SHE was very young.
Olivia didn't know her, but the beautiful face was familiar. Something, she thought hazily, about the surprisingly square jaw and the determined mouth
a mouth now set in a straight line.
'Write to him,' the unknown woman directed, the ribbons and feathers in her headdress swaying as she gave a swift, decisive nod of her elaborately styled head. Bright blue eyes commanded Olivia's attention. 'It is the only thing you can do now. You
The sound of her own voice woke her. Blearily she lifted her head to gaze with slowly clearing vision around the small, shabby room. Of course no lovely young woman stood there, dressed in the frills and lace and silk of the middle of the eighteenth century. This room was definitely twentieth-century, from the faded, bargain-basement vinyl on the floor to the garishly painted wooden cupboards above and below the sink bench.
While sitting at the battered Formica table and poring over calculations that had kept her awake for nights, Olivia had gone to sleep and dreamed
a remarkably vivid dream, but in reality just a dramatisation of the decision she had already made, a decision she didn't want to face. So her subconscious had made her acknowledge it.
Yawning, she pushed a lock of honey-blonde hair back from her face. Her capable, long-fingered hand came down abruptly on the sheet of paper she had covered with figures, then curled, strangely vulnerable. Head bowed, she joined her hands loosely, looking at nothing in particular with great, lacklustre topaz eyes. Almost immediately she firmed her soft mouth, pulled a cheap, thin writing pad towards her and began to write, only to stop after two sentences.
'Oh, that won't do; it's too stupid,' she muttered, glowering at the stamp she'd already stuck onto the envelope
a tiny rock wren delicately depicted in shades of buff and black and gold.
Her eyes lingered on the words along the bottom: 'New Zealand', it said. '45c'.
Forty-five cents she couldn't really afford.
Seed money, she thought, grimacing before she returned to writing the most difficult letter of her life.
Several times she stopped to frown more deeply, chewing on the end of the ballpoint pen and staring blindly through the window. On the other side of the busy street a row of run-down shops was topped by flats like the one she lived in, their windows reflecting blankly back at her.
There was no inspiration to be gained there. Or anywhere. After almost an hour spent crossing out and rewriting, she at last decided on the bare minimum.
I need to see you. There is something you should know.
And she signed it his faithfully, Olivia Nicholls.
It sounded faintly sinister, but that couldn't be helped. Explicitness was impossible because there was always the chance of someone else
a wife, for example
seeing the letter.
Quickly, because although she'd spent days agonising over this she still wasn't sure she was doing the right thing, Olivia sealed the envelope, then ran with it down the rickety outside stairs to the grimy street below. She'd give him a fortnight
no more and no less. If he hadn't answered by then, she'd have to step up her campaign.
Auckland at the fag-end of autumn was depressing. Autumn meant that winter was not far behind, and winter meant earache and the dreaded Auckland cough, which in Simon invariably turned to bronchitis. Winter meant nightmares about trying to dry and air clothes. It meant expensive vegetables and the pain of seeing Simon go off to school in inadequate clothing.
For the last three years she and Simon had lived in Auckland, and this third winter was promising to be worse than the two previous ones. Only five days ago she'd lost her job as an outworker sewing tracksuits for a factory. It hadn't brought in much, but the small amount had supplemented the unemployment benefit which was now all they had to live on. Saving money would be impossible. And there was the crushing debt she owed Brett, her next-door neighbour...
And, to cap off the series of disasters, she'd developed a rotten head cold.
She stopped outside the letterbox, looking down at the address on the envelope. You don't have to send it, a voice reminded her
a cautious, cowardly voice. You can struggle on
nobody dies of starvation in New Zealand.
Her eyes lingered on her hands. Once they had been pampered and smooth, the fingernails polished; now the fingernails were cut straight across and the skin was slightly chapped, marred by calluses from the constant use of scissors. Had she seen them, her mother would have had a fit. Elizabeth Harley had considered it part of her purpose in life to be elegant and well-groomed. She would have thought that Olivia was letting down the side.
But then, Elizabeth had been the indulged only daughter of a rich man, whereas Olivia had no money at all.
A shiver ran down her spine. What she was doing was dangerous, but there was no alternative. Defiantly she pushed the letter into the slot.
Trying to banish the matter to the back of her mind-it was done, she had made the decision and now she'd just have to wait
she set off to pick Simon up from school.
As she came down the street he burst through the gateway like a prisoner released from long incarceration, a too-thin six-year-old in the throes of a growing spurt. Olivia's eyes lingered on his bony wrists. He'd already outgrown the clothes she'd made for him at the