Home > Big Little Lies(15)

Big Little Lies(15)
Liane Moriarty

“Get off, Ziggy, I can’t breathe!” she’d been trying to say, but he’d stopped smiling and was studying her with benign interest, as if he were performing a scientific experiment.

She put her hand to her neck and took big gulps of air.

It was just a dream. Dreams mean nothing.

Ziggy was in bed with her. His warm back pressed against her. She turned around to face him and put a fingertip to the soft, fragile skin just above his cheekbone.

He went to bed each night in his own bed and woke up each morning in with her. Neither of them ever remembered how he got there. Maybe it’s magic, they decided. “Maybe a good witch carries me in each night,” Ziggy said, wide-eyed but with a bit of a grin, because he only half believed in all that kind of stuff.

“He’ll just stop one day,” Jane’s mother said whenever Jane mentioned that Ziggy still came into her bed each night. “He won’t be still doing it when he’s fifteen.”

There was a new freckle on Ziggy’s nose Jane hadn’t noticed before. He had three freckles on his nose now. They formed the shape of a sail.

One day a woman would lie in bed next to Ziggy and study his sleeping face. There would be tiny black dots of whiskers across his upper lip. Instead of those skinny little boy shoulders, he’d have a broad chest. What sort of man would he be?

“He’s going to be a gentle, lovely man, just like Poppy,” her mother would say adamantly, as if she knew this for an absolute fact.

Jane’s mother believed Ziggy was her own beloved father, reincarnated. Or she pretended to believe this, anyway. Nobody could really tell how serious she was. Poppy had died six months before Ziggy was born, right when Jane’s mother had been halfway through reading a book about a little boy who was supposedly a reincarnated World War II fighter pilot. The idea that her grandson might actually be her dad had gotten stuck in her head. It had helped with her grieving.

And of course, there was no son-in-law to offend with talk that his son was actually his wife’s grandfather.

Jane didn’t exactly encourage the reincarnation talk, but she didn’t discourage it either. Maybe Ziggy was Poppy. Sometimes she could discern a faint hint of Poppy in Ziggy’s face, especially when he was concentrating. He got the same puckered forehead.

Her mother had been furious when Jane called to tell her what had happened at the orientation day.

“That’s outrageous! Ziggy would never choke another child! That child has never harmed a fly. He’s just like Poppy. Remember how Poppy couldn’t bear to swat a fly? Your grandma would be dancing about, yelling, ‘Kill it, Stan! Kill the damned thing!’”

There had been silence then, which meant that Jane’s mother had been felled by an attack of the giggles. She was a silent giggler.

Jane had waited it out, until her mother finally got back on the phone and said shakily, “Oh, that did me good! Laughter is wonderful for the digestion. Now, where were we? Oh yes! Ziggy! That little brat! Not Ziggy, of course, the little girl. Why would she accuse our darling Ziggy?”

“I don’t know,” said Jane. “But the thing is, she didn’t seem like a brat. The mother was sort of awful, but her daughter seemed nice. Not a brat.”

She could hear the uncertainty in her voice, and her mother heard it too.

“But darling, you can’t possibly think Ziggy really tried to choke another child?”

“Of course not,” Jane had said, and changed the subject.

She readjusted her pillow and wriggled into a more comfortable position. Maybe she could go back to sleep. “Ziggy will have you up at the crack of dawn,” her mother had said, but Ziggy didn’t seem overly excited about Christmas this year, and Jane wondered if she’d failed him in some way. She often experienced an uneasy sense that she was somehow faking a life for him, giving him a pretend childhood. She tried her best to create little rituals and family traditions for birthdays and holidays. “Let’s put your stocking out now!” But where? They’d moved too often for there to be a regular spot. The end of his bed? The door handle? She floundered about, and her voice became high and strained. There was something fraudulent about it. The rituals weren’t real like they were in other families where there was a mum and a dad and at least one sibling. Sometimes she felt like Ziggy might be just going along with it for her sake, and that he could see right through her, and he knew he was being shortchanged.

She watched the rise and fall of his chest.

He was so beautiful. There was no way he hurt that little girl and lied about it.

But all sleeping children were beautiful. Even really horrible children probably looked beautiful when they slept. How could she know for sure that he hadn’t done it? Did anyone really know their child? Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you. New personality traits could appear overnight.

And then there was . . .

Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

The memory fluttered like a trapped moth in her mind.

It had been trying so hard to escape ever since the little girl had pointed at Ziggy. The pressure on Jane’s chest. Terror rising, flooding her mind. A scream trapped in her throat.

The bruises were black, purple and red.

“She’s going to have bruises!” the child’s mother had said.

No, no, no.

Ziggy was Ziggy. He could not. He would not. She knew her child.

He stirred. His blue-veined eyelids twitched.

“Guess what day it is,” said Jane.

“Christmas!” shouted Ziggy.

He sat up so fast, the side of his head slammed violently against Jane’s nose and she fell back against the pillow, tears streaming.

Thea: I always thought there was something not quite right about that child. That Ziggy. Something funny about his eyes. Boys need a male role model. I’m sorry, but it’s a fact.

Stu: Bloody hell, there was a lot of fuss about that Ziggy kid. I didn’t know what to believe.

11.

Do you fly as high as this plane, Daddy?” asked Josh. They were about seven hours into their flight from Vancouver back home to Sydney. So far so good. No arguments. They’d put the boys on either side of them in separate window seats and Celeste and Perry were in adjacent aisle seats.

“Nope. Remember I told you? I have to fly really low to avoid radar detection,” said Perry.

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