The day after the news broadcast, your face started to change. It happened subtly, like when someone you see every day starts losing weight. You don’t notice at first. And then they’re just. . . thin. Their clothes are hanging off them. They look younger, fresher.
That’s how it happened with you, but sort of in the reverse. You were just Tab. Your white skin which blotched easily, always a bit red from the cold or saying something daft, that small upturn to your nose which got you whatever you wanted (give us a foot rub, love – kiss), your pixie ears that were a little bit sticky-outy and glowed, torch-like, when you had your hair all scrunched up, and those bright eyes that always made me think of an owl. Clear amber.
This was the face I knew. The one that was in all my memories. Laughing, winking, throwing me sultry looks. But it was to slowly alter. Until that cold realisation would hit me. I was living with a stranger.
Like I said, it didn’t happen straight away.
Lola was screaming. Wretched, police siren screams. My heart had a fucking spasm.
Tab was the first one up. I’d usually half roll out of bed if Lola’d had a normal-sounding nightmare. Wait for Tab to whisper, mouth full of sleep, S’okay, babe, I’ve got it. But my feet hit the floorboards milliseconds after Tab’s.
Lola’s room was painted with rainbows and clouds. Shooting stars with smiley faces. Blue glitter that Tab had dappled under the heavier clouds for rain. Sounds like that should not be coming from a room with rainbows and clouds and rain that glittered.
Via the white rabbit night light, I saw Tab draw our baby out of the crib. Lola’s hands were fists, her mouth a great yaw. Tears hitched her chest. Tab tried to draw Lola close.
I heard the thump.
‘What?’ I went to them.
‘Can you not crowd us, Alex. How about that? Can’t you see she’s upset?’
Tab bounced Lola, paced back and forth across the window. The night was bright. The edges of my wife’s red hair looked cobwebbed with white.
Preston man jailed for the torture and murder of his thirteen year old cousin.
Tab’s face as she watched the broadcast. Transfixed. Serious.
He had reportedly suspected the boy of being a witch.
No sharing my incredulity – witchcraft? Bullshit.
‘Let me try,’ I said, over Lola’s roar. ‘She’s obviously not -‘
‘What, Alex? Are you helping?’
‘Oh just go back to bed.’
I wiped my face. First day back in the office in, what, 3 hours? Tempting. ‘How can I sleep when both my girls are upset?’
Lola’s arms reached out to me. She grabbed at my shoulders. From the bunny’s white belly, I could see hear eyes wet with tears. The exhaustion in her face. But still ploughing on with the tears. Had to respect that.
I rubbed her head. ‘Ahh, baby. Come on, baby. Shh, baby.’
Lola blinked, a lull in the tears.
I smiled at her, bent to kiss her nose. She smelled of salt.
Tab turned her away from me. ‘She needs changing. Go back to bed.’
‘Are you sure?’
My wife took our baby to the changing table. I hovered at the doorway until she was done, crept back to bed when Tab turned to put Lola back into the cot.
‘What’s wrong, baby?’ Tab whispered. ‘What do you know?’
I slipped into bed.
What do you know?
Patchy dreams, of Lola’s white rabbit, with blood in its glowing belly.
The kitchen smelled of sausages and grease. Lola’s nappies for the wash. The washing machine was already going with one load. Swish-swish, churn as it started into another cycle.
I looked at you making coffee, eyelids half-closed. Then, I just put the change in your face down to tiredness. It was lined, tight, as if drawn by a nervous Impressionist. You handed me a slice of toast on a paper towel, gobs of butter half-melted slipping over the bread. Turned away and chucked a spoon into a massive coffee. Concentrated on pulling the foil off a jar of Decaff. Why not real coffee today?
‘Be home by five, Tab.’
I don’t know if you heard me.