Husbands secret, p.26
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       Husband's Secret, p.26

           Liane Moriarty
 
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  ‘Procedure?’ echoed Cecilia. ‘By procedure you mean . . .’

  She couldn’t say the word. It was unspeakably obscene.

  ‘Amputation,’ said Dr Yue. ‘Just above the elbow. I know this is terrible news for you, and I’ve arranged for a counsellor to see you –’

  ‘No,’ said Cecilia firmly. She would not stand for this. She had no idea what a spleen did, but she knew what a right arm did. ‘She’s right-handed you see, Dr Yue. She’s six years old. She can’t live without her arm!’ Her voice skidded into the ugly maternal hysteria she’d been trying so hard to spare him.

  Why wasn’t John-Paul saying anything? The brusque interruptions had stopped. He had turned away from Dr Yue and was looking back through the glass panels at Polly.

  ‘She can, Mrs Fitzpatrick,’ said Dr Yue. ‘I’m so very sorry, but she can.’

  There was a long wide passageway outside the heavy wooden doors that led to Intensive Care, beyond which only family members were allowed. A row of high windows let in dust-flecked rays of sunlight, reminding Rachel of church. People sat in brown leather chairs all the way along the passageway: reading, texting, talking on their mobile phones. It was like a quieter version of an airport terminal. People enduring impossibly long waits, their faces tense and tired. Sudden muffled explosions of emotion.

  Rachel sat in one of the brown leather chairs facing the wooden doors, her eyes continually watching for Cecilia or John-Paul Fitzpatrick.

  What did you say to the parents of a child you’d hit with a car and nearly killed?

  The words ‘I’m sorry’ felt like an insult. You said ‘I’m sorry’ when you bumped against someone’s supermarket trolley. There needed to be bigger words.

  I am profoundly sorry. I am filled with terrible regret. Please know that I will never forgive myself.

  What did you say, when you knew the true extent of your own culpability, which was so much more than that assigned to her by the freakishly young paramedics and police officers who had arrived at the accident scene yesterday. They’d treated her like a doddery old woman involved in a tragic accident. Words kept forming in her head: I saw Connor Whitby and I put my foot on the accelerator. I saw the man who murdered my daughter and I wanted to hurt him.

  Yet some instinct for self-preservation must have prevented her from speaking out loud, because otherwise, surely, she would be locked up for attempted murder.

  All she remembered saying was, ‘I didn’t see Polly. I didn’t see her until it was too late.’

  ‘How fast were you going, Mrs Crowley?’ they asked her, so gently and respectfully.

  ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know.’

  It was true. She didn’t know. But she knew there had been plenty of time to put her foot on the brake to let Connor Whitby cross the road.

  They told her that it was unlikely she would be charged. It seemed that a man in a taxi had seen the little girl ride her bike directly in front of the car. They asked her who they could call to come and collect her. They insisted on this, even though a second ambulance had been called just for her, and the paramedic had checked her over and said that there was no need for her to go to the hospital. Rachel gave the police Rob’s number, and he arrived far too quickly (he must have been speeding), with Lauren and Jacob in the car. Rob was white-faced. Jacob grinned and waved a chubby hand from the back seat. The paramedic told Rob and Lauren that Rachel was probably suffering from mild shock, and that she should rest and stay warm and not be left alone. She should see her GP as soon as possible for a check-up.

  It was awful. Rob and Lauren dutifully followed orders, and Rachel couldn’t get rid of them, no matter how hard she tried. She couldn’t get her thoughts straight while they hovered about, bringing her cups of tea and cushions. Next thing that perky young Father Joe turned up, very upset about members of his flock running each other over. ‘Shouldn’t you be saying the Good Friday mass?’ said Rachel ungratefully. ‘All under control, Mrs Crowley,’ he said. Then he took her hand and said, ‘Now you know this was an accident, don’t you, Mrs Crowley? Accidents happen. Every day. You must not blame yourself.’

