Please Don’t Leave Me Here

Tania Chandler

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It’s another slow-news day by the look of The Age online: Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard condemns the binge drinking of a football player; Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson hires a personal trainer to help keep her famous figure in shape. Brigitte sips her coffee, yawns, and scrolls down further. Victorian cold-case detectives to reopen 1994 investigation of slain concert promoter, Eric Tucker. Her heart stops. The missed beat catches up and hammers on top of the next one. She glances over her shoulder, shuts down the computer, and stares at the blank screen while Kitty figure-eights around her ankles. The blast of a train’s horn down at Clifton Hill station makes her jump and spill her coffee.

Phoebe’s up first — looking like a zombie-child, eyes half-closed, arms outstretched for a cuddle. Brigitte lifts her up, winces at the stab of pain in her back, and pushes the fine blonde hair off Phoebe’s face. Underneath is a little turned-up nose, a pouty mouth, and the biggest, bluest eyes: a Manga cartoon face. Then Finn runs out demanding his good-morning cuddle and kiss. Brigitte smiles as if nothing is wrong, and makes cups of warm milk for the twins. The cartoons bubble away on TV.

Sam surfaces half an hour later to the sound of the smoke alarm going off for burnt toast.

‘Is Mummy trying to cook again?’

‘Morning, Sam.’

‘Morning, Ralph. Sleep OK?’

‘Coffee?’ She pours him a mug — black, no sugar.

His mobile rings in his bathrobe pocket, and he takes it into the study.

Bad butterflies flutter up to her oesophagus.

‘Mum.’ Finn pulls at her dressing gown.

‘Shh.’ She’s trying to listen through the wall to what Sam’s saying.

‘Mum, Mum, Mum …’

‘What!’

‘Love you.’ He runs off, and her shoulders slump.

‘OK. Send a car for me in ten.’ Sam hangs up and comes back into the kitchen.

‘What?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Tell me, Sam.’

‘Stop it, Brig.’

‘What then?’

‘Nothing! Just an incident in Preston.’

She’s standing in his way and he pushes her aside, too roughly. Her hip knocks against the cupboard. ‘Sorry. Have to get ready for work.’

He makes calls while he gets his clothes — a charcoal suit and a white shirt.

He takes a three-minute shower and comes out of the bathroom smelling of sport deodorant, his cropped blond hair smooth with product.

‘I see they’re reopening the Eric Tucker case,’ she says as she taps her fingers on the sink and looks out the window. The strip of grass between the house and bungalow is knee-high.

‘And?’

She turns, opens her mouth to speak, then shuts it and wraps her arms around him.

‘Don’t worry about it. It’s busy work. Not enough new murders to go round.’

She doesn’t believe him.

He untangles himself from her arms and kisses the twins on the way out. He leaves without breakfast — he’ll pick up something on the way, as usual.

Finn runs to see his friends in the three-year-olds’ room at kinder. Phoebe clings to Brigitte’s leg, crocodile tears in her eyes.

‘Hello, Phoebe.’ Yasmine smiles. She’s wearing a paisley shirt and a silver stud in her nose. ‘We’re going to have lots of fun today. Would you like to do a puzzle, or help me sort out the art smocks?’

Phoebe’s not talking to the kinder assistant.

‘Is everything OK, Brigitte?’ Yasmine places a tub of crayons on the table.

Brigitte nods and smiles as she peels Phoebe off her leg. She goes outside to find Finn for a kiss goodbye. He’s kicking a ball around the play equipment.

‘Mum, watch this!’ He kicks the ball and scatters the crispy brown and yellow leaves under the big elm tree. She claps, and he runs over to her.

‘Daddy shoots people.’

‘No sweetie, that’s not true.’ She crouches to do up the buttons on his jacket.

‘He’s got a gun.’

‘All police people carry guns. It’s part of their job.’

‘To catch the bad guys and keep the good people safe?’

‘Yes.’ She pulls a tissue from her sleeve and wipes his runny nose.

‘Bye, Mum.’

‘Bye, sweetie.’ She kisses him before he wriggles away.

Something in the sand pit has caught his eye, and he takes aim at it with his index finger. ‘Bang!’ He pulls the trigger with his thumb.

Please Don’t Leave Me Here Tania Chandler