Husbands secret, p.25
‘If you’d like me to come around and talk to you after the Easter break,’ said Detective-Sergeant Strout, ‘I’d be happy to make a time that suits.’
‘That won’t be necessary,’ said Rachel icily. ‘Thank you for the call.’
She hung up and threw the phone so that it landed on the floor in front of the passenger seat.
‘Useless, patronising, miserable little . . .’ Her throat closed up. She turned the keys in the ignition.
‘Look at that man’s kite!’ said Isabel.
Cecilia looked up to see a man on the crest of the hill carrying an enormous kite in the shape of a tropical fish. He was letting it bob about behind him like a balloon.
‘It’s like he’s taking his fish for a walk,’ huffed John-Paul. He was leaned over almost double, pushing Polly on her bike, because she’d just complained that her legs had turned to jelly. Polly was sitting upright, wearing a glittery pink helmet and plastic rock-star sunglasses with star-shaped lenses. As Cecilia watched she leaned forward to drink cordial from the purple water bottle she’d packed for herself in the white mesh basket.
‘Fish can’t walk,’ said Esther without looking up from her book. She had a remarkable ability to walk and read at the same time.
‘You could at least pedal a bit, Princess Polly,’ said Cecilia.
‘My legs still feel like jelly,’ said Polly delicately.
John-Paul grinned at Cecilia. ‘It’s okay. Good workout for me.’
Cecilia breathed in deeply. There was something comical and wonderful about the sight of the fish-shaped kite swimming jauntily through the air behind the man in front of them. The air smelled sweet. The sun was warm on her back. Isabel was pulling tiny yellow dandelions from hedges and sticking them in between the strands of Esther’s plait. It reminded Cecilia of something. A book or a movie from her childhood. Something to do with a little girl who lived in the mountains and wore flowers in her braid. Heidi?
‘Beautiful day!’ called out a man who was sitting on his front porch drinking tea. Cecilia knew his face vaguely from church.
‘Gorgeous!’ she called back warmly.
The man ahead of them with the kite stopped. He pulled a phone from his pocket and held it to his ear.
‘That’s not a man.’ Polly straightened. ‘That’s Mr Whitby!’
Rachel drove robotically towards home, trying to keep her mind completely empty of thoughts.
She stopped at a red light and looked at the time on the dashboard clock. It was ten o’clock. At this time twenty-eight years ago, Janie would have been at school and Rachel was probably ironing her dress for her appointment with Toby Murphy. The bloody dress that Marla had convinced her to buy because it showed off her legs.
Just seven minutes late. It probably made no difference. She would never know.
‘We won’t be taking any further action.’ She heard again the prim voice of Detective-Sergeant Strout. She saw Connor Whitby’s frozen face when she paused the video. She thought of the unmistakable guilt in his eyes.
He did it.
She screamed. An ugly, blood-curdling scream that reverberated around the car. She beat her fists just once on the steering wheel. It both frightened and embarrassed her.
The lights changed. She put her foot on the accelerator. Was today the worst anniversary yet, or was it always this bad? It was probably always this bad. It was so easy to forget how bad things were. Like winter. Like the flu. Like childbirth.
She could feel the sun on her face. It was a beautiful day, like the day Janie died. The streets were deserted. Nobody appeared to be about. What did people do on Good Friday?
Rachel’s mother used to do the Stations of the Cross. Would Janie have stayed a Catholic? Probably not.
Don’t think about the woman Janie would have been.
Think nothing. Think nothing. Think nothing.
When they took Jacob to New York, there would be nothing. It would be like death. Every day would feel as bad as this. Don’t think about Jacob either.
Her eyes followed a squall of fluttering red leaves like tiny frantic birds.
Marla said she always thought of Janie whenever she saw a rainbow. And Rachel said, ‘Why?’
The empty road unfurled in front of her and the sun brightened. She squinted and lowered the sun visor. She always forgot her sunglasses.
