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breakfast

She would never forget the moment she’d finally realised. It was a Saturday morning, a few months ago, sunny for once. They’d slept in, tired from the week before. He, with a job in the city, working late on some project, paying the bills, keeping the bosses happy, that sort of thing. She, still on maternity leave, working out how to care for this beautiful, screaming child, her first. Their first. He set the table for breakfast whilst she fetched milk, cereal, toast, black coffee. They always tried to make a bit more of an effort on weekends; a chance to slow the pace.

He’d not been himself, recently. She’d noticed gradually, like the leak in the floor above; not really noticeable at first, something not quite right, then water starting to seep through. She’d put it down to a bad week, then a bad month. They both seemed tired all the time, could never quite get the rest they needed. Things will improve when we’re not being woken every few hours, she thought. Just give him space. But the days turned into weeks, and she began to really worry. Mid-week, she’d been on the phone to a friend, confiding she didn’t know what was happening, what to do. To her surprise, her friend, although clearly concerned, sounded cautious—guarded, almost—as if there were something not being voiced. After putting down the phone, she stared at it in bemusement. And then it hit her. Oh god, he’s having an affair.

She didn’t get much sleep, that night. She lay next to him, staring up at the ceiling. The streetlamp directly outside the window leaked around the edges of the curtain, mixing the shadows with a pool of orange. She couldn’t cry, not at first, but as the hours drew on, the pain in the front of her head started to shift, and tears started to drip noiselessly down her face. Across her cheek, onto the pillow, each tear slightly wetter than the last. Like the ceiling. She fell into some sort of half-awake, half-asleep doze, somehow still aware of the streetlamp outside.

In the morning, she knew what she was going to do. She’d wait until he came home from work that evening, and then confront him. Tell him she knew. Demand that he explain himself. But she suddenly knew she couldn’t wait until evening. He came out of the shower, towel still wrapped around him, about to get dressed for work. He seemed a little surprised to see her in the hallway, leaning against a doorframe for support. Goodness knows what look she had on her face. With nothing like the self-assurance she’d been planning, she somehow found a voice. It didn’t sound like hers; it was smaller and much further away.

He was late for work, that day. At first he’d seemed shocked, then that quickly morphed into anger. That helped her confidence, and she realised that she was angry, too. They both shouted at the same time, standing there in the cramped hallway. The initial fuel burned out, and some listening mixed with the shouting. He swore blind there was no one else. He couldn’t believe she’d even thought it. Didn’t he always come home soon after work? When would he have the time for an affair, anyway? She’d never really known him to lie to her. She was glad to have her suspicions shot to shreds, not least because the more she believed him, the more the dark, drowning sense of guilt grew and grew and strangled her. Yes, she believed him. How could she have even thought such a thing? Where had that thought even come from? How had she even said that? She hated herself.

But all that had been a few days before. They hadn’t exactly said much to each other since, but she was hopeful things would smooth over. Some time together this weekend was what they needed. A chance to relearn how to trust each other. A chance for the immediate rawness in both their minds to fade. They were both just tired, after all. Perhaps work had been tougher than he’d been saying. She poured them each a coffee, and carefully picked up her child out of the cot. They took their place opposite him at the table.

Her child looked so beautiful, so trusting; it made her feel full of love. As she gazed, she was sure she saw what had to be two smiles, first at her, then at him. Her eyes brimmed with tears, but the happy kind. Things would work out; how could they not? She looked at him, expecting their eyes to meet as they shared that unspoken moment. But he hadn’t seen; he was reading something or other on his phone.

The second realisation was even worse than the first, and more permanent. As she sat there, locked in a toxic bubble of thoughts, she felt the life drain out of her. She suddenly couldn’t quite remember how to breathe. There seemed to be something stuck in her throat, strangling her from inside. The pain returned to the front of her head. She struggled against it, feeling her mind forcibly turning to look at some unspeakable horror she could see growing in her peripheral. The swirling of particles taking form. The electrified split-second before lightning strikes.

She’d somehow lost him.