Husbands secret, p.28
Husband's Secret, p.28Liane Moriarty
She thought of Isabel and Esther, who were at home with her parents and John-Paul’s mother right now, along with various other relatives. John-Paul and Cecilia had made it clear that they didn’t want any visitors at the hospital yet, so everyone was gathered at the house. Isabel and Esther were being kept distracted for now, but the siblings always got neglected when something like this happened to a family. She would have to make sure she found a way to be a mother to all three of her daughters through this. The P&C would go. The Tupperware would go.
She turned to look again at John-Paul, who was still hunkered down on the floor, as if protecting himself from a bomb blast.
‘Get up,’ she said again. ‘You can’t fall apart. Polly needs you. We all need you.’
John-Paul removed his hands from his neck and looked up at her with bloodshot eyes. ‘But I’m not going to be here for you,’ he said. ‘Rachel will tell the police.’
‘Maybe,’ said Cecilia. ‘Maybe she will. But I don’t think so. I don’t think Rachel is going to take you away from your family.’ There was no real evidence for this, except somehow she felt that it was true. ‘Not right now anyway.’
‘I think we’ve paid,’ said Cecilia, her voice low and vicious. She gestured at Polly. ‘Look how we’ve paid.’
Rachel sat in front of the television watching the colourful, hypnotic flicker of images and faces. If someone had turned the TV off and asked her what she’d been watching she couldn’t have answered.
She could pick up the phone this minute and have John-Paul Fitzpatrick arrested for murder. She could do it immediately, or in an hour’s time, or in the morning. She could wait until Polly was home from hospital, or she could wait a few months. Six months. A year. Give her a year with her father and then take him away. She could wait until the accident was far enough in the past for it to be a memory. She could wait for the Fitzpatrick girls to grow a little older, to get their driving licences, to not need a daddy.
It was as though she’d been handed a loaded gun, along with permission to shoot Janie’s murderer at any time. If Ed was still alive, the trigger would have been pulled already. The police would have been called hours ago.
She thought of John-Paul’s hands around Janie’s neck and felt that old familiar rage blossom across her chest. My little girl.
She thought of his little girl. The glittery pink helmet. Brake. Brake. Brake.
If she told the police about John-Paul’s confession, would the Fitzpatricks tell them about her own confession? Would she be arrested for attempted murder? It was only luck that she hadn’t killed Connor. Was her foot on the accelerator an equal sin to his hands around Janie’s neck? But what happened to Polly was an accident. Everyone knew that. She rode her bike straight in front of Rachel’s car. It should have been Connor. What if Connor had been dead tonight? His family receiving that phone call, the call that meant for the rest of your life you never heard a phone ring or a knock on the door without a chill of fear.
Connor was alive. Polly was alive. Janie was the only one who was dead.
What if he hurt someone else? She remembered his face at the hospital ravaged with worry over his daughter’s mangled body. ‘She laughed at me, Mrs Crowley.’ She laughed at you? You stupid, egotistical little bastard. That was enough to make you kill her? To take away her life. To take away all the days she could have lived, the degree she never earned, the countries she never visited, the husband she never married, the children she never had. Rachel shook so hard she felt her teeth chatter.
She stood. She went to the phone and picked it up from the receiver. Her thumb hovered over the keys. A memory came to her of teaching Janie how to call the police if there was an emergency. They’d still had that old green rotary dial phone then. She’d let Janie practise by dialling the numbers, and then she’d hung up before it actually rang. Janie had wanted to act out a whole little performance. She’d made Rob lie on the kitchen floor while she yelled into the phone, ‘I need an ambulance! My brother isn’t breathing!’ ‘Stop breathing,’ she’d ordered Rob. ‘Rob. I can see you breathing.’ Rob had nearly passed out trying to please her.
Little Polly Fitzpatrick wouldn’t have a right hand any more. Was she right-handed? Probably. Most people were right-handed. Janie had been left-handed. One of the nuns had tried to make her write with her right hand and Ed had gone up to the school and said, ‘Sister, with all due respect, who do you think made her left-handed? God did! So let’s leave her that way.’
Rachel pressed a key.
‘Hello?’ The phone was answered much quicker than she expected.
‘Lauren,’ said Rachel.
‘Rachel. Rob’s just coming out of the shower,’ said Lauren. ‘Is everything all right?’
‘I know it’s late,’ said Rachel. She hadn’t even looked at the time. ‘And I know I shouldn’t impose like this, after all the time you spent with me yesterday, but I wondered if I could come over and stay the night there? Just this once. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I just find myself unable to –’
‘Of course you can,’ said Lauren, and suddenly she shrieked, ‘Rob!’ Rachel heard the deep rumble of Rob’s voice in the background. She heard Lauren say, ‘Go and pick up your mother.’