  She thought, Oh, you sweet, innocent young man, you know nothing about blame. You have no idea of what your parishioners are capable. Do you think any of us really confess our real sins to you? Our terrible sins?

  At least he was useful for information. He promised that he would keep her constantly informed about Polly’s progress, and he was as good as his word.

  She’s still alive, Rachel kept telling herself as each update came. I didn’t kill her. This is not irretrievable.

  Lauren and Rob finally took Jacob home after dinner and Rachel spent the night replaying those few moments over and over.

  The fish-shaped kite. Connor Whitby stepping out on to the road, ignoring her. Her foot on the accelerator. Polly’s pink sparkly helmet. Brake. Brake. Brake.

  Connor was fine. Not a scratch on him.

  Father Joe had called this morning to say that there was no further news, except that Polly was in Intensive Care at Westmead Children’s Hospital and receiving the very best of care.

  Rachel had thanked him, put down the phone and then immediately picked it up again to call a cab to take her to the hospital.

  She had no idea if she would be able to see either of Polly’s parents or if they would want to see her – they probably wouldn’t – but she felt that she had to be here. She couldn’t just sit comfortably at home, as if life went on regardless.

  The double doors leading into Intensive Care flew open and Cecilia Fitzpatrick barrelled through, as if she was a surgeon off to save a life. She walked rapidly down the passageway, past Rachel, then stopped and gazed about her, baffled and blinking, like a sleepwalker waking up.

  Rachel stood.

  ‘Cecilia?’

  An elderly white-haired woman materialised in front of Cecilia. She seemed wobbly, and Cecilia instinctively put out her hand towards her elbow.

  ‘Hello, Rachel,’ she said, suddenly recognising her, and for a moment she saw only Rachel Crowley, the kindly but distant and always efficient school secretary. Then a giant chunk of her memory crashed back into place: John-Paul, Janie, the rosary beads. She hadn’t thought about any of it since the accident.

  ‘I know I’m the last person you want to see right now,’ said Rachel. ‘But I had to come.’

  Cecilia remembered dully that Rachel Crowley had been driving the car that hit Polly. She’d registered it at the time, but it had had no particular relevance to her. The little blue car had been like a force of nature: a tsunami, an avalanche. It was as if it had been driven by no one.

  ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Rachel. ‘So terribly, dreadfully sorry.’

  Cecilia couldn’t quite comprehend what she meant. She was too sluggish with exhaustion and the shock of what Dr Yue had just said. Her normally reliable brain cells lumbered about, and it was with the greatest of difficulty that she corralled them into one place.

  ‘It was an accident,’ she said, with the relief of someone remembering the perfect phrase in a foreign language.

  ‘Yes,’ said Rachel. ‘But –’

  ‘Polly was chasing Mr Whitby,’ said Cecilia. The words flowed easier now. ‘She didn’t look.’ She closed her eyes briefly and saw Polly disappear beneath the car. She opened them again. Another perfect phrase came to her. ‘You must not blame yourself.’

  Rachel shook her head impatiently and batted at the air as if an insect was bugging her. She grabbed hold of Cecilia’s forearm and held it tight. ‘Please just tell me. How is she? How serious are her – her injuries?’

  Cecilia stared at Rachel’s wrinkled, knuckly hand clutching her forearm. She saw Polly’s beautiful healthy skinny little girl arm and found herself coming up against a spongy wall of resistance. It was unacceptable. It simply could not happen. Why not Cecilia’s arm? Her ordinary, unappealing arm with its faded freckles and sunspots. They could take that if the bastards
had to have an arm.

  ‘They said she has to lose her arm,’ she whispered.

  ‘No.’ Rachel’s hand tightened.

  ‘I can’t. I just can’t.’

  ‘Does she know?’

  ‘No.’

  This thing was endless and enormous, with tentacles that crept and curled and snarled because she hadn’t even begun to think about how she would tell Polly, or really, in fact, what this barbaric act would mean to Polly, because she was consumed with what it meant to her, how she couldn’t bear it, how it felt like a violent crime was being committed upon Cecilia. This was the price for the sensual, delicious pleasure and pride she’d always taken in her children’s bodies.

