“I would’ve had something more exciting for you if I’d known you’d be home,” she says. Click, click, as first one side of the plate’s rim hits the table and then the other, louder than she’d planned. He looks up at her. For the first time she sees their age difference in the small lines around his middle-aged eyes. He looks odd surrounded by his tiny children. He tries to catch her hand, but she moves to sit on the other side of the table.
Bella slides Sally’s peanut butter sandwich across the table on its plate. Their hands touch on the side of the plate and Anthony’s fingers find the crease at the centre of her palm. He frowns at her, a question, and she forces a smile in response.
“Is Charlotte still coming over Mummy?” Thomas says.
Her hands freeze, halfway to her mouth with her sandwich. “No darling.”
“But it’s Wednesday.”
Anthony looks up from feeding Sally. Bella puts her hand on Thomas’ head. Quick learner, already ready for school, his preschool teacher had said. “Yes, it is. But Charlotte can’t come today. She has to work.”
“Will you go to the library another day?” Bella’s eyes feel dry, she didn’t know how he knew — he must have overheard her and Charlotte. Thomas feels the extra weight in his mother’s hand and looks at his plate, sensing he has said the wrong thing. Bella feels sick for him, even as she wishes she could feed his words back into his mouth.
“The library?” Anthony says.
That enormous wooden table with the olive-green leather top, the librarian’s matching favourite cardigan; the spines of books paving a seemingly endless path for her walking fingertips.
He blinks at her slowly. She smiles.
“Must be nearly time for you to get back to work.” The scrape of her chair on the kitchen floor is loud. She lifts Sally from him lap. “Don’t go back hungry.” Anthony’s sandwich is still untouched.
They sit in silent, Thomas looking at his plate. Anthony watches Bella feed Sally the rest of her sandwich, his chewing slow, automatic.
Late again! Sigh. But this is my submission for this month’s Monday Project theme. This is obviously incomplete — it’s a very small part of a short story I’m working on at the moment. The story is far from finished (unfortunately, I have to hand it in for uni next Tuesday) so I’m only sharing a tiny piece. Any feedback would be more than welcome!