Been to Scotland to hoop masterclass, been on my bike, been up Arthur’s Seat which makes me think of David Nicholls’ lovely novel, One Day. Such a good, accessible, well-written book. And all about the notion of the Death Day (I think). That we should not live with the notion of one day one day, it’s now that matters (and other hippy starry-eyed notions). Is true though. Been writing too. It’s all a little messy at the moment but making a little progress with the pathway of this novel. I know where I want to end up. David and Clare have sort of come full circle, after Muna’s disappearance. They have another child and they should be alright. So I’m playing with why they’re not (and whether I want them to ever be).
‘Daddy,’ Muna said one day when she was helping me in the garden.
So hot you’d think the paint’d blister from the fences. I was digging a pond. I could hear neighbours being actual families. The clink of ice cubes and couple-whispers about projected DIY or when the kids’re in bed shall we – . Kind of thing.
Clare as usual was sequestered in the study with her students. She would emerge at times, oh-so weary. The reality is; did we need the money? Nah. Clare needed her brain to tick over and I couldn’t do that. Never liked that feeling, there being something I couldn’t provide. She loved my bigness, the blokeness, the fact there was a brain in there somewhere. I was self-sufficient. She admired me for that. The company. But we both knew there was a part of her brain that I couldn’t peek at. And I think that’s why I was always cheating.
‘Are you happy?’ Muna said one day.
‘Are you?’ I rested on a shovel. She straightened out a worm. There were 5 lined up. ‘What’re you going to do with them?’
She angled her head like a puppy hoping for walkies. I was expecting a serious worm-related answer. ‘Mummy knows you’re not, ya know. You went through such a lot to get to each other. I see all you two in colours. Good colours and bad colours, but,’ one of the worms is tucking into itself and she picks it up and dangles it long again. ‘They’re always fighting with each other.’
Sweat needles my upper lip. I flash hot. ‘Your yellow and mummy’s yellow could go together but you put yourself in little plastic bags and tie a bow.’ She wipes worm-yuck on her dungarees. ‘It’s really childish.’
Emotion thickens my throat. I love Muna more than Clare sometimes. Are you supposed to feel bad about that too?
Then she says, ‘You need to be a bit more gooder, daddy.’
He always says it’s work. When he’s burrowed in a corner with the screen away from me. When surprise brightens his face and he quashes a smile. And after, I always get a kiss on the head. Or something more amorous. I want to say, why do you need that, David? Why aren’t enough? But I feel enough, I don’t think anyone would ever understand that. His vulnerability, this little need he kept upholstering, which frayed when uncared for, it made me love him more. It made him human.
Poppy is not that bright. I know this. It’s okay. But I love her like you love a wriggly puppy, all bambi-eyed and sloppy. (Is this mean?) The one that’s the runt of the litter. She has allergies. We had tests done. There was a long list. Things I must protect her from.
When she must take medicine, I deliver it with importance, she accepts with relish.
She has an inhaler that needs to be taken three times a day. We are trying to expand her lungs.
Poppy has none of the still intelligence that characterised Muna. She is all warmth and love and no questions. Quiet. She likes having her hair brushed. She always slept through the night, whereas Muna exhausted us for years. David does not enjoy her. I know that too.
He scythes through the kitchen and my warm and yellow breakfast time with Poppy, boots on and heavy.
‘You going already?’
‘Meeting at ten.’
‘Isn’t it only about seven?’
Poppy is sat at the table, crunching on her coco puffs. She has a game with herself to see how many she can stuff into her cheeks without swallowing. She looks like a little hamster. All fluff and blonde.
My mother would have called her a buffoon. My father would have adored her.
There is some truth to the former – is that a terrible thing to admit? But her development is fine. We’ve – I’ve – had that checked too.
‘Stay there, Pops.’
My little hamster nods her head.
I grab David’s wrist and stall him at the doorstep. ‘Not today you don’t.’
‘I’ll be late.’
He sort of folds. I imagine him putting his cards on the table in our little poker game. Waiting to see my next move. ‘Look at us.’ I flap my arms and know I must look ridiculous. But this pall, this thing we live under, it’s gone on for too long. ‘We should be happy, David. After everything, didn’t we get each other back? Don’t we get this new chance? Our little girl.’
‘Our little girl is dead.’
He slams the door and a splinter of wood prickles my nose. My hair, that has rushed back, settled around me.
‘Jesus.’ I whisper to the wood, heart fast. A sheen of sweat fastens the space between my shoulders.
When I was a girl I did a module about the holocaust. Well, I would have been at uni but that is another lifetime now. So I do feel girlish and embryonic in that memory. We looked at Primo Levi, we looked at art designed to mimic the gas chamber, to incite cultural and collective memory – generations that will not, have not, forgotten. We looked at Maus, the dark unfunny comic strip. We heard accounts of those who survived such trials, such fear, such trauma. Where the sheer desire to live got them through the daily nightmare. And then, when the war closed and the sun shone and life returned to them, they took their life. I think of my husband and his interminable grief. If he ever speaks to me now it’s in conditionals: if only this…then that.