Chapter no 40

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine


‘Hello, Mummy,’ I said. I heard my own voice – it sounded flat, emotionless.

‘How did you know?’ Sharp. Irritated. ‘It’s always you, Mummy,’ I said.

‘Cheeky! Don’t be insolent, Eleanor. It doesn’t suit you. Mummy doesn’t like naughty girls who talk back, you know that.’

Old ground, this – a reprimand I’d heard so many times before. ‘I don’t really care what you like any more, Mummy,’ I said.

I heard her snort; short, derisive.

‘Oh dear. Someone’s in a strop. What is it – time of the month? Hormones, darling? Or something else … let me see. Has someone been filling your head with nonsense? Telling lies about me? How many times have I warned you about that? Mummy isn’t—’

I interrupted. ‘Mummy, I’m going to say goodbye to you tonight.’

She laughed. ‘Goodbye? But that’s so … final, darling. There’s no need for that, come along now. What would you do without our little chats? What about your special project – don’t you think you ought to keep Mummy updated on your progress, at least?’

‘The project wasn’t the answer, Mummy. It was wrong of you, very wrong of you, to tell me that it was,’ I said, not sad, not happy, just stating facts.

She laughed. ‘It was your idea, as I recall, darling. I merely … cheered you on from the sidelines. That’s what a supportive Mummy would do, isn’t it?’

I thought about this. Supportive. Supportive meant … what did it mean? It meant caring about my welfare, it meant wanting the best for me. It meant laundering my soiled sheets and making sure I got home safely and buying me a ridiculous balloon when I was feeling sad. I had no desire to recount a list of her failings, her wrongdoings, to describe

the horrors of the life we’d led back then or to go over the things she’d done and not done to Marianne, to me. There was no point now.

‘You set fire to the house while Marianne and I were asleep inside. She died in there. I wouldn’t exactly call that supportive,’ I said, trying my best to keep my voice calm, not entirely succeeding.

‘Someone has been telling you lies – I knew it!’ she said, triumph in her voice. She spoke brightly, full of enthusiasm. ‘Look, what I did, darling – anyone would have done the same thing in my situation. It’s like I told you: if something needs to change, change it! Of course, there will be inconveniences along the way … you simply have to deal with them, and not worry too much about the consequences.’

She sounded happy, glad to be dispensing advice. She was, I realized, talking about killing us, Marianne and me, her inconveniences. In a strange way, it helped.

I took a breath, although I didn’t really need to.

‘Goodbye, Mummy,’ I said. The last word. My voice was firm, measured, certain. I wasn’t sad. I was sure. And, underneath it all, like an embryo forming – tiny, so tiny, barely a cluster of cells, the heartbeat as small as the head of a pin, there I was. Eleanor Oliphant.

And, just like that, Mummy was gone.

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