There was somebody out and about after all.
She grabbed hold of the distraction. It was a man. He was standing on the sidewalk holding a brightly coloured balloon. It looked like a fish. Like the fish in Finding Nemo. Jacob would love that balloon.
The man was talking on a mobile phone, looking up at his balloon.
It wasn’t a balloon. It was a kite.
‘I’m sorry. We can’t meet you after all,’ said Tess.
‘That’s all right,’ said Connor. ‘Another time.’ The reception was crystal clear. She could hear the very weight and timbre of his voice, deeper than in person, a bit gravelly. She pressed the phone to her ear, as if she could wrap his voice around her.
‘Where are you?’ she asked.
‘Standing on a footpath carrying a fish kite.’
She felt a flood of regret, and also plain, childlike disappointment, as if she’d missed a birthday party because of a piano lesson. She wanted to sleep with him one more time. She didn’t want to sit in her mother’s chilly house having a complicated, painful conversation with her husband. She wanted to run around her old school oval in the sunshine with a fish kite. She wanted to be falling in love, not trying to fix a broken relationship. She wanted to be someone’s first choice, not their second.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said.
‘You don’t need to be sorry.’
There was a pause.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
‘My husband is on his way here.’
‘Apparently he and Felicity are over before it’s even begun.’
‘So I guess we are too.’ He didn’t make it sound like a question.
She could see Liam playing in the front garden. She’d told him that Will was on his way. He was racing back and forth across the yard, tipping first the hedge and then the fence, as if he was in training for some life and death event.
‘I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s just that, with Liam, you see, I have to at least try. At least give it a go.’ She thought of Will and Felicity sitting on the plane from Melbourne, hands gripped, faces stoic. For fuck’s sake.
‘Of course you do.’ He sounded so warm and lovely. ‘You don’t need to explain.’
‘I should never have –’
‘Please don’t regret it.’
‘Tell him if he treats you bad again, I’ll break his knees.’
‘Seriously, Tess. Don’t give him any more chances.’
‘And if things don’t work out. Well. You know. Keep my application on file.’
‘Connor, someone will –’
‘Don’t do that,’ he said sharply. He tried to soften his voice. ‘No worries. I told you, I’ve got chicks lining the streets for me.’
‘I should let you go,’ he said, ‘if this bloke of yours is on his way.’
She could hear his disappointment so clearly now. It made him sound abrupt, almost aggressive, and part of her wanted to keep him on the line, to flirt with him, to make sure that the last thing he said was gentle and sexy, and then she could be the one to put an end to the conversation, so that she could file these last few days away in her memory under the category that suited her. (What was that category? ‘Fun flings where nobody got hurt’?)
But he was entitled to be abrupt, and she’d already exploited him enough.
‘Okay. Well. Bye.’
‘Bye, Tess. Take care.’
‘Mr Whitby!’ shouted Polly.
‘Oh, my god. Mum, make her stop!’ Isa
‘Mr Whitby!’ screeched Polly.
‘He’s too far away to hear you,’ sighed Isabel.
‘Darling, leave him alone. He’s talking on the phone,’ said Cecilia.
‘Mr Whitby! It’s me! Hello! Hello!’
‘It’s out of his work hours,’ commented Esther. ‘He’s not obliged to talk to you.’
‘He likes talking to me!’ Polly grabbed hold of her handlebars and pedalled away from her father’s grasp, her wheels wobbling precariously along the footpath. ‘Mr Whitby!’
‘Looks like her legs have recovered.’ John-Paul massaged his lower back.
‘Poor man,’ said Cecilia. ‘Enjoying his Good Friday and he’s accosted by a student.’
‘I guess it’s an occupational hazard if he chooses to live in the same area,’ said John-Paul.
‘Mr Whitby!’ Polly gained ground. Her legs pumped. Her pink wheels spun.
‘At least she’s getting some exercise,’ said John-Paul.
