I also designed the cover which I hope captures the festive feeling that will soon be grabbing us all.
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Under the robe, he wore pale blue cotton pyjamas that he preferred to be ironed, even though they were the non-iron variety. Roger was the chief financial officer of an insurance company in the City. He worked long hours and had amassed them a considerable fortune that had made it unnecessary for Eleanor to find paid employment ever since she'd given birth to the first of their two sons, now aged fifteen and seventeen.
The teenagers had returned to their lairs, otherwise known as their bedrooms, after they had ravaged the Christmas wrapping paper that she had so carefully folded over their expensive ipods, computer equipment and designer clothes that she had bought for them.
Roger was pleased with his aftershave, new leather briefcase and Cartier cufflinks. Eleanor was happy she didn't seem to have made any faux pas, present-wise.
"Darling, you haven't opened your present yet." Roger's voice broke through her thoughts. He indicated a bulky package that was far too neat to have been wrapped by him.
Eleanor smiled. "Thank you," she said, perching on the arm of the sofa as she carefully opened the parcel. Inside was a fluffy robe from...she cast a closer look at the label…Marks and Spencer. Eleanor's smile faltered and forced it to remain on her lips. "It's just what I wanted," she said, a little too brightly.
Seemingly satisfied, Roger went back to reading the sports section of yesterday's Telegraph. Eleanor felt like screaming. She had worked so hard to think of nice things to buy him. The briefcase had his initials embossed on it, the cufflinks had cost a small fortune.
Then she thought of the expensive Prada wallet she had bought for his personal assistant on his behalf. She knew without asking it wasn't Roger who had chosen the robe. She glanced at it again. Pale pink, size 16. Eleanor was a svelte size 10. She shouldn't be ungrateful, she told herself. Roger provides for us so well and she could always go and buy what she wanted whenever she wanted. But as she rose and turned away towards the kitchen, the long silk robe she had bought for herself just months before swishing around her, she couldn't stop her lower lip from trembling, just a little.
The problem, she reasoned, was the lack of thought that had gone into it. It wasn't that she had wanted something expensive, but it would have been nice if Roger had actually thought, just for a few moments, what she might like as a gift. He rarely did these days. When they met and they had both been newly minted accountants, they had had so much fun going places together, being spontaneous. Flying off on a short break on a whim.
After they married the good life had continued, working and playing hard. Roger was on a fast-track promotion route and when Simon was born, it just made sense for Eleanor to give up her job and devote her time to looking after the baby and Roger. She became the perfect corporate wife. Coiffed, toned and tanned, despite producing two babies, two years apart. That had been their life ever since.
She had spoiled the boys, given them all her attention to make up for the fact that their father worked long days and often weekends. They repaid her by leaving their dirty clothes scattered on the floor wherever they took them off, just as they had done since they were children. They often took dishes of food they had asked for upstairs and rarely brought the empty plates down again. They hardly ever said thank you when she took them to sports practice and picked them up again. They seemed to think the clothes fairy picked up their things, washed and ironed them and replaced them neatly in their drawers.
Eleanor never chided them for their slovenliness. They were only children for such a short time, she told herself. Now, as she tossed the half-wrapped M&S robe on the chair in the hallway and set about preparing the Christmas lunch, she regretted letting them treat her like part of the furniture. To them, she was largely invisible, just a wispy outline behind the wheel of the Range Rover, a chauffeur come housekeeper.
The actual housekeeper, Mrs Jarvis, always tutted at her for letting them treat her with such disregard. Eleanor usually just gave a wan smile and a small, defeated shrug.
But today, Christmas Day, she felt differently. She took out the potatoes she had peeled the night before and left in a pan of water. She cut them into odd shapes so the corners would be sharp when they came out of the goose fat, all brown and crispy, and put them back into the pan in fresh water for par-boiling later.
She checked the turkey, which had been in the oven for some time already. It was basted in cranberry butter that she had forced under the skin for added succulence carefully following a Jamie Oliver recipe. Satisfied that everything was on track, she went up for a shower.
Eleanor paused at the top of the stairs listening to the various sounds coming from each boy's bedroom. Simon was strumming his acoustic guitar and 'singing' along as he played. Jonathan, her fifteen year old, was playing his new shoot 'em up game on his X-box. Neither of them had bothered to buy her a gift or a card.
She put her shoulders back, lifted her head up and crossed to the large bedroom suite she shared with Roger. It was beautifully fitted out and she had a large dressing table upon which sat her expensive Crème De La Mer moisturiser and her Chanel make-up bag.
She opened her top drawer and slid out a packet of blister-wrapped tablets, popping one out and swallowing it without water. Prozac, mother's little helpers. She sat to brush out her hair, feeling miserable and taken for granted.
Her face reflected in the mirror was unlined, thanks to regular non-surgical face-lifts and her honeyed bob had been perfectly highlighted and cut at Vidal Sassoon in Sloane Street just the day before. Securing it back with a band, she shrugged out of her robe and matching silk night-slip and crossed into the en-suite wet-room.
The water took seconds to heat up and Eleanor stepped under the powerful jets. Before she knew what was happening, before she could rationalise her misery any further, her face crumpled and huge tears rolled down her cheeks. Her head dipped forward, the fierce water jets wetting the hair she had meant to keep dry. Eleanor angrily snatched off the band keeping it back and threw it to the floor of the shower.
She knew what she was, she was a bloody Stepford wife and she hated it. She hated her life in a gilded cage, doing just what was expected of her while no one cared how she felt. She was 48 years old and a walking stereotype of a well-heeled woman.
Over the hammering of the water, she suddenly hear Roger calling, "Darling, are you almost finished? Mother will be here soon."
Bugger, she thought. Bloody Regina. Why couldn't the old bird just hurry up and die? Roger's mother always came for Christmas lunch. Regina was 79 years old, a widow of a more than a decade, after her own husband had worked himself into an early grave. She was the epitome of health and showed no signs of following her husband to the world beyond. Or the world below, more likely, thought Eleanor, grimly.
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