An extract from Karen Angelico’s debut novel, Everything We Are, published by Phoenix Books, Orion, in August 2022
Sarah remembers the first time Luke didn’t come home. They had only been married a year and he hadn’t done anything like that before. As the hours went by, her anger had turned to dread and then to panic. She left several voicemails, sent dozens of messages, which left her cringing with embarrassment when she reread them.
Last night, he did at least come home, even if it was nearly morning.
She finishes dressing and goes into the en suite. The hand towels hang unevenly, and she adjusts them to make a perfect line. She wipes a stray hair from the sink and as she brushes her teeth, she tells herself that his excessive drinking comes and goes in cycles. He needs to let off steam every now and again. After all, he’s been under such enormous pressure, being so stressed about work. And this time of year is never easy for him.
As she turns to go out, she almost collides with Luke, who is out of bed now and rushing towards the toilet. He kneels, retching and vomiting. After flushing, he drops the lid and sits on it, holding a length of toilet roll. He looks tired and pale. He says it’s food poisoning.
‘You should check with Geoff, see if any of the others got ill,’ she says, leaning against the door frame. She knows he is sick from too much drink, but she wants to see what he will say. He doesn’t respond.
‘And you should call the restaurant to let them know. They can shut places down. Where did you say you went?’
‘I can’t remember what it’s called,’ he says. ‘Some place out Clapham way.’
He blows his nose.
‘I thought you said you weren’t going to drink. You were driving, Luke . . .’ She mustn’t say anything more.
He got really cross with her last time.
‘I didn’t drink,’ he says.
He goes over to the sink and splashes cold water on his face, pats it dry on a towel, ruining the neat line. There’s an acrid waft of him as he goes back into the bedroom. Stale alcohol. Cigarettes. She imagines a dark place with sofas, thumping music, girls wearing miniskirts, bare legs without a blemish.
‘So, the fact that you stink of booze is my imagination, is it?’ She follows him. ‘I’m not stupid, you know.’
He climbs into bed, drags the duvet right up, covering his head completely. She stands beside him, her hands on her hips. There’s a fist in her chest.
‘You could’ve been pulled over, or worse, and did you even think about today and the fact that I’ll have to lie to your friends, cancel the weekend because you . . .’ She swallows. ‘God Luke, this has to stop.’
He pokes his head out and tucks the duvet under his chin. ‘I only had a couple when I got back, to settle my stomach.’
She can’t listen to his lies a minute longer. ‘I’ve got to go,’ she says. ‘The children are waiting.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he says, quickly. ‘I really am. Please don’t go. I’ve ruined our weekend, haven’t I?’ His hand reaches out from under the duvet. ‘Don’t be mad at me, darling. I can’t bear it.’
She sits on the bed, lets him take her hand.
‘I’m not mad,’ she says. ‘But I should be. I’m just sad.’
He tells her how much he loves her, promises he didn’t drink and drive. It was the seafood, he says, he should never have had seafood. He sits up and cups her face in his hands.
‘My darling, I’m so sorry,’ he says.
And despite the fact that he’s the one apologising, he’s the one reaching out, she still has that awful feeling. Like he’s a balloon in the wind and she’s gripping the string.
Downstairs in the hall, Zac and Lucy already have their shoes on. They are glaring at each other as if they have been arguing. Sarah grabs her bag and tells them to get in the car, says they both have to sit in the back, and she doesn’t want any bickering.
In the car, Zac pinches his sister. Lucy punches him in the arm.
‘You’re wrong,’ he hisses. ‘She said jammy dodgers.’
‘No, she didn’t.’
‘Yes, she did.’
‘She won’t buy you anything if you keep behaving like a baby,’ Lucy says.
‘She said it was my turn to choose,’ Zac says. He pinches his sister again.
Sarah reaches back, the seat belt cutting into her neck. ‘Are you talking about Grandma?’ she says, yanking Zac’s hand away.
Brown and green eyes stare back, unblinking.
‘Do you remember what I told you both? Do you? Now stop arguing.’
‘Sorry,’ Zac says. He looks just like his father when he says sorry.
Sarah turns to the front, ignoring the urge to return to the house. Why does it feel as if something bad is happening?
She starts the car and turns the radio on, searches for an upbeat song.