‘This is so embarrassing,’ said Isabel. She hung back and kicked at someone’s fence. ‘I’m waiting here.’
Cecilia stopped and looked back at her. ‘Come on. We’re not going to let her bother him for long. Stop kicking that fence.’
‘Why are you embarrassed, Isabel?’ asked Esther. ‘Are you in love with Mr Whitby too?’
‘No, I am not! Don’t be disgusting!’ Isabel turned purple. John-Paul and Cecilia exchanged looks.
‘Why is this guy so special anyway?’ asked John-Paul. He nudged Cecilia. ‘Are you in love with him too?’
‘Mothers can’t be in love,’ said Esther. ‘They’re too old.’
‘Thanks very much,’ said Cecilia. ‘Come on, Isabel.’
She turned to look back at Polly, just as Connor Whitby stepped off the footpath and onto the road, the kite floating above him.
Polly swung her bike down a steep driveway towards the road.
‘Polly!’ Cecilia called, at the same time as John-Paul yelled, ‘Stop right there, Polly!’
Rachel watched the man with the kite step off the kerb. Look out for traffic, matey. That’s not a pedestrian crossing.
He turned his head in her direction.
It was Connor Whitby.
He was looking right at her, but it was as though Rachel’s car was invisible, as if she didn’t exist, as if she was completely irrelevant to him, as if he could choose to inconvenience her by making her slow down if it suited him. He stepped briskly across the road, with every confidence that she would stop. His kite caught a gust of wind and spun in lazy circles.
Rachel’s foot lifted from the accelerator and hovered over the brake.
Then it slammed like a brick on the accelerator.
It didn’t happen in slow motion. It happened in an instant.
There was no car. The street was empty. And then, just like that, there was a car. A small blue car. John-Paul would say afterwards that he knew there was a car coming from behind them, but to Cecilia, it just materialised out of nowhere.
No car. Car.
The little blue car was like a bullet. Not so much because of its speed but because it seemed as if it were on some unstoppable trajectory, as if it had been shot from something.
Cecilia saw Connor Whitby run. Like a man in a movie chase scene leaping from one building to another.
A second later, Polly rode her bike directly in front of the car and vanished beneath it.
The sounds were small. A thump. A crunch. The long thin squeal of brakes.
And then silence. Ordinariness. The sound of a bird.
Cecilia didn’t feel anything except confusion. What just happened?
She heard heavy footsteps and turned to see John-Paul running. He ran straight past her. Esther was screaming. Over and over. A shocking, ugly sound. Cecilia thought, Stop it Esther.
Isabel grabbed Cecilia’s arm. ‘The car hit her!’
A chasm cracked open in her chest.
She shook Isabel’s hand free and ran.
A little girl. A little girl on a bike.
Rachel’s hands were still on the steering wheel. Her foot was still pressed hard on the brake pedal. It was compressed all the way to the floor of the car.
Slowly, painstakingly, she lifted her trembling hand from the steering wheel and wrenched on the handbrake. She placed her left hand back on the steering wheel and used her right hand to turn off the ignition. Then she cautiously lifted her foot from the brake pedal.
She looked in the rear-vision mirror. Maybe the little girl was all right.
(Except she’d felt it. The soft speed-hump beneath her wheels. She knew with perfect sick certainty what she’d done. What she’d deliberately done.)
She could see a woman running, her arms dangling oddly from her body, as if they were paralysed. It was Cecilia Fitzpatrick.
Little girl. Pink sparkly helmet. Black ponytail. Brake. Brake. Brake. Her face in profile. The girl was Polly Fitzpatrick. Gorgeous little Polly Fitzpatrick.
Rachel whimpered like a dog. Somewhere in the distance, someone was screaming over and over.
Liam had kept asking when his dad was arriving and Tess had felt all at once infuriated by her impassive role, waiting for Felicity and Will to make their scheduled appearances. She’d called Will on his mobile. She was going to be icy and controlled and give him his first inkling of the almighty task that lay ahead of him.
