By Vita Forest
While climbing up the steps to the house, her house, for the moment anyway, she hears unfamiliar voices. Children. Adults.
Unknown. Strange. Alien.
She hesitates. Stands on the threshold. Looks into the lighted box of the hallway.
Have I missed something? Have months skipped by? Years? Does a new family live here now, a new family with the same picture of Bronte Beach on the wall and the same bed visible in my son’s room?
The front door opens with her key. She enters. Stands in the hallway, listening. There amongst the chaos is his voice. She checks her phone. No messages. Stands in the hallway, wondering.
A woman creeps up the stairs unsteadily, her hand gliding over the banister, her wedding ring rasping on the metal tubing.
A strange woman in her home.
The woman looks up, “Oh hello. I’m after the bathroom, is it this way?”
She nods and the stranger shuffles along the corridor, hands skimming the wall, feet uncertain on the floor. The bathroom door closes.
Climbing down the stairs and turning the corner into the light.
Her children waving from their bowls of ice-cream.
Another family, an extended family, three generations, one, two, three. She recognises the couple from years ago; they recognise her. They smile while she clutches for their names.
Neil and Ursula.
And she thinks – he always puts the male first, in these pairings, these couples who came into their lives. The male always came first, the female an attachment, an afterthought.
And she thinks – why did he not tell me they were coming?
Neil and Ursula. They belonged to him. Would belong to him. When they knew.
They stand and come to embrace her, arms closing about her stiff body. Ursula starts the introductions.
Their children, her father, the creeping woman upstairs; her mother.
Nodding, her eyes flick over to him. His eyes flit away and he stands.
“Have some ice-cream.”
His chair scraping back on the floor and he disappears into the kitchen.
Sydney traffic. Taronga Zoo. Manly Beach. Two weeks. Returning west tomorrow morning. Sydney buses.
Neil stares and she stares back.
She thinks, Neil knows, Ursula doesn’t.
Sydney weather. The heat. The humidity. And how do those new buses work anyway?
A bowl of ice cream placed in front of her. Staring at the glistening, white domes as her hands clench and unclench under the table.
She could throw it at him, she could stand up and walk downstairs and out of the house and into the night.
She could announce their news to this happy family. Their son is playing cricket; we are separating. Their daughter is learning the violin; she is looking for a new place to live.
It could be that easy.
She smiles and picks up the spoon.