OMG, Mum’s gone insane.
Not normal Mum-insane. Serious insane.
Normal Mum-insane: Mum says, “Let’s all do this great gluten-free diet I read about in the Daily Mail!” Mum buys three loaves of gluten-free bread. It’s so disgusting our mouths curl up. The family goes on strike and Mum hides her sandwich in the flower bed and next week we’re not gluten free anymore.
That’s normal Mum-insane. But this is serious insane. She’s standing at her bedroom window, which overlooks Rosewood Close, where we live. No, standing sounds too normal. Mum does not look normal. She’s teetering, leaning over the edge, a wild look in her eye. And she’s holding my brother Frank’s computer. It’s balanced precariously on the window ledge. Any minute, it’ll crash down to the ground. That’s seven hundred pounds’ worth of computer.
Does she realize this? Seven hundred pounds. She’s always telling us we don’t know the value of money. She’s always saying stuff like “Do you have any idea how hard it is to earn ten pounds?” and “You wouldn’t waste that electricity if you had to pay for it.”
Well, how about earning seven hundred pounds and then deliberately smashing it on the ground?
Below us, on the front lawn, Frank is scampering about in his Big Bang Theory T-shirt, clutching his head and gibbering with panic.
“Mum.” His voice has gone all high-pitched with terror. “Mum, that’s my computer!”
“I know it’s your computer!” Mum cries hysterically. “Don’t you think I know that?”
“Mum, please, can we talk about this?”
“I’ve tried talking!” Mum lashes back. “I’ve tried cajoling, arguing, pleading, reasoning, bribing . . . I’ve tried everything! EVERYTHING, Frank!”
“But I need my computer!”
“You do not need your computer!” Mum yells, so furiously that I flinch.
“Mummy is going to throw the computer!” says Felix, running onto the grass and looking up in disbelieving joy. Felix is our little brother. He’s four. He greets most life events with disbelieving joy. A lorry in the street! Ketchup! An extra-long chip! Mum throwing a computer out of the window is just another one on the list of daily miracles.
“Yes, and then the computer will break,” says Frank fiercely. “And you won’t be able to play Star Wars ever again, ever.”
Felix’s face crumples in dismay and Mum flinches with fresh anger.
“Frank!” she yells. “Do not upset your brother!”
Now our neighbours across the close, the McDuggans, have come out to watch. Their twelve-year-old son, Ollie, actually yells, “Noooo!” when he sees what Mum’s about to do. “Mrs. Turner!” He hurries across the street to our lawn and gazes up pleadingly, along with Frank.
Ollie sometimes plays Land of Conquerors online with Frank if Frank’s in a kind mood and doesn’t have anyone else to play with. Now Ollie looks even more freaked out than Frank.
“Please don’t break the computer, Mrs. Turner,” he says, trembling. “It has all Frank’s backed-up game commentaries on it. They’re so funny.” He turns to Frank. “They’re really funny.”
“Thanks,” mutters Frank.
“Your mum’s really like . . .” He blinks nervously. “She’s like Goddess Warrior Enhanced Level Seven.”
“I’m what?” demands Mum.
“It’s a compliment,” snaps Frank, rolling his eyes. “Which you’d know if you played. Level Eight,” he corrects Ollie.”
“Right,” Ollie hastily agrees. “Eight.”
“You can’t even communicate in English!” Mum flips. “Real life is not a series of levels!”
“Mum, please,” Frank chimes in. “I’ll do anything. I’ll stack the dishwasher. I’ll phone Grandma every night. I’ll . . .” He casts wildly about. “I’ll read to deaf people.”
Read to deaf people? Can he actually hear what he’s saying?
“Deaf people?” Mum explodes. “Deaf people? I don’t need you to read to deaf people! You’re the bloody deaf one around here! You never hear anything I say! You always have those wretched earphones in—”
I turn to see Dad joining the fray, and a couple of neighbours are stepping out of their front doors. This is officially a Neighbourhood Incident.
