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Three Wishes, Page 2

Liane Moriarty

  That Wednesday night Cat was feeling no specific emotion; not especially happy, not especially sad. It was strange afterward, remembering how she sat there, shoveling Dan's pasta into her mouth, so foolishly trusting of her life. She wanted to yell back at herself through time, Concentrate!

  They were watching a show called Med School. It was a soap about a group of very beautiful young medical students with shiny white teeth and complex love lives. Each episode featured a lot of blood and sex and anguish.

  Cat and Dan shared a mild addiction to Med School. Whenever the plot took a new twist, they responded with loud enthusiasm, yelling at the television like children watching a pantomime: "Bastard!" "Dump him!" "It's the wrong medication!"

  This week Ellie (blond, cutesy, cropped T-shirt) was in a state. She didn't know whether to tell her boyfriend, Pete (dark, brooding, abnormal abs), about her drunken infidelity with a guest-starring troublemaker.

  "Tell him, Ellie!" said Cat to the television. "Pete will forgive you. He'll understand!"

  The ad break came on, and a manic man in a yellow jacket bounced around a department store pointing an incredulous finger at the Christmas specials.

  "I booked that health and beauty thing today," said Cat, using Dan's knee as a lever to help her reach over him for the pepper. "The woman had one of those gooey, spiritual voices. I felt like I was getting a massage just making a booking."

  For Christmas, she was giving her sisters (and herself) a weekend away at a health retreat in the Blue Mountains. The three of them would share an "exquisite experience" of "indulgent pampering." They would be wrapped in seaweed, dunked in mud, and slathered in vitamin-enriched creams. It would be extremely amusing.

  She was pleased with herself for thinking of it. "What a clever idea!" everyone would say on Christmas Day. Lyn definitely needed the stress relief. Gemma didn't need it but she'd be right into pretending that she did. Cat herself wasn't especially stressed either, but perhaps she was, because she wasn't pregnant and she'd been off the Pill now for nearly a year. "Don't get stressed about it," everybody said wisely, as if they were the first to pass on that hot little tip. Apparently, the moment your ovaries noticed you were worried about becoming pregnant, they refused to cooperate. Oh well, if you're going to get all huffy about it, we'll just close down.

  A health insurance ad came on. Dan winced. "I hate this ad."

  "It's effective. You watch it more closely than any other ad on television."

  He closed his eyes and averted his head. "O.K. I'm not looking, I'm not looking. Oh God. I can still hear that woman's grating voice."

  Cat picked up the remote and turned up the volume.

  "Aaaagh!" He opened his eyes and grabbed the remote from her.

  He was behaving perfectly normally. She remembered that afterward and it made it worse, somehow. Every moment he behaved normally was part of the betrayal.

  "Shh. It's back on."

  Ellie's betrayed boyfriend, Pete, appeared on the screen, flexing his freakish abs. Ellie gave the TV audience guilty looks.

  "Tell him," Cat told her. "I'd want to know. I couldn't stand not to know the truth. Better to tell him, Ellie."

  "You think so?" said Dan.

  "Yeah. Don't you?"

  "I don't know."

  There were no bells jangling a warning in Cat's head. Not a single chime.

  She had put down her wineglass on the coffee table and was feeling a pimple that had just that very moment appeared on her chin, undoubtedly a malevolent herald of her forthcoming period. Each month it appeared like an official stamp on her chin. There will be no baby for this woman this month. Nope. Sorry, try again! Cat had begun to cackle bitterly, throwing back her head witchlike, as soon as the first treacherous spots of blood appeared. It was such a joke, such a crushing anticlimax, after all those years of anxiously ensuring she didn't have a baby, after all those months of "Are we ready to make this momentous change in our lives? I think we are, don't you? Ooh, maybe we should have one more month of freedom!"

  Don't think about it, she told herself. Don't think about it.

  "Cat," said Dan.


  "I have to tell you something."

  She snorted at his ponderous tone, pleased to be distracted from her pimple. She thought he was sending up the show. "Oh my God!" she said and hummed the Med School sound track that helpfully warned viewers when something dramatic and awful was about to happen. "What? Have you done an Ellie? Have you been unfaithful to me?"

