I’m trapped in a dream and am falling, falling, falling, towards a pit of boiling lava. It serves me right, I tell myself in my dream, for believing pink satin pointe shoes would be appropriate attire in which to climb Mount Etna. Having lost my balance while performing an arabesque on the rim of the volcano, I’m now drifting towards the centre of the earth at a languid pace. “If I’d only practised harder at ballet, this would never have happened,” I admonish myself on the way down, regardless of the fact that I’d never taken a ballet class in my life, and wouldn’t know an arabesque from the macarena.
With a jolt and a kick to the duvet, I wake myself up just before my satin-clad feet hit the churning lava.
Sweating slightly from the warm night, and from relief that the dark nightmare has ended, I lie still, breathing hard. The relief doesn’t last long, though, because after a few seconds, my brain kicks into semi-wakefulness and the real nightmare comes flooding back — the one in which my husband came home last night to a silent house, made a secretive phone call to a mystery woman — of course it was a woman — and immediately went out again to see her.
That is not a nightmare I can wake up from. When we were kids, we used to say that if you actually hit the ground in that falling dream, it would be too late and you’d be dead for real from a heart attack. For a second I contemplate the possibility of finding a high building, enacting the dream, hitting the ground and ending it for real, but the obligations of being a mother to Jack and the twins are too great, and—
The twins. I spring upright in bed, and strain my eyes to see the time on the digital alarm clock. It’s getting light outside; I have slept — I do a quick calculation — six hours straight, and neither twin has woken me for a wee hours feed.
I swing my legs out of bed, pull on a dressing-gown, and pad over to their matching Moses baskets, under the window in the alcove of the bedroom.
The baskets are empty, the covers pulled back.
I panic. You hear of these kidnap-to-order abductions. Then — oh, thank God! — I hear a muffled cry from somewhere else in the house. It’s George, not Beth; George’s cry is hoarse, loud, and very persistent.
I run out of the bedroom, in the direction of the stairs, and stop when I hear the cry again. It’s coming from the spare bedroom where Oliver has slept for the last six weeks or so.
Pushing the spare bedroom door open, I peer across the room. Oliver lies in the middle of the bed, a twin snuggled under each arm. His right hand is awkwardly curved round as he holds a bottle of milk to George’s mouth.
I reach to the side of the door and turn the landing light on. Oliver looks up. He gives me a half-smile, then mouths “Shhh.”
Shhh? I don’t think so. For the last three months, I have single-handedly looked after our three children and run our home while Oliver indulged himself in his midlife crisis. Knowing what I do now, after last night’s little secret-phone-call episode, I’m in no mood to Shhh.
“What are you doing?” I ask. My voice sounds very loud in the dawn quiet, when even the birds are still rubbing sleep from their eyes.
“I’m feeding the twins. This is George’s second bottle. He eats a lot, doesn’t he?”
If Oliver had paid any attention to his children over the last few weeks, this wouldn’t have been a revelation to him.
“Why are you doing that?” I ask.
Oliver shifts slightly in the queen-sized bed, and removes the bottle from George’s mouth with a gentle popping sound. George lies back, his eyes almost closed, a dribble of milk running from one side of his mouth. Automatically, I reach into my dressing-gown pocket for a clean tissue, and lean forward to wipe the dribble away before it solidifies in the folds of his fat little neck.
“You needed a break,” Oliver answers.
Sorry. It’s too late for that. “Guilty conscience at last, eh? Or did she tell you to keep me sweet? ‘Oliver, you must be nice to poor Libby.’ Well, I’m telling you, I’ve managed perfectly well since April, and just because your fancy woman tells you to feel sorry for me—”
“Wait.” Oliver tries to raise his head, but Beth whimpers in protest at the change in her sleeping position. “Wait. What woman?”
“The one you were out with last night!” My voice is raised now, but I don’t care. “I heard you on the phone, making plans for a hot date. ‘I can see you now,’ you said. ‘She’s in bed,’ you said. ‘See you in fifteen minutes,’ you said. Who is it? Did Melissa Harvey Connor finally get her claws into her latest victim?”
I stand back, arms folded.
To my astonishment, Oliver starts to laugh.
“How dare you laugh!” I shout, and both babies fling their arms out, startled. I can’t remember the last time I screamed like this at my husband, but it feels good. All the pent-up anger and frustration is coming out now — and yet all he can do is laugh?
Oliver stops laughing. “You thought I was out with Melissa? Please.”
“So who was it?”
He’s quiet for a moment.
“There is no one else. I was at Maggie’s.”
I’m silent. I can’t think what to say.
“Why?” I ask eventually. “Why with Maggie and not with me?”
He breathes in, holds it for a few seconds, then lets it out in a rush.
“Because she wanted to bawl me out. She thinks I’ve been a complete bastard.” He looks down at Beth and drops a kiss on her head. “And she’s right,” he said quietly.
I sit on the edge of the bed, but still don’t say anything.
“My father,” Oliver says hesitantly. He takes another deep breath. “I know you know about it. I should have told you before, but my mother made me promise never to say anything. You know what she’s like, not that it’s an excuse, but…I should have told you. I should have broken that promise to my mother.”
He stops. The light coming in at the window is stronger now, and I can see tears shining in his eyes.
I can’t help it. Despite everything I’ve gone through recently, despite the way he’s behaved, I feel sorry for him. When all’s said and done, he’s my Oliver, we have three children together, and we owe it to them, and ourselves, to make this work.
“When you’re ready,” I say, and reach across and squeeze his hand.
He squeezes mine in return. We glance shyly at each other, then look away.
It’s going to be all right, I think. It will take a while — but it’s going to be all right.
Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #57 – Coming clean
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