On me dit que nos vies ne valent pas grand-chose
I’m told that our lives are not worth much
11 November 2019
It’s cold, when she finally returns to Jacob’s Fold. The November sun has dipped beneath the horizon in its hastiest departure yet, the shorter days of winter approaching like an oncoming train. The darkness feels fitting, for this gloom stuck like a weight in the center of her chest.
No, it’s not a literal cold that has overtaken her, but rather something more abstract. A world sucked dry of the sunshine she’s been thawing in, perhaps. The chill has settled so heavily in her bones that it makes her teeth ache, her body tightening like the coils of a snake.
The feeling echoes louder inside the cottage, ricocheting around her heart when she opens the door and looks down at the spot where their shoes pile up. Noah’s grass-stained trainers, Sarah’s fuzzy brown boots, Moses’ tiny sneakers – they’re all there, tossed atop each other as though they’ve been kicked from their feet. But not Johnny’s.
Sarah’s stood in the kitchen when Charity looks up, watching her with a face etched into pity. She’s not arguing now, not a hint of all that teenaged contempt she’s been wearing so well in sight. It tilts the world on its axis a little more, the ground beneath her shifting until it feels as though she’s been strung up by her toes.
As though her throat’s been slit to drain the blood; nothing left of her but emptiness.
This is it, now – a life without Vanessa. A house that lacks the squealing laughter of Johnny and Moses huddled around the toybox, pitching cars across the sitting room floor. Where Vanessa isn’t leaned against the countertop, watching the chaos unfold with one of her soft smiles, a proper meal simmering away on the stove behind her.
Noah’s not got the same look on his face as Sarah, when she can finally muster the courage to glance his way. He’s sat on the edge of the sofa as if he’s poised to run at her, his phone untouched on the cushion beside him, storm clouds already churning just behind his eyes.
“What’s happened?” he asks, razor sharp edges forming on the ends of his words.
Except, it hurts to even breathe now. There’s been enough questions already: from Lydia, with all her quiet disposition and her broken heart. From Sam, with his anger and confusion and constant need to protect. And worse, still, somehow, from Rhona, with that ever-present look of judgement upon her face, as though Charity’s never once been good enough for Vanessa and she’s always known it.
There’s nothing left of her but this emptiness. “Please, Noah,” she manages, though it comes out choked, her lungs already curling around a sob she can’t bear to release.
Noah doesn’t listen. “Only, Vanessa’s just been here to collect a bag for her and Johnny.”
Sarah clears her throat.
“She seemed right upset, too, Mum.”
It twists, hard, this feeling in her chest. Like a knife, sticking in. Like petrol on a flame. “Enough, Noah,” bursts from her, harsh and angry and brittle with the ache. She feels like glass now; shattered.
“What have you done?” he presses as she rounds the staircase, weary feet carrying her away.
There isn’t a salve for the way this hurts, no slice of cake to ease the blow of absence that strikes like a fist when she crosses the threshold to their bedroom. The wardrobe door hangs open, half of Vanessa’s sweaters missing from the shelf. The tubes and jars she’d laid back out across the dresser the night before have disappeared, too, the spaces where they’d been like gaping holes.
It’s worse down the hall, where Moses snuffles and snorts in a restless sleep, his face hot with a fever she’s not thought to medicate. She’s not even sure when Cain brought him home, or whether he’s been fed anything for tea. He’s not one for sleeping, even sick as he is, but, somehow, he’s cuddled so tight beneath the covers he barely moves as he huffs.
She doesn’t need to wonder who’s done that, when Johnny’s bed is bare of his comfort toys. Vanessa, tucking in a poorly Moses before gathering clothes from Johnny’s dresser, still thinking of him even as she chiseled herself free from this spot where she fits.
Where she belongs, forever.
The sob breaks forth before she can even think to swallow it down, cracking the almost silence of the younger boys’ room. This is her future, now, without Vanessa in it: cold and empty and lacking.
Moses stirs, shifting, the wheeze of his lungs filling the room before he begins to cough. It rattles his chest and shakes his little head and springs his eyes open in terror. He looks at her, unseeing, gasping for a breath that arrives on the end of a wail. “Ness,” he howls, “Ness!”
This is her children without Vanessa; wanting for a love their mother cannot give.