‘But you weren’t allowed to cross it!’ said Esther. ‘You were stuck! You know how we live on this side of the Pacific Highway and Grandma lives on the other side?’
‘Yeah,’ said Polly uncertainly. She wasn’t too clear on where anyone lived.
‘It would be like there was a barbed-wire fence all along the Pacific Highway and we couldn’t visit Grandma any more.’
‘That would be such a pity,’ murmured Cecilia as she looked over her shoulder to change lanes. She’d been to visit her mother this morning after her Zumba class and had spent twenty full minutes she couldn’t spare looking through a ‘portfolio’ of her nephew’s preschool work. Bridget was sending Sam to an exclusive, obscenely priced preschool and Cecilia’s mother couldn’t decide whether to be delighted or disgusted about it. She had settled for hysterical.
‘I bet you didn’t get a portfolio like this at that sweet ordinary little preschool your girls went to,’ her mother had said, while Cecilia tried to flip the pages faster. She was going shopping for all the nonperishables in preparation for Sunday before she picked up the girls.
‘Actually I think most of the preschools do things like this these days,’ Cecilia had said, but her mother had been too busy exclaiming over Sam’s finger-painted ‘self-portrait’.
‘Imagine, Mum,’ said Esther, ‘if we kids were visiting Grandma in West Berlin for the weekend when the Wall went up, and you and Dad were stuck in East Berlin. You’d have to say to us, “Stay at Grandma’s place, kids! Don’t come back! For your freedom!”’
‘That’s awful,’ said Cecilia.
‘I’d still go back to Mummy,’ said Polly. ‘Grandma makes you eat peas.’
‘It’s history, Mum,’ said Esther. ‘It’s what actually happened. Everyone got separated. They didn’t care. Look! These people are holding up their babies to show their relatives on the other side.’
‘I really can’t take my eyes off the road,’ sighed Cecilia.
Thanks to Esther, Cecilia had spent the last six months imagining herself scooping up drowning children from the icy waters of the Atlantic while the Titanic sunk. Now she was going to be in Berlin, separated from her children by the Wall.
‘When does Daddy get back from Chicago?’ asked Polly.
‘Friday morning!’ Cecilia smiled at Polly in the rear-vision mirror, grateful for the change of subject. ‘He’s coming back on Good Friday. It will be a very good Friday because Daddy will be back!’
There was a disapproving silence in the back seat. Her daughters tried not to encourage deeply uncool talk.
They were right in the middle of their usual after-school frenzy of activity. Cecilia had just dropped Isabel at the hairdresser, and now they were on their way to Polly’s ballet and Esther’s speech therapy. (Esther’s barely perceptible lisp, which Cecilia found adorable, was apparently unacceptable in today’s world.) After that, it would be rush, rush, rush to get dinner prepared and homework and reading done, before her mother came over to watch the children while Cecilia went off to do a Tupperware party.
‘I have another secret to tell Daddy,’ said Polly. ‘When he comes home.’
‘One man tried to abseil out of his apartment window and the firemen in West Berlin tried to catch him with a safety net, but they missed and he died.’
‘My secret is that I don’t want a pirate party any more,’ said Polly.
‘He was thirty,’ said Esther. ‘So I guess he’d lived a pretty good life already.’
‘What?’ said Cecilia.
‘I said he was thirty,’ said Esther. ‘The man who died.’
‘Not you, Polly!’
A red traffic light loomed and Cecilia slammed her foot on the brake. The fact that Polly no longer wanted a pirate party was breathtakingly insignificant in comparison to that poor man (thirty!) crashing to the ground for the freedom that Cecilia took for granted, but right now she couldn’t pause to honour his memory because a last-minute change of party theme was unacceptable. That’s what happened when you had freedom. You lost your mind over a pirate party.
‘Polly,’ Cecilia tried to sound reasonable, rather than psychotic. ‘We’ve sent out the invitations. You’re having a pirate party. You asked for a pirate party. You’re getting a pirate party.’
A nonrefundable deposit had been paid to Penelope the Singing and Dancing Pirate, who certainly charged like a pirate.
‘It’s a secret just for Daddy,’ said Polly. ‘Not for you.’
‘Fine, but I’m not changing the party.’
She wanted the pirate party to be perfect. For some reason she particularly wanted to impress that Tess O’Leary. Cecilia had an illogical attraction to enigmatic, elegant people like Tess. Most of Cecilia’s friends were talkers. Their voices overlapped in their desperation to tell their stories. ‘I’ve always hated vegetables . . . the only vegetable my child will eat is broccoli . . . my kid loves raw carrots . . . I love raw carrots!’ You had to jump right in without waiting for a pause in the conversation because otherwise you’d never get your turn. But women like Tess didn’t seem to have the same need to share the ordinary facts of their lives, and that made Cecilia desperate to know them. Does HER kid like broccoli? she’d ponder. She’d talked too much when she’d met Tess and her mother after Sister Ursula’s funeral this morning. Babbled. Sometimes she could hear herself doing it. Oh well.