This is another story I was challenged to write by my sister. It is inspired by another Amanda Palmer song '(Grown Man Cry') but I promise it is not creepy and weird like the last one! The song is actually gorgeous. There were so many things I could have written when I listened to it but this is the one that happened.
Janet's voice drifted through the house from the back of the kitchen. Adrian, his nose buried in The Telegraph, barely grunted.
'Adrian?' Her voice grew slightly louder as she padded down the hallway but still it didn't penetrate his reverie. Janet stuck her head round the door and her hands on her hips. Sometimes she despaired of him.
'Ade.' Her tone took on the sort of edge that she used in interviews to cut through panics and distractions and carefully prepared alibis. Her husband's head jerked up although she noticed his eyes were still not focussed on her.
'Can you give me a hand to move this box please?' Janet couldn't help but sound exasperated. 'The one you said you were going to move this morning.'
'All right love.' Adrian lumbered out of the sofa. Janet turned away to hide her eye-roll and marched back to the kitchen. His words were amiable but his tone reeked of resentment. He wasn't very good at hiding things and she had seen the emotions fighting over his face. The flash of sulks chased away by the guilty recollection of her injury then the annoyance at himself deflected onto her. He was trying, Janet reminded herself even as she gritted her teeth. Being at home so much, together, was difficult for him too. He had been genuinely shaken when she had first woken up in hospital. Shaken and scared and he had been making an effort to be sweet to her ever since. After a month at home, however, the effort on both sides was wearing thin.
'What d'you want me to do then love?' Adrian asked over her shoulder as they both stared into the large kitchen cupboard that Janet had been trying to clear out. Enforced leave was getting to her in more ways than one. Janet pointed to the top shelf.
'The box. I'm still not supposed to be lifting things.'
Adrian bridled but managed to restrain himself to a huff. He reached up, pawed the box to the edge of the shelf, hefted it on to his shoulder, then manoeuvred it down to the floor. Making a meal out of it, Janet thought, and immediately felt guilty for her crabbedness.
'It's just a bunch of old cleaning stuff.' Adrian sniffed. 'What d'you want that for?'
'I don't want it. That's the point. It all wants throwing out.'
This piece of female logic baffled him and he was almost turning to go when a shadow of something on the top shelf caught his eye. It must have been wedged in by the box, or maybe fallen out. He groped for it. A small soft something that he could spread in the palm of his hand. It was a little white sock, delicately frilled around the top. Adrian felt a scratch against his palm and turned the sock over to discover a tiny crown shape outlined in tarnished silver-coloured studs.
Janet, sensing his stillness, glanced up from rummaging through the box. She stood and joined him. The little sock looked so incongruous, lying limp across Ade's broad hand. Janet reached out and brushed it with her fingertips, smoothing wrinkles; she rested her fingers against Ade's.
'It must be one of Taisie's old ones,' she breathed.
'Elise.' Adrian's voice was gruff and Janet raised huge eyes of surprise to his face. It wasn't like him to get emotional. She watched his throat work as he swallowed. This was the closest they had been all week, Janet realised.
'It's one of the ones she had for her third birthday. D'you remember? She loved those crowns.'
He moved his thumb to smooth over the rough marking and all at once Janet did remember. Adrian straightening Elise's socks after he finished polishing her shoes for the party, no mean feat as Elise had been dancing with excitement and could barely be kept from jumping up and down for long enough to do anything. Ade had been so patient back then. She remembered him saying, 'There, now you look pretty as a princess,' and looking up to catch her eye as she walked in with an armful of Taisie. The memory of the smile they had shared warmed her face again. They had been such a happy family – so young and hopeful, in spite of the difficulties and tragedies they had been through. By that point, Janet had even almost managed to put aside her terror of finding all her babies lying lifeless. They were growing, big strong girls of three and sixteen months. They had been so tightly knit together as well, as a family, all relying on each other every day. It was funny, Janet remembered how Ade had stood after Elise tore off, he had touched her arm gently just for a second before following their hyperactive princess. They used to do that all the time – little touches for no reason. She hadn't even noticed when it had ceased to be a part of their life.
Except now they were standing together in front of an empty cupboard at the centre of a sea of junk, her hand on his as it struck home to her that he remembered better than she did. Meeting his eyes with the flush of her younger smile still lingering on her face she thought she saw the edge of tears there.
'Yes. I remember.' Her voice was soft but even she was surprised to hear how tired she sounded. Adrian's face crumpled ever so slightly.
He had cried in the hospital. Janet didn't think he knew that she had woken up when he was sobbing heavily, quietly, over her left hand. She had been unable to move and she hadn't wanted to. His pain and grief and, above all, his tears had been too much for her. She hoped he wasn't going to cry now.
No. Instead, something closed off behind his eyes. A door slammed.
'What's it doing here anyway?' he muttered, the habitual sulkiness settling into his jowls.
Adrian chucked the sock into the half-empty box, leaving Janet's hand suspended in mid-air.
'Ade...' she began, warningly.
'Is that it?' he demanded. Janet was forced to nod.
He raised his head then nodded, as if acknowledging something far weightier than the moving of a box of rubbish.
'Then I'm going back to me paper.' He slouched off down the hall again. Conversation closed.
Janet looked down at the discarded sock, grubby round the toes and heel, and felt an irrational wave of anger rush over her. Before that night in the hospital, Janet hadn't seen Adrian cry since Joshua died. Her precious little boy was the only reason she had ever seen Ade cry, in fact. So it had always been special, important. It had always been tied up in her memories of Josh.
It was stupid to hate him for crying over her, pointless to be angry with him for letting a memory get to him. But she did and she was.
After Andy, after lies, after pretending, after Taisie starting her new school and Elise's first boyfriend, after only him, after her job, his boredom and no longer waiting up, after the same old rows over again, after Joshua and never telling the girls, after twenty-five years, after coming home and talking late, after holding each other, after rocking in his arms, after cooling off and speeding up, after his hand to hold through the shaking stuttering dark, after he noticed her at the gate, after knowing his name – standing alone in their kitchen, she has finally had enough.