The Girl in the Maze by Cathy Hayward was published by Agora Books on 28 October 2021.
Today I have an extract to share.
Emma January 2019
Margaret died not as she lived, but quietly, slipping away after twenty years of dramatic illnesses where three times she had been given just hours to live. There was a certain irony, Emma felt, that on those occasions she had rushed up to her mother’s bedside in Morecambe, yet she missed her actual death. Emma tracked back. As her mother left this world, Emma had been in her local Tesco. Between the cereals and the frozen food. She’d got the call from the solicitor when she was back at home, unpacking the shopping.
Emma sighed and looked around the small solicitor’s office. The window ledge hadn’t been dusted for years. A dried-out spider plant was caked with decades of grime. The reception area, which doubled as the secretary’s office, was chilly. There was a heater under the desk of the woman who had only reluctantly looked up from her pile of paperwork to welcome Emma. She didn’t look much younger than the building.
Behind the secretary’s desk, Emma saw a figure start to emerge from a narrow corridor. Graham Eals, her mother’s solicitor, looked even more dilapidated than his office. His dark eyes were sunken into his face, barely visible below untamed eyebrows. The hand he held out to greet Emma was equally hairy. Already a short man, he was bent over, as if from the weight of people’s troubles he had shouldered over the years.
He was smiling. ‘Ah, Margaret’s daughter. I was hoping we would meet. It’s a pleasure to see you.’
‘Good to meet you too, Mr Eals.’ They shook hands and he ushered her back down the narrow corridor, years of spilled coffee staining the carpet tiles. The back door was open, the chilly draught ruffling the stacks of paper lining the corridor and breezing into Graham’s small office at the back of the building. The windows here were high up on the wall, so there was no view of whatever lay behind the office. But even if there had been big windows, Emma suspected the old solicitor would have found a way of covering them. Every single surface in the room was buried under piles of manila files held together by elastic bands, labelled in the same spidery script. The top of a mahogany glass-fronted bookcase, which was full of impressive-looking legal tomes, was stacked to the window ledge, and even the chair opposite the old desk had several newer-looking folders on them. Graham slid them onto a pile on his desk and indicated where Emma should sit. He eased himself past another tower of files and sat on a well-worn leather chair opposite her.
He was watching her, the tips of his fingers pressed together, his elbows resting on the cluttered desk. ‘You do look like your mother. I suspect everyone says that.’
Emma smiled. ‘Not many of my friends knew her.’
The contours around his eyes rippled as the old man returned her smile. ‘Your mother was one of my longest-standing clients. I’m sad that this day has come. As a solicitor, you follow a client through their lives, intervening at the crucial points. Births, marriages, divorces, deaths of relatives, house purchases, and, then eventually, death. It’s the natural order of my professional life.’
‘Mum kept you particularly busy I think.’
‘Yes, she was one of my more interesting clients,’ he said slowly, smiling again. ‘Now, have you got the death certificate we discussed on the phone? It is a relatively simple estate so, with a fair wind, we should secure probate in a couple of months.’
Emma drew the envelope out of her bag and handed it over to the solicitor. He took out his glasses and put them on his nose before examining the death certificate closely. He nodded gravely. Then he raised his arms to the sides of the chair and used them to push himself upwards, until he seemed to judge that his knees would be able to support him. He moved slowly over to a pile of files in the corner nearest Emma and selected an enormous series of folders second from the top. It was held together by blue elastic bands, straining against almost a foot of paperwork. What on earth had her mother needed to discuss over the years?
It fell with a thud onto the desk and Graham smiled, the look of a man surveying a job well done. He opened one of the elastic bands and slid in the death certificate.
‘Thank you for arranging to get this so quickly and for offering to sort out her possessions. As I said on the phone, the will makes a number of stipulations about certain items. I always think it’s better for relatives to manage that. It saves unnecessary solicitor’s fees and allows for what the Americans like to call “closure”.’
Emma snorted. ‘I think I’d have to go through years of therapy to get closure with my mother.’
She’d meant the comment light-heartedly, but Graham paused and looked down at the file, stroking it.
‘I’m not a religious man,’ he said quietly, ‘but I believe there’s a phrase in the Bible about walking a mile in another man’s shoes. Until we have done that, we will never understand what it’s like to be the other person.’
Emma looked down at her hands and realised she was twisting her wedding ring around her finger. She placed her hands on the desk and looked up at the old solicitor who was watching her over his glasses, smiling slightly. She nodded. Emma had no wish to walk in her mother’s shoes. Their relationship had been difficult at best.
He eased a couple of sheets of paper out of the file. ‘I have your mother’s will here,’ he said, passing it across the desk, ‘so you can see what needs to be done.’ Emma looked down at the top sheet. Last Will and Testament was printed in large bold letters across the top.
‘This Will is made by me Margaret Bullman of Flat b, 487 Marine Road East, Morecambe on this day Monday the 21st of January 2019,’ she read.
Emma looked up quickly. ‘This will was made the day before she died,’ she said, her eyes wide. ‘Didn’t she have a will before, or did she change it?’
Graham Eals hesitated. ‘Your mother made some small changes to her will just before she died, but it was easier to make a new one than add them in as a codicil.’
Emma frowned and looked down at the document. Her heart started to thud. Why would Margaret change her will just before she died?
About the Book
‘I would caution you against delving into the past. The past is often best left exactly where it is.’
Emma Bowen has never had a close relationship with her mother, barely speaking with her in the last years of her life. But after her mother’s death, Emma finds something that might just explain the distance between them.
Discovering letters between her mother and grandmother, it seems to Emma that her mother has always been difficult.
As she searches for answers about her own childhood, Emma is drawn into the mystery of her mother’s enigmatic life. The more she finds, the more lost she feels, but Emma is determined to uncover her mother’s past, and the secrets held within it, whatever the cost.
About the Author
Cathy Hayward trained as a journalist and edited a variety of trade publications, several of which were so niche they were featured on Have I Got News for You. She then moved into the world of PR and set up an award-winning communications agency. Devastated and inspired in equal measure by the death of her parents in quick succession, Cathy completed The Creative Writing Programme with New Writing South out of which emerged her debut novel The Girl in the Maze about the experience of mothering and being mothered. It won Agora Books’ Lost the Plot Work in Progress Prize 2020 and was longlisted for the Grindstone Literary Prize 2020.
When she’s not writing (or reading) in her local library, Cathy loves pottering in second-hand bookshops, hiking and wild camping. She lives in Brighton – sandwiched between the Downs and the sea – with her husband, three children, and two rescue cats – one of whom thinks he’s a dog.