Saturday, 27 April 2019

Blog Tour: Extract From You, Me and The Movies by Fiona Collins

Today I have an extract to share with you from You, Me and the Movies by Fiona Collins. The book is out in ebook now, so if you like the sound of the extract, you can click here to order a copy for yourself!

Here's what it's all about:
Two people. Ten classic films. A love story you’ll never forget.

Arden has just started university when she meets Mac – and quickly falls head over heels for the handsome, charismatic film lecturer. Their love affair is dramatic, exciting and all-consuming; the sort of thing you only see in the movies.

It couldn’t last. But thirty years later, leading a very different life, Arden is visiting a friend in hospital when she suddenly comes across the man she never forgot. Badly injured in an accident, Mac can only make brief references to the classic films they once watched together: Casablanca, A Star is Born, Pretty Woman among others… and they make Arden remember everything.

The bittersweet memories of their relationship help Arden re-connect with the world in a way she no longer thought was possible. But will a movie-worthy love ever be hers again?

Want to know more? Read on...

‘I’m here to visit Mac Bartley-Thomas,’ I say, and I hold my breath. There is a pause – quite a long one – then the door jamb clicks, just like that, and I push the door open and step into the ward. My heart is pounding, my thoughts racing, as I cross the ward as interloper, imposter, terrified visitor. I immediately glance to the other side to make sure Dominic has gone and he has. There’s now a friendly-looking man sporting a beard that looks painted on in his bed, pouring himself a glass of water. It is definitely quieter on the ward tonight, too; have all the visitors been and gone? It’s only six o’clock. I can just hear the murmur of televisions and the clank of equipment and the tinkle of teaspoons in mugs in the nurses’ station at the end of the ward. And some soft coughing. I head towards Mac’s bed, half-expecting a heavy hand to land on my shoulder and a voice to ask what the hell I am doing here: wasn’t I here last night, visiting someone else? 

 Am I some sort of weird Munchausen-type person who likes breaking into hospital wards? But there is no hand and no voice. I make it to Mac’s bedside unscathed, despite the shockingly, un-Ratched loud noise of my heels on the polished floor, and I sit down, terrified. Mac – here in London, here at St Katherine’s – has his eyes open, which is an initial surprise and makes me feel like running away, and he is staring up at the television screen hanging above him in a giant, royal blue plastic box. Alexander Armstrong is chuckling at something Pointless. Will Mac recognize me? What will we say to each other? I haven’t a clue, except why is he here? Does he live in London? Does he live near me? If he does, how have we missed each other until now, and what would we have said to each other if we hadn’t? I wait. I keep my coat on, over my blouse and pencil skirt, my feet in black suede court shoes tucked under the chair. I wait for him to notice I am here, and after what feels like a very long forever, Mac looks down from the television. He looks at my face and stares at me for a moment, then his eyes crinkle into a soft smile of recognition – it is recognition, isn’t it? God, I hope it is – and finally, slowly, his mouth joins in. He knows who I am. Still petrified, I smile back at him. He’s older but the ghost of his beautiful, younger face is still there. His eyes are still periwinkle pale blue, with fair eyelashes. His mouth is still a delight, a promise. His hair is not back from his face today, some of it has flopped forward and it makes my heart contract a little, as though squeezed by an eager hand. I loved Mac’s floppy hair. I would run my fingers through it and let it fall, in soft layers, into his eyes, before he would blow it up into the air again, his mouth a soft ‘O’. I hope I don’t disappoint him; I’m in my late forties, I have my own crinkles, an uncertain jawline, possibly an air of not long departed despair . . . 

But he doesn’t disappoint me. He creeps his hand forward, at the side of the bed, so gradually I could be imagining it, but I place my own over it. His hand is warm and I am taken by a faint echo of the electricity I used to feel, a distant current, like the ripples from a skimmed stone on a faraway lake. ‘Hello, Mac,’ I say, my voice quavering. ‘It’s really good to see you.’ He smiles at me again, and I squeeze his hand gently until it stops mine from shaking. ‘It’s been a long time.’ He nods very slowly. ‘How are you feeling?’ I know how I am. Nervous, shy, scared stiff, nothing like how I was when I first spoke to him, in the Arts common room, at university, thirty years ago. He, the charming, maverick Film Studies lecturer; me, the overconfident English Literature student. God knows what happened to her . . . Mac doesn’t answer. He just smiles at me, those blue eyes creasing until the irises nearly disappear. ‘I was visiting a friend last night,’ I gabble on. ‘He’s gone now, broken leg. I saw you were here. I came back to visit you. It’s so weird seeing you again. After all this time.’ Mac nods again. He smiles. I can see his teeth, still a little crooked, something he always said he would fix, one day. He liked the idea of a Hollywood smile. He always joked that in the right light he’d look like a young Nick Nolte. Why is he not saying anything? ‘He can’t speak,’ says a nurse, pausing at the foot of the bed. It’s the nurse I saw last night, the one with the spiky hair dip-dyed blonde at the ends, although the blonde bits look more orange tonight. Her badge says ‘Fran’. ‘He damaged his left hemisphere in the car accident.’ I nod, needing to give the impression I already know some of what she’s saying. Like the fact he’s been in a car accident. Poor Mac. How awful. ‘We don’t know if his speech will come back or not,’ says Fran. ‘The doctors say we can’t be certain of anything at this stage.’ I nod again. I look at Mac; he smiles as though he is sorry. 

