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Posted on 27 Jun 2024 in Extracts, Fiction | 0 comments

DEBORAH CALLAGHAN The Little Clothes: extract

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Deborah Callaghan’s sharply observed debut explores what can happen when a woman feels invisible – and starts pushing the boundaries.

Audrey, the 38-year-old protagonist of The Little Clothes, is a smart lawyer who lives alone with her pet rabbit, Joni. As the novel opens, she feels she is becoming invisible. Not just at work, where she is passed over for promotion in favour of a less capable man, but even at the bottle shop, where, having been ignored by the staff, she takes off with her bottles of wine without paying.

As Audrey navigates the demands of her family, her workplace, potential lovers and the pub trivia team, she has to come to a reckoning not just with her new invisibility and her growing collection of little clothes, but with the past.

Full of sharply observed moments and a fine sense of the absurd, The Little Clothes is a page-turning read in which justice is satisfyingly served.

In this extract it is Monday morning in the office after the weekend baby shower for Erin, the second wife of Audrey’s boss, Alec. Audrey had left the party early and is about to discover what happened afterwards.

Extract courtesy of Penguin Random House

From Chapter 4, The Little Clothes

‘Audrey!’

‘Hanna!’

‘How are you?’ Hanna peeped around the edge of Audrey’s space and then slid in along the return and half sat on the corner join.

‘I’m well. How are you?’

‘A bit upset, to be honest. You weren’t there later on Saturday night at Erin’s, but I think I kind of accidentally started this fight thing between Alec and Erin. It was so stupid. I didn’t think. I tried to call Erin all day yesterday. She didn’t pick up or return my calls.’

‘Hanna, I’ve got to get going here. Sorry. I’m in court this afternoon and I have sooo much to do. Try not to get caught up in their drama.’

‘Can we get a drink later?’

‘I don’t know what time I’ll be back or what I might need to do after court.’

‘Aud, I really need you. I was wondering if you could call Erin for me? She totes adorbs you.’

‘I’ll text you. Okay?’

‘Yeah, okay. What are you in court for? What case?’

‘Hanna! You have to let me get on with this. You must have work to do too.’

Audrey turned back to her brief. Her phone rang.

‘Audrey!’

‘Nadine!’

‘Have you got a minute to come upstairs and talk?’

‘I don’t have a minute, as it happens. All of my minutes are being consumed by other people who seem to want to gossip.’

‘What are they gossiping about?’

‘The accidental gender-reveal.’

‘Not funny.’

‘A little bit funny. Anyway, I have to get going. I’m due in court soon and I’m not across all the notes from Alec.’

‘Well, it’s Alec I’m calling about.’

‘Nadine, I have to work. Why don’t you slum it and come downstairs later if it’s that important?’

‘He came to my apartment from the party. He just turned up and was sort of crying and he started to grab at me. At my tits, if you must know.’

‘Actually, I mustn’t know. Please don’t tell me.’

‘He was ranting about Vivienne. His kids. They don’t talk to him. It’s so sad. Don’t you think it’s sad? I really felt for him.’

‘Sounds like he felt for you too.’

‘You are so inappropriate, Audrey. Everything’s a joke. His kids won’t talk to him. It’s terrible.’

‘Nadine. I have to go. Can we do this later?’

‘You can be so cold, Audrey.’

‘I’m just busy, Nads. I’ll call you after court.’

‘Okay. But I’m dying here. We just ran that workshop about appropriate behaviour in the office and then Alec’s groping me in my own house. He’s my boss, for god’s sake.’

‘I hope you sent him home to Erin in an Uber.’

‘Aud, he stayed the night.’

‘Nads, I’m going right now. I’m putting my fingers in my ears. Do not give me any more details. Talk later.’

*

Photograph of Deborah Callaghan by Tony Mott

‘Audrey! It’s Alec.’

‘Alec, I know it’s you.’

‘Can you come to my office to prepare for court? I’m worried about this one. I’ve got the barrister – it’s John Bollard, by the way – arriving in twenty to give his initial thoughts. Some perspective.’

‘On my way, Alec. By the way, just a thought, one of mine – thoughts, that is – do you think Bollard is the best person to give perspective on this particular case?’

‘I’m looking for his legal guidance, Audrey, based on precedent and his expertise, not his gender politics. Have you had coffee?’

‘No, I’d love one. Large flat white, two sugars.’

‘I meant could you bring coffee. Just ask someone.’

‘Isn’t Dinah there? Can she do it?’

‘She’s busy.’

‘Sure.’

‘Regular flat white, no sugar. Dinah will have a latte. Bollard is long black, according to his PA.’

‘Daniel.’ Audrey peered over the partitions of three workspaces. ‘I have to go to Alec’s office. Can you get coffee?’

‘I have also been summoned. I’ll have a regular oat milk latte. No sugar, but a honey sachet would be great.’

‘Fuck off, Daniel.’

‘Right back at you.’

Audrey joined the coffee queue downstairs.

‘Where have you been, Audrey?’ Alec said. ‘We’ve been waiting. You should have asked someone else to get the coffee. Where’s Heidi? How many goddamn people do we have to employ around here to get coffee?’ Alec appealed to the ceiling with upheld palms. ‘John, you know Audrey. She ran the Aziz case.’ Audrey put the cardboard tray of coffee cups on Alec’s desk and shook hands.

‘No honey, Aud?’

‘Sorry, honey, I forgot.’

‘Okay, let’s get started. Thoughts, Audrey?’

*

‘Nads, it’s Aud. Just finished. You’ve probably left. I’m back here in the office. Alec’s gone for a drink with Daniel. So if you still want to talk, I’m here. Otherwise, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m going to leave quite soon.’

‘Hanna, it’s Aud. I’m back from court so if you still want to talk, I’m here. But I’m leaving soon.’

‘Heidi, it’s Aud, just calling to see how you are now. Hope you’re okay.’

Audrey knew no one would listen to her messages so late in the day. They’d only read texts, so she’d done her duty and the messages would be there for them tomorrow. She caught the bus from the ferry wharf up the steep hill. She privately called it the Ape Run when she walked it because her knuckles were so close to the path. She knew she should have walked because she was on a new self-devised program to get some exercise and eat less. She thought with self-disgust, My salad is still in the fridge at work, I drank four coffees with full-cream milk today, I ate lunch with Alec and Daniel at Speed and Sloane and ordered the fillet with bearnaise and frites when I could have had the light salad with turmeric tofu dressing. I will begin again tomorrow, and I won’t have dinner tonight.

She changed into her Tinker Bell nightie, poured a substantial glass of wine and lay on her couch in time to watch Leigh Sales bayonet Barnaby. She stroked Joni in her lap and fell asleep.

Deborah Callaghan The Little Clothes Penguin Random House 2024 PB $34.99

Like to keep reading? You can buy The Little Clothes from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW.

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