  "Well. Yes."

  He looked like he was going to be sick and he wasn't that great an actor.

  Cat put down her fork. "This is a joke, right? You're saying you've slept with someone else?"

  "Yes." Now his mouth was doing something strange. He looked like a guilty little boy caught doing something disgusting.

  She picked up the remote and turned off the television. Her heart was thumping with fear but also a strangely urgent desire, a desire to know. It was the sick feeling of excited resistance at the very top of the roller coaster--I don't want to go hurtling over that precipice but I do, I do!

  "When?" She still didn't really believe it. She was half laughing. "Years ago, do you mean? When we first started going out? You don't mean recently?"

  "About a month ago."


  "It didn't mean anything." He looked down at his plate and picked up a mushroom with his fingers. Halfway to his mouth, he dropped it and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

  "Would you just start from the beginning, please? When?"

  "One night."

  "What night? Where was I?" She fumbled through her mind for events over the last few weeks. "What night?"

  It seemed that on a Tuesday night, three weeks before, at drinks after squash he met a girl. She came on to him, and he was flattered because she was, well, quite good-looking. He was a bit drunk, and so he went back to her place and one thing led to another. It didn't mean anything, obviously. He didn't know why he had made such a stupid, stupid mistake. Maybe all the stress lately with work, and, you know, the baby thing. Obviously it would never happen again and he was very, very, very sorry and he loved her so much and God, it was such a relief to have this out in the open!

  It was almost like something interesting and unusual had happened to him and he'd forgotten to tell Cat about it until now. She asked him questions and he answered them. "Where did she live? How did you get home?"

  He finished his story and Cat stared stupidly at him, waiting for it to hurt. All her muscles were tensed tight in anticipation of pain. It was like giving blood and waiting for the smiling doctor to find her vein.

  "What was her name?" she said.

  His eyes slid away. "Angela."

  Finally. An exquisite twist of her heart because this girl actually had a name and Dan knew her name.

  She gazed at her dinner congealing on her plate, and she could see every snakelike strand of spaghetti in nauseating definition. The lens of a telescope had been clicked, and her previously blurry world was now in sharp-edged focus.

  She stared with new eyes at their living room. Casually angled cushions on the sofa, bright wacky rug on polished floorboards. The bookshelf, lined with photos, each one carefully selected and framed as evidence of their happy, active lives. Look! We're so loving and cosmopolitan, so fit and humorous! Here we are smiling and hugging in our ski gear! Here we are having a laugh before we go scuba diving! We party with our friends! We pull ironic faces at the camera!

  She looked back at Dan. He was quite a good-looking man, her husband. It used to worry her in a pleasurable, not-really-worried way.

  He's been unfaithful to me, she thought, trying it out. It was bizarre. Surreal. Part of her wanted to switch the television back on and pretend it had never happened. I have to iron my skirt for tomorrow, she thought. I should do my Christmas list.

  "It was nothing," he said. "It was just a stupid one-night stand."

  "Don't call it


  "This is all so tacky."

  He looked at her beseechingly. A speck of tomato sauce quivered beneath his nose.

  "You've got food on your face," she said savagely. His guilt was inflating her, making her powerful with righteousness. He was the criminal and she was the cop. The bad cop. The one that grabbed the criminal's shirtfront and slammed him up against the wall.

  She said, "Why are you telling me this now? Is it just to make you feel better?"

  "I don't know. I kept changing my mind. And then you said you'd want to know the truth."

  "I was talking to Ellie! I was watching television! I was eating dinner!"

  "So you didn't mean it?'

  "For God's sake. It's too late now."

  They sat in silence for a few seconds, and suddenly she wanted to weep like a five-year-old in the playground because Dan was meant to be her friend, her special friend.

  "But, why?" Her voice cracked. "Why did you do it? I don't understand why you would do that."

  "It didn't mean anything. It really didn't mean anything." Had his friends told him to say that? "Tell her it didn't mean anything, mate. That's all they want to hear."

  If she were on Med School, one single tear would have been trickling so slowly, so heartbreakingly down her cheek. Instead, she was making strange, wheezy sounds as if she'd been running.

