Authors: Vivienne Kelly
I went around in circles, dreary and lonely and frightened.
On perhaps the fourth evening the doorbell rang. Dominic stood there.
âHoney! Dominic!' I said, brightly.
He stared at me. I opened the security door to let him in. His gait was curious, not his usual light, elastic tread, rather shambling, rather as if he were sleepwalking.
âWhat is it?'
I was alarmed. I thought perhaps something had happened to Steve. Had Steve died? Was Dominic coming to tell me that Steve had died? Had both my husbands died together? At a level that I can't possibly explain I thought this sublimely amusing, if it were the case. I prepared myself to restrain laughter.
âDominic,' I repeated. âWhat is it? How did you get here?' And then I saw the bicycle, leaning against the wall behind him. âYou rode here?' I asked, stupidly. âIt's miles, Dominic. It's miles from Dad's place to here. How long did it take you?'
I noticed then that he didn't look well. His skin had a chalky colour and his eyes seemed huge charcoal blobs, Boyd eyes. He reminded me of the black-crayon stick people he used to draw as a child: dangly, puppetlike, white triangular faces with vast eyes like lumps of coal. A different Dominic from the suave young man at Kate's party for Sophie, from the prizewinner at speech night.
âYou cow,' he said. âYou bitch.'
I was dumbfounded. How did he know? How could he possibly know what I had done? He didn't even like Max, I thought. Why is he so angry, when he didn't even like Max? I couldn't think of anything to say.
âYou just don't care, do you? You couldn't give a fuck about me.'
Him? Care about him? What the hell did
have to do with it?
He laughed. âYou don't even know, do you? You don't even remember.'
I did remember, then. It trickled back into my consciousness. I'd been supposed to meet him at an appointment and take him home. I'd forgotten. Could that possibly be what this was about?
, I felt like saying,
Dominic, get your priorities straight. A man has died here, and you're fussing about a dental appointment?
âYou're so fucking self-absorbed.'
âDominic,' I said.
Dominic, apple of my eye, light of my life, stay and support of my feeble old age
. At least, I didn't say all of that, but I thought it, and I hoped it was strongly implied in my gaze.
âYou were supposed to be there. You were supposed to take me home. I waited for an
after, and you didn't show up. How could you forget me like that?'
âI'm sorry. I know, I know, you had a dentist's appointment, didn't you?'
âI had a
pulled out,' screamed Dominic. âIt hurt like hell. It went wrong. He couldn't get at it. You were supposed to be there. There was no one to take me home. It was bloody dark by the time I realised you weren't ever coming. I was bleeding. I was bleeding and it was dark and you didn't
âI'm sorry. I haven't been well, honey. I'm sorry. Things haven't been good.'
âI'm supposed to feel sorry for you? Things haven't been good? Things haven't been fucking good for me, either, but you haven't bothered to enquire, have you?'
I was aghast but fascinated. I'd never seen Dominic like this. I'd seen him sarcastic and scornful and bitter and wry, but I'd never seen him flamingly angry, like this. To my astonishment I saw that he was weeping. Tears seeped from his large, black eyes and made sparkling snail-tracks down his cheeks. I didn't think I'd ever seen Dominic weep before â at any rate, not since he was a toddler.
He was fifteen. He was behaving like Kate, who sobbed over trivia and came out in awful pink stains and blotches. I'd forgotten about picking him up from the dentist, for Christ's sake, and he was crying. I couldn't understand it.
Pull yourself togethe
r, I felt like saying.
Dominic, if you want something to cry about, contemplate the fact that your mother's a murderer. You want to weep, boy? I'll give you something to weep about.
âHoney, I'm really sorry, truly I am, but I don't see why it's so important. I overlooked it. I'm sorry if it was uncomfortable for you. I'm sorry, but I didn't mean to do it. Next time I'll be there.'
âNext time isn't the
,' he said, suddenly sounding immensely tired, even bored. âWhether you meant to do it isn't the point. Being sorry isn't the point. The point is that you didn't come when you were supposed to. The point is that you forgot.'
âIt's not my fault. It's truly not my fault, Dominic. I couldn't help it.'
âThat's what you always say,' he threw at me, belligerence returning.
âYou've got no idea how much I've had on my mind. I've been having a really bad time, Dominic.' I heard my voice waver. I wasn't putting it on to impress him: it was genuinely wavering, all on its own. âMax has left me, Dominic.'
And as I said it, I nearly believed it. It was what I'd decided on. Just to say, well, we quarrelled. He left. I'd tried to think my way through what happened after that, but it was hard. I couldn't quite work it out. But it would be enough, as a first step. And here I was, taking the first step. The lie slipped from my lips smoothly and easily.
For a moment he didn't say anything. He just looked at me, his eyes wet and burning. And then he made a funny, small sound, something like a cough, half sob, half laugh. âYou know what it feels like, then, don't you?'
I found I couldn't say anything. The manifest unfairness, the sheer cruelty of it, kicked me too sharply. And then he turned and left, wheeling the bike down the front steps, mounting it in a swift, fluid movement, riding off with decision and crispness.
Oh, my son, Dominic. My son, my son, Dominic.
But it forced me back into the land of the living, Dominic's visit. I started to pick up pieces. I had to. I listened to the answering machine. I opened the letters, and paid the bills. I turned up to work again. I cleaned the house, top to bottom, scrubbing obsessively; I hired a gardener; I took Borrow to the vet to get his shots. I took him for a few extra walks, too. I thought about going to see Kate, who had left two messages on the answering machine, the second one gratifyingly desperate. I thought about Sophie. I thought a lot about Sophie.
