Different this time

by Jenny

Different this time

Martin was gone. When Katie woke up, eyes crusted with sleep, breath sticky with last night’s pina colada, the first thing she noticed was that Martin was gone. Fuck.

Katie pushed her face into the pillow as she pieced together the evening. Tequila. Taxi. A stumble, but not enough to wake the kids. Martin was there, definitely; she remembered holding him a while. Then haziness - had he been in the bed with her? Katie wasn’t sure.

She’d have to tell the kids. The thought dropped into the pit of her stomach, like a rock into a river. She’d promised them that this time it would be different. Christ, she’d done everything she could to make it different. She hadn’t brought him home until she was certain that they were all ready for this, that he wouldn’t run off, like the others. She’d thought he’d been happy with them.

And now, just like that, he was gone. Katie felt the crushing sense of failure again. She heard voices in the next room. She had two minutes max to wriggle out of last night’s dress and into her pyjamas. Act normal, she told herself.

And then they were there. Annabel, seven, carrying her library book to read in bed and Thomas, four, dragging Blanky behind him. They jumped into bed with Katie, who gathered them up in her arms.

Then she felt Annabel stiffen.

“Mum? Where’s Martin?”

“Annabelle, love…”

“You said this time was different. You said he’d stay.”

Katie felt their eyes on her, Annabelle accusing, Thomas sad, confused.

“Kids, I’m sorry…”

Katie’s eyes filled with tears. Great, she was going to cry in front of the kids. Again.

Annabel left in disgust. Thomas, however, stayed. He put his arms around her and snuggled close. That helped. She kissed his head and pulled herself together.

“Right, who wants eggs and soldiers?”

Hand in hand they went downstairs. While the kids ate Katie decided that activity would best cure her hangover. A fresh start. A clean house. She pulled the hoover from the cupboard and plugged it in. The noise filled the room and her aching head, but it was a cleansing pain - she was starting to feel better. Then she looked up and saw that Thomas was pointing at something on the floor. It was small and furry and scurrying, but Katie was looking at her son and she missed it.

“Mummy? I just saw Martin - he ran out from under the sofa! Look! He’s there, on the carpet! He’s ok after all!”

Katie couldn’t hear over the hoover, so she smiled and nodded, to please him. But Thomas’ face was distressed now, his hands waving, so Katie moved to turn off the hoover.

And then the hoover made a thick, choking sound, like when it inhaled socks. Only this felt like an exceptionally heavy sock. Thick. Maybe one of the furry ones that had lost its way between washing machine and clothes drier...

The hoover thudded, spluttered wetly, and stopped.