Georgina “George” Fenton is an important character in DRACA. She’s a feisty, pint-sized, orphan-with-attitude who’s made her own way from foster homes to be manager of the local boatyard. Almost 40% of the book is in her ‘voice’. That’s almost as much as Jack, the flawed hero who’s probably suffering post-traumatic stress. He’s haunted by his past – or is he just haunted? You’ve met Jack here, so let me introduce George. In this early extract she’s at the funeral of Eddie Ahlquist, Jack’s sea-dog grandfather.
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George could learn a lot from watching people. At first, everyone looks the same. All in black, all with that funeral look as if they wore a passport photograph where their faces should be. She could make out the Ahlquist crowd, all hugs and kisses except Jack, and then there was an older man and two women who stood a bit apart, both more smartly dressed than the rest, and the only women in hats. A husband, wife and daughter, at a guess. The man was a short, lean, military type who stood very square. When people came up to the older woman, she offered her hand palm-down, fingers drooping, as if she expected them to go down on one knee and kiss it. No one stayed with them, and the three kept to themselves as if they knew it was pointless to try to talk.
Jack moved between them and the rest, half-belonging to both groups, neither oil nor water, looking stressed. Like all the men he was sweating in his dark suit, with spots of damp staining his shirt across his chest. The younger woman must be his wife, so the military man and the Duchess were the in-laws, and the families didn’t get on.
Jack waved when he saw George. Nothing too enthusiastic, but enough for her to wander over and say hello. She was ready for the mother-in-law’s fingers. If you slide your hand under that kind of regal greeting, then grip and twist, you can turn it into a proper handshake. The Duchess didn’t like that. She didn’t like George’s looks, neither. The Duchess was tall enough for her eyes to be at the level of George’s hair, and George saw her wince. So what? George liked orange. It’s a strong colour, and it was only a streak.
While Jack fumbled the introductions the woman’s eyes dropped so she was looking down her nose at George’s skirt, and her mouth pursed into a tight, wrinkly, cat’s arse circle of disapproval. Maybe yellow was a bit bright for a funeral, but there wasn’t much call for dark, smart stuff in a boatyard. At least George had put a decent jacket over it, and she bet the Duchess couldn’t tell that the jacket came from a charity shop.
Jack’s wife introduced herself as Charlotte. Very upmarket, with the sort of accent you hear in posh shops. Her handshake was straight, if a bit cool. She was tall, like her mother, and slender and attractive, unlike her mother. Her black, straw hat was broad-brimmed so she had to tilt her head on one side to whisper in George’s ear.
“Thank God for some colour. I think old Eddie would have loved it.”
George decided she was going to like Charlotte. She stayed near her as they were ushered inside.
Twenty minutes later George was, like, ‘was that it?’ A whole life, nearly eighty years, reduced to one reading, two hymns, a three minute drone from Rent-a-Priest, and a poem?
Jack’s father gave the reading, bellowing it out like a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Isaiah 61, the order of service said.
‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor;’ he stared at a young woman in the front row, with two young children beside her. Another Ahlquist by the look of her, and the kind of blonde who’s gone way too plump with motherhood. ‘He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted…’ She didn’t look very broken hearted. She had big, dark eyes, a snub nose, and puffy cheeks, like a seal pup with tits. Jack’s father didn’t strike George as no preacher, neither, but he turned that stare towards Jack as he finished, and thundered ‘To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.‘