Poor dear Rob. Under the thumb, Ed would have said.
‘No, no,’ said Rachel. ‘He’s only just got out of the shower. I’ll drive myself.’
‘Absolutely not,’ said Lauren. ‘He’s on his way. He wasn’t doing anything! I’ll make up the sofa bed. It’s surprisingly comfy! Jacob will be so happy to see you tomorrow morning. I can’t wait to see his face.’
‘Thank you,’ said Rachel. She felt all at once warm and sleepy, as if someone had placed a blanket over her.
‘Lauren?’ she said, before she hung up. ‘You don’t have any more of those macarons, do you? Like the ones you bought for me on Monday night? They were divine. Absolutely divine.’
There was the briefest of pauses. ‘Actually I do.’ There was a quiver in Lauren’s voice. ‘We can have some with a cup of tea.’
Tess woke to the sound of heavy rain. It was still dark, about five am she guessed. Will lay on his side next to her, facing the wall and snoring gently. The shape and smell and feel of him were so ordinary and familiar; the events of the past week seemed inconceivable.
She could have made Will sleep on her mother’s couch, but then she would have had to deal with Liam’s questions. He was already far too aware that things were not quite normal; at the dinner table last night she’d noticed his eyes darting constantly back and forth between herself and Will, monitoring their conversation. His wary little face broke her heart, and made her so furious with Will she could barely look at him.
She shifted slightly away from Will’s body, so that they weren’t touching. It was handy that she had her own Guilty secret. It helped bring her breathing back to normal during those sudden bursts of rage. He’d wronged her. She’d wronged him right back.
Had they both been suffering a form of temporary insanity? It was a defence for murder, after all; why not for married couples? Marriage was a form of insanity; love hovering permanently on the edge of aggravation.
Connor would be asleep now, in his neat flat smelling of garlic and laundry powder, already beginning the process of moving on and forgetting her for the second time. Was he kicking himself for falling for that no-good, cold-hearted woman yet again? Why was she making herself sound like a woman in a country and western song? To soften it, presumably; to make her behaviour seem tender and melancholy, not slutty. She had a feeling that Connor liked country music, but she might have been making it up, confusing him with another ex-boyfriend. She didn’t really know him.
Will couldn’t stand country music.
That was why the sex had been so good with Connor, because they were essentially strangers. It was his ‘otherne
She and Will must have made love, what, a thousand times? At least. She started to calculate it, but she was too tired. The rain got harder, as if someone had turned up the volume. Liam would have to do his Easter egg hunt with an umbrella and gumboots. It must have rained on Easter Sunday before in her lifetime, but all her memories were sun-dappled and blue-skied, as if this was the first sad, rainy Easter Sunday of her life.
Liam wouldn’t care about the rain. He’d probably love it. She and Will would look at each other and laugh, and then they’d look away again, fast, and they’d both be thinking about Felicity and how strange it was without her. Could they do this? Could they make it work, on behalf of one beautiful little six-year-old boy?
She closed her eyes and rolled on to her side, facing away from Will.
Maybe Mum was right, she thought hazily. It’s all about our egos. She felt she was on the edge of understanding something important. They could fall in love with fresh new people, or they could have the courage and humility to tear off some essential layer of themselves and reveal to each other a whole new level of ‘otherness’, a level far beyond what sort of music they liked. It seemed to her everyone had too much self-protective pride to truly strip off down to their souls in front of their long-term partners. It was easier to pretend there was nothing more to know, to fall into an easygoing companionship. It was almost embarrassing to be truly intimate with your spouse; because how could you watch someone floss one minute, and the next minute share your deepest passion or tritest of fears? It was almost easier to talk about that sort of thing before you’d shared a bathroom and a bank account and argued over the packing of the dishwasher. But now that this had happened, she and Will had no choice; otherwise they’d hate each other for what they were sacrificing for Liam.
And maybe they’d already begun when they shared their stories last night about bald spots and school trivia nights. She felt equal parts hilarity and tenderness at the thought of Will’s face dropping when the hairdresser held up the mirror to show him the back of his head.
The compass her father had sent her was sitting on the bedside table. She wondered what would have happened to her parents’ marriage if they’d decided to stay together for her. If they’d really tried, out of love for her, could they have done it? Probably not. But she was convinced that Liam’s happiness was the most valid reason in the world for her and Will to be here right now.
She remembered how Will had said that he wanted to squash her spider. He wanted to kill it.
Maybe he wasn’t here entirely for Liam’s sake.
Maybe she wasn’t either.