  What did Polly’s arm look like right now, beneath the bandages? The limb was not salvagable. Dr Yue had assured her that they were managing Polly’s pain.

  It took Cecilia a moment to realise that Rachel was crumpling, her legs folding at the knees. She caught her just in time, grabbing her arms and taking her full weight. Rachel’s body felt surprisingly insubstantial for a tall woman, as though her bones were porous, but it was still tricky keeping her upright, as if Cecilia had just been handed a large, awkward package.

  A man walking by carrying a bunch of pink carnations stopped, stuck the flowers under his arm and helped Cecilia get Rachel to a nearby seat.

  ‘Shall I find you a doctor?’ he asked. ‘Should be able to track one down. We’re in the right spot!’

  Rachel shook her head adamantly. She was pale and shaky. ‘Just dizzy.’

  Cecilia knelt down next to Rachel and smiled politely up at the man. ‘Thank you for your help.’

  ‘No problems. I’ll get going. My wife just had our first baby. Three hours old. Little girl.’

  ‘Congratulations!’ said Cecilia, a moment too late. He was already gone, walking joyfully off, right in the middle of the happiest day of his life.

  ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ said Cecilia to Rachel.

  ‘I’m so sorry.’

  ‘It’s not your fault,’ said Cecilia, and felt a hint of impatience. She’d come out for air, to stop herself from screaming, but she needed to get back now. She needed to start collecting facts. She did not need to talk to a bloody counsellor, thanks very much, she needed to see Dr Yue again, and this time she would take notes and ask questions and not worry about being nice.

  ‘You don’t understand,’ said Rachel. She fixed Cecilia with red, watery eyes. Her voice was high and weak. ‘It is my fault. I put my foot on the accelerator. I was trying to kill him, because he killed Janie.’

  Cecilia grabbed for the side of Rachel’s seat, as if it were a precipice she’d been pushed from and stood up.

  ‘You were trying to kill John-Paul?’

  ‘Of course not. I was trying to kill Connor Whitby. He murdered Janie. I found this video, you see. It was proof.’

  It was like somebody had grabbed Cecilia by the shoulders, spun her around and forced her to come face to face with the evidence of an atrocity.

  There was no grappling for comprehension. She understood everything in an instant.

  What John-Paul had done.

  What she had done.

  Their accountability to their daughter. The penalty Polly would pay for their crime.

  Her entire body felt hollowed by the bright white light of a nuclear blast. She was a shell of her former self. Yet she didn’t shake. Her legs didn’t give way. She remained perfectly still.

  Nothing really mattered any more. Nothing could be worse than this.

  The important thing now was truth. It would not save Polly. It would not redeem them in any way. But it was absolutely necessary. It was an urgent task that Cecilia needed to cross off her list this very moment.

  ‘Connor didn’t kill Janie,’ said Cecilia. She could feel her jaw moving up and down as she talked. She was a puppet made of wood.

  Rachel became very still. The texture of her soft, wet eyes changed, visibly hardening. ‘What do you mean?’

  Cecilia heard the words come out of her dry, sour-tasting mouth. ‘My husband killed your daughter.’

  chapter fifty

  Cecilia was crouched down next to Rachel’s chair, talking softly but clearly, her eyes just inches away. Rachel could hear and comprehend every word she said but she couldn’t seem to keep up. It wouldn’t sink in. The words were slipping straight off the surface of her mind. She felt a terrifying sensation, as if she was running desperately to catch something of vital importance.

  Wait, she wanted to say. Wait, Cecilia. What?

  ‘I only found out the other night,’ said Cecilia. ‘The night of the Tupperware party.’