  "Please don't be upset. Cat. Babe."

  "Don't be upset!"

  Dan placed his palm tentatively against her arm. She pushed it violently away. "Don't you touch me!"

  They looked at each other in horror. Dan's face was pasty-white. Cat was trembling with the sudden chasm-opening revelation that he must have touched this woman she'd never seen. Properly touched her. He must have kissed her. All the tiny, trivial details of sex.

  "Did you take her bra off?"


  "I mean obviously her bra came off. I just want to know if she took it off, or you? Did you reach your hand up her back, while you were kissing and undo it? Have any difficulty? Was it a tricky one? Those tricky ones are bad, aren't they? Been a while since you've had to worry about that. How'd you do? Breathe a sigh of relief once you got it undone?"

  "Please stop it."

  "I will not stop it."

  "I took her bra off, O.K.! But it was nothing. I was drunk. It was nothing like with us. It didn't--"

  "It didn't mean anything. Yes, I know. What meaningless position did you choose?"

  "Please, Cat."

  "Did she have an orgasm?"

  "Please don't."

  "Oh, darling. Don't worry. I'm sure she did. Those little techniques of yours are so reliable. I'm sure she was very appreciative."

  "Cat, I'm begging you to stop." There was a tremor in his voice.

  She wiped sweat from her forehead. It was too hot.

  She felt ugly. In fact she was ugly. She put her hand to her chin and felt the pimple. Makeup! She needed makeup. She needed makeup, wardrobe, a hair stylist, and an air-conditioned set. Then she'd feel clean, beautiful waves of grief like the stars of Med School.

  She got to her feet and picked up both their plates.

  The back of her throat itched unbearably. Hay fever. Right now, of all times. She put the plates back down on the coffee table and sneezed four times. Each time she closed her eyes to sneeze, an image of a sliding bra strap exploded in her mind.

  Dan went into the kitchen and came back with the box of tissues.

  "Don't look at me," she said.

  "What?" He held out the tissues.

  "Just don't look at me."

  That was when she picked up one of the plates of spaghetti and threw it straight against the wall.

  To: Lyn; Cat

  From: Gemma

  Subject: Cat

  LYN! WARNING, WARNING! DANGER, DANGER! I just spoke to Cat and she is in a VERY, VERY bad mood. I would not recommend ringing her about minding Maddie for another twenty-four hours at least.

  Love, Gemma

  To: Gemma

  From: Cat

  Subject: ME

  Warning, warning, if you're going to send e-mails about my bad mood at least make sure I don't get them. That could really put me in a bad mood.

  To: Gemma

  From: Lyn

  Subject: Cat

  G. Need to be careful about hitting "reply all" instead of "reply to author" on old e-mails. Set up address book!! No doubt Cat v. impressed. Kara minding Maddie so no problem. L.

  To: Lyn; Cat

  From: Gemma

  Subject: Kara

  Dear Lyn,

  I don't know how to set up an address book but thank you for the thought. I don't mean to alarm you but have you heard of SHAKING BABY SYNDROME? I think leaving Maddie with Kara could be very dangerous. Once I saw her shaking a box of cornflakes FURIOUSLY. She is a teenager and teenagers have problems with their hormones that cause them to be just a little insane. Can't you ask Cat, once she has finished her bad mood? Or else I could cancel my date with the luscious locksmith. I am prepared to do that to save Maddie's life. Let me know. Love, Gemma

  Cat wondered if her face looked different. It felt different, as if it were bruised and swollen. Both her eyes as if like they'd been punched. In fact, her whole body seemed strangely fragile. She'd been holding herself stiffly all day, as if she were sunburned.

  It was surprising really, how much this hurt and how consistently it hurt. All day at work she kept thinking that she ought to get a painkiller and then remembering that she wasn't actually in physical pain.

  She hadn't slept much the night before.

  "I'll sleep on the sofa bed," Dan had announced, looking heroic and pale.

  "No, you won't," said Cat, refusing to give him the satisfaction.

