‘You live down near the Wycombe Road tennis courts, don’t you, Rachel?’ said Cecilia. ‘I’ll drive you home. You’re right on my way.’
Moments later, they’d waved Marla off and Rachel was in the passenger seat of Cecilia’s white Ford Territory with the giant Tupperware logo along the side. The car was very comfortable, quiet and clean and nice smelling. Cecilia drove just as she did everything: capably and briskly, and Rachel put her head back against the headrest and waited for Cecilia’s reliable, soothing stream of conversation about raffles, carnivals, newsletters and everything else pertaining to St Angela’s.
Instead, there was silence. Rachel glanced over at Cecilia’s profile. She was chewing on her bottom lip, and squinting, as if at some thought that was giving her pain.
Marriage problems? Something to do with the kids? Rachel remembered all the time she used to devote to problems about sex, misbehaving children and misunderstood comments, broken appliances and money.
It wasn’t that she now knew those problems didn’t matter. Not at all. She longed for them to matter. She longed for the tricky tussle of life as a mother and a wife. How wonderful to be Cecilia Fitzpatrick driving home to her daughters after hosting a successful Tupperware party, worrying over whatever was quite rightfully worrying her.
In the end it was Rachel who broke the silence. ‘I had fun tonight,’ she said. ‘You did a great job. No wonder you’re so successful at it.’
Cecilia gave a small shrug. ‘Thank you. I love it.’ She smiled. ‘My sister makes fun of me over it.’
‘Jealous,’ said Rachel.
Cecilia shrugged and yawned. She seemed like a different person from the performer at Marla’s house and the woman who zoomed around St Angela’s.
‘I’d love to see your pantry,’ mused Rachel. ‘I bet everything is all labelled and in the perfect container. Mine looks like a disaster zone.’
‘I am proud of my pantry,’ Cecilia smiled. ‘John-Paul says it’s like a filing cabinet of food. I make a big song and dance if the poor girls put something back in the wrong spot.’
‘How are your girls?’ asked Rachel.
‘Wonderful,’ said Cecilia, although Rachel saw a shadow of a frown. ‘Growing up fast. Giving me cheek.’
‘Your eldest daughter,’ said Rachel. ‘Isabel. I saw her the other day in assembly. She reminds me a little of my daughter. Of Janie.’
Cecilia didn’t respond.
Why did I tell her that? thought Rachel. I must be drunker than I realise. No woman wanted to hear that her daughter looked like a girl who’d been strangled.
But then Cecilia said, with her eyes on the road ahead, ‘I have just one memory of your daughter.’
‘I have just one memory of your daughter.’
Was it the right thing to do? What if she made Rachel cry? She’d just won the Heat ’n’ Eat Everyday Set and she seemed so happy about it.
Cecilia never been comfortable around Rachel. She felt trivial, because surely the whole world was trivial to a woman who had lost a child in such circumstances. She always wanted to somehow convey to Rachel that she knew she was trivial. Years ago she’d seen something on a TV talk show about how grieving parents appreciated hearing people tell them memories of their children. There would be no more new memories, so it was a gift to share one with them. Ever since then, whenever Cecilia saw Rachel, she thought of her memory of Janie, paltry though it was, and wondered how she could share it with her. But there was never an opportunity. You couldn’t bring it up in the school office in between conversations about the uniform shop and the netball timetable.
Now was the perfect time. The only time. And Rachel was the one who had brought up Janie.
‘Of course, I didn’t actually know her at all,’ said Cecilia. ‘She was four years ahead of me. But I do have this memory.’ She faltered.
‘Go on.’ Rachel straightened in her seat. ‘I love to hear memories of Janie.’
‘Well it’s just something really small,’ said Cecilia. Now she was terrified she wouldn’t deliver enough. She wondered if she should embellish. ‘I was in Year 2. Janie was in Year 6. I knew her name because she was house captain of Red.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Rachel smiled. ‘We dyed everything red. One of Ed’s work shirts accidentally got dyed red. Funny how you forget all that stuff.’
‘So it was the school carnival, and do you remember how we used to do marching? Each house had to march around the oval. I’m always telling Connor Whitby that we should bring back the marching. He just laughs at me.’
Cecilia glanced over and saw that Rachel’s smile had withered a little. She ploughed on. Was it too upsetting? Not that interesting?
‘I was the sort of child who took the marching very seriously. And I desperately wanted Red to win, but I tripped over, and because I fell, all these other children crashed into the back of me. Sister Ursula was screaming like a banshee, and that was the end of it for Red. I was sobbing my heart out, I thought it was the absolute end of the world, and Janie Crowley, your Janie, came over and helped me up, and brushed off the back of my uniform, and she said very quietly in my ear, “It doesn’t matter. It’s only stupid marching.”’
Rachel didn’t say anything.
‘That’s it,’ said Cecilia humbly. ‘It wasn’t much, but I just always –’