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to Happen


5 minutes

This isn't the day that he does the thing that will get his picture on the front page of quite a few of the tabloid newspapers and which will even merit a paragraph or two on an inside page of some of the broadsheets—but it's like it in many respects.

Days tend to resemble each another, he's found. He wakes, as usual, at six; just before the alarm. He lies, there, waiting. Sometimes if he's lucky he can snatch a whole five minutes to himself—not sleeping, just thinking. Today, she's already awake. 'Are you getting up, or what?' she says.

So then of course he has to get moving, if he wants to get his shower in before she has hers. As he shaves he can hear her voice, shouting at the kids to hurry up, over the buzz of the electric razor. He cleans his teeth, taking care to spit the foam neatly into the plughole, and to rinse away any traces that remain around the edge of the basin, because otherwise it drives her mad.

In the bedroom, she's already stomping around, pulling out skirts and blouses, and throwing them on the bed. 'You took your time,' she says.

Then she goes to have her shower and he's left to his own devices. Taking a clean shirt from the hanger at his end of the wardrobe, removing his trousers from the trouser-press, his tie from the rack, his jacket from the hanger inside the door.

'Tell those two to get a move on,' she calls to him from the bathroom.

He's dressed by this time, and so he crosses the landing to the girls' room. 

They’re both out of bed: Rachel already dressed and putting her satchel in order; Becky is still in her pyjamas, playing with one of her legion of miniature plastic dolls. He can't resist giving her—Becky, that is—a brief hug, breathing in for an instant her sweet, smoky, baby smell. Straightening up again, he tousles Rachel's hair.

'Daddee!' she says, annoyed in that way that ten year-olds have of being annoyed at everything.

He retreats from the room, holding up his hands as if defending himself from an onslaught. Tells them it's nearly half-past.

'I know, Daddy,' says Rachel, in a voice of infinite patience.

No, it isn't that morning but another that he stands for a moment longer in the doorway, looking in at them, his girls. Fair, slender Rachel—so like her mother at that age—in her neat-as-a-pin new uniform that cost an arm and a leg (although it’s nothing compared to the school fees) and fluffy-haired, seven year-old Becky, his pet, and occasional ally. He loves them to bits. It isn't that day that he kisses them both ('Daddy, don't!') and whispers that they're his own special girls, and that he’ll love them forever. Not then.

Nor is this the occasion that, descending the stairs, he pauses at the top and looks down into the hall—that immaculate, beige-carpeted hall with the see-through plastic runners to keep out the dirt, and the doors opening into all the immaculate rooms. The show-house, it had been when they bought it, and (although they'd had it refurbished from top to bottom since then) it still looks much as it did then—pristine, like a photograph from a catalogue, with its wall-to-wall Berber and apricot tie-back curtains in the front room, its Italian-style vinyl flooring in the kitchen-diner.

Because by this time she's already out of the bathroom and dressed and downstairs ahead of him. He can hear her in the kitchen, banging the plates around. And he remembers, adjusting his tie in front of the hall mirror, that it's one of her days for going into the library, where she's been working since Christmas, and that this will mean she'll be leaving not long after him. So it certainly can't be this morning that he calls to the girls to come and have their breakfast, because he'll be leaving the house in a minute. This morning, he's got time for a piece of toast if he wants it.

She's already had hers, he notices.

Even so, as he goes to drop the soft white slice in the toaster, she feels the need to comment. 'Don't you have to go?’

He replies that his first meeting isn't until nine, and she gives a kind of sniff, conveying that it’s all right for some.

Not that he’s ever put pressure on her to go back to work; it’s been her choice. It’s always been her choice, about everything. And it’s not as if they really need the money. With the hours he’s working at the office, not to mention the extra he’s been earning from the double-glazing sideline, they do all right. They've always done all right.

'Next door have got a new car,' she says, observing this from the kitchen window.

He makes a non-committal sound. He eats his toast. He pours himself a cup of coffee to go with it. He thinks about having a look at the paper, but decides that might be pushing it.

By this time, she's stacking the dishwasher, and telling the girls to hurry up and eat their cereal because she hasn't got all day.

She sends Becky back upstairs to change her top, because she’s dropped milk on it, and she can’t let her out looking like that.

So it can't be this particular day that, having dropped the kids off at school, he circles round in his Audi, and instead of taking his usual direction towards the office, drives back the way he has come.

No, it definitely isn't the day that, after parking a few streets away, he returns on foot to the house, entering by the side-gate instead of using his front-door key and breaking a small pane in the back-door to give the illusion of a forced entry.

It isn't the day that, hearing her voice on the stairs calling out to whoever it is to identify themselves, he takes the hammer from his briefcase—the hammer he is to use with such efficiency in the minutes that follow.

And it isn't the day that the kitchen (where he now sits placidly drinking his coffee) is rendered almost unrecognisable—its immaculate work surfaces spattered and soiled, its spotless floor strewn with scattered kitchen utensils (those utensils which are to become such a feature of the trial, during the forensic expert's demonstration of the difference between smeared and air-borne blood).

It isn't the day. Not yet. But it soon will be. He puts his coffee-cup in the sink, and heads for the door.

'That's right. Leave it for me,' is the last thing he hears her say.

Christina Koning is the award–winning author of seven novels.

Published on April 13, 2016.