Tuesday 10 July 2018

Blog Tour: The Dead Ex by Jane Corry

Having read and loved Jane Corry's Blood Sisters, I was so excited to get stuck in to the Dead Ex and even more delighted to be asked to be part of the blog tour. If the cover has already got you intrigued, wait until you read the exclusive extract I have as part of the tour!


14 February 2018

I unscrew the lid, inhale the deep, heady smell – straight to the nostrils – and carefully measure out three drops into the glass measuring jug. Pure lavender. My favourite. More important, perhaps, this clever little remedy (not to be confused with spike lavender) is renowned for its healthy level of esters, otherwise known, in my business, as ‘healing properties’.
Healing? Who am I kidding? Nothing and no one can save me. I might look like a fairly average woman in her forties. But deep down, I’m a walking time bomb.

It could happen any second. You might wait for weeks, maybe months. All quiet. And then, hey presto, along it comes when your guard is down. ‘Don’t think about it,’ they advised me. Easier said than done. Sometimes I liken it to an actress coming off stage to be consoled on her performance
even though she can’t remember a single damn thing. Standing on my tiptoes, I reach up to the shelf for a second bottle and add ylang-​­ylang, or ‘poor man’s jasmine’.
Second-​­best can be just as good. Or so I tell myself. But let’s be honest here. There is no escape from my underworld.

Now for petitgrain. I take down the third phial carefully, remembering the lesson in which I learned that the contents are made from the leaves of the bitter orange tree. Blend
with grapefruit? Possibly. It depends on the client. We all behave in different ways, especially in this ‘club’ of mine. Of course, there are things we can do to minimize damage, but at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, the ultimate price is death. The oils need to be treated with respect in order to minimize the dangers.

I love aromatherapy. Its magic is both distracting and calming. But tonight isn’t about me. It’s about my new client. Though she’s not a fellow sufferer, her face bears similarities to mine, with those soft creases around her eyes, suggesting laughter and tears, and the slightly saggy, soft-​­looking
pouches underneath them, which she has tried to hide with a light-​­reflective concealer.
Silently I admire her peach lipstick. I no longer bother with it myself. I always used to wear ‘Beautiful Beige’ to prove my femininity. The woman before me has blonde hair, tied back loosely with the odd wisp escaping. What I’d give for a colour like that! The ‘freckly redhead’ tag
from school days still stings. But David had loved it. ‘My very own beautiful Titian,’ he used to say.
Both my client and I wear brave smiles which say, ‘I’m fine, really.’ But she’s not, or she wouldn’t be here. And nor would I.

‘I just need something to help me relax,’ she says. ‘I’ve had a lot of stress.’

It’s not my job to be a counsellor. Even so, there are times when I want to interrupt and tell my own story to show these women (I’ve never had a male client) that they aren’t alone. Of course, that wouldn’t be wise, because it might scare them off. And I need them. Not just for my business. But to prove myself. What happened to the strong, confident woman I used to be? The one who wouldn’t take any nonsense. ‘Vicki’s got breasts and balls,’ they used to say. But that was in my
old life. 

Time to go over my client’s medical history. ‘Are you pregnant?’
I have to ask this question even though her disclaimer form states that – like me – she is forty-​­six. It’s still possible.

She gives a short laugh. ‘I’ve done all that. Why do you ask, anyway?’
‘There are some aromatherapy oils which aren’t suitable for expectant mothers,’ I say. I move on swiftly. ‘Do you have high blood pressure?’
‘No. Though I feel I should have. Can this stuff affect that too?’

She glances with suspicion at the bottles lined up above us with all the colours of the rainbow trapped inside. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. For a minute I’m aged nine, in the small northern mining town where I grew up, reciting them to the teacher. Some patterns you don’t forget.
‘No, but it’s good for me to know. The oils are like medicine.’ I hear my tutor’s words tripping out of my mouth. ‘Very good for you when used appropriately.’
We run through more details. She’s declared on the disclaimer form that she has no medical issues. Yet, for some reason, I feel apprehensive.
‘Would you like to change?’ I suggest. ‘I’ll leave the room for a few minutes to give you privacy.’

She’s clearly nervous. Then again, so are many of my clients who’ve never had this kind of treatment before. I see her glancing at my certificate on the wall for reassurance. Vicki Goudman. MIFA. ITEC LEVEL 3. Member of the International Federation of Aromatherapists.
Sometimes I don’t believe it myself. It’s certainly not what I’d planned. When I go back into the room, my client (or lady, as I was taught to say) is lying face down on the treatment couch as instructed. Her bare shoulders, which reveal a dark mole on the right blade, are thin. Scrawny. Her skin is cold even though I’ve got the heating on high at this time of year.

