Home > Big Little Lies(5)

Big Little Lies(5)
Liane Moriarty

4.

Jane had brought along a book to read in the car while Ziggy was doing his kindergarten orientation, but instead she accompanied Madeline Martha Mackenzie (it sounded like the name of a feisty little girl in a children’s book) to a beachside café called Blue Blues.

The café was a funny little misshapen building, almost like a cave, right on the boardwalk next to Pirriwee Beach. Madeline hobbled along in bare feet, leaning heavily and unselfconsciously on Jane’s shoulder as if they were old friends. It felt intimate. She could smell Madeline’s perfume, something citrusy and delicious. Jane hadn’t been touched much by other grown-ups in the last five years.

As soon as they opened the door of the café, a youngish man came out from behind the counter, his arms outstretched. He was dressed all in black, with curly blond surfer hair and a stud in the side of his nose. “Madeline! What’s happened to you?”

“I am gravely injured, Tom,” said Madeline. “And it’s my birthday.”

“Oh, calamity,” said Tom. He winked at Jane.

While Tom settled Madeline in a corner booth, bringing her ice wrapped in a tea towel and propping her leg up on a chair with a cushion, Jane took in the café. It was “completely charming,” as her mother would have said. The bright blue uneven walls were lined with rickety shelves filled with secondhand books. The timber floorboards shone gold in the morning light, and Jane breathed in a heady mix of coffee, baking, the sea and old books. The front of the café was all open glass, and the seating was arranged so that wherever you sat you faced the beach, as if you were there to watch the sea perform a show. As Jane looked around her, she felt that dissatisfied feeling she often experienced when she was somewhere new and lovely. She couldn’t quite articulate it except with the words If only I were here. This little beachside café was so exquisite, she longed to really be there—except, of course, she was there, so it didn’t make sense.

“Jane? What can I get you?” said Madeline. “I’m buying you coffee and treats to thank you for everything!” She turned to the fussing barista. “Tom! This is Jane! She’s my knight in shining armor. My knight-ess.”

Jane had driven Madeline and her daughter to the school, after first nervously parking Madeline’s massive car in a side street. She’d taken a spare booster seat from the back of Madeline’s car for Chloe and put it in the back of her own little Honda, next to Ziggy.

It had been a project. A tiny crisis overcome.

It was a sad indictment of Jane’s mundane life that she’d found the whole incident just a little bit thrilling.

Ziggy too had been wide-eyed and self-conscious at the novelty of having another child in the backseat with him, especially one as effervescent and charismatic as Chloe. The little girl had chatted nonstop the whole way, explaining everything Ziggy needed to know about the school, and who the teachers would be, and how they had to wash their hands before they went into the classroom, with just one paper towel, and where they sat to have their lunch, and how you weren’t allowed peanut butter, because some people had allergies and could die, and she already had her lunch box, and it had Dora the Explorer on it, and what did Ziggy’s lunch box have on it?

“Buzz Lightyear,” Ziggy had answered promptly, politely, and completely untruthfully, as Jane hadn’t bought his lunch box yet, and they hadn’t even discussed the need for a lunch box. He was in day care three days a week at the moment, and meals were provided. Packing a lunch box was going to be new for Jane.

When they got to the school, Madeline had stayed in the car while Jane took the children in. Actually, Chloe had taken them in, marching along in front of them, tiara gleaming in the sunlight. At one point Ziggy and Jane had exchanged looks as if to say, Who are these marvelous people?

Jane had been mildly nervous about Ziggy’s orientation morning and conscious of the fact that she would need to hide her nerves from Ziggy, because he was prone to anxiety. It had felt like she was starting a new job: her job as a primary school mother. There would be rules and paperwork and procedures to learn.

However, walking into school with Chloe was like arriving with a golden ticket. Two other mothers immediately accosted them, “Chloe! Where’s your mum?” Then they introduced themselves to Jane, and Jane had a story to tell about Madeline’s ankle, and next thing, the kindergarten teacher, Miss Barnes, wanted to hear, and Jane found herself the center of attention, which was quite pleasant, to be honest.

The school itself was beautiful, perched at the end of the headland, so that the blue of the distant ocean seemed to be constantly sparkling in Jane’s peripheral vision. The classrooms were in long, low sandstone buildings and the leafy-treed playground seemed to be full of enchanting secret spots to encourage the imagination: cubbyholes in between trees, sheltered pathways, even a tiny, child-sized maze.

When she’d left, Ziggy had been walking into a classroom hand in hand with Chloe, his little face flushed and happy, and Jane had walked outside to her car, feeling flushed and happy herself, and there was Madeline in the passenger seat, waving and smiling delightedly, as if Jane were her great friend, and Jane had felt a lessening of something, a loosening.

Now she sat next to Madeline in Blue Blues and waited for her coffee to arrive, watching the water and feeling the sunshine on her face.

Maybe moving here was going to be the beginning of something, or the end, which would be even better.

“My friend Celeste will be here soon,” said Madeline. “You might have seen her at the school, dropping off her boys. Two little blond ruffians. She’s tall, blond, beautiful and flustered.”

“I don’t think so,” said Jane. “What’s she got to be flustered about if she’s tall, blond and beautiful?”

“Exactly,” said Madeline, as if that answered the question. “She’s got this equally gorgeous, rich husband too. They still hold hands. And he’s nice. He buys me presents. Honestly, I have no idea why I stay friends with her.” She looked at her watch. “Oh, she’s hopeless. Always late! Anyway, I’ll interrogate you while we wait.” She leaned forward and gave her full attention to Jane. “Are you new to the peninsula? I don’t know your face at all. With kids the same age you’d think we would have run into each other at GymbaROO or story hour or whatever.”

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