Picking up the pieces
His watch blipped. It startled him. Raising himself up on one elbow he sat up. Blearily he looked at the clock on the wall. 8 am. He lay on the lounge room couch hugging a cushion embroidered with Home Sweet Home surrounded by neat purple and lilac flowers with spiky green leaves. It was terribly kitsch. But she had made all the pillows for the couch and recovered it while on maternity leave. The pattern was the only one they had at the fabrics store. He had been prepared to buy a new couch. The old one was resplendent with bits of smeared food from Tracey’s snacks and crumbs which had worked their way into the crevasses between the back cushions and the seat to fall under it in piles that had helped a mouse build nest underneath near the ready food supply. Lorri nine months pregnant had empathized with the mouse and her little ones. She had gently shifted them outdoors into the garden shed. She forgot about the snail killer high up on the shelf. She was busy buying materials for the couch and its cushions covering it and them in a way to ensure no more crumbs collected under the seats.
It was a difficult moment when Tracey reminded them of the ‘baby mices’ at breakfast one morning a week or so later.
Are the baby mices growed yet?
Yes, sweetie they are probably running around the back yard somewhere making their own nests in the grass.
Lorri had looked up. Did you check on them ever? She asked.
Yeah, he answered guilelessly, shame buried deep. They seemed quite happy. In truth they did appear to be smiling or was it a grimace of pain in death. Who knows? He buried them under the Azaleas in a secret grave covered with woodchip mulch.
You know I had thought of taking them to school and letting the kids look after them but it seemed a pity to cage them.
He nodded agreement. She went back to her embroidering and finished the couch and all the cushion covers except one, before Tommy was born. That remained unfinished. Just one corner of it with the flowers etched out but unembroidered. It sat on the ledge in her sewing room and office. It was odd that she had not finished it. Usually she did finish everything she started, no matter what. Late at night. Some people read in bed. Lorri embroidered and knitted. The cushion lay untouched for months and months. She started a lot of things in the last couple of years since Tommy’s birth and left them incomplete. If he reminded her, she had snapped at him and he felt her pressure bearing down on him. He would move away and give her space to snap back into the old Lorri.
Now he thought back on the months before last Wednesday, he realized the chasm that had opened up between him and her. Even the children. He thought he was doing the right thing. Give her time. Give her space. Respect her need to dwell apart, but maybe he should have drawn closer to her and insisted she connect more with what was happening around. Maybe that was what was wrong. He had allowed her to paddle own canoe in rough waters and she had lost the paddle and was too far away to call for help. He had thought she was ok and that she was doing fine. In reality she was dry drowning and no one knew until it was too late.
There was knocking at the door. He got up. Rita. Tousled red hair perched like an upended mop that minimized her pale face, all angles lost in a loose caftan top that was a cacophony of colour and small African plait extensions hanging down her back. Baby on one hip, holding one of her twins by the hand, the other following a close distance behind sucking on a half a cup cake in moist paper. She liked to experiment with her own fabrics and dressmaking. An art teacher and artist. . She and her dress were originals. She coloured her own fabrics and made her own quirky fashion statement with flare.
Hi Brian. You ok? She looked past him for the children and then looked him full in the face.
Yeah. Fine. Fine. She stopped him.
Don’t bullshit me. You look like crap. You slept on the couch. He looked at her helpless.
Yeah. You are right. He sighed. You shouldn’t swear in front of the kids.
You are right. Where are Tracey and Tommy? Still asleep? Can the littlies go up to their room? Without waiting for Brian’s consent she unlatched the twin and sent him with his sister to get Toms and Trace out of bed.
So get yourself a coffee. You need it. I wouldn’t mind one too. You making it or am I?
Yeah. He moved half heartedly towards the kitchen.
Yeah. What? Your parents? Where are Moira and Joel? I thought they’d be here with you?
They decided to stay in the motel. I offered them the spare room. But I think they are overwhelmed by the whole thing. It is too much to actually stay here.
So, and you don’t find it …painful? They should be here with you.
Yes and no. I can’t go into the bedroom and the bathroom well, it’s totally off limits.
So leave this place. Rent something and sell the house. I would.
It’s hard enough for the kids to lose their mum. I can’t shift houses not just now. Think about it when Ella comes.
Shit Brian. Yeah, I know, the kids are out of earshot. You can’t sink down. I have been watching you this past week. You are sinking. You have got to get in there and don’t let this bullshit get you down.
What do you mean? It’s not bullshit. Now you’ve got me swearing. It is not bullshit. My wife died. She took her own life. Instead of talking to me, to anyone who loved her about what was upsetting her, she cut us all out and fucked us all up. She left us. She bloody well left us for good. The effort of talking about it exhausted him. His anger turned to a slow ache that flooded his body and mind. He wanted to find a way to numb it. But he remembered the children now awake coming down the stairs.
Rita, let’s have coffee and leave her alone for a while. Ok. The children ran to him and he picked them both up, one in each arm. Rita put the kettle on and got three cereal bowls out. They sat the kids down around the table. The twins decided they needed another breakfast.
Why don’t you let the kids come with us for a few hours? We are going to the water park. Be a good break. You can catch up on some sleep. It is a good healer.
