The Silent Daughter, by Emma Christie - Part 2

In the second of four extracts from Emma Christie’s debut novel The Silent Daughter, the family begin to gather by Maria’s hospital bed but one is still missing...

By Emma Christie
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 7:30 am
The Silent Daughter
The Silent Daughter

CHRIS heard the buzz of a fly, felt sick when it landed on his fingers. Could it sense Maria there? He’d used water and a paper hankie to clean blood off Maria’s cheeks when he arrived, tiny spots missed by nurses but not by the man who’d woken up to that face every day for more than three decades.

He’d washed his hands a dozen times afterwards then scrutinised every line and crevice under the harsh bathroom light. He did not want pieces of his wife stuck under his fingernails. But Christ, she’d always be there. On him, in him.

He closed his eyes and pressed his nose and lips to her cheek, thinking of the tiny soft hairs in the nape of her neck that he loved and she’d never seen.

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That part of her was for him only, hidden from the world under thick black curls that grew from Spanish roots. Tears came when he took a deep breath, sucked in the scent of her. There it was, the only part of Maria that remained unchanged. He took another long, deep breath, then leaned over the side of the bed to vomit.

CHAPTER 2

Chris was slumped in a plastic chair, fighting sleep, when he heard a polite knock on the door.

Knock-knock. Pause.

And then the same again.

It had to be Mikey. Chris had told him to stay home until the morning but he’d refused.

He knocked again then gently pushed open the door. He was half-Spanish but so bloody British. My mum is dying - but don’t worry, I didn’t forget my manners. Chris kept his eyes closed, feigned sleep. Shoes squeaked on polished lino, then Mikey groaned.

‘Mum?’

It was the first familiar voice Chris had heard since all of this started. Well, apart from his own. He was surprised how natural it felt to talk to Maria when she was unconscious. Still, he’d curse himself when he automatically capped one of his stories with a question, an accidental request for affirmation. Right? Wasn’t it? Remember? There was never a silence longer.

He’d been embarrassed when a doctor had walked in, caught him talking about the weather up north, how close he’d come to crashing the car when he’d hit black ice. But the doctor clearly didn’t give a shit about the content of his stories. He’d glanced at a clipboard hooked over the end of Maria’s bed and, as he wrote a note in red pen, he’d assured Chris conversation was good for People In Your Wife’s Condition and was Perfectly Normal Under The Circumstances. Chris pictured others exactly like himself in the rooms either side of Maria’s, every one of them grasping the hands of the dying and the dead, saying things they’d never have dared say if they thought there was a remote chance their beloved could actually hear.

It was pathetic. Chris wondered if they imagined the responses too, same way he did.

Maria’s voice flooded him.

You know your problem, Chris?

Tell me.

You filter your feelings.

Meaning?

Meaning you feel something but, instead of expressing it, you judge it; wonder if it’s the right thing to be feeling. And you worry other people might judge you for it too. But it’s nonsense. I won’t love you less for being honest.

You don’t know that, Maria.

Try me.

And so he’d spent the past few hours trying to unclog a filter so choked with the residue of The Unspoken that almost nothing got through, especially the fear that weighed him down the most: he’d failed to protect his family. Again. That was why he was sitting at the side of another hospital bed, and on the edge of another loss. And, just like that, he was thinking again about That Day, fifteen years ago but fresh as ever...

TOMORROW: Colin begins to wonder if Maria’s accident was all it appears to be

The Silent Daughter, by Emma Christie, is published in paperback by Wellbeck, priced £8.99, and available on Kindle, priced £3.19

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