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Chapter no 29

Then She Was Gone

I first met Sara-Jade when you and I had been together for a year. Up until then she’d only been spending every other weekend at yours and it was easy to keep us compartmentalized. But then your ex got a job and suddenly she was dropping Sara on your doorstep all the time, quite often at short notice, quite often when you’d already invited me over for the evening.

Well, you’d told me that she was a difficult girl; she’d responded badly to the split, so you said. And like I said, I’d never really liked little girls. They have a way of looking at you sometimes, as though their hearts are full of hate.

And Sara-Jade, she barely looked human. Skin so thin and pale you could see the veins of her. And this shock of white hair. Not blonde, no; white, like an old lady. She was tiny too, more like a five-year-old than an eight-year-old.

I tried to be nice. I really did. You know that. You were there, remember? “Oh, so you must be Sara-Jade. It is a pleasure to meet you.” I tried to shake

 

 

her hand. I always do that with young children because you never know whether they’re the kind to appreciate adult attention or not. Some children thrive on it; their eyes find you and they reel you in: Look at me, find me impressive, tell me that I’m better than all the other children. Others could not give a sideways shit and just want to get away from you as fast as they humanly can. So I find that a handshake is a good compromise between fussing over them and ignoring them, and sometimes you’ll find you’re the very first person to shake their hand and that’s a nice thing however you look at it.

Sara-Jade did not take my hand. She turned and ran from the room sobbing. Jesus Christ.

You ran after her and I heard your voices and stood there in your hallway, my hand hanging heavy at my side.

I felt like a monster. I remember looking at myself in the mirror that hung on your wall there, above the table by your door. I’d begun to look fondly upon

myself at that point. I’d begun to focus on the positive rather than negative. If a man like you wanted to touch me, to behold me, then surely I could not be quite so bad? But the face in the mirror that day, as you soothed your sobbing girl behind a closed door somewhere, it was not a face I wanted to look at. I saw the darkness around my eyes, the pull of my skin away from my cheekbones and toward my chin, the hair that had dulled to rusty water and grown too long for my face. I was not pretty. I was not.

Your daughter reminded me of that. After that, well, it was hard to like her.

After that, for quite some time, it was hard to like myself.

 

 

I should not have taken it personally, I can see that now. Sara-Jade was a highly strung child, scared of many things, not just the woman in her hallway. But I did take it personally and I could not bring myself to be kind to that child ever again. To be fair, you found her hard work yourself. She was an aloof child and prone to the most terrible, terrible tantrums. Tantrums is barely the word for it. If I’d been that way inclined, I might have theorized that she’d been possessed by the devil. She threw things, she broke things, she screamed that she wanted to kill you and stab you and cut off your head with a knife. She hated you; oh God, yes, she hated you. Other times she’d be regressive and needy, make you accompany her to the toilet because she was scared to go on her own, make you sit outside her room singing a particular song until she was asleep, sometimes for over half an hour.

We spoke about her a lot during those months, muttered softly across your pillows at night, wondered what to do and how to deal with it. I had nothing to offer. I knew nothing about small children. I had a thousand nieces and nephews back home, but I hadn’t seen a one of them. Not even vaguely interested. But I made the right noises. “What about therapy?” I suggested. “Have you thought about that?”

 

 

 

But no, apparently Kate, perfect little Kate, the world’s most annoying ex-wife (I’m sorry, Floyd, but she was and you know she was, with that breathy voice, her baby-doll eyes, the way her chin would drop when you told her about Sara-Jade’s misdemeanors and she’d say, “Oh, Jadey-Wadey. Poor little sugar bum.

Has Daddy been putting you to bed too late again?” Christ, I wanted to slice her in half, I really did), no, Kate wasn’t having any of it. “Too much sugar.” “Not enough sleep.” “Hard week at school.” Blah blah blah. She couldn’t see that her own child was a virtual sociopath.

But I should have tried harder. I should have been nicer. And if there’s any share of the blame that I’ll take, it’ll be that. I turned you against her. I did. We demonized her, the pair of us. We bonded over our mutual dismay, our mutual powerlessness. And the more you turned against her, the more you turned toward me. I became the normal. I became the sane. And I embraced the new dynamic. One hundred percent.

And now, Floyd Dunn, now look at me, look me in the eye and tell me it wasn’t you. Go on. I dare you. Tell me it wasn’t you who said it first, who turned to me in the bed one night, after we’d made love, and took both of my hands inside yours, who kissed those hands hard and long and said, “Maybe if you and I had a child, maybe it would like me.”

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