Husbands secret, p.9
one night he’d swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. His flatmate, who was meant to be visiting his parents for the weekend, had come home unexpectedly and found him. ‘What was going through your mind?’ Cecilia had asked him when she heard the story for the first time. ‘Everything felt too hard,’ John-Paul had said. ‘Going to sleep forever just seemed like an easier option.’
Over the years Cecilia had often prodded him for more information about this time in his life. ‘But why did it seem so hard? What exactly was so hard?’ But John-Paul didn’t seem capable of clarifying further. ‘I guess I was just your typical anguished teenager,’ he’d say. Cecilia didn’t get it. She was never anguished as a teenager. Eventually she had to give up and accept John-Paul’s suicide attempt as an out-of-character incident in his past. ‘I just needed a good woman,’ John-Paul told her. It was true there had never been a serious girlfriend until Cecilia came along. ‘I was honestly starting to think he might be gay,’ one of his brothers had confided in her once.
There was the gay thing again.
But his brother had been joking.
An unexplained suicide attempt in his teenage years, and now, all these years later, he was crying in the shower.
‘Sometimes grown-ups have big things on their mind,’ said Cecilia carefully to Esther. Obviously her first responsibility was to make sure that Esther wasn’t concerned. ‘So I’m sure Daddy was just –’
‘Hey, Mum, can I please get this book on Amazon about the Berlin Wall for Christmas?’ asked Esther. ‘Do you want me to order it now? All the reviews are five stars!’
‘No,’ said Cecilia. ‘You can borrow it from the library.’
God willing, they’d have escaped from Berlin by Christmas.
She turned into the parking lot underneath the speech therapist’s office, wound down the window and pressed the button on the intercom.
‘Can I help you?’
‘We’re here to see Caroline Otto,’ she said. Even when she talked to the receptionist she rounded her vowels.
As she parked the car, she considered each new fact.
John-Paul giving Isabel strange, ‘sad, angry’ looks.
John-Paul crying in the shower.
John-Paul losing interest in sex.
John-Paul lying about something.
It was all so strange and worrying, but there was something beneath it all that was not actually unpleasant, that was in fact giving her a mild sense of anticipation.
She turned off the ignition, pulled on the handbrake and undid her seatbelt.
‘Let’s go,’ she said to Esther, and opened the car door. She knew what was giving her that little blip of pleasure. It was because she’d made a decision. Something was clearly not right. She had a moral obligation to do something immoral. It was the lesser of two evils. She was justified.
As soon as the girls were in bed tonight, she would do what she’d wanted to do from the very beginning. She was going to open that goddamned letter.
There was a knock at the door.
‘Ignore it.’ Tess’s mother didn’t look up from her book.
Tess, Liam and her mother were sitting in separate armchairs in her mother’s front room, reading their books with small bowls full of chocolate raisins resting on their laps. It had been one of Tess’s daily routines as a child: eating chocolate raisins and reading with her mother. They always did star jumps afterward to counteract the chocolate.
‘It might be Dad.’ Liam put his book down. Tess was surprised at how readily he’d agreed to sit and read. It must have been the chocolate raisins. She could never get him to do his reading for school.
And now, bizarrely, he was starting at a new school. Just like that. Tomorrow. It was disconcerting the way that peculiar woman had convinced him to start the very next day, with the promise of an Easter egg hunt.
‘You spoke to your dad in Melbourne just a few hours ago,’ she reminded Liam, keeping her voice neutral. He and Will had talked for twenty minutes. ‘I’ll talk to Daddy later,’ Tess had said when Liam had held out the phone. She’d already spoken to Will once that morning. Nothing had changed. She didn’t want to hear his awful serious new voice again. And what could she say? Mention that she’d run into an ex-boyfriend at St Angela’s? Ask if he was jealous?
Connor Whitby. It must have been over fifteen years since she’d seen him. They’d gone out for less than a year. She hadn’t even recognised him when he’d walked into the office. He’d lost all his hair and seemed a much bigger, broader version of the man she remembered. The whole thing had been so awkward. Bad enough that she was sitting across the desk from a woman whose daughter had been murdered.
‘Maybe Daddy got on a plane to surprise us,’ said Liam.
There was a rap on the window right near Tess’s head. ‘I know you’re all in there!’ said a voice.
‘For God’s sake.’ Tess’s mother closed her book with a snap.
Tess turned and saw her aunt’s face pressed flat against the window, her hands cupped around her eyes so she could peer inside.
‘Mary, I told you not to come over!’ Lucy’s voice rocketed up several octaves. She always sounded forty years younger when she spoke to her twin sister.
‘Open the door!’ Auntie Mary rapped again on the glass. ‘I need to talk to Tess!’
‘Tess doesn’t want to talk to you!’ Lucy lifted her crutch and jabbed it in the air in Mary’s direction.
