Home > Big Little Lies(13)

Big Little Lies(13)
Liane Moriarty

Madeline bristled. She was only trying to help! And “mind your own beeswax” was such a profoundly geeky thing to say. Ever since the conflict over the theater excursion for the gifted and talented children last year, she and Renata had been tetchy with each other, even though they were ostensibly still friends.

Madeline actually liked Renata, but right from the beginning there had been something competitive about their relationship. “See, I’m just the sort of person who would be bored out of my mind if I had to be a full-time mother,” Renata would say confidentially to Madeline, and that wasn’t meant to be offensive because Madeline wasn’t actually a full-time mother, she worked part-time, but still, there was always the implication that Renata was the smart one, the one who needed more mental stimulation, because she had a career while Madeline had a job.

It didn’t help that Renata’s older son Jackson was famous at school for winning chess tournaments, while Madeline’s son Fred was famous for being the only student in the history of Pirriwee Public brave enough to climb the giant Moreton Bay Fig tree and then leap the impossible distance onto the roof of the music room to retrieve thirty-four tennis balls. (The Fire Brigade had to be called to rescue him. Fred’s street cred at school was sky-high.)

“It doesn’t matter, Mummy.” Amabella looked up at her mother with eyes still teary. Madeline could see the red finger marks around the poor child’s neck.

“It does matter,” said Renata. She turned to Jane. “Please make your child apologize.”

“Renata,” said Madeline.

“Stay out of it, Madeline.”

“Yes, I don’t think we should get involved Madeline,” said Harper, who was predictably nearby and spent her life agreeing with Renata.

“I’m sorry, but I just can’t make him apologize for something he says he didn’t do,” said Jane.

“Your child is lying,” said Renata. Her eyes flashed behind her glasses.

“I don’t think he is,” said Jane. She lifted her chin.

“I just want to go home now, please, Mummy,” said Amabella. She began to sob in earnest. Renata’s weird-looking new French nanny, who had been silent the whole time, picked her up, and Amabella wrapped her legs around her waist and buried her face in her neck. A vein pulsed in Renata’s forehead. Her hands clenched and unclenched.

“This is completely . . . unacceptable,” Renata said to poor distraught Miss Barnes, who was probably wondering why they hadn’t covered situations like this at teachers college.

Renata leaned down so that her face was only inches away from Ziggy. “If you ever touch my little girl like that again, you will be in big trouble.”

“Hey!” said Jane.

Renata ignored her. She straightened and spoke to the nanny. “Let’s go, Juliette.”

They marched off through the playground, while all the parents pretended to be busy tending to their children.

Ziggy watched them go. He looked up at his mother, scratched the side of his nose and said, “I don’t think I want to come to school anymore.”

Samantha: All the parents have to go down to the police station and make a statement. I haven’t had my turn yet. I feel quite sick about it. They’ll probably think I’m guilty. Seriously, I feel guilty when a police car pulls up next to me at the traffic lights.

8.

Five Months Before the Trivia Night

The reindeers ate the carrots!”

Madeline opened her eyes in the early morning light to see a half-eaten carrot shoved in front of her eyes by Chloe. Ed, who was snoring gently next to her, had taken a lot of time and care last night, gnawing on the carrots to make the most authentic-looking reindeer bites. Chloe was sitting comfortably astride Madeline’s stomach in her pajamas, hair like a mop, big grin, wide-awake shiny eyes.

Madeline rubbed her own eyes and looked at the clock. Six a.m. Probably the best they could hope for.

“Do you think Santa Claus left Fred a potato?” said Chloe hopefully. “Because he’s been pretty naughty this year!”

Madeline had told her children that if they were naughty, Santa Claus might leave them a wrapped-up potato, and they would always wonder what the wonderful gift was that the potato replaced. It was Chloe’s dearest wish for Christmas that her brother would receive a potato. It would probably please her more than the dollhouse under the tree. Madeline had seriously considered wrapping up potatoes for both of them. It would be such an incentive for good behavior throughout the next year. “Remember the potato,” she could say. But Ed wouldn’t let her. He was too damned nice.

“Is your brother up yet?” she said to Chloe.

“I’ll wake him!” shouted Chloe, and before Madeline could stop her she was gone, pounding down the hallway.

Ed stirred. “It’s not morning time, is it? It couldn’t be morning time.”

“Deck the halls with something and holly!” sang Madeline. “Tra la la la la, la la la la!”

“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars if you stop that sound right now,” said Ed. He put his pillow over his face. For a very nice man, he was surprisingly cruel about her singing.

“You don’t have a thousand dollars,” said Madeline, and she launched into “Silent Night.”

Her mobile phone beeped with a text message, and Madeline picked it up from the bedside table while still singing.

It was Abigail. It was Abigail’s year to spend Christmas Eve and morning with her father, Bonnie and her half sister. Skye, who was born three months after Chloe, was a fair-haired, fey little girl who followed Abigail around like an adoring puppy. She also looked a lot like Abigail had when she was a child, which made Madeline feel uneasy, and sometimes teary, as though something precious had been stolen from her. It was clear that Abigail preferred Skye to Chloe and Fred, who refused to idolize her, and Madeline often found herself thinking, But, Abigail, Chloe and Fred are your real brother and sister, you should love them more! which was not technically true. Madeline could not quite believe that all three had equal footing as Abigail’s half siblings.

She read the text: Merry Christmas, Mum. Dad, Bonnie, Skye and me all here at the shelter from 5:30 a.m.! I’ve already peeled forty potatoes! It’s a beautiful experience being able to contribute like this. Feel so blessed. Love, Abigail.

“She’s never peeled a freaking potato in her life,” muttered Madeline as she texted back: That’s wonderful, darling. Merry XMAS to you too, see you soon, xxx!

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