Husbands secret, p.27
Husband's Secret, p.27Liane Moriarty
Felicity’ was still her definition of unacceptably fat, even now, when Felicity had a slim, gorgeous body that was better than hers.
‘I can’t believe you thought we could all just live together!’ she exploded. She saw Will steel himself.
This was the way it had been ever since he had finally turned up at her mother’s house the previous day, pale and discernibly thinner than the last time she’d seen him. Her mood kept swinging about precariously. One minute she was cool and sarcastic, the next she was hysterical and weepy. She couldn’t seem to get a hold of herself.
Will turned to face her, the bag of chocolate eggs in the palm of his hand. ‘I didn’t really think that,’ he said.
‘But you said it! On Monday, you said it.’
‘It was idiotic. I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘All I can do is keep saying I’m sorry.’
‘You sound robotic,’ said Tess. ‘You don’t even mean it any more. You’re just saying the words in the hope I’ll finally shut up.’ She spoke in a monotone. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’
‘I do mean it,’ said Will wearily.
‘Shhh,’ said Tess, although he hadn’t really spoken that loudly. ‘You’ll wake them.’ Liam and her mother were both in bed asleep. Their rooms were at the front of the house and they were both deep sleepers. They probably wouldn’t wake them even if they started yelling at each other.
There had been no yelling. Not yet. Just these short, useless conversations that travelled bitterly down one-way streets.
Their reunion the previous day had been both surreal and mundane; an exasperating clash of personalities and emotion. For a start there was Liam, who was almost deranged with excitement. It was like he’d sensed the danger of losing his father, and the safe little structure of his life, and now his relief at Will’s return manifested itself in six-year-old craziness. He spoke in annoying silly voices, he giggled maniacally, he wanted to wrestle constantly with his father. Will, on the other hand, was completely traumatised by witnessing Polly Fitzpatrick’s accident. ‘You should have seen the expressions on the parents’ faces,’ he kept saying quietly to Tess. ‘Imagine if that was Liam. If that was us.’
The shocking news about Polly’s accident should have put everything into perspective for Tess, and in a way it did. If something like that had happened to Liam then nothing else would have mattered. But at the same time it was as if her own feelings were now a trivial matter, and that made her feel defensive and aggressive.
She couldn’t find big enough words to describe the enormous breadth and depth of her emotions. You hurt me. You really hurt me. How could you hurt me like that? It was so simple in her head but so strangely complex each time she opened her mouth.
‘You wish you were on a plane with Felicity right now,’ said Tess. He did. She knew that he did, because she wished she was in Connor’s apartment right now. ‘Flying to Paris.’
‘You keep saying Paris,’ said Will. ‘Why Paris?’ She heard in his voice a hint of ordinary Will, of the Will she loved. The Will who found the humour in everyday stuff. ‘Do you want to go to Paris?’
‘No,’ said Tess.
‘Liam does love his croissants.’
‘Except we’d have to bring our own Vegemite.’
‘I don’t want to go to Paris.’
She walked across the lawn to the back fence and went to hide an egg near a post, and then changed her mind, worried about spiders.
‘I should mow that lawn for your mother tomorrow,’ said Will from the courtyard.
‘A boy down the road does it once every two weeks,’ said Tess.
‘I know that you’re only here because of Liam,’ she said.
‘You heard me.’
She’d said this before, last night, in bed, and again when they’d gone for a walk today. She was repeating herself. Acting like an irrational, crazy bitch, as if she wanted to make him regret his decision. Why did she keep bringing it up? She was here for the same reason. She knew that if it wasn’t for Liam she’d be in bed with Connor right now. She wouldn’t have bothered to try and fix their marriage. She would have let herself fall into something fresh and new and delicious.
‘I am here because of Liam,’ said Will. ‘And I’m here because of you. You and Liam are my family. You mean everything to me.’
‘If we meant everything to you then you wouldn’t have fallen in love with Felicity in the first place,’ said Tess. It was so easy being the victim. The accusing words rolled with delightful, irresistible ease off the tongue.
The words wouldn’t roll so easily if she told him what she’d been doing with Connor while he and Felicity had been heroically resisting temptation. She presumed it would hurt him, and she wanted to hurt him. The information was like a secret weapon hidden in her pocket which she held in the palm of her hand, caressing its contours, considering its power.
‘Don’t tell him about Connor,’ her mother had said urgently in her ear, just like Felicity, pulling her aside as his cab drew up at the house and Liam ran out to greet him. ‘It will only upset him. It’s pointless. Honesty is overrated. Take it from me.’
Take it from her. Was her mother speaking from personal experience? One day she would ask her. Right now she didn’t particularly want to know, or even care.
‘I didn’t really fall in love with Felicity,’ said Will.
