She tried to summon up an image of what Alice would be like now but it was too hard. She had only one photograph of the baby. Of her and Alice. Nick had taken it with his little Instamatic but it was blurry. He'd taken it too quickly. Angela braced herself against the kitchen counter, as if physical effort could help her see her lost
baby's little face. But it wouldn't come.
She knew from the photo that Alice had a fuzz of dark hair, like her brother, Patrick, but Angela had lost a lot of blood during the delivery and she was still high as a kite from the drugs when they put her baby in her arms. She'd asked Nick afterwards—after Alice was gone—but he couldn't tell her much more. He hadn't studied her
as Angela would've done, memorizing every feature of that face. He'd said she looked lovely but had no details.
Angela didn't think Alice looked like Patrick. He'd been a big baby and Alice had been so fragile. Barely five pounds in weight. But she'd still studied Paddy's baby photos and the pictures they took when their second daughter, Louise, came along, ten years later. "Our surprise bonus baby, I call her," Angela told people—willing
herself to see Alice in them. But she wasn't there. Louise was blond—she took after Nick's side.
Angela felt the familiar dull ache of grief round her ribs and in her chest and she tried to think happy thoughts like the self-help books had told her. She thought about Louise and Patrick.
"At least I have them," she said to the carrot tops, bobbing in the dirty water. She wondered if Lou would ring her that night, when she got in from work. Her youngest knew the story—of course she did—but she didn't talk about it.
And she hates it when I cry, Angela said to herself, wiping her eyes with a piece of paper towel. They all do, she thought. They like to pretend that everything is fine. I understand that. I should stop now. Put Alice away.
"Happy birthday, my darling girl," she murmured under her breath.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21, 2012
The baby has kept me awake most of the night. I tore the story out of the paper and went to put it in the bin but ended up stuffing it in the pocket of my cardigan. I don't know why. I'd decided I wasn't going to do anything about it. I hoped it would go away.
A small voice inside me whispered Not like last time, then.
And today, the baby is still here. Insistent. Demanding to be acknowledged.
Paul is dozing, almost awake and beginning to move his legs, as if he's testing whether they're still there. I wait for his eyes to open.
I dread it. I dread the disappointment and exhaustion I'll see when he realizes my Bad Days are back.
It's what we used to call it so it sounded like it wasn't my fault. It has been so long since the last proper one and I know he thought that it was all over. He'll try hard not to show it when he sees me but I'll have to carry his anxiety, too. Sometimes I feel as though I'll shatter under the weight.
People say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. They say that when you've been through something terrible. My mum, Jude, used to say it. But it doesn't. It breaks your bones, leaving everything splintered and held together with grubby bandages and yellowing sticky tape. Creaking along the fault lines. Fragile and exhausting
to hold together. Sometimes you wish it had killed you.
Paul wakes and fetches my pills and a glass of water from the bathroom without a word. Then he strokes my hair and sits on the bed while I take them. He hums under his breath as if everything is normal.
I try to think All things will pass, but This will never end slips past my defenses.
The problem is that a secret takes on a life of its own over time. I used to believe if I didn't think about what happened, it would shrivel and die. But it didn't. It sits in the middle of a growing tangle of lies and fabrications, like a fat fly trapped in a spider's web. If I say anything now it will mean ripping everything apart. So I must say nothing. I have to protect it. The secret, that is. It's what I've done for as long as I can remember. Kept it safe.
• • •
Paul is talking to me at the breakfast table and I've missed what he was saying.
"Sorry, darling, what was that?" I say, trying to focus on him across the table.
"I said we're almost out of toilet paper."
I can't concentrate. Something about paper. Oh God, has he read it?
"What?" I say, too loudly.
"Toilet paper, Emma," he says quietly. "Just reminding you, that's all."
"Right, right. Don't worry, I'll do it. You get yourself ready for work while I finish my coffee."
He smiles at me, kisses me as he passes, and rustles around in his study for ten minutes while I throw away my breakfast and wipe the surfaces. I find myself cleaning more lately. Out damned spot.
"Right," he says at the kitchen door. "Are you sure you are all right? You still look very pale."
"I'm fine," I say and get up. Come on, Paul. Just go, I think.
"Have a good day, darling. Remember to be nice to the head of department. You know it makes sense," I say, brushing some fluff off the shoulder of his overcoat.
He sighs and picks up his briefcase.
"I'll try. Look, I can call in sick and stay with you," he says.
"Don't be silly, Paul. I'll have an easy day. Promise."
"Okay, but I'll ring at lunchtime. Love you," he says.
I wave from the window, as I always do. He closes the gate and turns away, then I sink to my knees on the carpet. It's the first time I have been alone since I read the story, and pretending that everything is fine has been shattering. The headline from the paper is like a neon sign everywhere I look. I just need five minutes to pull myself together. And I cry. Frightening crying. Uncontrollable. Not like English crying, where you fight it and try to swallow it. It goes on until there is nothing left and I sit quietly on the floor.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.