‘Mum,’ said Tess.
‘She’s my niece! I have rights!’ Auntie Mary tried to wrench the wooden window frame up.
‘She has rights,’ snorted Tess’s mother. ‘What a load of –’
‘But why can’t she come in?’ Liam’s brow knitted.
Tess and her mother looked at each other. They’d been so careful about what they said in front of Liam.
‘Of course she can come in.’ Tess put her book to one side. ‘Grandma was just teasing.’
‘Yes, Liam, just a silly game!’ cooed Lucy.
‘Lucy, let me in! I genuinely feel faint!’ shouted Auntie Mary. ‘I’m going to faint on your precious gardenias!’
‘Such a funny game!’ Lucy chuckled insanely. It reminded Tess of the ineffectual job she used to do of perpetuating the Santa Claus myth. She was the worst liar on the planet.
‘Go let them in,’ Tess said to Liam. She turned to Auntie Mary at the window and pointed towards the front door. ‘We’re coming.’
Auntie Mary crashed off through the garden. ‘Oops-a-
‘I’ll give you oops-a-bloody-daisy,’ muttered Lucy.
Tess felt a sharp sense of loss at the thought that she wouldn’t be able to share this story about their mothers with Felicity. It was like the real Felicity had vanished along with her old fat body. Did she exist anymore? Had she ever existed?
‘Darling,’ said Mary when Tess got to the door. ‘And Liam! You’ve grown again! How does that keep happening?’
‘Hi Uncle Phil.’ Tess went to brush cheeks with her uncle, but to her surprise he suddenly pulled her to him in an awkward hug. He said quietly into her ear, ‘I am deeply ashamed of my daughter.’
Then he straightened and said, ‘I’ll keep Liam company while you girls talk.’
With Liam and Uncle Phil safely stashed in front of the television, Mary, Lucy and Tess sat at the kitchen table drinking tea.
‘I made it very clear that you weren’t to show up here,’ said Tess’s mother, who wasn’t so cranky with her sister that she would forgo her extremely good chocolate brownies.
Mary rolled her eyes, settled her elbows on the table and pressed Tess’s hand between her warm, plump little palms. ‘Sweetheart, I’m so sorry this has happened to you.’
‘This isn’t something that just happened to her,’ exploded Lucy.
‘The point is that I don’t think Felicity really did have a choice,’ said Mary.
‘Oh! I didn’t realise! Poor Felicity! Someone put a
Mary resolutely ignored her sister and directed her conversation at Tess. ‘Sweetheart, you know Felicity would never have chosen for this to happen. This is torture for her. Torture.’
‘Is this a joke?’ Lucy took a savage bite of brownie. ‘Do you seriously expect Tess to feel sorry for Felicity?’
‘I just hope you can find it in your heart to forgive her.’ Mary was doing a wonderful job of pretending that Lucy wasn’t there.
‘Okay, that’s enough,’ said Lucy. ‘I don’t want to hear another word come out of your mouth.’
‘Lucy, sometimes love just strikes!’ Mary finally acknowledged her sister. ‘It just happens! Out of the blue!’
Tess stared into her teacup and swirled it around. Was this actually out of the blue? Or had it always been there, right in front of her eyes? Felicity and Will had got on famously from the moment they’d met. ‘Your cousin is a riot,’ Will had said to Tess after the three of them had been out to dinner for the first time. Tess had taken it as a compliment, because Felicity was part of her. Her sparkling company was something Tess had to offer. And the fact that Will properly appreciated Felicity (not all her previous boyfriends had, some had actively disliked her) had been a huge mark in his favour.
Felicity had taken an instant liking to Will too. ‘You can marry this one,’ she’d said to Tess the next day. ‘He’s the one. I have spoken.’
Did Felicity already have a crush on Will back then? Was this inevitable? Foreseeable?
Tess remembered the euphoria she’d felt that day after she’d introduced Will and Felicity. It had felt like she’d reached a glorious destination, a mountaintop. ‘He’s perfect, isn’t he?’ she’d said to Felicity. ‘He gets us. He’s the first one who really gets us.’
Gets us. Not gets me.
Her mother and aunt were still talking, oblivious to the fact that Tess wasn’t contributing a word.
Lucy had slapped her hand over her eyes. ‘This isn’t some wonderful love story, Mary!’ She removed her hand and shook her head in disgust at her sister as if she was the worst kind of criminal. ‘What’s wrong with you? Truly, what’s wrong with you? Tess and Will are married. And have you forgotten there is an actual real child involved? My grandson?’
‘But you see they’re just so desperate to somehow make it right,’ said Mary to Tess. ‘They both love you so much.’
‘That’s nice,’ said Tess.
