She had her hand wrapped around the mug although the tea had turned cold. In silence they sat, looking out into next door’s garden, looking at the children’s swing as it gently swayed with the wind. The rain had stopped and drops of water fell on to the tarmac as the rubber swing seat moved back and forth.
He refilled his mug, didn’t bother asking if she would like a refill, she had already had her limit of four and they weren’t even half way into the day. As for himself, he had stopped counting after the eighth mug. Tea had healing powers which he very much needed.
He read the print on her mug for the millionth time, ‘Keep calm and carry on’. The mug was a gift from her deceased bankrupt father and each time his eyes fell on it he looked away quickly, feeling slightly guilty as if the mug reproached him. It was all she had of her father, after everything he owned was either repossessed or up in smokes in the mysterious fire.
A quick glance at the kitchen wall clock revealed they had been like this for nearly two hours. The sound of the clock tortured him so much he was tempted to jump up, take the batteries out, smash the glass clock on the blue tiles.
Keep calm and carry on.
He had tried to make conversation, several times in fact, but when she wouldn’t respond, he gave up. ‘I should get started on lunch.’ He said, finally.
To his surprise she looked straight into his face but avoided looking directly into his eyes. He told himself it was a start, at least she acknowledged his existence by looking through him. The miasma would soon pass, it had to.
‘What would you like?’
‘I’m not hungry. Anything. I’ll have whatever you’re having.’ She replied. ‘Don’t go to any trouble for me.’ She sighed deeply and looked once again out of the window.
Behind her she heard some noise and clatter, pans meeting each other. Then the sound of the gas, garlic sizzling in oil and the sound of chopping.
She had always hated the noise he made in the kitchen. Everywhere in the house. He would stump up and down the stairs in the morning, breaking her peaceful slumber. He would make loud gurgling noises in the bathroom at night when she tried to sleep. In the kitchen he couldn’t make a cup of tea without making it sounding like a hoard of elephants had invited themselves for breakfast.
‘Can’t you’ she said, through clenched teeth, in a sneer ‘just for once do something quietly.’
He sensed from her tone it wasn’t a question. ‘I’m sorry.’
There it was. That was his answer to everything. She gripped the mug tighter. He would do the most atrocious awful clumsy things and then apologise in that childish pathetic voice. What was the point? She screamed silently. You’re only going to do it again, and, again, and, again.
‘You’re always sorry.’ She muttered.
She listened to him wash his hands in the sink. He wiped his hands dry on his smart grey trousers in frustration. Damp patches formed on his otherwise immaculate trousers. ‘We need to talk. This is ridiculous. Talking might help.’
‘Help? Help?’ She laughed. He flinched at her bitter tone. ‘How can you help? No, please, tell me, how can you help? There’s nothing we or anyone can do. Our baby is…is going to be…’ She couldn’t say it, her face burnt and she put her cold palms on her cheeks.
‘Disabled.’ He finished for her. She turned around and started at him angrily. He’d done it, he’d said the word. Their kitchen was small and they glared at each other in close proximity. ‘Our baby is going to be a little disabled. But I don’t see the problem. She – or he – will still live a full, normal life –‘
‘Full life? Normal life? No it won’t!’ She clenched her fist in frustration. ‘It’s not normal. It won’t be normal. It won’t go to a normal school, it won’t be treated normal, it won’t play with normal toys like a normal child, normal is all I want, don’t you get it? Just normal.’
‘How could you be so shallow.’ He said in disgust.
‘That’s shallow is it? Wanting a normal dull daughter I can do normal things with?’
‘Will you love her any less?’ He asked.
‘YES! Yes I will.’ She said without hesitation. ‘Everyone one will.’ She added softly.
‘Well, I won’t.’ He insisted sternly.
He leaned forward beside her and attempted to open one the small windows to let the smell out, to let some fresh air in. He knocked the black and white print the nurse had handed to him in the morning when his wife had refused to take it. Instinctively, she reached down to grab it before it touched the floor, and, in doing so, knocked her mug over.
