Girl Unknown(7)

Holly’s bedroom door opened, her footfall in the hall outside. My hand paused and David opened his eyes.

‘What do you think?’ I asked.

He sat up and swung his feet to the floor. The moment had passed. He reached for his wine glass on the nightstand, and said: ‘Come on. Let’s go and eat.’

In the kitchen, he flicked on the radio while I got the lettuce from the fridge. A drive-time show was on, the presenter’s voice, her forensic questioning, filling the space between us as she took some politician to task over the failed attempt to legislate for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality. A year or so before, we had undertaken a major renovation of our home. Besides an attic conversion, a large extension had been built on to the kitchen, the additional space allowing room for a sofa and a stove as well as a large dining table and a kitchen island. The work had been costly and we couldn’t have afforded it were it not for a small inheritence from my parents, who had passed away some years before. A loan from the credit union topped up the funds needed.

It was David’s habit on evenings when he was tired after work to throw himself on the sofa, the two of us chatting while I prepared the dinner. On this particular evening, however, he leaned against the counter while I rinsed the salad leaves in the sink, and asked me about Ellen. I was tired but answered his questions, and he took it all in, his arms folded. Something needed to be done about her deteriorating state of mind, and we batted ideas back and forth, although we were reluctant to get into it.

There was something else I needed to tell him. I was weighing up whether to say it now or wait until the kids had gone to bed. David seemed distracted and I had the beginnings of a headache. I asked him to pour me a glass of wine while I spun the salad. When he went to call the others for dinner I decided just to say it, to get it over with quickly before the kids came into the room.

‘There was an email from the school,’ I said, taking down the plates and spreading them along the worktop. ‘Robbie’s parent-teacher meeting is next Tuesday. Are you free?’

He put the empty bottle into the crate by the door. ‘Next Tuesday?’

‘Yes, in the afternoon.’

I took the lasagne from the oven, placed it on the trivet and began separating it into segments. He was standing next to me, waiting to take the plates to the table. ‘Can’t you go?’ he asked.

‘It won’t last long. Just an hour or so. You can take those ones.’ I nodded at the first two plates, and he picked them up but didn’t move away. I could feel him waiting for something more from me. I put food on the other plates, then opened the oven and returned the dish to keep it warm.

‘Caroline –’

‘Please, David. It’s just one afternoon.’

‘It’s not that. You know it’s not.’

I could feel the colour coming to my cheeks. I picked up the other plates and waited for him to let me pass.

‘It’s been a year,’ he said, his voice soft but firm. ‘You can’t keep doing this. You can’t stay away from there for ever.’

On the radio, the presenter was affecting a heavy sigh, the one she used to signal the end of an interview. The kitchen door opened.

‘Please don’t make me,’ I said, as I stepped past him. I put the plates down hard on the table.

Over dinner, Holly talked about a school trip to the Burren that was planned for the end of October. Cheerfully animated, she spoke of caves and calcium deposits, bog-land and its varying plant-life. Robbie lolled in his chair, one elbow on the table, picking at his food. David was quiet. The children, no doubt, put it down to work. We used to joke about it, the kids and I. ‘Dad’s gone over to the dark side,’ we would say, whenever he became distracted and vague. His silence that evening seemed heavier than usual and I attributed it to the parent-teacher meeting. I knew he was thinking of what had happened the year before, the whole awkward business at the school rearing its ugly head again. To combat it, I recounted the drama of my afternoon, the phone call at work, the confused state I’d found Ellen in.

‘First thing tomorrow, I’m calling Dr Burke,’ I announced.

‘Poor Nan,’ Holly said, drinking her water, her eyes behind her glasses perplexed.

‘She’ll be fine,’ David told her, the firmness in his voice a kind of warning.

He was put out over the school thing, and I suppose he was entitled to feel resentful, but still. I had spent all afternoon taking care of his mother and I had yet to hear a word of thanks. ‘Are you going to eat any of that?’ I asked Robbie.

He seemed tired, pressing his fork against the raft of pasta hardening on his plate. ‘I’m not hungry.’

David dropped his cutlery on to his plate with a clatter, making us all look up. ‘Maybe if you hadn’t shoved a whole bag of fucking Doritos down your throat you’d be able to eat,’ he snapped.

Robbie’s mouth opened, as if he were about to say something, but no words came out.

‘David, please,’ I said sharply.

He stared at me across the table.

My husband is a sulker, not an exploder. He wears me down with his stubborn silences. We made a point of not arguing in front of the children – even when our marriage was under strain. The fights had all been held in private, and we maintained a strained civility whenever the kids were around. The quality of his discomfort this time was different from before. I realized that it wasn’t about the school at all.

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