There was something you wanted to tell me, wasn’t there? What was it you were trying to say? I feel like I was drifted out of this conversation a long time ago. I stopped concentrating, I was thinking about something else, getting on with things, I wasn’t listening, and I lost the thread of it. Well, you’ve got my attention now. Only I can’t help thinking I’ve missed out on some of the more salient points.
When they came to tell me, I was angry. Relieved first, because when two police officers turn up on your doorstep just as you’re looking for your train ticket, about to run out of the door to work, you fear the worst. I feared for the people I care about – my friends, my ex, the people I work with. But it wasn’t about them, they said, it was about you. So I was relieved, just for a moment, and then they told me what had happened, what you’d done, they told me that you’d been in the water and then I was furious. Furious and afraid.
I was thinking about what I was going to say to you when I got there, how I knew you’d done this to spite me, to upset me, to frighten me, to disrupt my life. To get my attention, to drag me back to where you wanted me. And there you go, Nel, you’ve succeeded: here I am in the place I never wanted to come back to, to look after your daughter, to sort out your bloody mess.
Monday, 10 August
Something woke me up. I got out of bed to go to the toilet and I noticed Mum and Dad’s door was open, and when I looked I could see that Mum wasn’t in bed. Dad was snoring as usual. The clock radio said it was 4:08. I thought she must be downstairs. She has trouble sleeping. They both do now, but he takes pills which are so strong you could stand right by the bed and yell into his ear and he wouldn’t wake up.
I went downstairs really quietly because usually what happens is she turns on the TV and watches those really boring adverts about machines that help you lose weight or clean the floor or chop vegetables in lots of different ways and then she falls asleep. But the TV isn’t on and she wasn’t on the sofa, so I knew she must have gone out.
She’s done it a few times – that I know of, at least. I can’t keep track of where everyone is all the time. The first time, she told me she’d just gone out for a walk to clear her head, but there was another morning when I woke up and she was gone and when I looked out of the window I could see that her car wasn’t parked out front where it usually is.
I think she probably goes to walk by the river or to visit Katie’s grave. I do that sometimes, though not in the middle of the night. I’d be so scared to go in the dark, plus it would make me feel weird because it’s what Katie did herself: she got up in the middle of the night and went to the river and didn’t come back. I understand why Mum does it though: it’s the closest she can get to Katie now, other than maybe sitting in her room, which is something else I know she does sometimes. Katie’s room is next to mine and I can hear Mum crying.
I sat down on the sofa to wait for her, but I must have fallen asleep, because when I heard the door go it was light outside and when I looked at the clock on the mantelpiece it was quarter past seven. I heard Mum closing the door behind her and then she ran straight up the stairs.
I followed her up. I stood outside the bedroom and watched through the crack in the door. She was on her knees next to the bed, over on Dad’s side, and she was red in the face, like she’d been running. She was breathing hard and saying "Alec, wake up. Wake up," and she was shaking him. "Nel Abbott is dead," she said. "They found her in the water. She jumped."
I don’t remember saying anything but I must have made a noise because she looked up at me and scrambled to her feet.
"Oh, Josh," she said, coming to me, "oh, Josh." There were tears running down her face and she hugged me hard. When I pulled away from her she was still crying, but she was smiling, too. "Oh, darling," she said.
Dad sat up in bed. He was rubbing his eyes. It takes him ages to wake up properly.
"I don’t understand. When...do you mean last night? How do you know?"
"I went out to get milk," she said. "Everyone was talking about it...in the shop. They found her this morning." She sat down on the bed and started crying again. Dad gave her a hug but he was watching me and he had an odd look on his face.
"Where did you go?" I asked her. "Where have you been?"
"To the shops, Josh. I just said."
You’re lying, I wanted to say. You’ve been gone hours, you didn’t just go to get milk. I wanted to say that, but I couldn’t, because my parents were sitting on the bed looking at each other, and they looked happy.