Lady Astor: “Winston, if I were your wife I’d put poison in your coffee.”
Winston Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband I’d drink it.”
Alison watched the powder dissolve into David’s tea with grim satisfaction. David liked his tea milky. He would never tell the difference.
“How’s the tea?” he called from the other room.
“On the way,” she shouted back.
It was taking too long. She thrust a teaspoon into the mound of toxic grains and swirled it out of existence. Stirling silver clinked against bone china. She carefully put the spoon aside and replaced it with an identical one from the drawer. Then she stirred her own.
She eyed the cups in front of her. Was it fully dissolved? It was impossible to tell; they both looked the same. God, if he noticed any stray powder floating on the surface-
“I’m waiting,” he said from behind her.
She jumped. The teaspoon flew out of her hand and clattered into the sink, leaving a trail of pale spots across the counter.
David grunted. “Forget it. I’ll get it myself.” He reached across and grabbed the nearest cup of tea. “Not enough milk again. How many times do I have to tell you? Three teaspoons.”
“This one’s yours.” She quickly gestured to the other cup. “I made it the way you like.”
But he had already raised her cup to his lips.
“Sweet Mother Mary, that’s hot,” he said. He put the teacup down. “Well, I’ve already started on this one, now. And I suppose this isn’t the worst tea we’ve ever had. Though it’s certainly not good.”
“You make it sound as if you know anything about tea. I’m the only one in this house who can make it,” she snapped.
“And a right shame that is,” he fired back. “Seven years down the line, am I wrong to expect my wife to make me a good cup of tea? That’s not too much to ask, is it?”
Despite herself, Alison raised her voice. “Yes, whenever you ask I should be at your beck and call, but if, God forbid, I would like some tea, then it’s always “I’m tired from work” or “I don’t have time” or the best of the lot, “that’s a woman’s job”. Is it clear how one-sided this is? Can I not ask you to make me tea on occasion?”
Infuriatingly, he took another sip before replying. “Yes, it is one-sided. I work myself to the bone for you and Declan, and what do I get in return? Whatever this piss-water is supposed to be.”
“I’ve suffered too. Or have you forgotten?” She pulled up her shirt and looked down at the scars tracing across her abdomen, the stretch marks on her belly.
He didn’t follow her gaze.
“Oh, yes. I thought so. You have forgotten what my body looks like.”
“Fine. That’s enough.” He turned away and took another sip. “Why do you have to make me feel guilty at every possible opportunity? I didn’t ask for it to happen.” He picked up the other cup and saucer. “Come, have some tea. It’s getting cold.”
By instinct, Alison moved to take the cup. Then she remembered herself and shook her head. “You’ve ruined my mood,” she said, pushing past him into the lounge.
“There we are again. Your mood.” He set the other cup back on the counter and trailed her out of the kitchen, his own saucer in hand. “What is it about this life that depresses you so, Alison? Where have I gone wrong?”
She marched past the TV, which blared a sitcom with a hideously incongruent laughter track. She flipped on the hallway light and her shadow appeared, joining David in silent imitation. She reached the bathroom, pulled out a bottle of pills from the medicine cabinet, and rattled them in his face.
“These are what keep me alive, dear. But I’m sorry that my moods are so incredibly troublesome for you. I promise you: I’m not depressed by choice.”
He scowled. “I didn’t mean it like that. It just bothers me that you play your victim card in every situation, whenever it pleases you, and somehow that gives you the moral high ground.”
“That’s because I am a victim,” Alison replied.
“I’m a victim too,” David insisted. “You have no idea how hard it is to work 10-hour shifts all the time. If you can’t see why I’m too tired to make you some tea, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve-”
He cut off at the sudden sound of TV static. Declan was in the lounge, fiddling with the remote again. A moment later it was replaced by cartoons chortling in the background.
David jabbed a finger at her, continuing in a furious whisper. “I’ve made sacrifices too.”
“You weren’t the one who sacrificed their body and health for Declan,” she whispered back. “And my job is a lot more stressful than yours, even if I work less. All you do is sit on your arse in front of a bloody computer all day. What about that is so exhausting?”
“I don’t believe this,” he snarled, before sweeping out of the bathroom and down the hallway. Now it was Alison’s turn to trail behind. He continued to sip the tea as he drifted onto the porch. He stood with his back to her, looking out at the empty street where street lights feebly penetrated the night. Today the darkness felt cool and welcoming.
“You shouldn’t have given him so many lollies and sweets when he was younger,” said David finally, still facing away. “You and your mother. Constantly interfering. She always has to pretend she knows better than she really does.”
For a single, mid-breath moment, Alison was speechless. “What?”
He turned around and glared at her. “You knew being premature made him more likely to be diabetic. Which part of the doctor’s instructions were so difficult to understand? No lollies. No sugary drinks. Now he has to live with those awful injections for the rest of his life. Or he’ll die. They don’t come cheap, either. The blame lies with the both of you.”
“You bastard.” She came forward with wide, murderous eyes, and poked a finger into his chest. “How dare you. My mother has only wanted the best for Declan - and, may I add - she’s present in his life, unlike your mother. And his condition is bad luck, nothing else. I just want him to enjoy his childhood and live a normal life. Does that sound so awful?”
“That’s not what it is at all. You’re just like your mother: you think you know best, and because of that you can’t follow instructions. Even simple things. Like no sweets, or three teaspoons of milk.” He sipped again.
“He’s my child. I do know best.” She punctuated each word with a poke in his sternum.
“Our child,” David replied.
A moment passed in which they looked at each other with such ferocity that she feared they might come to blows. Then the corner of his mouth curved upwards slightly; the fool thought he’d had the last word. He was halfway back into the house when restraint failed her.
“I know about Miranda,” she said.
His step stuttered, but he kept walking.
She raised her eyebrows in astonishment. She followed him back inside, doing her best to steady her trembling hands. He strode so fast into their bedroom that she nearly jogged to keep up. The exertion laboured her breathing and drew little beads of sweat on her temple.
“Did you hear what I said? I know about Miranda,” she repeated. She shut the door behind her and sat on the bed, head in her hands.
His shoulders were slumped now. Yet his eyes maintained the same incandescent rage from moments earlier.
“What exactly do you know?” he said.
She felt a pang of sorrow at the memory of all the sordid details, but it was quickly swept away by her fury when he took another pointed sip and waited for her answer.
She scoffed. “I know you’re not a faithful husband. And that’s all I need to know. I can’t imagine the kind of person you’ve become if you have the gall to complain about how long you’ve been working when half of that time is spent fucking the latest bimbo at the office.”
“It’s not like that,” he murmured.
“What is it like, then? Am I not good enough for you anymore?” She pulled up her shirt again. “Is it because of this? Tell me, David.”
He looked down, gripping the teacup awkwardly. Then he looked back at her with a strangely intense expression she couldn’t read.
“And what about Declan?” she continued. “What was your plan, since you’ve suddenly decided to aim for father of the year? Were you going to divorce me, take Declan and live with her? Because I promise you, I would never let that happen.”
“Yes, I know,” David said. He set the teacup down and looked deep into Alison’s eyes. “Is that why you're trying to poison me?”
All of the colour drained from her face. “I - no. I wasn’t… You took…” she spluttered.
His expression was grim. “Yes. I took the wrong cup. But, Alison, I’m not sure the other cup would have killed me anyway. Like I said, you’re no bloody good at-”
They both spun at the sound of the bedroom door creaking open.
“Mummy, my tummy hurts,” said Declan.
He was standing in the doorway with a wet, half-eaten biscuit in one chubby little hand. In the other was a half-full bone china teacup.