Authors: Jane Davis
Jane Davis lives in Surrey with her partner of ten years.
She has enjoyed writing as a hobby for a number of
years while pursuing a successful career in insurance.
Latterly, her hobby has increased in importance and she
has now given up her full-time job to dedicate more
time to it.
Half-truths & White Lies
is her first novel.
For further information visit the author's website at
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HALF-TRUTHS & WHITE LIES
A BLACK SWAN BOOK
First publication in Great Britain
Black Swan edition published 2009
Copyright © Jane Davis 2009
Jane Davis has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
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2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
For Maureen, whose story telling was an inspiration.
See you on the other side.
Thanks are owed to many people, but there are some
who are worthy of particular mention: to all at the
and Transworld Publishers for this wonderful
opportunity, especially Francesca Liversidge; to my
agent, Teresa Chris, for your guidance; to those who
read the early drafts including Daniel and Gillian Davis
(truly the best hosts in all of Scotland), my fabulous
sisters, Anne Clinton and Louise Davis; to Charlotte
Martin, Bernie Barthram and Sarah Marshall; to
Amanda Osborne and Delia Porter – your friendship
means the world to me; to Dad, who broke the habit of
a lifetime and didn't read the last page first; to Mum
who refused to read it until it was in print; to Jean
Porter for tea in china cups and words of wisdom; to
Rosemary Williams for helping to remind me who I am;
to Helen Williams (no relation) for keeping me sane
and being an inspiration; and to William, Timothy,
Dexter, Lara and 'Mimi', for making me smile on the
bad days. But most of all, thank you to Matt for saying
you would read it if I would write it, for your unfailing
support and unquestioning faith in me – and for not
even flinching when I handed my notice in at work: you
are my rock.
'I never saw any good that came out of telling the truth.'
'Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.'
Is it possible to tell the difference between a dream and
a premonition? Or is a premonition just a dream that
life later adds meaning to, so that we convince ourselves
that we have the power to see into the future?
My family lived with my mother's mother who, it was
whispered, could change the course of history with the
use of a simple phrase, so concepts such as these do not
seem so very extraordinary to me. Although she was
oblivious to the extent of her powers, Nana's sentences
that began 'Mark my words' were the kiss of death. She
thought that she just had the uncanny knack of always
'Mark my words! That boy will never amount to anything.'
She would cast her opinions carelessly, and a
future of misfortune and underachievement would now
be a certainty for her poor victim rather than a vague
When she aimed her comments at one of us, we were
quick to cross our fingers for luck, the traditional family
method of preventing her from sealing our fates.
'Mark my words, Andrea, you're going to regret
having seconds later,' she scolded when I insisted on
another spoonful of shepherd's pie. 'You won't have any
room for rice pudding.' As I had to sit and watch the
others eat my favourite dessert, she couldn't resist raising
her eyebrows and saying, 'What did I tell you?'
As a child, I had a recurring dream. In that dream I
was falling in a rolling motion, gathering momentum
all the way. The green of the grass, the brown of the
earth and the blue of the sky became blurred, but provided
clues of which way was up and which was down.
Eventually, I would have to close my eyes when dizzying
nausea overtook me.
I associated that dream with a heady feeling of
excitement and anticipation in the pit of my stomach.
The point where the familiar meets the unfamiliar; the
solid ground of the gentle slope giving way to the sheer
I felt drawn to activities that induced that feeling.
Somersaults, cartwheels, spinning in circles; being
blindfolded at the start of a party game; rolling down
grassy, daisy-speckled banks, arms folded over my chest.
Sliding down slopes on tea-trays in the fresh snow;
riding the big wheel when the fair came to town.
Handstands on the side of the swimming pool, legs
hovering aloft, waiting for the moment when the water
reaches up to swallow you. I would jump into my
father's arms from a height, safe in the knowledge that
he was there to catch me. The pause at the top of the
slide before letting go translated into the hesitation at
the top of the ski slope before digging in the poles and
pushing off. On my first holiday alone, I tried bungee
jumping from a suspension bridge.
'That girl has no inbuilt sense of fear,' was Nana's reaction.