The wind howled and the glass of her bedroom window rattled. The temperature in the room seemed to plunge and Tess felt all at once violently cold. Thank God Liam was wearing his warm pyjamas and she’d put that extra blanket on him; otherwise she’d have to get up in the cold and go check on him. She rolled towards Will and pressed the length of her body against his back. The warmth was an exquisite relief, and she felt herself begin to slide back into sleep, but at the same time she pressed her lips to the back of his neck, accidentally, reflexively. She felt Will stir, and put his hand back to caress her hip, and without either of them making a decision, or asking the question, they found themselves making love, quiet, sleepy, married love, and every move felt sweet and simple and familiar, except that they didn’t usually cry.
Rachel emerged slowly from a deep, dreamless sleep. It was the first time in years that she’d slept without the lights on. Jacob’s room had heavy dark drapes across the window, like a hotel, and Rachel had fallen asleep almost instantly on the sofa bed pulled out next to his toddler bed. Lauren was right: the sofa bed was surprisingly comfy. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept so deeply; it felt like a skill from her past that she’d assumed she’d lost forever, like turning a cartwheel.
‘Hello,’ she said. She could just make out the shape of Jacob’s little body standing next to her bed. His face was level with hers, his eyes shining in the darkness.
‘You here!’ He was amazed.
‘I know,’ she said. She was amazed herself. Lauren and Rob had offered for her to stay the night so many times, and she’d always refused instantly and adamantly, as if she had a religious objection to the idea.
‘Raining,’ said Jacob solemnly, and she registered the sound of heavy, settled rain.
There was no clock in the room, but it felt like it was about six o’clock: too early to start the day. She remembered with a slight sinking of the heart that she’d said she’d go to Lauren’s family’s house for Easter lunch. Perhaps she’d feign illness. She’d stayed the night after all; they would have had enough of her by lunchtime, and she would have had enough of them.
‘Do you want to hop in with me?’ she said to Jacob.
Jacob chortled, as if she was one crazy grandma, and hauled himself up into the bed. He climbed on top of her and buried his face in her neck. His little body was warm and heavy. She pressed her lips against the silken skin of his cheek.
‘I wonder if . . .’ She caught herself just in time before she said, I wonder if the Easter Bunny has been. He would have hurled himself from the bed and run through the house searching for eggs, waking up Rob and Lauren, and Rachel would have been the annoying house guest and mother-in-law who reminded the child it was Easter.
‘I wonder if we should go back to sleep,’ she said instead, thinking it highly unlikely, for both of them.
‘Nah,’ he said. Rachel felt the soft flutter of his eyelashes against her neck.
‘Do you know how much I’ll miss you when you’re in New York?’ she said in his ear. It made no sense to him, of course. He ignored the question and wriggled himself into a more comfortable position.
‘Grandma,’ he said happily.
‘Oof,’ she said as he dug his knee into her stomach.
The rain got harder and the room felt suddenly colder. She pulled the blankets tighter around their bodies and held Jacob closer, and sang into his ear, ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring, went to bed and bumped his head, and couldn’t get up in the morning.’
‘Again,’ demanded Jacob.
She sang again.
Little Polly Fitzpatrick was waking up this morning with a body that would never be the same because of what Rachel had done. It would seem outrageous to John-Paul and Cecilia. They’d be shocked for months, before they finally learned, as Rachel had, that the unthinkable happened, and the world kept turning, and people still talked at length about the weather, and there were still traffic jams and electricity bills, celebrity scandals and political coups.
At some point, when Polly was home from hospital, Rachel would ask John-Paul to come to her home and describe Janie’s last moments to her. She could see exactly how it would be. His strained, frightened face when she opened her door. She would make her daughter’s murderer a cup of tea, and he would sit at her kitchen table and talk. She wouldn’t grant him absolution, but she’d make him tea. She would never forgive him, but perhaps she would never report him, or ask him to give himself up. After he left, she would sit on her couch and she would rock and keen and howl. One last time. She would never stop crying for Janie, but that would be the last time she would cry like that.
Then she would make a fresh pot of tea and she’d decide. She would make her final decision about what needed to be done, what price needed to be paid, or if in fact, it had already been paid.
‘. . . went to bed and bumped his head, and couldn’t get up in the morning.’
Jacob was asleep. She shifted his weight off he
Her thoughts turned to Connor Whitby. Was there a moment when his eyes met hers as he ran across the road? A moment when he recognised her murderous intent and ran for his life? Or was she imagining it? He was the boy that Janie had chosen over John-Paul Fitzpatrick. You chose the wrong boy, darling. She would have lived if she’d chosen John-Paul.