“Anne!” Dad calls again.
“Let me do this, Chris,” says Mum warningly, and I can see Dad gulp. My dad is tall and handsome in a car advert way, and he looks like the boss, but inside, he isn’t really an alpha male.
No, that sounds bad. He’s alpha in a lot of ways, I suppose. Only Mum is even more alpha. She’s strong and bossy and pretty and bossy.
I said bossy twice, didn’t I?
Well. Draw your own conclusions from that.
“I know you’re angry, sweetheart,” Dad’s saying soothingly. “But isn’t this a little extreme?”
“Extreme? He’s extreme! He’s addicted, Chris!” “I’m not addicted!” Frank yells.
“I’m just saying—”
“What?” Mum finally turns her head to look at Dad properly. “What are you saying?”
“If you drop it there, you’ll damage the car.” Dad winces. “Maybe shift to the left a little?”
“I don’t care about the car! This is tough love!” She tilts the computer more precariously on the window ledge and we all gasp, including the watching neighbours.
“Love?” Frank is shouting up at Mum. “If you loved me you wouldn’t break my computer!”
“Well, if you loved me, Frank, you wouldn’t get up at two a.m. behind my back to play online with people in Korea!” “You got up at two a.m.?” says Ollie to Frank, wide-eyed. “Practicing.” Frank shrugs. “I was practicing,” he repeats to Mum with emphasis. “I have a tournament coming up! You’ve always said I should have a goal in life! Well, I have!”
“Playing Land of Conquerors is not a goal! Oh God, oh God . . .” She bangs her head on the computer. “Where did I go wrong?”
“Oh, Audrey,” says Ollie suddenly, spotting me. “Hi, how are you?”
I shrink back from my position at my bedroom window in fright. My window is tucked away on a corner, and no-one was meant to notice me. Least of all Ollie, who I’m pretty sure has a tiny crush on me, even though he’s two years younger than me and barely reaches up to my chest.
“Look, it’s the celebrity!” quips Ollie’s dad, Rob. He’s been calling me “the celebrity” for the last four weeks, even though Mum and Dad have separately been over to ask him to stop. He thinks it’s funny and that my parents have no sense of humour. (I’ve often noticed that people equate “having a sense of humour” with “being an insensitive moron.”)
This time, though, I don’t think Mum or Dad has even heard Rob’s oh-so-witty joke. Mum is still moaning “Where did I go wroooong?” and Dad is peering at her anxiously.
“You didn’t go wrong!” he calls up. “Nothing’s wrong! Darling, come down and have a drink. Put the computer down . . . for now,” he adds hastily at her expression. “You can throw it out of the window later.”
Mum doesn’t move an inch. The computer is rocking still more precariously on the windowsill, and Dad flinches. “Sweetheart, I’m just thinking about the car . . . We’ve only just paid it off . . .” He moves towards the car and holds out his hands, as though to shield it from plummeting hardware.
“Get a blanket!” says Ollie, springing to life. “Save the computer! We need a blanket. We’ll form a circle . . .”
Mum doesn’t even seem to hear him.
“I breast-fed you!” she shrieks at Frank. “I read you Winnie-the-Pooh! All I wanted was a well-rounded son who would be interested in books and art and the outdoors and museums and maybe a competitive sport . . .”
“LOC is a competitive sport!” yells Frank. “You don’t know anything about it! It’s a serious thing! You know, the prize pot in the international LOC competition in Toronto this year is six million dollars!”
“So you keep telling us!” Mum erupts. “So, what, you’re going to win that, are you? Make your fortune?”
“Maybe.” He gives her a dark look. “If I get enough practice.”
“Frank, get real!” Her voice echoes around the close, shrill and almost scary. “You’re not entering the international LOC competition, you’re not going to win the bloody six-million-dollar prize pot, and you’re not going to make your living from gaming! IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!”
Excerpted from Finding Audrey. Copyright © 2015 Sophie Kinsella. Published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
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