I gathered a number of Max's clothes, laying them out carefully on the bed and working out what he would need if he were to go away for an extended holiday. I packed his elegant, charcoal suitcase with changes of underwear and hankies and socks, and spare shoes and an umbrella and a jacket in case it rained.
I checked his overnight bag and cast an eye over his deodorant and toothpaste and shampoo. Max was fussy about his shampoo: he didn't like using the sort hotels give you. His gleaming black wetpack was kept fully packed: it was his habit to keep it always ready for use, so everything was in pretty good order. I replaced the toothpaste with a fresh tube, just to be sure; and I included his blood-pressure medication and his vitamin tablets.
I put the cases in the boot of my car and drove into Spencer Street Station one Friday afternoon. It was busy; there were people streaming everywhere. I felt extraordinarily conspicuous, but calm common sense (which I could dimly perceive somewhere in the distance near the horizon) told me nobody was paying me any attention. I hired a luggage locker and left the cases in it. The ticket they gave me said that if I didn't claim my property within two weeks it would be confiscated and eventually disposed of. I tore up the ticket and the printout of the lock combination and threw them out in a street bin. Then I drove home.
He'd gone away. We'd quarrelled and he'd gone away. He'd walked out of the house carrying his suitcase, all packed, all ready to go. He'd gone away and I didn't know where he'd gone. He must have deposited the case in the locker himself: it was nothing to do with me. He'd put the case in the locker and gone off to do something else and never came back. He'd met with an accident. Or perhaps there had been foul play. Perhaps he had been murdered. Why would anyone murder Max? I don't know, officer.
I looked around our bathroom and threw out Max's toothbrush and his comb, and his aftershave and a few nondescript tubes and suchlike. A minimalist in these matters, he had left little for me to do. I'd packed his favourite razor.
Max's wallet was lying by the side of the bed, where I had put it after he died. I hadn't known what to do with it. I'd taken and used some of the cash, but most of it was still there. I put the wallet back, inside his bedside drawer. I saw that there were three or four letters in there â opened envelopes, anyway, with papers in them, in a careful pile at the back corner of the drawer. I picked them up and turned them over. I noticed they had someone else's name on them, not Max's. I didn't care. I didn't want to know. I felt like an insect, splattered against the windscreen of the great truck Life. Later, I thought, I'd look at them later. Right then I didn't have the strength.
âWhen is later?' Dominic used to ask, when he was a child, waiting for some treat. âWhen is later, Mummy?' And we made up a nonsense rhyme about it, which he would chant endlessly.
Later, later, alligator,
Put him on a merchant freighter,
Feed him salt and fried potater,
Shoot him 'cos he is a traitor.
Dominic would come back, I thought. He would be sorry, and he would come back. I would be calm and peaceful, when he did: I would utter no recriminations, no blame.
Max wouldn't come back, but I was the only person who knew that.
I went to see Kate. By then it had been, I think, six days since I'd seen her. It was the longest I'd been away from them since Sophie's birth. As I rang her doorbell I remembered that I had meant to telephone first. It had slipped my mind. I noted that, and thought that I'd have to be careful: it didn't matter so much this time, but now I couldn't afford for things to slip my mind.
I'd thought so much about this. Not so much about the visit, as what it betokened. I'd had to try to work through all of it, to work through what I was prepared to do, what I wasn't prepared to give up.
The single thing, the factor that mattered, the consideration that towered above all other considerations, was Sophie. I was worried that I wouldn't feel the same way about Sophie: I'd been wondering how it would be, now that I knew her genesis, now that I knew she was no longer just my granddaughter, no longer the daughter of Gavin and Kate. But I'd felt something new and precious enter my life when I held Sophie for the first time, and I wasn't willing to relinquish that, not without at least trying.
So far as Kate was concerned, I'd had to think my way through the morass I was trapped in. To my surprise, I didn't hate her. At first I had; at first, my hatred had swamped me. Now, however, I'd calmed down. I won't say I was looking forward to seeing her, but I was concentrating on thinking of her as Sophie's mother. Not my daughter, not Max's lover. Just the mother of this child who mattered so much.
Kate answered the door holding Sophie. Her shirt was crumpled: it had been hastily pulled down and I could tell she had been feeding the baby. She didn't look surprised to see me. She just held the door open and stepped back.
âHello,' I said.
âYou're feeding? I'm sorry to interrupt,' I said, formally.
âI've just finished. Do you want to hold her?'
She held Sophie towards me and I took her. She was sleepy and cuddled into me. All the rich warmth flooded back into my veins; I felt the same mesmeric joy, the same startling physical bliss at the contact with her. I was enormously relieved. It was just the same: an entirely involuntary, entirely inevitable response. I held her and the miracle of her impressed itself on me, just as it had the first time I'd held her. I was simply filled with love for her.
I knew I was doing the right thing; I knew that no matter how this hurt me, it was something I had to do, for my own survival. The connection with Sophie was something I couldn't jeopardise, couldn't bear even to think of losing.
Kate was adjusting her bra strap, watching me. âCoffee?'
âI'd like a coffee,' I said. âIs she ready for a sleep?'
âShe probably needs a burp. Do you want to hold her for a while?'
I followed Kate into the kitchen and put Sophie up on my shoulder, rubbing her small solid back, smelling the clean, milky smell of her. Kate put the kettle on and got together mugs and sugar and so forth.
We sat down at the kitchen table, facing each other.
âWhat are you going to do?' asked Kate, stirring her coffee.
âI'm not going to do anything. I'm never going to talk about this again, Kate. It's all over, it's all in the past. It didn't happen.'
âIt did happen, though,' said Kate, with a hardihood I hadn't expected. âIt did happen, and we both know it did happen. How are you going to cope with that?'
âThat's my business.'