She wondered if Janie had truly loved Connor. Was Connor the son-in-law Rachel was meant to have in that fantasy parallel life she never got to live? And did Rachel therefore owe it to Janie’s memory to do something nice for Connor? Have him over for dinner? She shuddered at the thought. Absolutely not. She couldn’t turn off her feelings like a tap. She could still see the fury on Connor’s face in that video, and the way Janie had shrunk from him. She knew, intellectually at least, that it was nothing more than an ordinary teenage boy desperate for a straight answer from a teenage girl, but that didn’t mean she forgave him.
She thought of the way Connor had smiled at Janie in the video, before he lost his temper. The genuinely smitten smile. She remembered, too, the photo in Janie’s album, the one where Connor had been laughing so fondly over something Janie had said.
Perhaps one day she’d post Connor Whitby a copy of that photo, with a card. Thought you might like to have this. A subtle apology for the way she’d treated him over the years, and oh yes, a subtle apology for trying to kill him. Let’s not forget that. She grimaced in the darkness, and turned her head and pressed her lips against Jacob’s scalp for comfort.
Tomorrow I’ll go to the post office and pick up a passport application. I’ll visit them in New York. Maybe I’ll even do one of those damned Alaskan cruises. Marla and Mac can come with me. They don’t mind the cold.
Go back to sleep now, Mum, said Janie. For a moment Rachel could see her so clearly. The middle-aged woman she would have become, so sure of herself and her place in the world, bossy and loving, condescending and impatient with her dear old mum, helping her get her first ever passport.
Can’t sleep, said Rachel.
Yes, you can, said Janie.
The official demolition of the Berlin Wall happened as efficiently as its construction. On 22 June 1990, Checkpoint Charlie, the famous symbol of the Cold War, was dismantled in a strangely prosaic ceremony. A giant crane lifted out the famous beige metal shack in one piece, watched by foreign ministers and other dignitaries seated on rows of plastic chairs.
On the same day, in another hemisphere, Cecilia Bell, recently returned from her trip to Europe with her friend Sarah Sacks and in an extreme state of readiness for a boyfriend and a properly structured life, went to a house-warming party in a crowded two-bedroom unit in Lane Cove.
‘You probably know John-Paul Fitzpatrick, don’t you Cecilia?’ the party host shouted over the thump of the music.
‘Hi,’ said John-Paul. Cecilia took his hand, met his grave eyes, and smiled as though she’d just been granted her freedom.
Cecilia woke with a giant gasp as if she’d been drowning. Her mouth felt dry and hollowed out. She must have been asleep with her head tipped back against the chair next to Polly’s bed, her mouth gaping. John-Paul had gone home to be with the girls and get them both some clean clothes. Later on this morning, if Cecilia gave the word, he would bring Isabel and Esther in for a visit.
‘Polly,’ she said frantically. She’d been dreaming of the little Spiderman boy. Except in the dream he was Polly.
‘Try to watch your body language,’ the social worker had said to her last night. ‘Children read you much better than you think. Your tone of voice. Your facial expressions. Your gestures.’
Yes, thank you, I know what body language is, Cecilia had thought. The social worker had had her hair pushed back with a pair of oversized sunglasses, as if she was at a beach party not at the hospital at six o’clock at night, talking to parents in the middle of their own worst nightmare. Cecilia couldn’t forgive her for the flippancy of those damned sunglasses.
Of course, wouldn’t you know it, Good Friday was the worst time for your child to suffer a traumatic injury. A lot of the regular staff were off for the Easter break, so it would be a few days before Cecilia met all the members of Polly’s ‘rehabilitation team’, including a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist and a prosthesis specialist. It was both comforting and horrifying to know that there were procedures in place for this, with information packs and ‘top tips’, and that they would be travelling a path already trodden by so many other parents. Each time someone talked with matter-of-fact authority to Cecilia about what lay ahead, there would be a moment where she lost the thread of what they were saying, because she would suddenly feel immobilised by shock. No one at the hospital was sufficiently surprised by what had happened to Polly. None of the nurses or doctors clutched Cecilia’s arm and said, ‘My God, I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.’ It would be disconcerting if they did, but it was also somehow disconcerting that they didn’t.
That’s why it was comforting to listen to the dozens of messages on her mobile phone from her family and friends; to hear her sister Bridget practically incoherent with shock; to hear the normally unflappable Mahalia’s voice breaking; to hear the school principal, dear Trudy Applebee, burst into tears, apologise, and then call back and do it again. (Her mother had said no fewer than fourteen casseroles had already been delivered by school mums. All those casseroles she’d made over the years finally coming home to roost.)
‘Mummy,’ muttered Polly again, but her eyes were shut. She seemed to be talking in her sleep. She shuddered, and her head moved from side to side agitatedly, as if in pain or fear. Cecilia’s hand hovered over the call button for the nurse, but then Polly’s face calmed.
Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on83 votes