She carries it all without a word, scooping her unhappiness into the shopping bags and burying it deep among the bottles of pop and plastic packets of shop-bought scones. The endless ready meals that make life easy and joyless.
The weight of it drags her shoulders towards the pavement as she trudges, weekly, down the grim and shuttered high-street. Past the nail salons and Polish bakeries. Past the disused pub that some kids have turned into a squat. Past the dog shit and bus stops and clusters of girls who snigger at her dowdy clothes and sagging face.
It’s not that she didn’t want another kind of life. Now the girls can have babies, or not; go to university or get a job; travel the world, chase careers, change their minds. Anything, it seems, is possible for them.
Things were different back when she was deciding. The world held its opportunities tight inside itself like an oyster, and she never even knew they were there until it was already too late. How did they know, these girls? How did they make it seem so easy?
Bernie proposed when she was seventeen and considered his romantic obligations complete after their registry office wedding and buffet spread in the church hall after. She had worn a cream coloured suit with a spray of blue flowers. Queen for a day; fool for a lifetime..
Then Jamie had come along, followed quickly by Ryan and then Karen. A stream of dirty nappies, dirty dishes, sticky fingers, open mouths and hungry bellies. No time to think, no time to wonder. No time to imagine anything else. School runs to make, tea on the table and sex twice a week. A holiday to Blackpool once a summer for a treat.
And now they are grown, but not gone. A nest still full of hungry mouths and dirty socks. A sinkful of dirty dishes and no sign of change.
But she carries it all, uncomplaining, jamming the feeling into her chest, burying it deep among the unspoken wishes and stifled longings. The endless regret that makes life hard and joyless.
They look at me, she thinks, and see a fading old woman. And who am I to say any different?
The house is dark and quiet. Bernie is at work. The kids are still in bed. The kitchen idles in filth, waiting to be cleaned. And there is breakfast to see to.
But she doesn’t unpack the shopping, or put on the kettle. She doesn’t wipe the plates on the draining board or set the table. Instead, she turns and walks from the house, not even stopping to fetch her keys.
She walks up and up and up, all the way to the top of the cliffs, carrying inside her the woman that she never had the chance to be, the years of missed opportunities weighing down on her back like sandbags.
And as she looks down to the waves crashing below, the jagged rocks, the wild sea spray she feels the wind in her hair, as if for the very first time.
And then, for a brief, heartstopping second she is carrying nothing, holding nothing, burying nothing.
For the first time, she is weightless.