Thursday, 12 November 2020

The Pretenders by Agatha Zaza BLOG TOUR @agatha_zaza #ThePretenders @AgoraBooksLDN #Extract


Jasper is ready to surprise his brother; Holly is ready to celebrate their engagement.

Anne tags along for fear of missing out, and John might just be going for another drink.

But Edmund and Ovidia had other plans for their Saturday.

Over the course of one day, these couples must own up to the secrets they’ve been hiding from one another and the lies they’ve been telling themselves. And face the devastating consequences.

Three couples. Two exes. One day. One reckoning.

The Pretenders by Agatha Zaza is published in paperback by Agora Books on 3 December 2020, the digital version is available now and was published on 5 November 2020.

I'm delighted to share an extract from the book here on Random Things today as part of the Blog Tour.

Extract from The Pretenders by Agatha Zaza

The bespoke play den had not been made to blend into the garden setting. It had been built to mimic childhood spontaneity, cleverly lopsided and made of cedar planks, seven feet high and nearly as wide, and painted a grey-blue. It had been designed to be noticed, to appeal to children to come to play in it. Its flat timber roof had been built to hold escaped pirates and rampaging sea monsters. A short flagpole was fixed upon it, made to be captured. Its little door and single window had been framed in white, and two round stumps of wood stood in front of it, serving no real purpose except to be jumped off.

A borrowed sledgehammer smashed into thin wood walls. Edmund butchered the little unoccupied – never occupied – playhouse in a salvo of blows that reverberated throughout the garden and over its walls. A rush of anger freed itself from his lungs through each grunt that came with every blow.

After the assault, he stopped to examine what he’d done. The tiny house held together for a moment, its sides cleaved from one another. Not built to withstand someone desperate to erase it from existence, what was left of the little house swayed and collapsed.

Seeing it fallen, Edmund found himself dissatisfied and continued, splintering the playhouse into the smallest pieces he could. His body was built for this kind of work but unaccustomed to it. His tall, long figure rapidly began to feel the pain. He ignored the beads of sweat that rose in his curly brown hair and stubble. He closed his eyes as his hands gripped the unfamiliar instrument, his skin bruising and manicure quickly damaged. Clods of dirt and debris flew against his pyjamas, and his slippers were ruined.

The sky was not quite dark, but it wasn’t yet morning. It was the time of day after the end of parties and the closing of clubs yet before the legions of dogwalkers and early runners took to the pavements and parks. Edmund worked by the dim glow of the streetlamp that stood just outside his garden wall. He battered the playhouse, oblivious to the world around him.

His garden was pristine. The smell of recently mowed grass lingered in the air. Set on a terraced street, the back garden met a park whose trees, verdant with seasonal foliage, spread

their limbs over the garden’s extreme end where Edmund was splintering now formless planks. He was obscured by shadows cast by its high stone walls embedded with creepers. As he fought, the ground beneath him turned to mud.

Edmund gritted his teeth as he struck the child-sized flag over and over, embedding it in the damp grass.

‘Shit!’ He winced as he missed and instead struck the concrete border of a flower bed that circled the inside of the wall. The sledgehammer ricocheted, and Edmund slipped with the force, putting out his hand to steady himself, swearing again as he cut his hand on the fallen walls.

The lawn ended in a pale stone terrace, a platform of bland undistinguished beige masonry. Behind him, four floors of grey-brown brick towered in a silhouette against the city lights in the distance. Edmund felt as if its windows were glaring down at him, as if the house were alive and urging him on, telling him to finish what he’d begun.

He knew the playhouse didn’t have to be demolished. It could have been disassembled, sold – passed on to someone with little children who’d play endless games of pirates and cowboys in it. But his rage had needed an outlet, and the playhouse had been here, mocking him day after day, a constant reminder of what he’d lost and would never have again.

Edmund returned to his house on unsteady legs. A swell of relief welled within him as he glanced back at what remained of the playhouse.