'She doesn't know when to stop. Mark my
words, she'll come a cropper.'
'Weren't you scared of falling?' My mother, a vertigo
sufferer, asked with genuine wonderment when I
showed her the photos.
'It's the feeling of falling I enjoy,' I tried to explain. 'It's
the only thing that makes you feel free.'
'Oh, I couldn't.' She shuddered. 'I'd be the one standing
at the top refusing to jump.'
'It's not the fall you want to worry about, love,' my
father joked. 'It's landing that'll kill you.'
'Oh, Tom!' Nana tutted, convinced that others were
capable of bringing bad luck into the house.
It seemed to me that my parents had always played it
safe. Semi-detached in suburbia, room enough for me
and, because she couldn't cope on her own, for Nana.
Nine to five. Fish-and-chip takeaway on a Friday.
Sunday roast. Ford Escort. Two weeks' holiday in the
same hotel in Spain every summer. God knows they
deserved it. The truth is that I had long since outgrown
the safety of the semi but, like so many of my generation,
I lacked the means to buy a property of my own
and the inclination to rough it in the sort of bed-sit that
my wages would have afforded. I led a charmed life,
although I would have taken great offence at anyone
who suggested as much.
Our very average family was illustrated by a family
tree that I had drawn as part of a school project at the
age of eleven. It hung in the hall among family
photographs, something that I passed several times
every day and took little notice of, but I would have
been embarrassed to admit that it was my handiwork. I
can remember being criticized very harshly by my
teacher for failing to make an entry for my paternal
'But my daddy didn't have a father,' I protested,
repeating what he had told me over the years. (I enjoyed
this small piece of information – as I grew older it was
the only thing that made me think that there might be
a story behind my family that was actually worth
'Of course he had a father,' the teacher insisted.
'Everybody has a father.'
When I asked my father about this, he told me that
my diagram was one hundred per cent accurate and that
he was more than happy with it.
'Who does she think she is?' he asked with genuine
annoyance. 'You would think that I would know if I had
a father or not.' I knew better than to push him any further
on the subject. I could twist him around my little
finger, but there were certain subjects that were simply
not up for discussion. 'My mother loved me enough for
two,' was all he would say. This did not prevent him discussing
the matter with my teacher. I was humiliated to
learn that he had paid a visit to the school and told her
that neither he nor his family would be forced to fit into
whatever outgrown idea of a family they had in mind.
'But what did you say?' I asked miserably, trying to
prepare myself for whatever sarcastic comments might
pass my way.
'Nothing for you to worry about. I simply told her
that I may not want to be a tree and that I can be a twig,
a bush or a herbaceous border if I chose.'
'You didn't!' I squealed.
'Now I come to think of it, I shouldn't have
stopped there. I might like to be a family triangle, or
a family rhomboid or a family flow chart. Or even a
family Venn diagram.'
'A Venn diagram?' I was horrified.
He sketched a series of three interlinking circles for
me. 'Yes, that works just fine. That's Mummy, that's you
and that's me. You can tell Miss Whateverhernameis
that from now on we will be a Venn diagram.'
'Andrea, don't listen to him, love,' my mother sighed.
'Tom, she's just trying to teach them about where they
have come from. This isn't personal.'
'They should be trying to teach children to think, not
to stick ridiculous labels on people.'
You can guess who won that debate by the fact that
the family tree found its way into a frame and on to the
'This is nice, isn't it?' my mother would habitually say
as we settled round the dining-room table for Sunday
lunch. The question was serious enough, and she
looked around the table searching, almost as if
she expected someone else to appear, sometimes
challenging us to disagree, checking that we were all
satisfied with our individual lots. Occasionally, I felt
that she was trying to convince herself that this was
what she worked so hard for every week. The chance to
have her family around the table and share a home-cooked
meal. It seemed such a small reward. I knew that
I could never be satisfied with the life that she had
'Smashing, love,' my father replied as he carved.
'You've done us proud again.'
'Oh, yes,' Nana would agree, frowning at the pink
centre of the meat and the crispness of the vegetables,
which were not to her taste. Steamed, for goodness'
sake! 'The roasties look marvellous. Done to a "t".'