Over the last ten years Will had never once complained about the fact that Felicity spent so much time with them. Perhaps that had been a sign. A sign that Tess wasn’t enough for him. What ordinary husband would be prepared to have his wife’s fat cousin come along on their annual summer holiday? Unless he was in love with her. Tess was a fool not to have seen it. She’d enjoyed watching Will and Felicity banter and argue and tease each other. She’d never felt excluded. Everything was better, sharper, funnier, edgier when Felicity was around. Tess felt like she was more herself when Felicity was around, because Felicity knew her better than anyone. Felicity let Tess shine. Felicity laughed the loudest at Tess’s jokes. She helped define and shape Tess’s personality, so that Will could see Tess as she truly was.
And Tess felt prettier when Felicity was around.
She pressed cold fingertips to her burning cheeks. It was shameful but true. She had never felt repelled by Felicity’s obesity, but she had felt particularly slim and lithe when she stood next to her.
And yet nothing had changed in Tess’s mind when Felicity had lost weight. It had not occurred to her that Will would ever look at Felicity in a sexual way. She had been so sure of her position in their strange little threesome. Tess was at the apex of the triangle. Will loved her best. Felicity loved her best. How very self-centred of her.
‘Tess?’ said Mary.
Tess put her hand on her aunt’s arm. ‘Let’s talk about something else.’
Two fat tears slid snail paths down Mary’s pink, powdery cheeks. Mary dabbed at her face with a crumpled tissue. ‘Phil didn’t want me to come. He said I’d do more harm than good, but I just thought I could find a way to make it all right. I spent all morning looking at photos of you and Felicity when you were growing up. The fun you two had together! That’s the worst of this. I can’t bear it if you become estranged from each other.’
Tess patted her aunt’s arm. Her own eyes felt dry and clear. Her heart was clenched like a fist.
‘I think you might have to bear it,’ she said.
‘You’re not seriously expecting me to come to a Tupperware party,’ Rachel had said to Marla when she’d asked her a few weeks back while they were having coffee.
‘You’re my best friend.’ Marla stirred sugar into her soy decaf cappuccino.
‘My daughter was murdered,’ said Rachel. ‘That gives me a permanent “get out of party” card for the rest of my life.’
Marla raised her eyebrows. She’d always had particularly eloquent eyebrows.
Marla had the right to raise her eyebrows. Ed had been in Adelaide for work (Ed was always away for work) when the two policemen turned up at Rachel’s door. Marla came with Rachel to the morgue and was standing right next to her when they lifted that ordinary white bedsheet to reveal Janie’s face. Marla was ready the moment Rachel’s legs gave way, and she caught her instantly, expertly, one hand cupping her elbow, the other grabbing her upper arm. She was a midwife. She’d had a lot of practice catching burly husbands just before they hit the floor.
‘Sorry,’ said Rachel.
‘Janie would have come to my party,’ said Marla. Her eyes filled. ‘Janie loved me.’
It was true. Janie had adored Marla. She was always telling Rachel to dress more like Marla. And then, of course, on the one occasion Rachel had worn a dress that Marla had helped her buy, look what had happened.
‘I wonder if Janie would have liked Tupperware parties,’ said Rachel as she watched a middle-aged woman arguing with her primary schooler at the table next to them. She tried, and failed, as she always did, to imagine Janie as a forty-five-year-old woman. She sometimes ran into Janie’s old friends in the shops and it was always such a shock to see their seventeen-year-old selves emerge from those puffy, generic middle-aged faces. Rachel had to stop herself from exclaiming, ‘Good Lord, darling, look how old you’ve got!’ in the same way that you said, ‘Look how tall you’ve grown!’ to children.
‘I remember Janie was very tidy,’ said Marla. ‘She liked to be organised. I bet she would have been right into Tupperware.’
The wonderful thing about Marla was that she understood Rachel’s desire to talk endlessly about the sort of adult that Janie might have become, to wonder how many children she would have had, and the sort of man she would have married. It kept her alive, for just those few moments. Ed had hated these hypothetical conversations so much, he’d leave the room. He couldn’t understand Rachel’s need to wonder what could have been, rather than just accepting that it never would be. ‘Excuse me, I was talking!’ Rachel would yell after him.
‘Please come to my Tupperware party,’ said Marla.
‘All right,’ said Rachel. ‘But just so you know, I’m not buying anything.’
And so here she was sitting in Marla’s living room, which was crowded and noisy with women drinking cocktails. Rachel was sandwiched on a couch in between Marla’s two daughters-in-law, Eve and Arianna, who had no plans to move to New York and were both pregnant with Marla’s first grandchildren.
‘I’m just not into pain,’ Eve was telling Arianna. ‘I told my obstetrician, I said, “Look, I have zero tolerance for pain. Zero. Don’t even talk to me about it.”’
‘Well, I guess nobody really likes pain?’ said Arianna, who seemed to doubt every word that came out of her mouth. ‘Except masochists?’