‘I haven’t felt like eating much recently,’ she says. ‘I’ve lost weight.’
Trauma does that to you. Or it can make you pile on the pounds. I’ve done both. I turn on the CD player. The angel music is soft. Healing. Sleepy.
‘Mmmm,’ she says in a different voice as I massage the oil in deft circular motions down her spine. ‘You’ve got a real touch. I love that smell. What is it again?’
I repeat the ingredients. Lavender. Ylang-​­ylang. Petitgrain. Grapefruit juice.
‘How do you know what to use?’ she asks, her voice muffled because of her position.
‘It’s a bit like a marriage,’ I say. ‘You match the oil to the client’s needs. And you follow your instinct.’
There’s a snort. I think, for a minute, that it’s laughter, but then I realize she’s crying. ‘If I’d listened to my own instinct,’ she sobs, ‘I might have kept my husband.’
There it is again. That temptation to give away too much about yourself. You think you’re doing it to put them at their ease. But really it’s giving in to your own need. Afterwards, you regret it. The client feels awkward on the next visit. And so do you. This is a business arrangement. Not a friendship.
So I hold back the longing to tell my lady that David and I would have been coming up to our sixth wedding anniversary in a few months. I also resist the temptation to remind myself that it is Valentine’s Day. That on our first – and only – one together he had given me a pair of crystal drop earrings which I can no longer bring myself to wear. Instead, I breathe in the lavender and imagine
it’s wrapped around my body like a protective cloak. 

‘Sometimes,’ I say, kneading the stress knots, ‘you have to go through the dark to get to the light.’
My client relaxes more then. I’d like to think that it’s my words that have soothed her. But it’s the magic. The lavender is getting into my own skin too. That’s the thing
about oils. They’re always the same. A constant. Unlike love.
‘Is there anything in particular stressing you out?’ I ask gently.
She gives a Where do I start? laugh. ‘The kids are driving me crazy, especially the little one. He’s impossible.’
‘How old is he?’
‘Four. Going on ten.’
Now it’s my skin that goes cold.
‘He’s in trouble at school for biting this new boy in his class, and the teachers think it’s my fault. They’ve actually asked me if there is violence in our family.’
Is there? The question lies unspoken.
She wriggles slightly on the couch. ‘Do you have kids?’
My hands dig deeper into her muscle knots. ‘I have a son. He’s four too.’
‘What’s his name?’
‘Is he a good boy?’
I think of the picture in my pocket.
‘He’s perfect.’
‘You’re lucky. Who looks after him when you’re working?’
I pause briefly. ‘He’s with my dad.’
‘Really? You hear a lot about grandparents helping out nowadays.’
My thumbs are really pressing down now.
‘Actually, that’s hurting.’
‘Sorry.’ I release the pressure with a slight degree of reluctance.

After that we continue in silence with only the angel music in the background. Some like to talk throughout. Others don’t say a word. Many begin to confide and then stop, like this one. She might tell me more at the next session. I sense she’ll come back. But I hope she won’t. She’s too nosy.
‘Thank you,’ she says when I leave her to get dressed. I return to my notes. I write down, in purple ink, the exact treatment and areas of the body which still need attention. Those knots were stubborn. They are often related to the knots in the mind. After David, my shoulders were stiff for months.
‘Would you rather have cash or a cheque?’ she asks.
‘Cheque, please.’
Paper payment – or an electronic transfer – allows me to be absolutely certain who has paid me and when. My business must be above board. If nothing else, I’ve learned that.
She puts on her coat. It’s cold out there. The wind is rattling the windows.
‘I like your place,’ she says, looking around as if seeing it properly now she is about to go.
‘Thank you.’
I like it too. One joy of being on your own is that you can do exactly as you wish. David had liked modern. I chose a converted ground-​­floor flat in a Victorian house. My ex was a black-​­and-​­white man. My consulting chair is draped with a restful duck-​­egg blue woollen throw. The lighting is
soft. Unlit scented candles (lavender again) line the low table that I painted myself in a creamy white. The pale purple rug, which I take with me every time I move, along with anything else that’s portable, disguises the stain on the carpet beneath. No stairs. The front door leads straight onto
the street opposite the seafront. There is nothing about my home that could hurt. Unless I choose it to.
‘Wish I could work from home,’ says my client. ‘I had to give up my job in the bank after my second child.’
There are pros and cons, I could say. You don’t get out enough if you are busy. You don’t have office colleagues to talk to. To joke with. To share problems with. A sudden wave of loneliness engulfs me.
‘May I make another appointment now?’ she says suddenly.
‘Sure,’ I say, vowing to keep quiet about my own personal situation the next time. No more talk about Patrick.
And that’s when the door sounds.

This post is part of The Dead Ex Blog Tour

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