‘Yes, you did,’ said Tess, although the words ‘falling in love’ suddenly seemed juvenile and ridiculous, as if she and Will were far too old to be using such terms. When you were young you talked about ‘falling in love’ with such amusing gravity, as if it were an actual recordable event, when what was it really? Chemicals. Hormones. A trick of the mind. She could have fallen in love with Connor. Easily. Falling in love was easy. Anyone could fall. It was holding on that was tricky.
She could tear up her marriage right now if she chose; tear up Liam’s life with a few simple words. ‘Guess what, Will? I fell in love with somebody else too. So everything is just fine and dandy. Off you go.’ All it would take was words and they could both be on their way.
What she couldn’t forgive was the revolting purity of what had gone on between Will and Felicity. Unconsummated love was so powerful. Tess had left Melbourne so that they could have their affair, damn it, and they’d never got around to it. Instead, she was the one left lugging around a sleazy secret.
‘I don’t think I can do this,’ she said quietly.
Will looked up from where he was squatting down carefully pushing eggs into the latticework at the back of one of her mother’s chairs.
‘Nothing,’ she said. I don’t think I can forgive you.
She walked over to the side fence and placed a row of eggs at careful intervals all the way along the middle paling hidden beneath the ivy.
‘Felicity said you wanted another baby,’ she said.
‘Yeah, well, you knew that,’ said Will. He sounded exhausted.
‘Was it just because she got so pretty? Felicity? Was that it?’
‘Huh? What?’ Tess almost laughed at his panicky expression. Poor Will. Even on a normal day he preferred his conversations to follow a linear structure, and now he couldn’t complain like he normally would and say, ‘Make sense, woman!’
‘There wasn’t anything really wrong with our marriage, was there?’ she said. ‘We didn’t fight. We were in the middle of watching season five of Dexter! How could you break up with me when we were in the middle of season five?’
Will smiled warily and clutched his bag of eggs.
Suddenly she couldn’t stop talking. It was like she was drunk. ‘And wasn’t our sex life okay? I thought it was okay. I thought it was pretty good.’ She remembered Connor’s fingertips running so slowly and softly all the way down her back and shivered violently. Will’s forehead was furrowing as if someone had taken hold of his balls and was squeezing, just gently at fir
‘We didn’t fight. Or we did fight, but weren’t they just normal run-of-the-mill fights? What did we fight about? The dishwasher? The way I put the frypan in so it hits the thingummybob. You think we come to Sydney too often. But that’s just run-of-the-mill stuff, isn’t it? Weren’t we happy? I was happy. I thought we were both happy. You must have thought I was such an idiot.’ She lifted her arms and legs up and down like a puppet. ‘Here comes dopey Tess dopily going about her day. Ooh, tra-la-la, I’m so happily married, yes I am!’
‘Tess. Don’t do that.’ Will’s eyes were shiny.
She stopped, and noticed there was a salty taste in her mouth now, along with the chocolate. She wiped her hands impatiently across her wet face. She hadn’t even been aware that she was crying. Will took a step towards her as if to comfort her and she held up both her palms to stop him from coming any closer.
‘And now Felicity is gone. I haven’t been apart from her for more than two weeks since, my God, since we were born. That’s weird, isn’t it? No wonder you thought you could have both of us. We were like Siamese twins.’
That’s why she was so furious with him for thinking they could all three live together, because it wasn’t entirely preposterous, not for them. She understood why they thought it was possible, and that made it all the more infuriating, because how could that be?
‘We should finish hiding these stupid eggs,’ she said.
‘Wait. Can we sit for a moment?’ He gestured at the table where she’d sat eating hot cross buns and texting Connor in the sunlight yesterday, a million years ago. Tess sat down and put the bag of eggs on the table and folded her arms, tucking her hands into her armpits.
‘Are you too cold?’ asked Will anxiously.
‘It’s not exactly balmy,’ snapped Tess. She was all dry-eyed detachment now. ‘But it’s fine. Go ahead. Say your thing.’
Will said, ‘You’re right. There wasn’t anything wrong with our marriage. I was happy with us. It’s just that I was sort of unhappy with me.’
‘How? Why?’ Tess lifted her chin. She already felt defensive. If he was unhappy then it had to be her fault. Her cooking, her conversation, her body. Something wasn’t up to scratch.
‘This will sound so lame,’ said Will. He looked up to the sky and took a breath. ‘This is in no way an excuse. Don’t think that for a second. But about six months ago, after my fortieth, I started to feel so . . . the only word I can think of is “bland”. Or “flat” might be a better word.’
‘Flat,’ repeated Tess.
‘Remember how I had all those troubles with my knee? And then my back went? I thought, Jesus, is this life now? Doctors and pills and pain and bloody heat packs? Already? It’s all over? So there was that, and then one day . . . okay, so this is embarrassing.’
