Lucy tore the invitation into small pieces and dropped it in the waste paper basket. She hesitated a moment, before grabbing the basket and marching out to the dustbin, where she emptied it with a violent shake and slammed the lid. She wouldn’t go. She could just picture the halted conversations as she walked in, the embarrassed smiles, the veiled condemnation.
And she could picture Andrew. He would be standing by the bar, of course, beer in hand – probably wearing that ancient leather jacket with the patched elbows. Would he have some grey in his hair now? Would he have grown that beard which was always allowed to emerge for a day or two before she complained? Would he look at her with that same nonchalant smile playing round the corners of his mouth – or would he stare into his beer as if he hadn’t even noticed her arrival?
She’d had the invitation pinned to her notice board for the last two weeks. Every morning, she had tried not to look at it as she made her cup of coffee. Every morning, she had pushed away the need to decide.
She knew it off by heart anyway. Class of ’96 – it’s been 20 years. Join us in The Queen’s Head, by Brighton Pavilion on Saturday 5th May at 12.30 for an afternoon of reunion and reminiscence. Bring your photos.
She wanted to go – she so wanted to go. But how could she? How could she look him in the eye again after what she had done? How could she look at any of them?
She’d been back in her home for three months now and she had heard nothing – not from her old friends. Not from Andrew. And how could she blame them? Of course, she had a lot of counselling before they released her. They told her the hardest thing would be seeing her old acquaintances. She still saw the psychotherapist every four weeks but they’d stopped talking about the past now and were trying to concentrate on the future.
As she did every morning, she wandered upstairs and turned the key in the first door on the right, opening it with great care. Picking up the pink rabbit from the cot and laying it to her cheek, she closed her eyes against the familiar wave of pain and guilt. They had never managed to excise that. Then, closing the door very softly behind her, as if trying not to waken any memories, she made an effort to plan her day so that she would be very busy at 12.30 and for the rest of the afternoon. Maybe she’d visit her Mum. There’d be plenty to do there.
The morning dragged though. Even the clamour of the vacuum cleaner followed by the vigorous cleaning of the bathroom didn’t drown out the tiny voice which whispered There’s still time…
She was just changing the sheets on her bed, swathed in an apron and sporting pink Marigolds, when the doorbell rang. She wondered if it was in her head, as no-one ever called since she got back. Then it rang again.
She almost didn’t go – it was probably just the man to read the gas meter or something. But it wasn’t. It was Andrew. Andrew wearing a new jacket, clean shaven – and entirely grey-haired. Her body emptied, leaving a great hollow in her middle. She reached out to steady herself on the wall as his hand came out to support her.
Words deserted her. She gestured to him to come in, but he stood awkwardly in the hall.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t visit you.”
He was apologising to her!
“I didn’t…” The words caught in her throat. “I just wish…” She couldn’t say it.
“I was so angry.” He spoke over her, gabbling as if he feared his courage would desert him. “It hurt – I can’t tell you. But I’ve had some help – you know… bereavement counselling – and I think I’ve finally begun to understand about what you had – the depression, after the birth. I know she cried all the time, and I know it was the colic – and I was never there. I was too wrapped up in the job and – well, I could escape from the crying, but you couldn’t. I left you on your own…” He stopped and swallowed.
Lucy covered her face. So many tears over the last five years but the well was bottomless. She felt Andrew’s hand on her shoulder. His touch burned into her skin like a branding. She didn’t move.
His voice had regained control as he went on, “I knew if I went to that reunion, I would spend the afternoon looking at the door in case you came through it. And you wouldn’t. So – well – I decided we should spend the time together instead, maybe – if you’d like to? Please?”
Lucy felt her whole body trembling as he led her unresisting into the kitchen and sat her down while he filled the kettle and laid out a couple of mugs. It felt so normal that he should do this, as if the last four horrendous years had been nothing but a hiccup in their joint destiny.
Finally, handing her a mug of tea, he spoke again, with more confidence than before.
“It wasn’t just your fault, Lucy. By my very absence, it was mine too. We both killed her – we both did.”
Lucy looked up at him at last, and recognised a lingering memory of hope.