  John-Paul Fitzpatrick. Was she trying to tell her that John-Paul Fitzpatrick murdered Janie? Rachel grabbed at Cecilia’s arm. ‘You’re saying it wasn’t Connor,’ she said. ‘You know for a fact that it wasn’t Connor. That he had nothing to do with it?’

  A profound sadness crossed Cecilia’s face. ‘I know this for a fact,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t Connor. It was John-Paul.’

  John-Paul Fitzpatrick. Virginia’s son. Cecilia’s husband. A tall, handsome, well-dressed, courteous man. A well-known, respected member of the school community. Rachel would greet him with a smile and a wave if she saw him at the local shops or a school event. John-Paul always led the school working bees. He wore a tool belt and a plain black baseball cap and held up a slide rule with impressive assurance. Last month, Rachel had watched Isabel Fitzpatrick run straight into her father’s arms when he picked her up after the Year 6 camp. It had struck Rachel because of the sheer joy on Isabel’s face when she saw John-Paul, and also because of Isabel’s resemblance to Janie. John-Paul had swung Isabel around in an arc, her legs flying, like she was a much younger child, and Rachel had felt a searing regret that Janie had never been that sort of daughter and Ed had never been that sort of father. Their uptight concerns about what other people thought seemed like such a waste. Why had they been so careful and contained with their love?

  ‘I should have told you,’ said Cecilia. ‘I should have told you the moment I knew.’

  John-Paul Fitzpatrick.

  He had such nice hair. Respectable-looking hair. Not like Connor Whitby’s shifty-looking bald head. John-Paul drove a shiny clean family car. Connor roared about on his grimy motorbike. It couldn’t be right. Cecilia must have it wrong. Rachel couldn’t seem to shift her hatred over from Connor. She’d hated Connor Whitby for so long, even when she hadn’t know for sure, even when she’d just suspected, she’d hated him for the possibility of what he’d done. She’d hated him for his very existence in Janie’s life. She’d hated him for being the last one to see Janie alive.

  ‘I don’t understand,’ she said to Cecilia. ‘Did Janie know John-Paul?’

  ‘They were in a sort of a secret relationship. They were dating, I guess you’d call it,’ said Cecilia. She was still crouched on the floor next to Rachel, and her face, which had been drained of colour, was now flooded with it. ‘John-Paul was in love with Janie, but then Janie said there was another boy, and she’d chosen the other boy, and then, he . . . Well. He lost his temper.’ Her words faded. ‘He was seventeen. It was a moment of madness. That makes it sound like I’m trying to excuse him. I promise I am absolutely not trying to excuse him, or what he did. Obviously. Of course there is no excuse. I’m sorry. I have to stand up. My knees. My knees are hurting.’

  Rachel watched Cecilia rise to her feet with difficulty, look around for another chair, and drag it closer to Rachel’s before sitting down and leaning towards her, her brows knitted so fiercely she looked as if she were pleading for her life.

  Janie had told John-Paul there was another boy. So the other boy was Connor Whitby.

  Janie had had two boys interested in her, and Rachel had been completely unaware of it. Where had Rachel gone wrong as a mother that she’d had such little knowledge of her daughter’s life? Why hadn’t they exchanged confidences over ‘milk and cookies’ in the afternoon after sch
ool, like mother and daughter in an American sitcom? Rachel had only ever baked under duress. Janie used to eat buttered crackers for her afternoon tea. If only she’d baked for Janie, she thought with a sudden burst of savage self-loathing. Why hadn’t she baked? If she’d baked, and if Ed had swung Janie in joyful circles, then maybe everything could have been different.

  ‘Cecilia?’

  Both women looked up. It was John-Paul.

  ‘Cecilia. They want us to sign some forms –’ He stopped, and saw Rachel.

  ‘Hello Mrs Crowley,’ he said.

  ‘Hello,’ said Rachel.

  She couldn’t move. It was as though she was anaesthetised. Here was her daughter’s murderer standing in front of her. An exhausted, distressed, middle-aged father, with red-rimmed eyes and grey stubble. It was impossible. He had nothing to do with Janie. He was much too old. Too grown-up.

