What if Emma isn’t the person she thought she was?
Her younger son has just been diagnosed with autism.
She’s accidentally quit her job.
The marriage she was dedicated to suddenly seems like a sham.
She’s pretty sure that she is going to have an affair with a hot new dad at the school.
The only thing that stays the same is everyone else. Emma realises it’s not them – it’s her. But if she’s not who she thought she was, can her old life fit in with the new Emma?
‘Mum?’ Jack stopped stirring his Coco Pops and stared at the plumber. Chocolate milk dripped from his spoon and Jack blotted it with the forearm of his sweatshirt. ‘Mum, why is that man so ugly?’
The moment hung, poised, like the one droplet of brown milk about to plop off the edge of the table.
Of course, it had to happen now; on a Monday morning when I hadn’t engaged my brain and there was breakfast to finish, teeth and hands to clean and bags to gather before school. And it would be this particular Monday morning, September 14th. The date that had been eyeballing me from the calendar for weeks. At least Freddie, our teenager, had already taken himself off to school. He would have cackled with loud, delighted laughter and made the whole thing twice as bad.
If that was possible.
What were the options?
Plan One: ignore the question and move on. But eight-year-old Lily was rigid with appalled fascination and the plumber was staring at me in mute humiliation, so this was unlikely to do the trick.
Plan Two: the whispered apology. ‘So sorry. Jack tends to blurt stuff out. Tells you how it is.’ No. No. Definitely not an option. Jack was right; the plumber was – how could I put this nicely? – aesthetically challenged. Bald pate. Receding chin. Protruding teeth. How on earth could I say anything without making it twice as bad?
Plan Three: ‘Jack, sweetie,’ I said. ‘You must stop calling everyone ugly. It’s getting very boring.’
That was quite clever.
But Jack just screwed up his face. ‘Don’t lie, Mum,’ he said. ‘I’ve never said it before.’
The plumber gave us all a ‘look’ and went upstairs without a backward glance.
There was no Plan Four.
It was all going to be OK. We’d get through this, just like we got through everything else. Together…
‘Don’t forget weekends away,’ I said. ‘I’m thinking Paris. Special Mummy and Daddy time.’
‘That’s my girl,’ said Daniel with a grin. He pulled me closer and kissed me lightly on the lips. ‘Special Mummy and Daddy time sounds exactly what the doctor ordered.’
‘What’s special Mummy and Daddy time?’ asked Jack, cramming in a handful of chips.
Daniel and I shared a conspiratorial smile. ‘It’s just an expression, Jacko,’ I said.
‘Something that will help us beat that statistic,’ added Daniel, nuzzling against my neck.
Daniel didn’t answer. I felt his arm stiffen against my shoulder.
‘What statistic?’ I persisted, pulling away to look at him.
‘Nothing,’ said Daniel. ‘Talk about ruining a lovely moment.’ He gave an embarrassed little laugh and started singing. ‘And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid…’
The first chill of unease ran up my spine. ‘Tell me, Dan,’ I said. ‘Please.’
We both glanced at Jack, who had lost interest in the conversation and was fiddling with Dan’s iPhone. We turned back to each other.
‘OK,’ said Daniel. ‘But I promise it’s nothing. I read somewhere that 80 per cent of marriages with an autistic child break up before the child is sixteen.’
‘Was that in these leaflets?’ I asked incredulously. Talk about a double whammy. Your child is on the spectrum and…
‘No, no. Online somewhere.’
‘Where online? What were the sources?’
‘I don’t know. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. It’s clearly bollocks.’
And yet he’d stored the information. Mentioned it.
Suddenly his arm wasn’t so reassuring. It might not be able to protect us, after all.
Maybe it might not all be all right.
Thank you, Kirsten Hesketh and Love Books Group
About the author
Kirsten has a background in advertising and now runs her own consultancy specialising in psychological interviewing and focus groups. Over the past 25 years, she has interviewed the Great British public on everything from Rolos to razors and vacuums to Viagra.
Kirsten is married with a son and a daughter and two exceptionally fluffy moggies. She is a keen amateur archaeologist and loves to spend her weekends hacking through the mud on a local Roman dig. She is also a staunch supporter of Wycombe Wanderers – especially when they are winning!