The Other Family
By Joanna Trollope
Paperback, 336 pages
List price: $15
Looking back, it astonished her that none of them had broken down in the hospital. Even Dilly, who could be relied on to burst into tears over a shed eyelash, had been completely mute. Chrissie supposed it was shock, literally, the sudden suspension of all natural reactions caused by trauma. And the trauma had actually begun before the consultant had even opened his mouth. They just knew, all four of them, from the way he looked at them, before he said a word. They knew he was going to say, "I'm so very sorry but -," and then he did say it. He said it all the way through to the end, and they all stared at him, Chrissie and the three girls. And nobody uttered a cheep.
Chrissie didn't know how she had got them home. Even though Tamsin and Dilly could drive, it hadn't crossed her mind to hand either of them the car keys. Instead, she had climbed wordlessly into the driver's seat, and Tamsin had got in — unchallenged for once — beside her, and the two younger ones had slipped into the back and even put their seat belts on without being reminded. Unheard of, usually. And Chrissie had started the car and driven them, upright behind the wheel as if she was trying to demonstrate good posture, up Highgate Hill and down the other side towards home, towards the house they had lived in since Amy was born, seventeen years ago.
Of course, there was no parking space directly outside the house. There seldom was, in the evenings, after people got home from work.
Chrissie said, "Oh bother," in an over-controlled, ladylike way, and Dilly said, from the back seat, "There's a space over there, outside the Nelson's," and then nobody spoke while Chrissie manoeuvred the car in, very badly, because they were all thinking how he would have been, had he been there, how he would have said, "Ornamental objects shouldn't be asked to do parking. Gimme the keys," and Chrissie would — well, might, anyway — have laughed and thrown the keys at him ineptly, proving his point, and he'd have inserted the car neatly into an impossible space in no time so that they could all please him by saying, "Show off," in chorus. "I make my living from showing off," he'd say "And don't you forget it."
They got out of the car and locked it and trooped across the road to their own front door. There were no lights on. It had been daylight when they left, and anyway, they were panicking because of the ambulance coming, and his frightening pallor and evident pain, so nobody thought of the return, how the return might be. Certainly, nobody had dared to think that the return might be like this.
Chrissie opened the front door, while the girls huddled behind her in the porch as if it was bitterly cold and they were desperate to get into the warmth. It occurred to Chrissie, irrelevantly, that she should have swept the leaves out of the porch, that it badly needed redecorating, that it had needed re-decorating for years and Richie had always said that his granny, in North Shields on Tyneside, had scrubbed her front doorstep daily — except for Sundays — on her hands and knees. Daily. With a brush and a galvanised bucket.
Chrissie took the keys out of the door, and dropped them. Tamsin leaned over her mother's bent back and switched on the hall lights. Then they all pushed past and surged down the hall to the kitchen, and Chrissie straightened up, with the keys in her hand and tried to put them into the door's inside lock and found she was shaking so badly that she had to hold her right wrist with her left hand, in order to be steady enough.
Then she walked down the hall, straight down, not looking in at the sitting room and certainly not in at his practise room, where the piano sat, and the dented piano stool, and the framed photographs and the music system and the racks and racks of CD's and the certificates and awards and battered stacks of old sheet music he would never throw away. She paused in the kitchen doorway. All the lights were on and so was the radio, at once, KISS FM or something, and the kettle was whining away and all three girls were scattered about, all separately, and they were all now crying and crying.
Excerpted from The Other Family by Joanna Trollope. Copyright 2010 by Joanna Trollope. Excerpted by permission of Touchstone.