Chapter 9 - Zoe
On my lunch break, after minutes of rehearsing in my head, I decided to make the call. After a couple of rings, her cheery voice answered, “Zoe dear, how are you holding up?”
“Okay, thanks. I’m actually back at work today. Fancied the distraction. How are you?”
Caitlyn was my mum’s sister. They could have been twins they sounded so alike. I braced myself for it, gripping the phone tight.
“I…I have my moments as we all do. Something happens and I get that urge to call your mother, and then I remember,” I could hear her voice breaking as she spoke. Tears welled up in my eyes at her words. I had to dig deep to keep pushing on.
“I know exactly what you mean. That is kind of why I’m calling you. I was looking through photos of mum and I came across that epic New Year’s Eve party you did back in 2000. Do you remember it?”
I hoped it sounded believable. Deep down, a part of me wanted this conversation to just be that - a trip down memory lane – a simple conversation with my auntie about my mother.
“Oh yes! Gosh, that must have been about 15 years ago. It was some party. Grace was so drunk! Mind you, so was I. What a night. We thought we had our whole lives ahead of us. 5 years later she was diagnosed. Our world as we knew it fell apart.”
The pit in my stomach deepened, and I swallowed my tears. “I know. Life can be so unfair…that’s why I’m trying to focus on my mother at her brightest you know? How was she at the party? Was she... happy?” my voice shook as I spoke.
“She was radiant. The belle of the ball. I remember she wore this strappy, red dress and matching heels. She really was a knockout. We laughed and danced. You, Darcey and Vivienne were giggling in the corner.”
Darcey was Caitlyn’s daughter, my cousin. I felt a pang of guilt as I realised I had barely spoken to her at the funeral. Instead, I was focused on him. At my mother’s funeral, I was focused on him.
“And my father? Where was he?”
“James? Well in all honesty darling he didn’t stay for midnight. Your mother and father argued that night. I have no idea what it was about. I just vividly recall your father storming out, and that’s when Grace began necking the prosecco. According to your mum, they made up the next day.”
My hand reached for my throat as if protesting. I fought against my instincts. “Do you know what time he left?”
“No, sorry dear, I don’t. It was a long time ago.”
When I didn’t reply, couldn’t, she asked a question that nearly broke me. “Is everything alright?”
She worried, like a mother, like my mother. My heart sank. Physically, it weighed me down like a lead ball between my ribs.
“I just wondered, that’s all,” my voice was just a whisper. “Thanks so much for revisiting old times with me Aunt Caitlyn. I have to get back to work now. I’ll be sure to catch up with you and Darcey soon.”
After we said our goodbyes and best wishes, I didn’t know how I’d get through the rest of the shift with a clear head. My mind whirled.
Both times my father went missing. This felt very real now. I think before this point I had my doubts, but now I felt certain. Everything was sliding into place. The late nights, the arguments, the slammed doors. They came rushing back like a tidal wave. The force was so strong, I felt physically sick. I jumped up from my desk, knocking the remnants of my coffee over my keyboard.
“Are you alright?” I heard as I bolted to the toilet, just in time for bile to spill into the bowl.
Beth had followed me in. “I think you should go home Zoe, get some rest. Maybe it is too soon for you to be back.”
I took the afternoon off, and as if no time had passed, reconvened my earlier state by lying back in bed. The unmade duvet had a sickly-sweet smell, like it hadn’t dried properly when I put it on. Unable to muster the strength to change them, I just endured the stench, staring at the ceiling.
A thought haunted my mind, robbing me of sleep; How on earth was I meant to go for tea at my father’s tonight?