The Silent Daughter, by Emma Christie - Part 4

In the final of four extracts from Emma Christie’s debut novel The Silent Daughter, the past continues to haunt Chris as he tries to come to terms with Maria’s accident.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 7:30 am
The Silent Daughter
The Silent Daughter

YOU should probably call him,’ said Mikey.

Chris felt his jaw tighten.

The ventilator whooshed. Maria’s chest rose and fell.

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Mikey looked as if he was going to speak again but instead he bit down on his bottom lip, stared in silence at the bed where his mum lay, stilled.

Maria, as she was. She’d never lost that touch of the exotic, would have sold a million packets of cigarettes if they’d stuck her face on the poster. Her skin was the precise colour of cinnamon sticks, nature’s gift for life despite the fact that she’d spent most of her days in Scotland, under white skies.

Maria had passed those traits to Mikey and Ruth, along with bodies made for swimming and a love of all legumes. But they had Chris’s eyes, the pair of them. Restless; searching for whatever was going on behind them; eternally irritated by pollen and serious conversations.

He looked at Maria now, her eyes sealed again with that hard yellow crust. When he’d first arrived he’d tried to scrape it off with his nail, but the nurse had told him to be gentle, brought cotton pads and a little bottle of antiseptic gel, showed him the best way to clean her. He’d done exactly as the nurse said, then felt sick, like an embalmer. But it was still easier than talking to Mateo.

He reached for the pads and gel to keep his hands busy. He flipped the lid open and took a sniff then closed it again and turned the bottle in his hands, feigned interest in the ingredients listed in tiny writing on the label. But they were cheap avoidance tactics, and they failed. He had to call Mateo. Maria would have his number in her mobile.

He got up and went to the wardrobe, pulled out Maria’s running jacket. She’d chosen it specifically for its useful pockets, including a long one in the left arm that perfectly fitted her phone. But it wasn’t where it should be - and that wasn’t like Maria. A place for everything, she always said, and everything in its place. He pulled the jacket off the hanger then started opening other pockets, felt uncomfortable pushing aside paper hankies and receipts for things she’d bought when he wasn’t there. But it paid off. Her phone was tucked into the inside pocket.

The screen was black, and when light hit the shiny surface he could see traces of Maria’s fingerprints; the last places she’d touched.

He couldn’t bear it; pushed the home button to get rid of them. Instead he was asked for a six-digit password. He entered the date of their wedding anniversary but for once Maria had chosen a different combination. He tried again and got the same result.

‘Any ideas what your mum would use for a password?’

Mikey looked up, shrugged. ‘Ruth’s birthday?’

‘Worth a try.’ Chris typed in the date but the screen stayed locked. ‘Any other ideas?’

Mikey sighed. ‘Give it here, Dad.’

He leaned over the bed to take the phone then gently lifted his mum’s hand and pressed her thumb on to the home button.

The screen lit up.

Chris felt a lump in his throat, swallowed hard to flatten it.

The background image on Maria’s phone was an old photo of the four of them - a close-up, but bits of their faces were obscured by icons and by cracks that made jagged webs on the screen. Chris, Maria, Mikey and Ruth, together, but split into pieces. He would not allow it. Chris pushed the contacts icon, started searching for Mateo’s number.

He hadn’t seen or spoken to Maria’s brother for years - in fact, he’d avoided Barcelona altogether since That Day. But he could still picture him. He and Maria looked alike, but Mateo’s skin was dull and waxy and his smile was joyless. The first number Chris found was AaaaaaaaRuth, at the top of Maria’s contact list. Ruth, always number one. He felt the familiar flutter of resentment in his chest, a big red warning flag threatening to unroll. Notice me, it said. Acknowledge me. But Chris was a master of looking the other way.

He kept scrolling, all the way to Z, was surprised Maria had so many contacts he didn’t recognise. They’d be friends from yoga, maybe, or folk from that meditation group she’d started attending on Thursday nights. Whoever they were, they were not Mateo. Talking to his brother-in-law would have to wait.

He went into the settings and changed the PIN number to their wedding anniversary, then put the phone to sleep, and wished again that he could do the same with the memories of That Day fifteen years ago. He and Maria, getting back to Mateo’s flat later than intended, finding empty rooms and an open brandy bottle. Chris remembered the fear that had shredded Maria’s voice when they’d first realised something was wrong: that Ruth was not where she should be.

Ruth, she’d said. Where’s Ruth?

He imagined her saying the same now if she woke up from her coma and realised Ruth wasn’t there. He could avoid calling Mateo, but Ruth needed to know. She’d need to cross the Atlantic to get here and, knowing Ruth, she’d be miles from an airport. But she’d have to start making her way home, right now. He picked up his phone and dialled her number again, trying to ignore the words that clung to the end of every thought in his head.

Before it’s too late...

To continue reading, The Silent Daughter by Emma Christie is currently available from Amazon, in paperback and Kindle editions

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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