  Cecilia said, ‘I told her, John-Paul.’

  John-Paul took a step back, as if someone had tried to hit him.

  He briefly closed his eyes, and then he opened them and looked straight down at Rachel, with such sick regret in his eyes, there was longer any doubt in her mind.

  ‘But why?’ Rachel said, and she was struck by how civilised and ordinary she sounded, discussing her daughter’s murder in the middle of the day, while dozens of people walked by, ignoring them, assuming theirs was just another unremarkable conversation. ‘Could you please tell me why you would do such a thing? She was just a little girl.’

  John-Paul ducked his head and ran both his hands through his nice respectable hair, and when he looked up again, it was as though his face had shattered into a thousand pieces. ‘It was an accident, Mrs Crowley. I never meant to hurt her, because, you see, I loved her. I really loved her.’ He wiped the back of his hand across his nose, in a careless, hopeless gesture, like a drunk on a street corner. ‘I was a stupid teenage boy. She told me she was seeing someone else, and then she laughed at me. I’m so sorry, but that’s the only reason I have. I know it’s no reason at all. I loved her, and then she laughed at me.’

  Cecilia was dimly aware that people continued to move through the corridor where they sat. They hurried by or strolled, they gesticulated and laughed, they talked animatedly into mobile phones. Nobody stopped to observe the white-haired woman sitting straight-backed in the brown leather chair, her gnarled hands gripping the sides, her eyes fixed on the middle-aged man who stood in front of her, his head bowed in deep contrition, his neck exposed, his shoulders slumped. Nobody seemed to notice anything extraordinary about their frozen bodies, their silence. They were in their own little bubble, separated from the rest of humanity.

  Cecilia felt the cool, smooth leather of the chair beneath her hands, and suddenly the air rushed from her lungs.

  ‘I need to get back to Polly,’ she said, and stood up so fast that her head swum.

  How much time had passed? How long had they been out here? She felt a panicky sensation, as if she’d deserted Polly. She looked at Rachel and thought: I can’t care about you right now.

  ‘I need to talk to Polly’s doctor again,’ she said to Rachel.

  ‘Of course you do,’ said Rachel.

  John-Paul held out his palms to Rachel, his wrists upwards as if he was waiting to be handcuffed. ‘I know that I don’t have any right to ask you this, Rachel, Mrs Crowley, I have no right to ask you anything, but you see, Polly needs us both right now, so I just need time –’

  ‘I’m not taking you away from your daughter,’ interrupted Rachel. She sounded brisk and furious, as if Cecilia and John-Paul were badly behaved teenagers. ‘I’ve already . . .’ She stopped, swallowed, and looked up at the ceiling as if she was trying to suppress the urge to be sick. She shooed them away. ‘Go. Just go to your little girl. Both of you.’

  chapter fifty-one

  It was late Easter Saturday night and Will and Tess were hiding eggs in her mother’s backyard. They both held bags of tiny eggs, the ones wrapped in shiny-coloured foil.

  When Liam was very little they used to put the eggs in plain sight, or even just scatter them across the grass, but as he’d got older he preferred the challenge of a tricky Easter egg hunt with Tess humming the soundtrack to Mission Impossible while Will timed him on a stopwatch.

  ‘I suppose we couldn’t put some of them in the guttering?’ Will looked up at the roof. ‘We could leave a ladder somewhere handy.’

  Tess gave the sort of polite chuckle she’d give to an acquaintance or a client.

  ‘Guess not,’ said Will. He sighed, and carefully placed a blue one in the corner of a windowsill that Liam would have to stand on tippy-toes to reach.

  Tess unwrapped an egg and ate it. The last thing Liam needed was more chocolate. Sweetness filled her mouth. She herself had eaten so much chocolate this week, if she didn’t watch it she’d end up the size of Felicity.

  The casually cruel thought came automatically into her head like an old lyric, and she realised how often she must have thought it. ‘The size of
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