He chewed his lip and continued. ‘I got my hair cut, right? And my normal guy wasn’t there, and for some reason the girl held up this mirror to show me the back of my head. I don’t know why she would feel the need to do that. I swear to you, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw my bald spot. I thought it was some other bloke’s head. I looked like Friar Bloody Tuck. I had no idea.’
Tess snorted and Will grinned ruefully. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘I know. I just started feeling so . . . middle-aged.’
‘You are middle-aged,’ said Tess.
‘Thank you,’ he winced. ‘I know. Anyway, this flat feeling. It came and went. It was no big deal. I was waiting for it to pass. Hoping it would pass. And then . . .’ He stopped.
‘And then Felicity,’ supplied Tess.
‘Felicity,’ said Will. ‘I always cared about Felicity. You know how we were together. That sort of banter thing we did. Almost flirting. It was never serious. But then, after she lost the weight, I started to sense this . . . vibe from her. And I guess I was flattered, and it didn’t seem to count, because it was Felicity, not some random woman. It was safe. It didn’t feel like I was betraying you. It felt almost like she was you. But then, somehow, it got out of hand and I found myself . . .’ He stopped himself.
‘Falling in love with her,’ said Tess.
‘No, not really. I don’t think it was really love. It was nothing. As soon as you and Liam walked out the door I knew it was nothing. It was just a stupid crush, a –’
‘Stop.’ Tess held up her palm as if to put it across his mouth. She didn’t want lies, even if they were white lies, or even if he didn’t know they were lies, and she also felt a peculiar sense of loyalty towards Felicity. How could he say it was nothing when Felicity’s feelings had been so real and powerful and when he’d been prepared to sacrifice everything for her? Will was right. She wasn’t just some random girl. She was Felicity.
‘Why didn’t you ever tell me about the flat feeling?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ said Will. ‘Because it was idiotic. Feeling depressed about my bald spot. Jesus.’ He shrugged. She wasn’t sure if it was just the lighting, but his colour seemed high. ‘Because I didn’t want to lose your respect.’
Tess laid her hands down on the table and looked at them. She thought about how one of the jobs of advertising was to give the consumer rational reasons for their irrational purchases. Had Will looked back on his ‘thing’ with Felicity and thought, Why did I do that? And then he created this story for himself, which was loosely based on the truth?
‘Well, anyway, I have social anxiety,’ she said chattily.
‘Pardon?’ Will frowned, as if he’d just been presented with a tricky riddle.
‘I get very anxious, over-the-top anxious, about certain social activities. Not everything. Just some things. It’s not a big deal. But sometimes it is.’
Will pressed his fingertips to his forehead. He seemed puzzled and almost fearful. ‘I mean, I know you don’t like parties much, but you know, I’m not that keen on standing around making small talk myself.’
‘I have heart palpitations about the school trivia night,’ said Tess. She looked him squarely in the eye. She felt naked. More naked than she’d ever been in front of him.
‘But we don’t go to the school trivia night.’
‘I know. That’s why we don’t go.’
Will lifted his palms. ‘We don’t have to go! I don’t care if we don’t go.’
Tess smiled. ‘But I sort of care. Who knows? It might be fun. It might be boring. I don’t know. That’s why I’m telling you. I’d like to start being a little more . . . open to my life.’
Will said, ‘I don’t get it. I know you’re not an extrovert, but you go out and get new business for us! I’d find that hard!’
‘I know, I do,’ said Tess. ‘It frightens me half to death. I still do it. I hate it, and I also love it. I just wish I didn’t waste so much time feeling sick.’
‘I read this article recently. There are thousands of us walking around with this neurotic little secret. People you wouldn’t expect: CEOs who can do big presentations to shareholders but can’t handle small talk at the Christmas party, actors with crippling shyness, doctors who are terrified of making eye contact. I felt like I had to hide it from everyone, and the more I hid it, the bigger it seemed. I told Felicity yesterday and she just dismissed it. She said, “Get over it.” It was strangely liberating actually, hearing her say that. It was like I finally took this big hairy spider out of a box and someone looked at it, and said, “That’s not a spider.”’
‘I don’t want to dismiss it,’ said Will. ‘I want to squash your spider. I want to kill the bloody thing.’
Tess felt the tears rise again. ‘I don’t want to dismiss your flat feeling either.’
Will reached across the table and held out his hand, palm up. She looked at it for a moment, considering, and then she laid her hand in his. The sudden warmth of his hand, its simultaneous familiarity and strangeness, the way it enfolded hers, reminded her of the first time they met, when they were intr
They sat silently holding hands, not looking at each other, and Tess thought of the way Felicity’s eyes flickered when she asked her if she and Will had held hands on the plane from Melbourne and she nearly pulled her hand away, but then she remembered standing outside the bar with Connor, his thumb caressing her palm, and for some reason she thought also of Cecilia Fitzpatrick sitting in a hospital room with poor little beautiful Polly right now, and of Liam, safe upstairs, in his blue flannel pyjamas, dreaming of chocolate eggs. She looked up at the clear starry night sky and imagined Felicity on a plane, somewhere high above them, flying off into a different day, a different season, a different life, wondering how in the world it had come to this.
