A FORGOTTEN COLOUR
Judith draws back the curtains, securing them with tie-backs; gently fingering the black beaded ends. David chose them. She glances around the room. It could do with a polish, and a hoover. Instead, she settles for smoothing the duvet with the palm of her hand. Aubergine. David’s favourite.
It’s purple, Mum, he said, snorting.
That’s not what they call it on those design shows.
The conversation she remembers verbatim, but it’s a while since she’s seen him, and lately, she finds it hard to recall his features, such as the line of his nose, and the natural hue of his hair.
She likes to keep his room tidy. That way, it feels like he’ll turn up any minute, though the bedcovers are rumpled from when Frank stops in here. Why can’t he clean up after himself? It only takes a minute to straighten up a bed-sheet. But if she’s honest, she doesn’t like Frank stopping here at all. He always destroys the carpet-pile with his hulking size tens. And the smell – polluting the atmosphere everywhere he goes. She tells him about Odour-Eaters, but he never listens.
David’s trophies catch her eye. Different colours, shapes, sizes. Once, there used to be pictures of him, too, with her, and Frank; one with his girlfriend too, but they’re gone now. There still remains a photo of him as a toddler – baby-blonde. His hair stayed like that until school, when it darkened to… She frowns. She touches the edge of the wooden frame, before rearranging the trophies. Frank messing again, obviously.
David – always the sporty type. Football at first, karate, cycling, and later, mountain-climbing at university. Whenever they could, she and Frank cheered him on. She lost count of the times she came home cold and wet, hoarse from shouting on a field or sports hall. More recently, his diving job took him all over the world. Majorie, down the road, didn’t stand a chance with stories about her daughter’s fancy-pants courtroom shenanigans.
It’s forty degrees in Phuket right now, but it’s lovely in the sea.
Judith knew she shouldn’t brag.
I’ve never been to Thailand, said Majorie.
Oh, we go next month on our way to Australia. David’s meeting us there. Elsa has a boating business, you know?
The holiday of a lifetime.
Outside the bedroom, a change in sound catches Judith’s attention. The bath. She rushes down the hall. A disaster if it floods down through the ceiling. That happened to Janice, and it took forever to get any money back from the insurers. Quick to take your money, slow to give it back. She’s relieved to see it’s only two-thirds full. She hates emptying out bathwater. Such a waste. Water bills are horrific, nowadays. Usually, she takes showers.
She checks her watch, then potters downstairs and outside. As she opens the garage door, she hears a shout from across the road. It’s Audrey in the garden. Judith raises her hand in a friendly salute, but won’t be distracted. Natural light fills the work-space, which is heavy with dust. This is Frank’s domain so, generally, she stays away. Wires everywhere, never used. Boxes and boxes of the things. And half-empty tins of paint. Why can’t he take them to the tip? Typical. It’s always the same old story. He’s worse than useless when you need him to do something.
Finding the extension lead she needs, she locks the garage with relief. The chaos makes her claustrophobic. Though, once she’s back in the house, she sees he’s stamped disarray on her kitchen, too. She tuts at the blob of jam, toast crumbs and coffee stains from breakfast. Why can’t he put his knife and plate in the dishwasher; put the milk away? She wipes around, turns on the dishwasher, unplugs the toaster and carries it upstairs, together with the extension lead.
As she undresses, she thinks of the trip to Thailand. Frank and she were so excited, though she took charge of the travel arrangements and the packing. What else could you expect?
Of course, it was difficult when David moved so far away, but Australia was the place for work. And there was Skype. Sometimes when they talked, she imagined he was in the next room, though she couldn’t hug him, and a mother never loses the urge to hold her son. When he was small, David loved a cuddle, but as he grew bigger, she used the excuse of flicking the hair out of his eyes to touch him. Frank would tell her to leave the poor lad alone. Well, he would.
The day of the trip, the scents of coriander and garangal spiced the air as they coasted from the bay. Elsa arranged a plush sailing boat for them, and Judith felt like a queen. Of course, she didn’t set foot in the water, not like the others – she wasn’t a strong swimmer, though Frank had a ham-fisted attempt with a scuba mask and flippers. Judith stayed firmly on deck, sunning herself and reading a magazine, enjoying the tranquillity of the bobbing waves, picturing David beneath the sea.
There was no sign before-hand that something was wrong, but she could remember how Elsa’s voice broke the silence.
The expression on Elsa’s face – as if she knew something she didn’t want to admit. Somehow she got David to the surface. After that, everything became a blur. Elsa performing CPR. Frank standing uselessly by, staring as his son faded away. The crew got them back to shore, and in all the commotion, an ambulance quietly waited. She remembered the defibrillators, his body jerking. But she knew, as she peered at David’s alien sun-bleached hair, and his blue lips. She looked at Frank. She steadied herself, but used the arm of a stranger rather than that of her husband. On dry land, the sway of the sea had stayed with her – even to this day. Sometimes, she was uncertain whether she’d stay upright when she put one foot in front of the other.
David had done nothing wrong on the dive. It was one of those things. Genetic, apparently. Probably from Frank’s side. David was the spitting image of Frank.
She couldn’t help but feel she should have known. If she’d only taken him to the right doctor as a child.
Unravelling the extension lead, Judith plugs it in and winds it into the bathroom, where she plugs in the toaster. Picking up the metallic box, she presses the lever and steps into the cooling bathwater, feeling the heat from the elements rise to warm her face.
She looks up.
‘What are you doing?’
For a moment, she’s tempted to drop the toaster there and then.
Frank looks tired. And his hair – it’s lost the bleached tips from the Thailand trip.
‘You do nothing,’ she says.
It’s why she can’t bear to look at him anymore.
‘You left the milk out of the fridge.’
Frank takes the toaster from her hand, then settles his arm underneath her elbow.
‘It only takes a minute to wipe the scissors and put them away.’
He helps her out of the bath, until her feet are set firmly on the ground. She feels the tiles, cold and solid beneath her feet; looks around the bathroom – the toaster now on the floor.
‘There’s crumbs everywhere.’
‘In the water. What a mess.’
‘Judith, I want to help.’
She looks at her husband. His hair.
Frank wraps a towel around her.
She begins to cry.