Posted on: 24 April 2021
The text transported me back more than fifty years. I was eight. It was the day of the party. The five of us were sitting around the breakfast table. Glenda and I on the opposite side of the table to Geoffrey, the baby of the family. The cereal packets and milk jug just out of his reach, shielding us from the splashes of porridge as he banged his spoon in his dish, making a mess that no one told him off about. Mummy and daddy were at either end of the table, daddy by the window next to me. I’d seen the postman coming up the drive and started to get up as I saw him push a pile of envelopes through the letterbox, but daddy put his hand on my arm and said, “Let mummy go. It’s her day.” Mummy smiled at him, her special smile, and got up to go to the door.
She came back and put all the envelopes next to her plate and then started to butter some toast and cut it up for Geoffrey. I would have ripped the envelopes open but, careful as ever, she slit each one with her paper knife. She held the cards up for us to see then read them out to us all. Daddy smiled and nodded as he ate his cornflakes. I didn’t recognise all the names and I’m not sure daddy did either. There was still quite a pile when she came to a small envelope. I could see that it just had her name on the front, she slit it open and pulled out a letter. As she read, it was as if all the air was being sucked out of her. She looked empty, shellshocked, like the soldiers in old war films. She looked as though she’d been hit. Getting up, she crashed her chair against the sideboard making the cups and saucers inside rattle. I looked at daddy as she stumbled out of the room and ran up the stairs. “Finish your breakfast” He said as he followed her out, picking up the crumpled letter from the table. We finished our breakfast. We cleared the table. I didn’t dare say that it wasn’t my turn to wash up. I washed up.
I could hear a low rumble of voices from upstairs. Then mummy shouted “GET OUT”. Mummy never shouts, you just know when she’s cross.
I crept up the hall, wiping my hands on my skirt, hoping mummy wouldn’t see me doing it because she’d tell me off. As I got to the foot of the stairs daddy did too. He almost ran out of the front door, he didn’t even see me. He did look back up the stairs though, before he shut the door. He looked scared. I wasn’t surprised, mummy was very scary when she was cross. Mummy came down soon after the door slammed, her face was blotchy. She didn’t notice me either. Perhaps I had finally become invisible. I followed her up the hall to the kitchen. Geoffrey was sitting in the middle of the floor playing with his cars and mummy didn’t even tell him to get out from under her feet.
Glenda glared at me when I asked mummy why the letter had made her so cross. Mummy hadn’t even heard. She was throwing food in the bin. Good food that we’d spent ages making the day before. My fairy cakes. She pushed me away when I tried to rescue them.
I went up to our bedroom and sat on Glenda’s bed and buried myself in my book, Lorna Doone. Lorna’s life was much more exciting than mine. Finishing the chapter I could hear mummy downstairs on the phone, saying, “ Sorry, we’ve had to cancel the party. George has been called away urgently on business”. What business? Daddy worked in an office at the hospital. Mummy didn ’t tell lies but it didn ’t sound like the truth. Why would she be cross if he was called away and why was the letter that called him away addressed to her? Perhaps she was cross because of all the wasted food, she ’d lived through the war, she hated waste. But why did she throw it away? I ’d have eaten it. I didn ’t ask. I did ask when daddy was coming home, though. It was Sunday the next day and he always took me swimming on a Sunday. I got such a glare from mum and such a pinch from Glenda. I didn’t ask again.
I went back to Lorna Doone.
Daddy came back on Sunday, too late to take me swimming but in time to go to work on Monday. He didn’t hug us like on the films. We weren’t a hugging family.
Mummy and daddy were talking. I heard the name Sylvia hissed with such nastiness by mummy. She sounded horrid, just like Mrs Simpson when she chased me out of the local shop for “Handling the produce with no intention of buying”.
“Who is Sylvia?” I asked Glenda when I got back to the bedroom. “Nobody” she answered crossly. She never liked being interrupted when she was doing her homework. I liked the name Sylvia, it was the name of my favourite doll. I didn’t play with dolls any more of course but that didn’t stop her being my favourite.
The good thing was, daddy was back. In a film he would have been banished to the spare room but we didn’t have a spare room. So he went back to their bedroom. After a long time, things went back to normal.
The cancelled party was never talked about. The Silver Wedding Anniversary cards were never displayed. I never saw the letter that had changed everything for mum but undoubtedly it would have said something like the anonymous text that had arrived overnight.
“Your husband is having an affair. Everyone knows. Thought you should too.”