Having escaped from her well-meaning friends – we’ll take you out, cheer you up, take your mind off things – Carrie stood alone in the expertly organised and labelled scullery of Somewhere House, the ancestral home of the venerable Such-and-such-a-family.
Her medication made her vague, and, in any case, she hadn’t really been paying attention.
On a nearby sideboard, she spotted the unmistakeable blue of a willow pattern plate. Moving closer, she inspected the decoration. Birds flew to new roosts, a bridge crossed water flowing to unknown places.
Carrie closed her eyes and saw an identical plate falling in slow-motion to a granite floor; dropped by an unseen hand, the debris scattered wide across the spotless tiles.
She opened her eyes and wondered where Ben was. Her little boy. Twenty years old now, but still her boy.
She smiled. Her husband Tom holding him for the first time in the maternity unit, while she recovered from a day and a half in labour and emergency C-section. Trying to shove cereal in his chubby little face, as he wriggled in his high-chair. His quirks and fears. His inflexible mind; his inability to lie. On Tom’s shoulders laughing, striding across the Cumbrian landscape. His oversized sweatshirt on the first day of proper school. His terrifying lack of tact. Ed psychs, tests; a diagnosis. Trial by secondary school. A-levels. Cars. And gone.
A room guide had slipped noiselessly into the scullery. Noticing her, Carrie was suddenly aware of her tears. Embarrassed, she turned away, and dabbed her eyes with a greying tissue.
The room guide was a young woman, about Ben’s age. Carrie had often tried to imagine the girl Ben might one day bring home. Perhaps she’d be a bit like this. Slim, dark-haired, glasses that hid her brown eyes and made her look bookish. She saw the room guide in a wedding dress, standing next to Ben. He was older, his skinny frame filled-out, bearded. His father’s child. In her mind, his face morphed into Tom’s. Now, Tom was the groom, this young woman was the bride…
“No…” she said.
“Are you alright, madam?” asked the room guide. Her voice was low, gentle.
Carrie’s heart was thumping hard. She breathed, three seconds in, three seconds out… It calmed her a little, like her counsellor had said it would.
“I’m fine. Perfect, thanks,” said Carrie. Just like you, you cow.
The day it happened, she’d been shopping. Walked into the house laden down with cat food and loo rolls. The glamour. Tom and Ben were in the kitchen. As usual, Ben was in his Spiderman costume. He couldn’t be extracted from it without a screaming tantrum.
“Carrie, I’m so sorry, Ben had one of his moments… Your grandma’s plate got broken…”
In the scullery, as the guide watched, Carrie ran her index finger around the rim of the plate. As she traced the circle, she felt slight indentations where tiny chips had flaked away over the years. Tell me not to touch, I bloody dare you…
Carrie, snuggled on the sofa with Ben watching some animated movie for the seventeenth time.
“Daddy dropped it. Not me.”
It was the first lie to be exposed.
ADAM SEAR lives in Northamptonshire. When not busy earning a living teaching, he writes short stories and creative non-fiction. He is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing with the OU. His interests include: cosmology, sci-fi, history and the natural world. Strong tea, no sugar.