He looked frightened as he watched her. She sat on the floor and tried to gather the pieces of the mug. With strong hands he tried to lift her up, worried she might cut herself but she flapped her arms like a fish out of water and scraped some skin of his arm with her nails.
‘DON’T TOUCH ME.’ She screamed. He moved back, helpless. ‘I hate you, I do. Do you hear me?’
She didn’t see him frown or his eyes darken. ‘Now that’s a bit of an overreaction –‘
She stood up quickly and sneered at him. ‘I hate you. No overreaction. My dad was right about you, he said you would come to nothing, I should have listened.’
He didn’t interrupt her, he didn’t reply. He knew it wasn’t true. Her dad had loved him like a son. She was just lashing out. ‘Listen, we can work through this. Whatever you want to do – I am here. You have my support no matter what you decide. Just know I love you. Both of you.’
She hated his self-righteousness. She wanted him to tell her he didn’t love it, that he didn’t want it. That’s what she wanted him to say. Already he loved the unborn child more than her. For once, just for once, she wanted him to do the wrong thing, not be so right, so perfect. And then, as she turned away from him to place the pieces of the mug on top of the counter, just like that it came to her. She smiled through her tears. She smiled through her tears anger frustration at the sheer genius of it, that was the best way to get to him. To make him suffer just a small amount of what she was suffering. Sharing is caring, she thought acidly.
She faced him bravely. ‘It’s not yours.’
She almost laughed seeing his face twist in shock, and then revulsion. She knew him, knew how he thought and felt, she could almost hear the ticking in his head as he tried to work out in a logical manner, like an amateur detective solving a crime, who the culprit was. When he finally met her eyes she saw the loathing in there. She looked away, wondered why it didn’t feel good. Why didn’t she feel better? She felt nauseous and gripped the counter top.
‘If it’s not mine then – then whose is it?’ He snarled.
‘No one you know.’ She muttered. She tried to move away from him, suddenly wanting out of the situation. But he gripped both of her arms with his hands, dug into her soft tender flesh he loved so, so much. ‘You’re hurting me.’
‘Am I?’ For a minute she thought he would hit her but he looked at her as if she wasn’t worth it. Hit me, she thought, hit me.
He let go of her arms and stormed out of the kitchen.
She could smell something burning and quickly turned the cooker off.
She heard him stump up the stairs and into their bedroom. She remembered how sometimes, like when she was ill, that stumping was a comfort, that he was home and would look after her, that she could rest, that he cared.
‘What have I done?’ She asked out loud. She looked at the broken pieces of the mug she had picked up and placed on the counter. The letters were fractured into tiny pieces of red and white. She wiped her eyes. She felt thirsty. She turned the tap on, the water gushed out and with her hands together like she was praying she collected the water in the palms and sipped from it frantically. When she heard noises from the bedroom she turned tap off and with her wet hands wiped her face. It wasn’t too late, she thought.
She raced upstairs, slowing down once she reached the top of the stairs. The pine coloured bedroom door was closed. She tried to open it, it was locked. She knocked. She heard him pause. She knocked again. She pressed her head against the door. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ She whispered, not caring if he heard or not. She sat on the landing, with her head resting on the door. He would come out sooner or later. She’d wait, like a dutiful wife.
He slumped on the bed and stared, assessed his reflection in the full length mirror before him. He looked at his normal brown hair, his green eyes, normal enough, bristles on his chin and neck, average figure – a belly forming but nothing exercise couldn’t fix. All in all he wasn’t bad to look at, normal but attractive enough. ‘It’s not yours’.
He met his eyes in the reflection, saw the anger, disappointment – then, then something new. He saw – he saw relief in the eyes that stared back at him.
He saw a disturbing smile trying to creep in in the man who glared right back at him, unblinking, jeering.
Thank god, the man in the mirror thought. It wasn’t his fault, he was normal.