‘It’s unacceptable,’ said Eve. ‘In this day and age. I refus
Ah, so that was my mistake, thought Rachel. I should have said no thank you to pain.
‘Look who’s here, ladies!’ Marla appeared with a tray of sausage rolls in her hand and Cecilia Fitzpatrick by her side. Cecilia looked polished and shiny and was wheeling a neat black suitcase behind her.
Apparently it was something of a coup to get Cecilia to do a party for you, because she was so booked out. She had six Tupperware consultants working ‘beneath her’, according to her mother-in-law, and was sent on all sorts of overseas ‘jaunts’ and the like.
‘So, now, Cecilia,’ Marla was flustered with responsibility and the sausage rolls slid about on the tray in her hand, ‘would you like a drink?’
Cecilia wheeled her bag to a neat stop and rescued the sausage rolls just in the nick of time.
‘Just a glass of water would be lovely, Marla,’ she said. ‘Why don’t I hand these out for you while I introduce myself, although I think I know a lot of faces of course. Hello, I’m Cecilia, it’s Arianna, isn’t it? Sausage roll?’ Arianna looked blankly at Cecilia as she took a sausage roll. ‘Your younger sister teaches my daughter Polly ballet. I’m going to show you the perfect little containers for freezing purees for your baby! And Rachel, it’s so nice to see you. How’s little Jacob?’
‘Moving to New York for two years.’ Rachel took a sausage roll and gave Cecilia a wry smile.
Cecilia stopped. ‘Oh, Rachel, what a bugger,’ she said sympathetically, but then, in typical Cecilia style, she instantly shifted into solution mode. ‘But listen, you’ll visit, right? Someone was telling me recently about this website with amazing deals on New York apartments. I’ll email you the link, promise.’ She moved on. ‘Hi there, I’m Cecilia. Sausage roll?’
And on she went about the room, serving food and compliments, fixing every guest with that strange piercing gaze of hers, so that by the time she’d finished and was ready to do her demonstration, everyone obediently swung their knees in her direction, their faces attentive, ready to be sold Tupperware, as if a firm but fair teacher had taken control of a rowdy classroom.
Rachel was surprised by how much she ended up enjoying the night. It was partly the very good cocktails that Marla was serving, but it was also thanks to Cecilia, who interspersed her lively and somewhat evangelical product demonstration (‘I’m a Tupperware freak,’ she told them. ‘I just love this stuff.’ Rachel found her genuine passion touching. And compelling! It would be great if her carrots stayed crunchier for longer!) with a trivia competition. Each guest who got a trivia question right was awarded a chocolate coin. At the end of the night the person with the most gold-wrapped coins would win a prize.
Some of the questions were about Tupperware. Rachel did not know, or particularly feel the need to know, that a Tupperware party began somewhere in the world every 2.7 seconds (‘One second, two seconds – that’s another Tupperware party starting!’ chirruped Cecilia.), or that a man named Earl Tupper created the famous ‘burping seal’. But she did have good general knowledge and she began to feel competitive about the growing pile of gold coins in front of her.
In the end it was a fierce battle between Rachel and Marla’s friend from her midwifery days, Jenny Cruise, and Rachel actually punched her fist in the air when she won by a single gold coin on the question, ‘Who played “Pat the Rat” on the soapie Sons and Daughters?’
Rachel knew the answer (Rowena Wallace) because Janie had been obsessed with that silly show when she was a teenager. She sent up a word of thanks to Janie.
She’d forgotten how much she enjoyed winning.
In fact, she was on such a high that she ended up ordering over three hundred dollars’ worth of Tupperware that Cecilia assured her would transform her pantry and her life.
By the end of the night Rachel was a little drunk.
Actually, everyone was a little drunk, except for Marla’s pregnant daughters-in-law who’d left early, and Cecilia, who was presumably drunk on the joy of Tupperware.
There was much shrieking. Husbands were telephoned. Lifts home were negotiated. Rachel sat on the couch happily eating her way through her pile of chocolate coins.
‘What about you, Rachel? Have you arranged a lift home?’ said Cecilia when Marla was at the front door shouting goodbyes to her tennis friends. Cecilia had all her Tupperware packed away into her black bag and was still as immaculate as at the start of the night, except for two spots of colour high on her cheeks.
‘Me?’ Rachel looked around and realised she was the last guest. ‘I’m fine. I’ll drive home.’
For some reason it hadn’t really occurred to her that she needed to find a way to get home too. It was something to do with her sense of always feeling separate from everybody else, as if things that worried them couldn’t possibly worry her, as if she was immune from the ordinariness of life.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Marla swooped back into the room. The night had been a triumph. ‘You can’t drive, you crazy girl! You’d be way over the limit. Mac can drive you home. He hasn’t got anything better to do.’
Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty / Thrillers & Crime have rating 5.2 out of 5 / Based on83 votes