Beat The Rain

By Nigel Jay Cooper

General fiction, Literary fiction, Thriller

Paperback, eBook

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456
3 mins

Chapter One

Louise does all of the things the bereaved are supposed to do; she’s had enough practice. She gracefully accepts well-meant platitudes from people she can’t stand; she smiles in the right places and pretends she’s still able to care. Everything she’s become is now an invention, a persona created to make other people feel better.

If she could, she’d never leave the flat again, she’d switch off her mobile, stop answering the door and lie in bed, endlessly staring at the ceiling. This morning she slept through the postman knocking as she dreamt of hot narrow lanes and enormous churches. She smiled and pointed out of the window, past the church, past the market stalls in the square, past the sea. She felt Tom’s presence behind her, tried to turn around to see him, to kiss him. Then she felt her sheets clinging to her. Morning.

Tom would have heard the postman. He would have jumped out of bed like an excitable ten-year-old.

“A package, Lou,” his gleaming eyes would have said.

“You’re a grown man, Tom,” she would have replied, barely glancing at him as he danced around the bedroom in nothing but his boxer shorts.

“What do you think it is?” he’d have asked.

“Same as every month, Tom,” she’d have smiled. “Your books.”

She stares at the yellow-white stained walls of their flat. Her flat now, she reminds herself, just hers again. Today is book day again. She has one every month but this one’s early. She stubs a cigarette out on the faded mahogany dresser under the hallway mirror. This thing that she is, this woman, barely formed, stares back at her, like an alien, a shadow of someone who used to exist. Is loss something she’s supposed to accept in her life, like other people accept doing a job they don’t love or avoiding chips and chocolate cake? She checks her eyes in the hallway mirror to make sure they’re not too puffy and braces herself before opening the front door, mentally preparing her ‘outside’ face, the one that can still smile.

Her days are alike, or different. It doesn’t matter. None of them contain a version of her that isn’t alone. She shuts her front door, looking away from Mr Carmichael, her ever-smiling, ever- gardening neighbour as he potters around in a pair of overalls. Louise has often wondered what he does for a living – he and his wife don’t seem to work, they’re always at home, gardening or singing in their front room around an enormous piano that seems much too big for the space. She feels lucky her flat is upstairs so at least she doesn’t have to listen to them harmonising.

“Louise.” He smiles at her with ceaseless hedge-trimmer hands. “How are you feeling today?” She ignores him and shuffles down the street, sinking into her jumper.

The post office is a thirty-minute walk or a five-minute bus ride away. She imagines the jolting, crowded red double-decker full of kids, old bag ladies and men with body odour and decides to walk. For the most part, her journey produces untroubled faces but occasionally, they become familiar. That’s when everyone’s smiles freeze.

“Louise, you look great,” the familiar will say eventually, their frosty hands touching her jacket sleeve in faux concern. Louise will lick her dry lips in preparation.

“Do I?” she’ll finally ask, sometimes genuinely. They’ll nod as their fingers grip her arm more tightly.

“We were so sorry to hear about...” Then their voices will trail off. They all think she’s dealing with it and she has become practiced in keeping her smile on long enough to reassure them they’re right. She waits until they’ve scuttled away before allowing it to crack.

“Tell your fortune,” someone says as she rounds the corner by the bank or pub or restaurant. A lucky-heather woman is standing in front of her, a rainbow headscarf and flowing dress billowing in the gentle breeze. With the morning sunlight glinting behind her, she looks somehow otherworldly and for a moment Louise is mesmerised.

“Some change for your fortune?” the woman says again and for the tiniest of moments, Louise thinks to herself, Why not?, then she shudders, remembering what her fate is like. She closes her eyes tightly for a second, as if this will help her break free from the spell she’s sure the lucky heather woman has put her under.

“No,” Louise says loudly, almost shouting and stepping away. Then, as her manners take over, she says quietly, “Thanks anyway,” and continues her journey.

What people are saying

  • "Gripping storytelling from the very start, this book draws you in and keeps you engaged, often on the edge of your seat, right till the bitter sweet end. Beat the Rain is a wonderfully written, fantastically pacey debut novel from an author with a truly compelling insight into the human condition and all its frustrating and often cruel twists and turns. The book is rich in characters, atmosphere and the element of surprise. It’s serious and often sad but also laugh-out-loud funny all at the same time. A touching and sensitive portrayal of the interconnected mess of everyday life and love. One of those reads that leaves you wanting more." Siobhan Kennedy, Channel 4 News.

  • "Emotional rollercoaster, psychological thriller – Beat the Rain ticks both these boxes for me. I was sucked in from the start. The sensitive characterisation, level of observation and Nigel’s ability to not only touch on the plethora of issues that come from the train smash of life, death, family and relationships but also express so effectively the emotional highs and lows was compelling throughout. Absolutely compelling." Caroline Follett.

  • "Intriguing, painfully honest and beautifully written." Nina de la Mer, Author, 4.a.m, Layla.

  • "Beat The Rain is an atmospheric and neatly paced first novel. Behind the scenes – shining through the two main characters’ inner dialogues – is a refreshingly honest intelligence at work." Poet Charlotte Gann, The Long Woman, Noir (forthcoming)



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