 I am flooded with feeling and memory. I’m almost in tears at the thought that he can’t speak to me. I have so much I want to say and so much I want to hear. ‘Would you like some water?’ I say to him. I look to his bedside table but Fran is already standing at it and pouring water from a clear plastic jug with a blue lid, into a beaker with a straw in it. ‘I’m Fran,’ she says, as she passes me the beaker, ‘and you’re his first visitor. Friend or relative?’ She makes it sound like Friend or Foe and I almost laugh. ‘Friend,’ I say. ‘Though it’s been years.’ I go to pass Mac the beaker, but I don’t think he can lift up his arm so I place it under his chin and, with what a hopeful person might construe as a slight wink, he sips from the straw. ‘Good you’re here,’ says Fran and she moves silently off to the next bed. I wonder why I am Mac’s first visitor. Where is his family? His friends? I put the beaker back on the cabinet. We look at each other. I long to hear his voice. Still, if he can’t talk to me, I can talk to him. He looks at me – those crinkly eyes – and I almost blush, remembering all that we did and all that we had. ‘I have no idea what you’re doing in London,’ I say. It’s hot – I take off my coat and slip it over the shoulders of the plastic chair. ‘Do you live here?’ He nods, almost imperceptibly. ‘Do you work here?’ He nods, then tips his head to the side as if to say ‘kind of’. I regret asking him – he looks so tired – but I thought he’d still be working. I can’t see Mac ever giving up work altogether; he lived for it. I have no further questions. Well I do, Your Honour, I have a million of them, but I don’t want to exhaust Mac further and this has felt like dreadful small talk. Mac and I never did that. Everything we did was big. I decide to be as silent as him. Companionable silence, that’s what they call it. It was something Christian and I never went for. 

We could be silent but even that felt like a war, with him watching my every move, my every expression, challenging me to do something he wouldn’t approve of. But Mac and I sit for a while, in silence, and I search his face for all the parts of it I loved. Fran bustles back past. I stand up and go over to her, feeling guilty for stopping her in her important tracks. ‘Excuse me, Fran ? Sorry. What’s Mac’s prognosis? How long has he been here?’ ‘Just over a week. He came in five days before Christmas. Two days in intensive care before coming to the ward.’ Poor Mac – Christmas in this place. Mine hadn’t been the most exciting, but at least I had spent it in my own house, with Julian. ‘And the doctors don’t know at the moment. On their last round they said fifty per cent chance of a full recovery.’ ‘And the other fifty per cent?’ I ask. Fran smiles a smile I know she has given a million times before. ‘Uncertain’ – she shrugs – ‘as I said before. But we hope for the best.’ ‘Thank you,’ I say. ‘Thanks, Fran.’ ‘You’re very welcome. He’s a nice man,’ she says. ‘We can tell. And I get the feeling he may have had quite a twinkle, once upon a time.’ There’s a sudden strange noise from behind us, like the clearing of a throat. Fran and I both turn round and look at Mac. There’s the glimmer of a twinkle going on right now; his eyes are glinting and his lips slowly part. ‘Bunny,’ says Mac, or at least it sounds like it. His voice is low and rumbly, like cracked pepper. I look at Fran and we step towards him. ‘Mac? Did you say something? What are you trying to say?’ I ask. Mac’s lips move again. His eyes flash and he looks directly at me. ‘B-bunny soup,’ he says. ‘What did he say?’ asks Fran. ‘Something soup ?’ but I am staring at Mac and laughing out loud, delighted at hearing his voice again and knowing exactly what he said, although it is unbelievable, after all these years. Bunny soup. 

I sit down and retake Mac’s hand. A full grin is lighting up his face. He grins till his eyes crinkle to almost nothing. We beam like idiots at each other, the background murmur and clunk of the ward an applause. ‘It really sounded like “bunny soup”,’ says Fran, at the end of the bed, ‘how odd,’ but she is obviously as delighted as me, as she adds, ‘But he said something! Well, I never! Well done, Mac,’ she says to him, as though speaking to a child. She comes to the side of the bed and pats his other hand. ‘Why is he talking about soup?’ she asks me. I laugh again. I laugh far too loudly for a hospital ward and receive several looks. Anyone would think I was once bubbly. ‘He’s talking about a film,’ I say. ‘Mac and I watched a lot of films together, back in the day, when I was a student. He’s referencing one of our favourites.’ Actually, it was the first film we watched, Mac and I. And I would never forget a second of it. ‘Oh, right,’ says Fran, stroking Mac’s knuckles gently and looking thoughtful. ‘How odd. You know, it might be possible Mac has a form of aphasia. I used to work on the Stroke Ward and some of the patients there have something called non-fluent aphasia – they can’t manage normal speech, but they can call up expressions or memorized phrases from the long-term memory. It’s all in the right hemisphere, you see,’ she says, tapping the side of her head. ‘Quite amazing, really. Some of them can’t utter a word but can sing whole verses of “Love Me Tender”. Which film is it?’ she asks. ‘Fatal Attraction,’ I say. I’m gazing at Mac. ‘Ah, yes.’ She nods. ‘I get it . . . bunny soup, the whole “bunny boiler” thing . . . Glenn Close in a white nightdress, Madame Butterfly . . . Great movie.’ ‘Yes, great movie,’ I say. I smile at Mac and he smiles back. I remember, his eyes say; and I remember too.

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