There were so many decisions to be made. How would they manage the next part of their lives? Would they stay in Sydney? Keep Liam at St Angela’s? Impossible. She’d see Connor every day. What about the business? Would they replace Felicity? That seemed impossible too. In fact, it all seemed impossible. Insurmountable.
What if Will and Felicity really were meant to be together? What if she and Connor were meant to be together? Perhaps there were no answers to questions like that. Perhaps nothing was ever ‘meant to be’. There was just life, and right now, and doing your best. Being a bit ‘bendy’.
The sensor light on her mother’s back porch flickered and suddenly they were plunged into darkness. Neither of them moved.
‘We’ll give it till Christmas,’ said Tess after a moment. ‘If you still miss her by Christmas, if you still want her by then, you should go to her.’
‘Don’t say that. I’ve told you. I don’t –’
‘Shhh.’ She held his hand tighter and they sat in the moonlight, clinging to the wreckage of their marriage.
It was done.
Cecilia and John-Paul sat side by side watching Polly’s closed eyelids flutter and smooth, flutter and smooth, as if they were tracking the progress of her dreams.
Cecilia held on to Polly’s left hand; she could feel the tears sliding down her face and dripping off her chin, but she ignored them. She remembered sitting with John-Paul at another hospital, at the dawn of another autumn day, after two hours of intense labour (Cecilia gave birth efficiently; a little too efficiently with their third daughter). She and John-Paul were counting Polly’s fingers and toes, as they’d done with Isabel and Esther, a ritual like opening and inspecting a marvellous, magical gift.
Now their eyes kept returning to the space where Polly’s right arm should have been. It was an anomaly, an oddness, an optical discrepancy. From now on it wouldn’t be her beauty that would cause people to stare at her in shopping centres.
Cecilia let the tears slide on and on. She needed to get all her crying out of the way, because she was determined that Polly would never see her shed a tear. Cecilia was about to step into a new life, her life as an amputee’s mother. Even as she cried, she could feel her muscles tensing in readiness, as if she was an athlete about to begin a marathon. Soon she would be fluent in a new language of stumps and prostheses and God knows what else. She’d move heaven and earth and bake muffins and pay fraudulent compliments to get the best results for her daughter. No one was better qualified than Cecilia for this role.
But was Polly qualified? That was the question. Was any six year old qualified? Did she have the strength of character to live with this sort of injury in a world that put such value on a woman’s looks? She’s still beautiful, thought Cecilia furiously, as if someone had denied it.
‘She’s tough,’ she said to John-Paul. ‘Remember that day at the pool when she wanted to prove she could swim as far as Esther?’
She thought of Polly’s arms slicing through sunlit chlorinated blue water.
‘Jesus. Swimming.’ John-Paul’s whole body heaved and he pressed his palm to the centre of his chest as if he was in the throes of a heart attack.
‘Don’t drop dead on me,’ said Cecilia sharply.
She pushed the heels of her hands deep into her eye sockets and turned them in a circular motion. She could taste so much salt from all her tears, it was like she’d been swimming in the sea.
‘Why did you tell Rachel?’ said John-Paul. ‘Why now?’
She dropped her hands from her face and looked at him. She lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘Because she thought Connor Whitby killed Janie. She was trying to hit Connor.’
She watched John-Paul’s face as his mind travelled from A to B and finally to the horrendous responsibility of C.
He pressed his fist to his mouth. ‘Fuck,’ he said quietly into his knuckles and he began to rock back and forth like an autistic child.
‘This was my fault,’ he mumbled into his hand. ‘I made this happen. Oh God, Cecilia. I should have confessed. I should have told Rachel Crowley.’
‘Stop it,’ hissed Cecilia. ‘Polly might hear.’
He stood up and walked towards the door of the hospital room. He turned back and looked at Polly, his face ravaged with despair. He looked away, plucked helplessly at the fabric of his shirt. Then he suddenly crouched down, his head bent, his hands interlocked at the back of his neck.
Cecilia watched him dispassionately. She remembered how he’d sobbed on Good Friday morning. The pain and regret he felt for what he’d done to another man’s daughter was nothing compared to what he felt for his own daughter.
She looked away from him and back at Polly. You could try as hard as possible to imagine someone else’s tragedy – drowning in icy waters, living in a city split by a wall – but nothing truly hurt until it happened to you. Most of all, to your child.
‘Get up, John-Paul,’ she said without looking at him. Her eyes stayed on Polly.
Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on83 votes