He felt closer to the end, able to see the finish line, and he could just about bear looking at his own home. Ahead of him stood a twelve-foot-tall clear glass cube. Attached to the back of the house, a glass extension was framed in black iron, punctuating the garden’s Victorian heritage like a slap. With its glass ceiling and walls, the cube stood futuristic in its contrast with the hundred-and-twenty-year-old house. A low light inside it glowed, showing off its contemporary garden furniture. An armchair and two sofas in grey, standing on hexagonal tiling in black and white that hid underfloor heating. A table spoke of drinks and early breakfasts, afternoon barbeques and promises of autumn evenings spent with soft music and books.

Its apparent perfection riled him, and Edmund imagined taking a hammer to the glass extension, knowing he couldn’t. He wanted desperately to leave this house, sell it – or, preferably, strike it out of existence, erase all traces of the life he’d led here. He wanted to leapfrog past the agents, the potential buyers, the questions and forms to be filled and to escape – to where, he didn’t know.

Edmund opened the cube’s door noiselessly, and a wall of warm air met him as he stepped inside.

‘Finished?’ Ovidia asked Edmund as he entered the extension, the sledgehammer abandoned in the garden. She stood lacing a clean pair of running shoes. It was early, even for her. Her eyes were swollen from recent tears and a night spent between crying and tossing and turning in bed. Her worn blue tee-shirt and shorts had been washed repeatedly until their colours faded and seams frayed. Her hair was bound in a cheap headscarf and her feet in a pair of lurid purple slippers.

Edmund grunted in response, looking at his ruined nightclothes in the light. He examined his hands and saw that one was bleeding – a cut that immediately began to sting. He rubbed his hands on his shirt leaving red-brown streaks of blood.

‘We could’ve sold it,’ Ovidia said, missing an eyelet. ‘We agreed, remember?’

‘A month ago,’ Edmund replied. ‘We’ve been endlessly putting it off, like everything else.’

‘We could have waited a little bit longer,’ she insisted louder and tossed the shoe onto the floor, her task abandoned incomplete.

‘What for, a few hundred pounds?’ he asked in a quiet, weary voice.

Ovidia picked her shoe up from where it had landed and, sitting down on the closest chair, began to cry. Again. She leaned over, covering her face with her hands and an unlaced shoe. Edmund felt as if it was for the thousandth time that week. He could never have imagined that one day he would run out of empathy, that he’d be unable to reach out to her and comfort her. He was exhausted by her helplessness, her paralysis, her inability to function.

It would soon be over. Edmund steadied himself with the idea that today would close this chapter of his life. He’d finally be able to escape the house and everything in it, even Ovidia.

‘Are you going running? Today?’ he asked, realising afterwards that it sounded like an accusation.

Ovidia clutched the shoe, her eyes pressed tightly shut.

‘It won’t change anything if you don’t,’ he said, and she loosened her grip on the shoe.

Guilt gnawing at him, Edmund watched her cry and finally moved to sit beside her, wrapping her in his arms. He contemplated the contrast between her skin and his skin, something he’d done only in the earliest days of their relationship. He watched the blood seep from his hand into the fabric of her shirt. His thoughts vacillated between knowing the shirt would be thrown away and contemplating how he would survive leaving her.

Agatha Zaza is a Zambian and Finn at present living in Auckland, New Zealand. Her writing is a
departure from her work in fundraising and international development.

The Pretenders was born in Singapore, where she spent three years as a trailing spouse, where she rekindled a long-dormant love of writing. Aside from Singapore, Agatha has worked and lived several countries, among them Uganda and in the then Soviet Union. While in Ireland, she earned a Master's in Equality Studies from University College Dublin and worked in a genuine Irish pub.

Agatha's work can be seen in the Johannesburg Review of Books and in a PEN International special edition on African writers. She has also published three short books on Amazon. She's been a passionate slow runner for two and half decades and has recently given up composting.

Twitter @agatha_zaza

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