Extract: The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

An extract from Holly Gramazio's debut novel, The Husbands, a hilariously original twist on the rom-com

The man is tall and has dark tousled hair, and when she gets back quite late from Elena’s hen do, she finds him waiting on the landing at the top of the stairs.

She yelps and steps backwards. ‘What –’ she starts, then tries again. ‘Who are you?’

He sighs. ‘Fun night?’

Carpeted steps lead up to the man and the dim landing. This is definitely the right flat, isn’t it? It must be: her key worked.She’s drunk, but she’s not drunk enough to commit breaking and entering by accident. She steps back again, and feels for the light switch, keeping her eyes on the stranger.

She finds it. In the sudden glare, everything is as it should be: the angle of the steps, the cream of the walls, even the switch under her fingers, a moment’s resistance then click. Everything except him.

‘Lauren,’ he says. ‘Come on. Come up and I’ll make you some tea.’
He knows her name. Is he – no, it’s been months since she had that guy round, and he was blond, he had a beard, this isn’t him. A burglar? How would a burglar know her name?

‘If you leave,’ she says, ‘I won’t report this.’ She will absolutely report this. She reaches behind to the door handle, and tries to turn it, which takes a lot of fiddling but she isn’t going to look away, especially not now that – oh god – he’s coming down the stairs. She backs out of her flat and into the hall, takes careful steps until she’s grappling with the front door until that pushes open too, warm summer air thick behind her. Out through the spatter of irregular raindrops – but not so far that she can’t still see him.

He’s crossing the hall, then he’s outlined in the doorway, bright light behind him.

‘Lauren,’ the man says, ‘what are you doing?’

‘I’m calling the police,’ she says, digging in her bag for her phone, hoping it has battery left. The pocket where it should be is occupied instead by a tiny cactus in a painted pot, from today’s workshop. The phone itself is further down. It lights up and she rummages, grabs it, pulls it out.

But as she does, she sees the lock screen.

And: it’s a picture of herself, standing on a beach with her arm around the man in the doorway.

Two per cent battery, flicking to one. And his face. Unmistakable. And hers.

She grabs with her other hand for the little cactus, holding it ready to throw. ‘Stay where you are.’

‘Okay,’ he says. ‘Okay. I’m staying here.’ He’s taken a few steps outdoors, feet bare. She looks again: his face glowing from the phone, his face in the night in front of her. He’s wearing a grey T-shirt and soft tartan trousers. Not trousers, she realises. Pyjamas.

‘Right,’ she says, ‘come out further,’ and he does, sighing, another half-dozen barefoot steps on to the pavement, and now she has enough space to edge around him towards the front door, past the closed blinds of the downstairs flat. ‘Stay there,’ she says, facing him as she circles. He turns, watching. She steps up through the door, on to the tiles of the hall, and risks a glance to confirm: yes, the closed door to Toby and Maryam’s to one side, the open door to her own flat directly behind her, familiar stairs, the right house.

‘Lauren,’ she hears the man say. She spins and shrieks and he stops, but she told him to stay where he was, and he’s moved! She slams the front door in his face, then steps quickly into her flat and slams and locks her own door. ‘Lauren,’ he’s still saying from outside. She thumbs her phone again to ring the police after all, but it lights up – his face – and then darkens. Out of battery.


‘Lauren,’ and sounds of the outer door rattling. ‘Come on.’

She runs up the stairs and across the landing and grapples in the kitchen for her charger. She’ll phone someone, she’ll call Toby downstairs even. But then she hears footsteps, and the man’s coming up, and somehow he’s in the flat. He’s in the flat.

She spins and strides to the kitchen door. ‘Get the fuck out,’ she says into the landing, holding the cactus firmly. She’s ready. If he comes any closer, she’ll throw.

‘Calm down,’ the man says, reaching the top of the stairs. ‘I’ll get you some water.’ He takes a step towards her, and she does it, she throws, but the cactus goes wide, past him, and it hits the wall and bounces off and rolls towards the stairs, thud, thud, thud-thud-thud, accelerating down the steps in an otherwise silent night, coming to a stop with a final thud against the door at the bottom.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ the man says, keys clutched in his hand. That’s how he got in: he stole her spare keys. Of course. Maybe he logged into her computer and changed her phone remotely, and that’s why his picture’s on her lock screen. Is that possible? ‘Fuck’s sake,’ he says. ‘Go and sit down. Please.’

He turns off the light on the stairs, and switches on the landing light instead, the big square landing with all the rooms leading off it, the big grey landing she passes through a dozen times a day.

Which is, somehow, blue.

And it has a rug. It never had a rug before. Why is there a rug?

She can’t stop to look: the man’s walking towards her. She backs across the rug, which feels thick and soft even through her shoes, towards the door to the living room. It’s right above Toby and Maryam’s bedroom. If she screams, she thinks, they’ll hear. But even in the dark, the room doesn’t seem right.

She feels for the switch.


Light falls on more strange objects. The sofa is dark brown, and surely when she left this morning it was green. The clock on the wall has Roman numerals instead of normal numbers, and it turns out Roman numerals are difficult to read, VII, XIIIII, VVI. She has to squint to stop them from blurring. Her old vase on the shelf has tulips in it, her wonky lino print of an owl is gone. The books are wrong or in the wrong place, the curtains have been replaced with shutters. Most of the pictures are wrong and one of them – one of them is very wrong. One of them is of a wedding featuring – and she steps up to it, nose almost to the glass – her. And the man.

The man who has entered the living room behind her.

The husband.

She turns around and he holds out a pint glass filled with water. After a moment she takes it and notices, for the first time, a ring on her finger.

She transfers the glass to her right hand and spreads her left in front of her, turns it over palm up, ring still there as she folds her fingers in and touches it with the tip of her thumb. Huh.

Holly Gramazio introduces The Husbands