The Hewitts live in North London, in a big old house with high ceilings, long windows and a garden that has been photographed for a magazine. The carved oak dining room table came from the refectory of a French monastery and the teak four-poster bed was made in Goa. Mrs Hewitt bid for her furniture at auctions, one piece at a time, and she had the damaged pieces restored. She went to artists’ studios with plastic bags full of cash to haggle about the price of the abstract expressionist paintings that cover the walls. Mrs Hewitt loves the house and everything in it. They bought it when it was a warren of bed-sitting rooms – she showed me the photos – and she made it beautiful. The house is her life’s work. Everything in her home looks like it costs much more than she paid for, with the exception of her husband.
Mrs Hewitt used to work as a solicitor helping people to buy and sell their homes, which must be a terrible job: boring legal work combined with having to deal with people at their maddest. She got out as soon as she had finished renovating and furnishing the house. Mr Hewitt is a director of a management consultancy firm.
Georgina Hewitt, their daughter, is thirty years old and she lives in her bedroom. She wears a lavender one-piece suit with a fur trimmed hood and she has the face of a child on the body of a woman. When Georgina was bullied at school, her parents employed tutors to educate her at home. It is many years since she has felt the sun on her skin. I once looked at her search history when I was cleaning her room and discovered she spends her days following female celebrities. The woman nobody knows spends her life learning about the lives of women everyone knows.
I was cleaning the kitchen cupboards last Monday morning when Mr Hewitt came into the room, dressed in a navy suit that fitted too well to be off the peg. His grey hair was short as a newly mown lawn and his beard was carefully sculpted. His wife and daughter were sitting at the mosaic table drinking vegetable juice. I watched and listened; I am very interested in couples, in how they survive without killing each other or themselves.
‘Will you be home for supper?’ asked Mrs Hewitt without looking at him.
‘I’m not sure.’ He knew this would infuriate her.
She controlled her irritation and said: ‘I want to make sure I have enough fish.’
Georgina stared at her father with the loathing her mother was concealing.
It depends on whether I have to work late and that depends on how often I’m interrupted. Couldn’t you buy enough fish for three and freeze some if I can’t make it?’
‘It’s never as good if you freeze it.’
‘Put my portion in the fridge and I’ll eat it when I get home if I’m late.’
‘You never eat when you come home late. The meal will be thrown out.’
‘Couldn’t you get some steak; that’ll keep?’
‘Georgina doesn’t eat meat anymore, and I’m not going to cook two different meals.’
‘I’ll ring as soon as I know what’s happening.’ He had no intention of coming home for supper but he didn’t want to give her the pleasure of anticipating his absence.
‘It would make life easier if you made a decision now.’
‘And your life is so hard.’ He is resentful that she retired early.
Mrs Hewitt got up from the table, turned her back on him, and started loading the dishwasher. Georgina glared at him and rushed out of the room.
Mr Hewitt felt guilty because he loved his sullen, hermit daughter.
‘I’ll ring before eleven to let you know.’
‘I don’t care what you fucking do.’
He walked out the kitchen door, stood at the bottom of the stairs, and shouted up: ‘Goodbye, Georgina.’
She didn’t reply.
‘Enjoy your day, Georgina.’
There was no answer.
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