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Chapter no 32

Then She Was Gone

Later that day Laurel visits her mother, Ruby.

“Still here?” she asks, placing her handbag on the floor and slipping off her coat.

Ruby tuts and sighs. “L-L-L-Looks like it.”

Laurel smiles and takes her hand. “We drank a toast to you on Friday,” she says, “at the birthday party. We all missed you very much.”

Ruby rolls her eyes as if to say sure you did. “We really did. And guess what? I met Bonny!”

Ruby’s eyes open wide and she puts her fingertips to her mouth. “W-Wow!” “Yes. Wow. She’s nice. I knew she would be. Cuddly.”

“F-F-Fat?”

 

 

Laurel laughs. “No. Not fat. Just bosomy.”

Ruby looks down at her own flat chest, the same flat chest that she bequeathed to her daughter and they both laugh.

“Boyf-f-friend? All happy?”

“Yes!” she replies with more positivity than she’s feeling. Her mother has extended her miserable existence beyond the point of comfort to see her daughter happy. “Really happy. It’s going really well!”

She sees a question pass across her mother’s eyes and she moves the conversation along quickly, asks after her health, her appetite, if she’s heard anything from her hopeless brother, who moved to Dubai the same day Ruby moved into the home.

“I won’t see you again,” her mother says as Laurel puts on her coat.

Laurel looks at her, looks deep into her eyes. Then she leans down and holds her in her arms, puts her mouth to her ear and says, “I will see you next week, Mum. And if I don’t, then I want you to know that you have been the best and most amazing mother in the world and I have been extraordinarily lucky to have

you for so long. And that I adore you. And that we all do. And that you could not have been any better than you were. OK?”

She feels her mother’s head nodding against hers, the soft puff of her hair like a breath against her cheek. “Yes,” says her mother, “yes. Yes. Yes.”

Laurel wipes tears from her cheek and puts on a smile before pulling away from her mother.

“Bye, Mum,” she says. “I love you.” “I l-l-love you, t-t-too.”

Laurel stops in the doorway for a second and looks at her mother, absorbs the shape of her and the exquisite feeling of her existence in the world. Then she sits in her car for a moment afterward, in the car park. She allows herself to cry for about thirty seconds and then talks herself out of it. Wanting to die and dying are generally unrelated. But this felt like more than her mother simply wanting to die. This seemed to come from inside her, from the inexplicable place that thinks about an old friend moments before bumping into them, that can sense the approach of a thunderstorm before it’s broken, the place that sends dogs to dark corners of the house to die.

She picks her phone from her bag and stares at it for a while. She wants to talk to someone. Someone who knows her better than anyone.

She nearly calls Paul. But she doesn’t.

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