“There’s no milk!” Luke slams our fridge door closed, then tips his bran flakes back into the packet as noisily as feet stomping on shattered glass. “Didn’t you sort the shopping?”
“Oscar had two bowls of Cheerios this morning. I thought I’d get some on my way back with the kids, as I’m dropping and picking up again!” I try not to shout but my tone is unmistakably barbed. These days whenever we talk about money, work and chores, simple sounds, letters and gestures are suddenly as sharp as knives, pierce like forks.
Luke growls, then clunks two slices of bread into the toaster, clangs the cutlery drawer open and loudly pulls out a knife for the margarine. The kids have finished that too, I think. Though neither happening is my fault, that doesn’t stop the sliver of guilt, as I gulp my last mouthful of milky coffee.
“I’m sorry, Tilly finished the spread with her toast.” I say, putting my arms around Luke’s back before he opens our near-empty fridge again, twists to throw another jibe or I have to look him in the face and see his tired disappointment. But he doesn’t move, doesn’t say anything, simply rests there in my hug, swaying slightly.
When he finally turns to look at me, his exhausted expression mirrors how I feel. We’re like two ghosts living on the memory of who we were ten years ago.
“Do you want a cereal bar?” I rummage through my bag and pull out a green packet. It’s a little squashed and crumpled from weeks of being carried just in case, but Luke swallows it in two bites, then crunches through one slice of dry toast.
Oscar bounces into the kitchen with his book bag, followed by Tilly.
“Time to go!” she announces, looking up at her dad and me with expectation.
I glance across at Luke. He’s still frowning, forehead puckered by lines as if his whole essence of being were buried deep inside his mind. Sometimes, the unspoken thoughts between us feel sharper and more piercing than any hurled words.
“I’ll be home around seven,” he offers, smiling briefly before he kisses us all on the cheek and grabs his car key.
Later, as I unload the shopping after my shift, I realise I used the wrong bank card. I’m not sure it matters much; I know they’re all close to maxed out. Maybe that’s what Luke’s not telling me. I try to bite back my tears, wondering how it got to this – crying over milk that isn’t even there to spill.
I switch my phone on and it buzzes a backlog of messages.
I’m sorry. Neck massage later. Xx Luke’s text must have been from this morning, but with work rules, it’s only now that I get to read it.
There was a time when I’d have made his favourite lasagne and he’d have bought me cherry ganache to savour while he flirted with what to massage next – turning even a row into romantic foreplay.
But these are not those days.
Ok, me too. See you later. Xxx I reply, then cut two small sandwiches for Oscar and Tilly, who are beautiful and funny and cute but always hungry for something.
There’s no text back. The conversations in which neither of us want to say goodbye or stop chatting belong to different versions of ourselves, in a different relationship.
I take out the ‘Non-Stop Red’ lipstick I slipped into my pocket just before the checkout. It’s wrong, of course; I felt it as soon as I left the store. But it’s not like I can simply return the lipstick. And the colour looks so good, as if it were invented for my kiss. I examine ghost Claire in the mirror: my lips are the only part of me that’s still alive. Simon says my smile’s the first thing he noticed. But smiling comes naturally when I’m around him.
I pull away from the mirror and these thoughts. While Oscar’s busy playing and Tilly’s sorting her homework, I might have an hour to prepare something different for dinner. I’ve not tried homemade tomato soup in a while, but I think I remember everyone loving it. Besides, it’s quick, will slip down easily and only needs spoons.
About the Author:
Sarah Leavesley is a fiction writer, poet, journalist and photographer, with flash published by journals including Jellyfish Review, Litro, Spelk, Ellipsis, Fictive Dream and Bending Genres.