do; talk to people and pretend to enjoy it. In contrast, the studio is dimly lit and uncomfortably silent. There is just a table, some chairs and a couple of microphones. Madeline and I sit in the gloom, quietly ignoring each other, waiting for the on air light to go red and the first act to begin.

‘Good morning and welcome to Monday’s edition of Coffee Morning, I’m Madeline Frost. A little later on today’s show, we’ll be joined by best-selling author E. B. Knight, but before that, we’ll be discussing the rising number of female breadwinners and, for today’s phone-in, we’re inviting you to get in touch on the subject of imaginary friends. Did you have one as a child? Perhaps you still do . . .’

The familiar sound of her on-air voice calms me and I switch to autopilot, waiting for my turn to say something. I wonder if Paul is awake yet. He hasn’t been himself lately: staying up late in his writing shed, coming to bed just before I get up, or not at all. He likes to call the shed a cabin. I like to call things what they are.

We spent an evening with E. B. Knight once, when Paul’s first novel took off. That was over five years ago now, not long after we first met. I was a TV reporter at the time. Local news, nothing fancy. But seeing yourself on screen does force you to make an effort with your appearance, unlike radio. I was slim then, I didn’t know how to cook; I didn’t have anyone to cook for before Paul and rarely made an effort just for myself. Besides, I was too busy working. I mostly did pieces about potholes or the theft of lead from church roofs, but one day, serendipity decided to intervene. Our showbiz reporter went sick and I was sent to interview some hotshot new author instead of her. I hadn’t even read his book. I was hungover and resented having to do someone else’s job for them, but that all changed when he walked in the room.

Paul’s publisher had hired a suite at the Ritz for the interview, it felt like a stage and I felt like an actress who hadn’t learned her lines. I remember feeling out of my depth, but when he sat down in the chair opposite me, I realised he was more nervous than I was. It was his first television interview and I somehow managed to put him at ease. When he asked for my card afterwards, I didn’t really think anything of it, but my cameraman took great pleasure commenting on our ‘chemistry’ all the way back to the car. I felt like a schoolgirl when he called that night. We talked and it was easy, as though we already knew each other. He said he had to go to a book awards ceremony the week after and didn’t have a date. He wondered if I might be free. I was. We sat on the same table as E. B. Knight for the ceremony, it was like having dinner with a legend and a very memorable first date. She was charming, clever and witty. I’ve been looking forward to seeing her again ever since I knew they had booked her as a guest.

‘Good to see you,’ I say, as the producer brings her into the studio.

‘Nice to meet you too,’ she replies, taking her seat. Not a flicker of recognition; how easy I am to forget.

Her trademark white bob frames her petite eighty-year-old face. She’s immaculate, even her wrinkles are neatly arranged. She looks soft around the edges, but her mind is sharp and fast. Her cheeks are pink with blusher and her blue eyes are wise and watchful, darting around the studio before fixing on their target. She smiles warmly at Madeline as though she is meeting a hero. Guests do that sometimes. It doesn’t bother me, not really.

After the show, we all shuffle into the meeting room for the debrief. We sit, waiting for Madeline, the room falling silent when she finally arrives. Matthew begins talking through the stories – what worked well, what didn’t. Madeline’s face isn’t happy, her mouth contorts so that it looks like she’s unwrapping toffees with her arse. The rest of us keep quiet and I allow my mind to wander once more.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star . . .

Madeline interjects with a frown.

How I wonder what you are.

She tuts, rolls her eyes.

Up above the world so high . . .

When Madeline has run out of unspoken criticisms, the team stand and begin to file out.

Like a diamond in the sky.

‘Amber, can I have a word?’ says Matthew, dragging me from my daydream. Judging by his tone, I don’t have a choice. He closes the meeting room door and I sit back down, searching his face for clues. As usual, he is impossible to read, void of emotion; his mother could have just died and you’d never know. He takes a biscuit from the plate we leave out for the guests and gestures for me to do the same. I shake my head. When Matthew wants to make a point, he always seems to take the scenic route. He tries to smile at me but soon tires from the effort and takes a bite of his biscuit instead. A couple of crumbs make themselves at home on his thin lips, which frequently part and snap shut like a goldfish, as he struggles to find the right words.

‘So, I could make small talk, ask how you are, pretend that I care, that sort of thing, or I can come straight to the point,’ he says. A knot of dread ties itself in my stomach.

‘Go on,’ I say, wishing that he wouldn’t.

‘How are things now with you and Madeline?’ he asks, taking another bite.

‘Same as always, she hates me,’ I reply too soon. My turn to wear the fake smile now, the label still attached so I can return it when I’m done.

‘Yes, she does, and that’s a problem,’ says Matthew. I shouldn’t be surprised by this and yet I am. ‘I know she didn’t make your life easy when you first joined the team, but it’s been hard for her too, adjusting to having you around. This tension between the two of you, it doesn’t seem to be improving. You might think people don’t pick up on it, but they do. The two of you having good chemistry is really important for the show and the rest of the team.’ He stares at me, waiting for a response I don’t know how to give. ‘Do you think you might be able to work on your relationship with her?’

‘Well, I suppose I can try . . .’

‘Good. I didn’t realise quite how unhappy the situation was making her until today. She’s delivered a bit of an ultimatum.’ He pauses, and clears his throat before carrying on. ‘She wants me to replace you.’

I wait for him to say more but he doesn’t. His words hang in the space between us while I try to make sense of them.

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