The only light in the room came from a dinosaur lamp. Laura perched on her son’s bed and read him his favourite book, and halfway through the story, he put his hand on hers and said, ‘Is Daddy coming to the park tomorrow?’
‘I don’t know, sweetheart. We’ll see in the morning.’
‘I hope he can come. I want him to push me on the swings.’
‘You don’t like when I push you?’
‘Daddy pushes me higher. No offence.’
‘That’s all right. Now let’s read this book so you can get your beauty sleep. Right, where were we?’
‘The tiger was about to eat a block of cheese.’
‘That’s right – the tiger was about to eat a block of cheese. Let’s see what happens to him.’
But Laura and Callum were well aware of what happened to the tiger. Jungle Feast had been part of Callum’s routine for a number of months now. At first Laura had been a fan of the book. Then she’d hated it. Now Jungle Feast was just something she read each night. She recently tried another book but Callum shook his head and calmly told her, ‘No.’ So Jungle Feast it was. Night after night after night.
He fell asleep before the last page and Laura gently kissed his cheek. She closed the book and got off the bed. She loved her son so much that sometimes her chest ached when she looked at him. He smelled of fresh air tonight from hours in the garden with his cousins. Running and yelling and falling and crying. The adults drinking cocktails in the sunroom. Gerard had drunk too much as usual, had begun to treat Laura more like a maid than a wife. She told him this and he looked at her with raised eyebrows. ‘What’s the difference? They’re both the same thing.’
Laura stepped around a Batmobile on her way to the door. She stepped around a Spider-Man comic, a wrestling toy and a floorboard that always creaked. In the hall she let out a tired sigh. She had a sore head. Her stomach hurt from her fight with Gerard and she had the urge to sleep for a week. Then she had the urge to be sick and reached the toilet just in time. She flushed and winced at the noise. She stood still and listened but Callum didn’t call for her.
In the kitchen she took some pills and drank a glass of red wine. The worktops were a mess. No one had stayed to help her clean up and Laura didn’t blame them. People had left with their kids as Gerard became more obnoxious. ‘Let him sleep it off,’ her sister had whispered. Laura had just smiled. No one thought of Gerard as violent and again Laura didn’t blame them. Just a harmless fool who couldn’t handle his booze. She drank more wine and rubbed her sore head. She couldn’t put it off forever. Time to go next door and deal with her husband.
A pool of blood had formed around his head on the hardwood floor. He lay with his eyes still open and a wide gash on his temple. On the floor beside him was a marble ashtray that someone had bought them as a gift. Cigarette butts were in the pool of blood. Laura stared at Gerard’s body then took out her phone. She turned it off. She grabbed his legs and dragged him onto a large vintage rug, then returned to the kitchen for a mop, some bleach and a pair of rubber gloves.
All she could think about was Callum.