My mother beamed at this, the ultimate compliment.
'You must have taught me well, Mum.'
It was the same routines that I found so tedious at
times that made us feel safe, made it possible for us to
go out into the world, to be who we were and do our
own things. Without those routines, for that one meal
of the week when the television was turned off, we
didn't always have enough to say to each other. My
father would comment, 'It must be good, love, it's all
gone quiet. You could hear a pin drop in here.' It was in
the silences that my mother would take the time to look
at us in turn and smile. 'This is nice, isn't it?'
And then it all changed. All the routines were taken
away, and I can hardly believe that I miss them the
To celebrate my parents' twenty-fifth wedding
anniversary, my father surprised my mother by arranging
a weekend away. He had let me in on the secret, of
course. I was needed to stay at home to look after Nana,
otherwise he wouldn't have put it past my mother to
refuse to go. Or to want to take Nana with them. But he
had planned for that.
He kept one surprise even from me. That Friday
evening he arrived home from work in an open-topped
Austin-Healey 3000, sleek in black and chrome with red
leather seats. Only two red leather seats. It had been a
dream of his to own one, a dream which had been
whittled away gradually and demoted to a dream to
drive one. Even so, the grin on his face told me that it
was not a disappointment, although the luggage I had
so carefully planned had to be downsized to fit in the
'One hundred and fifty brake horse power.' He
rubbed his hands together.
My mother became a teenager again when she saw
the car. Any reservations that she might have dreamt up
at the thought of being whisked off at a moment's
notice were quelled. Normally, she wouldn't have even
contemplated the idea of a weekend away before completing
a full inventory of the freezer to ensure that
there were enough single-sized portions of homemade
cottage pie to feed Nana and me for a good few weeks.
'I wonder . . .' She paused outside, tapping a finger
against the side of her mouth and narrowing her eyes.
Then she turned and ran into the house.
'Laura!' My father called after her. 'We've got to get
going. The traffic on the motorway is going to be
chocka. Oh, it's no good.' He looked momentarily
deflated. 'Once she's got an idea in her head . . .'
'Ta-da!' She appeared wearing a pair of red sling-backs
that looked as if they had seen far better days
under her jeans and clutching a red dress, which she was
trying unsuccessfully to fit into her handbag.
It seems that those shoes had much the same effect
on my father as the car had done on my mother, and he
looked ten years younger as he opened the car door for
her. 'Your lucky shoes! Now you're talking.'
I stood at the end of the path to watch my parents disappear
down the road, their eyes aglow, hands touching
thighs and laps, feeling that I was intruding. Feeling
strangely parental. Shouting, 'Keep your eyes on the
Nana knocked that out of me quickly enough by
commenting, 'Mark my words, that thing looks like a
The news came about four hours later, delivered by
two policemen who arrived on the doorstep just as I was
about to go to bed. It was without any outward sign of
emotion that I heard that my parents had been driving
in the middle lane of the M6 when a foreign lorry driver
had pulled out and clipped the edge of their car, sending
it into a spin. In all likelihood, the car would have
been too low on the road for the lorry driver to see in
his mirrors. My mother had been at the wheel. She tried
to correct the unfamiliar vehicle but veered to the left at
speed, crashing through the barrier before the car rolled
down the bank. There was talk that her red sling-backs
had become caught in the pedals, causing her to lose
control. At that point, there was quite a steep drop and
the car would have bounced before rolling several
times, giving alternate views of steel, lights and sky.
Steel, lights and sky. My mother wouldn't have seen
much of the blurred view or felt the nauseous feeling of
anticipation in her stomach for long. She was decapitated,
possibly as early as the first roll of the car, her
body thrown clear of the wreckage, fuelling speculation
that she hadn't been wearing a seatbelt. My father's neck
was broken, but witnesses say he was still alive in his
position trapped upside down under the vehicle, facing
my mother's head, where it had come to rest in the
'Oh, my love,' he was heard to say, 'I always said it's
not the fall that'll kill you.'