TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012
She knew she was going to cry. She could feel it welling up, thickening her throat so she couldn't speak, and went to sit on the bed for a minute to postpone it. Angela needed to be on her own when it came. She'd tried to fight it over the years—she never cried, normally. She wasn't the sentimental sort—nursing and living the army life had trained that out of her a long time ago.
But March 20 every year was the exception. It was Alice's birthday, and she would cry. A private moment. She wouldn't dream of doing it in front of anyone, like the people who stood there and wept in front of cameras. She couldn't imagine what it felt like, to be on show like that. And the television people kept on filming as though it was some sort of entertainment.
"They should turn off the camera," she'd said to Nick, but he'd just grunted and kept on watching.
It made her feel uncomfortable but apparently lots of people liked it. The sort of people who tried to be part of everything in the news.
Anyway, she didn't think anyone would understand why she was still crying all these years later. Decades later. They'd probably say she'd hardly known the baby. She'd had less than twenty-four hours with her.
"But she was part of me. Flesh of my flesh," she told the skeptics in her head. "I've tried to let go but..."
The dread would begin in the days before the baby's birthday and she'd get flashbacks to the silence. That bone-chilling silence in the empty room.
Then, on the day, she would usually wake up with a headache, would make breakfast, and try to act normally until she was alone. This year, she was talking to Nick in the kitchen about the day ahead. He'd been complaining about the mountain of paperwork he had to deal with and about one of the new lads in the stores who kept taking days off sick.
He ought to retire. He could have done it two or three years ago. But he can't let go of the business. Neither of us can let go of things, I suppose. He says he needs a purpose, a routine. He doesn't give any sign that he knows what day this is.
Nick used to remember—in the early days. Of course he did. It was never far from anyone's thoughts.
People in the street used to ask about their baby. People they didn't know from Adam would come up to them, squeeze their hands, and look tearful. But that was then. Nick was hopeless with dates—deliberately, Angela thought. He couldn't even remember their other children's birthdays, let alone Alice's. And she'd stopped reminding him. She couldn't bear the flash of panic in his eyes as he was forced to revisit that day. It was kinder if she did the remembering on her own.
Nick kissed her on the top of her head as he left for work. And, when the door closed behind him, Angela sat on the sofa and let herself cry.
• • •
She'd tried to train herself to put the memories away. There wasn't much help at the beginning. Just the family doctor—poor old Dr. Earnley—who'd patted her shoulder or knee and said: "You will get through this, my dear."
Then, later, support groups, but she'd got tired of hearing her own and other people's misery. She felt they were just circling the pain, prodding at it, inflaming it, and then crying together. She upset the group when she announced that she'd discovered it didn't help to know other people hurt, too. It didn't take away her own grief, just added layers to it, somehow. She'd felt guilty, because when she'd been a nurse and someone had died, she used to give the grieving family a leaflet on bereavement.
I hope it helped them more than it did me, she said to herself as she got off the sofa. Mustn't be bitter. Everyone did what they could.
In the kitchen, she filled the sink with water and started preparing vegetables for a casserole. The water was too cold and numbed her hands so she found it hard to hold the knife, but she continued to scrape mechanically at the carrots.