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The Various
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The Various

Written by Steve AugardeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Steve Augarde

· Yearling
· eBook · April 14, 2009 · $9.99 · 978-0-375-89280-6 (0-375-89280-X)

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Chapter One

A week ago she had been bored, bored, bored. The prospect of spending most of the summer holiday in the West Country with her cousins wasn't so bad–although she could barely remember them, not having seen them for years–but for the first fortnight they would still be away with their mother somewhere, and so that meant staying on her own with Uncle Brian until they arrived.

Uncle Brian was her mother's elder brother. He was OK, as far as she could recall, but he was unlikely to be much fun. And anyway, she felt weird about living in some big old half-derelict farmhouse with just Uncle Brian for company.

'Do I have to go?' she asked her mum. 'Can't I wait until Katie and George get back? Couldn't I stay here till then?'

'Darling, you know you can't stay here all by yourself,' her mum had said. 'We've been through all this. Please don't make me feel any worse than I do already. You'll be fine, and anyway, Brian's easy enough to get along with. You'll remember him when you see him.'

Well, it was easy for her to say, thought Midge. Swarming around with the Philharmonic and having all the fun ('actually it's not much fun, darling, it's really quite hard work,') while she, Midge, had to kick about a deserted old farm waiting for her cousins to arrive.

'I still can't see why you don't take me with you,' she grumbled–although this was an old tack, and she knew it would get her nowhere. Worth a last try, though.

She remembered something else. 'Mr Powers takes his children.' Mr Powers was second oboe, and lived quite close by. They occasionally bumped into him in Safeway.

'Mr Powers does not take his children, Margaret. Mr Powers sometimes takes his wife and his children. There's a difference. And only then if it's just a weekend concert and not too far away. This is a four week tour, darling. Four weeks! Living in hotels, up late every night, flying around here there and everywhere. It's no life for a twelve-year-old.'

'Yeah, it sounds like hell,' said Midge, and knew even as she said it that she'd crossed one of those invisible lines that her mother drew around their conversations.

'Listen, Margaret. This is my job. It's what I do, and believe me it's not easy. I'm a single parent and a professional musician. The two don't always go together very well. Now Brian has very kindly said that he'll look after you for a few weeks, and I think we should both be extremely grateful. I know I am.'

Midge came within an inch of saying, 'Yeah, I bet,' but managed to bite back the words. She felt, as she had always felt, that the 'job' came first as far as her mother was concerned, and that her daughter was often an inconvenience, something to be organized, palmed off, dealt with. And lately things had become worse. Her mum seemed to be perpetually distracted and on edge–hardly there, somehow. The best times were when the orchestra was resting and there was time off from the otherwise constant round of rehearsal and performance. Then they got along pretty well. But as soon as a new tour was scheduled, Midge felt that she was just a nuisance, no longer deserving of much attention.

'Left playing second fiddle,' she often thought, wryly. Second fiddle was what her mother actually did play–although she didn't call it a fiddle of course.

And so she arrived at Taunton bus station after a two-and-a-half hour coach journey, collected her bags and magazines together, and tried to look through the dusty windows to see if her Uncle Brian had arrived to meet her. Midge recognized him almost straight away, although he looked a bit older now than when she had last seen him. He was peering up at the windows in the way that people do when they're meeting someone from a coach or train–smiling already, even though they can't yet see the person they're smiling for. He wore a very red jumper and those awful yellow corduroy trousers you only ever seem to see on people who live in the country. (Midge thought of herself as a 'townie', and a rather sophisticated one at that.) His hair–which Midge had remembered as being black–had gone much greyer, and he had a very definite bald patch, which she could clearly see from her high position in the coach.

'Hallo Midge! You look cheerful!' Uncle Brian stretched his arms out towards her as she got off the coach, and Midge wondered for a moment if he was going to kiss her, or shake her hand, or something embarrassing like that. But he was only reaching for her hold-all and carrier bags. 'Here, let me take those things. Had a good journey?'

'Not bad, thanks. How are you, Uncle Brian?'

'I'm extremely well, my dear. Can't grumble at all. Now then, let's see if we can't get you back home before the soup's ruined. Car's parked just round the corner, right opposite the Winchester.'

Midge remembered hearing about the way in which Uncle Brian's sense of geography always seemed to involve the name of a pub, or hotel. Her mum sometimes said that Uncle Brian would probably describe the Pyramids of Egypt as being 'just down the road from the Dog and Sphinx.'

Mum didn't seem to have much time for Uncle Brian–not that it stopped her from using him as a babysitter now that it suited her. 'He's a "nearly" man,' she would say. 'Good at everything–but not quite good enough at anything.' She had never forgiven him for inheriting Mill Farm, that was the trouble. Mum and Brian had grown up there as children. Mum had left home, gone to university and music college, then had become a professional musician and something of a success. Her brother Brian had stayed at Mill Farm, got married, fathered two children, separated, looked after his mother, Midge's granny, until she died, and then the farm had been left all to him.

'I got nothing,' Midge's mum would say bitterly. 'What a slap in the face that was. Nothing at all. It should have been shared between us. And what does Brian know about farming? Lived there all his life and still wouldn't know one end of a hay-rake from the other! Or rather he'd know how to fix it, without knowing when to use it. Tried pig-farming. Didn't work. Tried cider-making–planted acres of trees and used up God knows how much capital. Didn't work. Agricultural machinery auctions, bed and breakfast, go-karts–you name it, he's messed it up. He's messed up his life, the farm and his marriage. Brian's a fool. Or rather he's not, and that's the trouble. He's a nearly-man. Nearly good enough. But not quite.'

Yes, she could be pretty scathing, could Mum, when she got on to the subject of Brian. Until she wanted him to do something for her, of course.

From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpted from The Various by Steve Augarde Copyright © 2004 by Steve Augarde. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.