  But when they got into bed and she lay there looking at the ceiling and listened to Dan's breathing starting to slow--he was actually going to sleep--she had snapped back on the light and said, "Get out."

  He went, clutching his pillow sleepily to his stomach. Cat lay in bed and imagined her husband having sex with another woman. She was right there, under the covers with them, watching his hands, her hands, his mouth, her mouth.

  She couldn't stop. She didn't want to stop. It was necessary to imagine every excruciating second-by-second detail.

  In the middle of the night she woke Dan up to ask him what color underwear the girl was wearing.

  "I don't remember," he said blearily.

  "You do! You do!" She kept insisting until finally he said he thought it might have been black, at which point she burst into tears.

  Now Cat looked at the people in the 4:30 P.M. Operations Meeting and wondered if this thing, this vile thing, had ever happened to them.

  Sales Director Rob Spencer was in his favorite position by the whiteboard, enthusiastically scribbling flamboyant arrows and boxes. "Folks! I think this makes my point very clear!"

  Rob Spencer. Well, that was a joke. For the last five years or so Rob Spencer had been having an affair with gorgeous Johanna from accounts. It was the company's favorite secret. Telling new staff the Rob/Johanna legend was part of the induction procedure at Hollingdale Chocolates. The only people who didn't know, presumably, were Rob's wife and Johanna's husband. Everyone stared with enjoyable pity at the two unfortunate spouses when they made their appearance each year at the annual Christmas party.

  It occurred to Cat that she now had something in common with Rob Spencer's pathetic wife. She was the faceless wife in Angela's amusing story of a one-night stand with a married man. Well I feel sorry for the wife...the wife isn't Angela's responsibility...who cares about the wife, just give us the gory details, Ange!

  She swallowed hard and looked down at Rob's analysis for a quick way to humiliate him.

  Colorful graphs. Nifty little spreadsheet. All done by his minions, of course.


  "Rob," she said.

  Ten heads turned in relieved unison to face her.

nbsp; "Catriona!" Rob spun from the whiteboard, teeth flashing against solarium-yellow tan. "Always value your feedback!"

  "I just wondered where those figures came from?" she said.

  "I do believe the marvelous Margie did the number crunching for me." Rob tapped his figures seductively, as if Margie had given him a rather marvelous blow job at the same time.

  "Yes, but what figures did you give Margie to crunch?" asked Cat.

  "Ah, let's see," Rob began shuffling vaguely through his paperwork.

  She savored the moment before moving in for the kill.

  "Looking at the marketing budget here, it seems you've given her last financial year's figures. So your analysis, while fascinating, is also, hmmm, how can I put it best...irrelevant?"

  Too bitchy. Male egos were so tender, just like their balls. She would pay for that one.

  "Crash and burn, Rob, mate!" Hank from production thumped his fist on the table.

  Rob held up both hands in boyish surrender. "Team! It seems the Cat has caught me out again with her razor-sharp eye for errors!"

  He looked at his watch. "It's nearly five on a Friday afternoon! People, what are we still doing here? Who wants to join me in drowning my humiliation at Albert's? Catriona? Can I shout my nemesis a drink?"

  His eyes were opaque little marbles.

  Cat smiled tightly. "I'll hold you to it another time."

  She bundled up her files and left the room, feeling quite ill with inappropriate-for-the-workplace hatred for Rob Spencer.

  To: Cat

  From: Gemma

  Subject: Drink

  Would you like to have a drink?

  We can talk about the bad mood you're not in.

  Love, Gemma

  P.S. Essential that you back me up on Kara issue!

  P.P.S. Do you owe me any money by any chance? I don't seem to have any.

  Cat sat in a dimly lit corner of the pub with three beers in front of her and waited for her sisters.

  She wasn't going to tell them. She and Dan needed time to work it out for themselves. It wasn't necessary to share every single detail of her marriage. It was weird and triplet-dependent. "You tell those two everything!" Dan always said, and he didn't know the half of it.

  If she told them, Gemma would hug her and rush off to buy supplies of ice cream and champagne. Lyn would be on her mobile ringing friends for referrals for good marriage counselors. They would inundate her with advice. They would argue passionately with each other over what she should and shouldn't do.