After burying her father, Hannah returns home. He took too long to die but not long enough. After a month of not examining every word before uttered, of not looking over her shoulder, of breathing freely, she has put away her what if dreams and come back because more than dreams, she needs the warm breath and soft touch of her daughter. More importantly, her daughter needs her, will need her in the years ahead. She walks the house before Jeff and Maryanne arrive. Four weeks’ absence, yet the echo of too many words travelling in one direction, lingers.
In the lounge, she slides the marble nest of glass Murano eggs under the sofa. Bought on honeymoon when their heft was a delight not a concern. Oblivious of the irony, she adds Jeff’s Greek bronze owl, specks of congealed blood still between her claws. She keeps an eye on you, Hannah. Hannah wonders why none of the owl’s famed wisdom burrows into her scars. She ignores the sharp-edged, silver-framed photographs of happy families clustered on the piano. They are liars and lightweights.
She must leave him something.
In the kitchen, his mother’s porcelain shepherdesses, apple-cheeked in gilded skirts flirt with winsome shepherds on the Victorian dresser. Hannah hates them. Their specious romance brings an itch to the healed burns on her hands. She longs smash them all. But the cost would be too high for such a cheap and fleeting victory.
One palm surfs the unforgiving granite worktops, the other her cobble-stone skull. She swallows down the cheese sandwich she had on the train swilling up into her throat. She stows the cast-iron pots and butcher’s block knives in the pantry and the waffle-maker, which brands impressionable surfaces with diamond-shapes, in the oven because tonight he will celebrate her return with his Baby, you were gone longer than we agreed welcome home.
But not with champagne.
Upstairs, she reaches across the solid tallboy, feeling blindly at the back for the envelope cellotaped in place; her fingertips reassured by the dimpled contours of more-than-enough tablets for when she cannot face another tomorrow. She bundles her silk scarves under his dirty boxers in the wicker laundry basket and checks the bathroom lock. Sometimes he forgets to pull back and she needs to claim sanctuary until morning.
She sits on the stairs listening for the roar of his Range Rover in the driveway.
Engine cuts. Doors slam. The shout of Maryanne.
‘Is Mummy home?’
They burst through the door, arms wide – his for clutches, hers for cuddles – and big grins, each speaking a different idiom.
Hannah bends to her daughter. Maryanne, her tiny hands cradling Hannah’s cheeks and squealing, Mummy, I missed you. She unleashes a tornado of kisses.
Jeff whispers, I missed you, baby in her ear.
'Athene Cunicularia' was previously published in Into the Void Magazine on April 25, 2019.
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