My head spun as I placed the phone back in its cradle. I rested my hand on it for a second, while I twisted the curly cord around my fingers. In the background I heard the dull cacophony of the telly.
‘Turn the volume down!’ I screamed.
The kids all turned, surprised at my outburst, rightly wondering what brought it on.
‘Sorry,’ I continued. ‘I’m just a little…’ I struggled to find the words. I don’t know if I should tell them. I don’t know. Should I let them stay nestled in the peace and innocence of childhood. ‘…tired. Mummy is just a little tired.’
I was never an astute liar.
‘Who waz dat, Mummy?’ asked Bertie, my three year old. ‘Was it Nanma?’
My mum often called in the morning, so Bertie had made an educated assumption.
‘No, Bertie,’ I whispered, fighting back tears. ‘No, it wasn’t Nanma. But I’m going to have to call her soon, OK. Do you want to say hello?’
‘OK, I’ll let you know when I finish chatting. It’ll be a while yet, though. I’ve got other calls to make.’
My nine-year-old boy was carefully watching me. There wasn’t much that got past Will. I smiled brightly, to stave off questions.
‘Mum, what’s wrong?’
‘Will, nothing’s wrong, bud. I’m just tired, busy. I’ve got some phone calls to make. OK?’
How am I going to tell them the news I’ve just received? How much of what I’ve just heard should be repeated?
My hands and fingers were trembling. I always got the shakes when I was nervous or worried. I gazed at them, as if my stare alone could still them. In my peripheral vision, I noticed Will had gone back to watching the TV.
I picked up the receiver again and dialed the number of my best friend, Kate. She’ll know what to do, what to say. I watched the rotary dial spin back before I placed my finger in the hole for the remaining numbers.
It was ringing.
‘Kate Becks speaking.’
‘Kate, it’s me. I’ve got someth—’
‘Hey, I was going to call you later.’
‘It’s important.’ My voice broke. The sobs gushed. There was silence on the other end.
‘What is it?’ Kate asked when I’d finally ceased my guttural cries.
The pit in my belly was the size of a boulder. To say it out loud made it real.
‘Is it your dad?’ Kate enquired. My dad had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.
‘No,’ I responded. ‘No, it’s not Dad. It’s Mike.’
I could hear the sharp intake of breath from Kate. ‘God, what is it?’ she whispered. Her anxiety crept through the phone line and touched me. I began to cry again.
‘He was with someone,’ I said, the words coming loud and in gasps. ‘You know, another woman.’
‘Oh my god!’
‘It gets worse, Kate,’ I continued. ‘Apparently, they’d been seeing each other for a while. Years even. They had a weekly booking at a hotel. Sometimes they met elsewhere as well.’
‘How do you know this?’ Kate’s voice was shrill.
‘She told me. I’ve just spoken with her.’
‘Why did she call you? Is she confessing? Has it ended?’
‘Kate, let me tell you.’
‘Sorry, go on.’
‘Anyway, this time was one of those one-off moments, not at their hotel.’ I spat the words out, like poison. That’s how she’d phrased it to me, on the phone. Their hotel. Rage had bubbled then, and it threatened to explode now. ‘A seedy roadside motel. Dirty, probably. After they’d, you know…he got up to shower. He slipped on a marble in the bathroom. He’s dead, Kate. He cracked his head on the toilet as he fell.’
I paused, long enough to hear Kate’s wail.
‘Mike’s dead,’ I repeated.