Humm, dunno. How long before you go?
Probably in the next half hour. I have packed a bit for lunch. Quiche, some cup cakes, salads, dips. More than enough for two small ones and an extra big person if you change your mind and decide to come. She looked at Brian.
I don’t know. Maybe it will be good for the kids. Gotta think a minute what I have to do today.
He tried to remember if there was anything important to do. The funeral was over two days ago now. Lorri’s parents had returned home. His parents had stayed in a motel and they had booked for the week. Maybe he should sleep and catch up with his parents. Although they would be angry that he had let them go with friends rather than them. He’d let them know. Maybe they would go with the Lewans and give him a much needed rest. He felt like getting drunk, drunker than he had ever been, but now he could not afford such loss of control, not with Tracey and Tommy so dependent on him for care.
Rita was moving around the kitchen effortlessly tidying and getting the children organized. She sent them out to the yard to get some tomatoes. Her youngest child had fallen asleep on the couch. He sat at the kitchen table deep in morose thought and watched her.
You know why I came over? She flicked the tea towel vigorously over the wet bowls.
He looked up. She continued to tidy and wipe up the kitchen.
Two department investigators visited Maria yesterday afternoon. She turned and lean angled her skinny butt against the dishwasher door. Maria rang me to …warn me.
Brian looked at her not understanding what she was trying to tell him.
What the department wants to find out is whether Lorri is…sorry, was mentally unfit or deranged at the time she committed suicide and long before.
What are you trying to tell me? Rita, why are you telling me this?
I am trying to warn you, Brian. They don’t want the department or any of its officers held responsible for her death. They are going to find you culpable or her mentally unstable before they acknowledge any wrong doing on their part.
What do you mean?
You mean you honestly don’t know what was going on at work? At school? Rita sat down at the table and sighed. She was dealing with a load of real crap at work. I know what a few people told me and what I saw and heard. I also know how disgusted some of her faculty members were with the way Lee was behaving. Lee was a total ruthless bitch to her. She is ambitious as hell. Sucks up to all the right people and lies if she can to put others in a bad light and make her look the golden girl.
But why? What did Lorri do to her?
She didn’t have to do anything. Lee is smart, tough and just wants to be a principal one day. She really doesn’t give a shit about the students except to make it look as though she does. She likes to have a few scalps hanging on her belt. Lorri wasn’t the only one. There was an Indian guy before her. The guy that got a compassionate transfer before Lorri came. Actually Lorri filled his position. There was also that young first year out teacher. Rachel Seendore. The one that left and nearly had a nervous breakdown because of the way she was treated. She did not like her from the start. Rachel was too sensitive and soft spoken. Lovely girl, but Lee felt she was ‘not teacher material’ and ‘would be better off being someone’s little dishrag secretary.’ That is why she brutalized her and went for the jugular. She gets pleasure from it. It is all about power. You really mean Lorri never talked about what was going on. Lee was putting her down in front of the students and she had Barry Salmon who we all know to be not the nicest of people at the best of times had her on a program to improve her teaching. It was stuffing her head up. Lee was probably trying to remove Lorri because she felt Lorri threatened her in some way or other.
Brian looked at Rita in astonishment.
What are you talking about? I know Lorri had been a bit down in the last few months. I’d come home and find her red eyed and teary, but she wouldn’t say anything. She would just say she was tired. Needed a holiday. I got her some vitamins and a tonic. I was really worried about her. She did say at one stage there was pressure at work. But there was the mortgage and she was paying that. We really needed her wage as my business is only just starting to pick up.
He put his head in his hands. He did not trust himself any more. Rita looked at him - a solid stare.
Do you know where this is leading?
No. Tell me.
They will be coming to see you soon. They are going to ask questions and they will ask you to make a statement. Be very careful what you say.
Maria said she felt awful after they left. They got her to sign a statement about Lorri’s mental state and her work place attitude and performance. It was only after they had left, she realized the importance for the department of what they were doing.
Brian said nothing. He felt that there was nothing he could say.
She realized that what she said could be taken several ways and twisted to make Lorri out to be a real psycho. That is why you have to be careful.
Suddenly Rita caught sight of the clock.
8.45. Damn. Told Hugh I’d be back in half an hour. Ok. Do you want the kids to come with us or not?
Ok. It’ll be good for them. What do they need?
Just some bathers and a hat. Flip flops. I have sunscreen and towels. Gotta run and let Hugh know what’s happening. Can I leave the kids here and we will be back in five or ten minutes with the cruiser to pick them all up. Oh and have you got seats for them?
Sure. I will take their seats out of our…my car. Brian walked her to the door and then went quickly into the garage to unbuckle the car seats. He had just taken them into the lounge room and collected their backpacks when Hugh and Rita pulled up in the drive. The four children came in from the back yard where they had been playing. Tommy and Tracey were overjoyed about the trip. He was relieved to be able to sleep for a few hours and block out the last week.
He took a pain killer and a sleeping tablet. His head hit the pillow and he was asleep. His mobile phone on the bedside table beeped with a message. It beeped a few more times in the next hour. He slept through.