‘Tess,’ said Will. He sounded distracted and strange.
‘According to Felicity, you’re on your way over here –’
‘I am,’ interrupted Will. ‘I was. In a taxi. We had to stop. There was an accident just around the corner from your mum’s place. I saw it happen. We’re waiting for an ambulance.’ His voice broke, then became muffled. ‘It’s terrible, Tess. Little girl on a bike. About the same age as Liam. I think she’s dead.’
The doctor reminded Cecilia of a priest or a politician. He specialised in professional compassion. His eyes were warm and sympathetic, and he spoke slowly and clearly, authoritatively and patiently, as if Cecilia and John-Paul were his students and he needed them to fully understand a tricky concept. Cecilia wanted to throw herself at his feet and hug his knees. As far as she was concerned, this man had absolute power. He was God. This man, this softly spoken, bespectacled Asian man in a blue and white striped shirt that was very similar to one John-Paul owned, was God.
Throughout the previous day and night there had been so many people talking at them: the paramedics, the doctors and nurses in the emergency department. Everyone had been nice, but rushed and tired, their eyes slipping and sliding. There was noise and bright white lights constantly shining in her peripheral vision, but now they were talking to Dr Yue in the hushed, churchlike environment of Intensive Care. They were standing outside the glass-panelled room where Polly was lying on a high single bed, attached to a plethora of equipment. She was heavily sedated. An intravenous drip had been inserted in her left arm. Her right arm was wrapped in gauze bandages. At some point one of the nurses had brushed her hair away from her forehead, pinning it off to one side, so that she didn’t look quite like herself.
Dr Yue seemed highly intelligent because he wore glasses, and perhaps because he was Asian, which was racial stereotyping, but Cecilia didn’t care. She hoped that Dr Yue’s mother had been one of those pushy tiger mothers. She hoped poor Dr Yue didn’t have any other interests apart from medicine. She loved Dr Yue. She loved Dr Yue’s mother.
But John-bloody-Paul! John-Paul didn’t seem to understand that they were speaking to God. He kept interrupting. He sounded too brusque. Rude, almost! If John-Paul offended Dr Yue, he might not try as hard for Polly. Cecilia knew that this was just a job for Dr Yue, and Polly was just another one of his patients, and that they were just another pair of distraught parents, and ever
Dr Yue patted her arm. ‘This is incredibly distressing for you, Mrs Fitzpatrick, and I know you’ve had a long night with no sleep.’
John-Paul glanced sideways at Cecilia, as if he’d forgotten she was there too. He took her hand. ‘Please just go on,’ he said.
Cecilia smiled obsequiously at Dr Yue. ‘I’m fine,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’ Look how very nice and undemanding we are!
Dr Yue ran through Polly’s injuries. A serious concussion, but the CT scan had showed no sign of a serious brain injury. The pink sparkly helmet had done its job. As they already knew, internal bleeding was a concern, but they were monitoring and so far, so good. They already knew that Polly had suffered severe skin abrasions, a fractured tibia and a ruptured spleen. The spleen had already been removed. Many people lived without their spleens. She might have some danger of reduced immunity, and they would recommend antibiotics in the case of –
‘Her arm,’ interrupted John-Paul. ‘The main concern through the night seemed to be her right arm.’
‘Yes.’ Dr Yue locked eyes with Cecilia and breathed in and out, as if he was a yoga teacher demonstrating breathing techniques. ‘I’m very sorry to say that the limb is not salvagable.’
‘Pardon?’ said Cecilia.
‘Oh God,’ said John-Paul.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Cecilia, still trying to be nice, but feeling a surge of fury. ‘What do you mean not salvagable?’
It sounded like Polly’s arm was at the bottom of the ocean.
‘She’s suffered irreparable tissue damage, a double fracture, and there’s no longer sufficient blood supply. We’d like to do the procedure this afternoon.’
Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on83 votes