It was a frosty morning and Emmy was walking the baby. The trees were casting shadows across the tow path in the low winter light and it looked like she was walking across a barcode. In, out, in, out. The harsh sunlight was hurting her bleary eyes. She hadn't had much sleep. She'd woken from a dream where someone was crying, to find the baby had been wailing for a while and was becoming more and more insistent. The other side of the bed was empty; Ben must have moved to the spare room some time in the night. Emmy wrapped her scarf closer around her mouth. The cold air was making her chest tight. But the baby seemed fine, cocooned in her blankets.
Ben had gone out, but he'd turned down the heating. Emmy muttered in frustration as she waited for the kettle to boil. Ben could be a bit like that, turning off lights when she was still in the room, using the last teabag without telling her. If she mentioned it he would look at her sort of blankly. He didn't do it on purpose, she told herself, he just was chronically unaware of others. Was it something in his upbringing? But that was a thought better left unthought, filed away in the cupboard at the back of her mind with some others to grow dusty in the dark. She took her mug of hot water and sat on the stairs, watching Elf still sleeping in her pram in the cold, tiled hallway. She'd have to go and buy teabags before Grace got here. Grace was one of Ben's PhD students, and Emmy had befriended her. She probably missed her family in Scotland and seemed to enjoy chatting with Emmy and playing with the baby. Emmy watched as Elf stirred slightly and sucked her thumb. Maybe she could get to the shop and back with her still in the pram before she awoke.
Grace was sitting on the floor tickling the baby's feet.
"That giggle is adorable!" she said. Emmy tried to encourage her to have another biscuit. Grace seemed thinner every time she saw her and it worried her. Today she was wearing a big university hoodie, but Emmy could see how thin her wrists were.
"How's the chapter going?" It seemed easier to ask her obliquely, rather than directly ask if she was undereating due to stress. But Grace was gushing about how helpful the librarian had been in locating a source and how well the chapter was progressing. So, not that then. Elf had managed to grab Grace's sleeve and was trying to put it in her mouth. Grace laughed.
"That was such a cute photo of Elf chewing her giraffe on Ben's Instagram."
"Ben doesn't have Instagram," Emmy replied, puzzled.
Grace paused for a long moment. Her face was slightly shadowed by her dark hair and Emmy couldn't work out what was in her eyes.
"Oh, I must be confused," Grace said, slowly, "He must have just shown me on his phone."
"Wow, that seems so unlike him," Emmy said. "Sometimes I don't think he's that interested in the baby"
Grace reached out, her thin hand on Emmy's arm. "Oh, he loves you and Elf very much," she said earnestly, "I know he does."
Emmy had a gnawing feeling in her stomach. Something was troubling her, unless she was just hungry. She reached for another biscuit. Grace picked up Elf and took her to the window where she pointed out the birds and the bare trees. But Emmy had the feeling Grace kept sneaking glances at her when she wasn't looking. There was something unsaid that Emmy couldn't work out, but it was giving her a headache. Grace gathered her things to leave.
As she walked down the path Emmy called her back.
"Grace! Are you ok? You seem ... stressed, upset."
Grace shook her head, tight lipped.
"If there was something, you could tell me, you know. I'd like to help."
Sudden tears started in Grace's eyes. "I can't," she said, "But thank you. I'm so grateful for your friendship." She went, half running down the path.
Ben's Instagram. Emmy was suddenly unsure. She picked up Elf and started to pace around the empty house, ending up in Ben's study. She didn't come in here very often. Ben left books and papers in piles on the floor and she just left it to him to tidy or clean when he eventually couldn't reach his computer because of the books. She sat in his chair, and swivelled left and right, rocking Elf. She nudged the mouse, switching on the computer screen. It was showing a slideshow of photos. There was their honeymoon, a newborn Elf, that terrible wet holiday in Cornwall, his parents in the garden of their old house. A lake she didn't recognize. Had she been there? The same lake with Ben and a woman. Who was that? Emmy realised it was Rachael, a previous student of Ben's who had sadly dropped out and gone home to her parents. Burnout, or nervous exhaustion, or something like that. Emmy's headache was getting worse. Once she'd settled the baby in her cot, she took some tablets in the bathroom. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and the bright overhead lighting gave her deep shadows under her eyes. In her bedroom, she shut the thick curtains and lay on her bed with a pillow over her head, trying to block out any light. It was the only way to stop a migraine. But the thoughts kept going round her head. Ben's Instagram. He loves you and Elf. Elf and you. He loves you. Ben doesn't have Instagram. He loves you, I know he does.
Emmy sat up, and threw the curtains open. She sat on the bed in the rectangle of light from the window. Scrolling through her phone she found Grace's number and dialled.
"Grace? You can tell me. I want to know."