“It’s amicable,” she says. Her voice sounds tinny and far away. “It’s just…time to move on.”
We stare at the phone, Mum, Dad and I, as if we’re expecting it to do something surprising. It’s lying on the table, on loudspeaker, at Gemma’s request. She offers us a couple of vague details that tell us precisely nothing, before promising to call again tomorrow. Dad and I are on our feet high-fiving before Mum has even pressed the end call button.
“It’s going to be rough,” says Mum.
Dad digs out a bottle of champagne - I’ve no idea why he had it - and we toast my sister’s impending freedom.
The bubbles loosen our tongues.
“I hate his hairdo,” Dad offers.
“I hate his massive ego,” I snigger. “And his stupid face.”
Mum says quietly, “I hate the way he always puts Gemma down.”
Put Gemma down, I correct. Past tense.
We shake our heads in unison. How does someone like him end up with someone as great as her? Well, I think, he’s not ‘ending up’ with her. He’s ending up without her.
“It’s amicable,” she tells Kelly and John, their couple friends. She’s brought me along for moral support.
“If they’re your friends, you don’t need to be nervous,” I’d told her.
“Yes, but they were his friends first.”
She continues. “I would never ask you to choose.”
Is that a sneer I detect on John’s lips? No, he’s smiling. I must have imagined it. Kelly cocks her head in something resembling pity.
“He told you about Vicky, then?”
Gemma stiffens at my side. She doesn’t speak.
I clear my throat. “Vicky?”
“Oh,” Kelly waves a hand, “forget I said anything.”
My fingers tremble. I clench a fist. “Gemma, do you know about this?”
“I knew there was someone else.” Her voice is practically a whisper. “I didn’t know it was Vicky.”
“I thought you said it was a mutual split.”
John is standing. “Come on, Kell. We should go.”
“But I haven’t finished my Pina Colada!”
But she stands and follows her husband. “Sorry, Gem.”
We watch their backs disappearing into the crowd. The bar is pulsing with bright, shiny people: women in sleek, thigh high dresses, men in well-cut shirts and polished shoes. It’s the sort of place that makes me feel itchy.
Her eyes brim. She nods, fat salty tears dripping onto her cheeks.
Her phone chirps the arrival of a message, too cheerful for the circumstances. She wipes her eyes and picks up her phone.
“It’s him, isn’t it?”
She reads, nods.
I take the phone from her hand.
“We can work this out, right?” I read. “Can I reply?” She frowns and looks away. I take this as a yes. Well, she hasn’t snatched the phone back. “Why don’t you fuck off? Can I send that?”
“Okay.” I delete the missive. “How about ‘why don’t you try working things out with Vicky?’”
She bites her lip. “Yes. Yes, all right. You can send that.”
I do, then I block his number.
“It’s amicable,” she tells the locksmith. “I just want a clean break.”
He smiles kindly. He knows. He’s done this before.
I roll out the futon mattress and throw my sleeping bag on top.
“I’m not scared,” she says.
I pat her arm.
We hunker down for the night. We squabble gently about what to watch on Netflix, settling for something mindlessly Vin Diesel. We eat pizza and wipe our greasy fingers on tea towels. We call Mum and Dad and giggle at Dad’s audible fart and Mum’s resultant tuts. And when I yawn my way towards the futon, she shows me the letter.
“‘Gem, I refuse to throw away eight years of a good thing. You need me: you know you need me. Maybe we needed this to shake things up. You’ve been so distant lately, I just needed some affection. I won’t let this go, Gem.”” I read it again. “Jesus, Gem. Creepy shit.”
“It’s okay. I’m here.”
“It was amicable,” she tells the police officer.
She grips my hand under the table. I stare at her elegant digits, one finger haloed absently by the pale ghost loop. Her hand quivers. I give it a gentle squeeze.
“And these letters?”
I pull the envelope out of my bag, fat with one-sided correspondence.
He sifts through the sheets of paper: scraps torn from the back of a notebook, neatly printed computer paper, onion-skin thin lined paper with heavily pressed scrawl. His brow is furrowed, lips set in a straight line. Occasionally, his mouth forms the shapes of words. I can make some out: break, cut, end and even once amicable.
He sighs. “And you’re getting about two a week of these, you say?”
Gemma is staring at the corner of the table. She nods, head heavy on her grass-stalk thin neck.
The police officer leans across the table, hands spread wide. "Look, writing letters isn't an offence. And they're not overtly threatening." Gemma wilts. "Just let us know if anything else happens, okay?"
“It was amicable,” she wails.
She shreds a tissue into a thousand scraps of confetti. I can’t look at her. I look instead at Mum, hunched over on a green plastic chair. She’s still wearing her coat and it has bunched up around her ears, the fake fur trim reminding me of a lion’s mane. Except she looks like a sad lion, one that was abandoned by the rest of her pride. Dad paces. He’s shaking his head. Muttering.
I push my fingers through my hair.
“We’d like to keep you in one more day. Just for observation.” The young nurse doesn’t make eye contact with any of us.
“Well,” says Dad. His voice is brittle. He stops his pacing and stares out into the clear black night, stars pricking the velvety canvas beyond the window. He is reflected back into the room, a weird, miragey tableau with Gemma upright in the bed taking centre stage. In the reflection, I can’t see the pallet of blues, purples and greys that bloom across her face, or the scorched skin handcuffing her wrists. But my mind can’t unsee them.
“It’s amicable,” I say. “Friendliness, see. An absence of discord.” I laugh. His face tells me he disagrees.
I’m rather enjoying amicably holding this baseball bat over his stupid head and can't wait to bring it down in an amicable way.