Home > Big Little Lies(6)

Big Little Lies(6)
Liane Moriarty

“We’re moving here in December,” said Jane. “We live in Newtown at the moment, but I decided it might be nice to live near the beach for a while. It was just on a whim, I guess.”

The phrase “on a whim” came to her out of nowhere, and both pleased and embarrassed her.

She tried to make it a whimsical story, as if she were indeed a whimsical girl. She told Madeline that one day a few months back she’d taken Ziggy for a trip to the beach, seen the rental sign outside a block of apartments and thought, Why not live near the beach?

It wasn’t a lie, after all. Not exactly.

A day at the beach, she’d kept telling herself, over and over, as she drove down that long swooping road, as if someone were listening in on her thoughts, questioning her motives.

Pirriwee Beach was one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world! She’d seen that somewhere. Her son deserved to see one of the top ten most beautiful beaches in the world. Her beautiful, extraordinary son. She kept looking at him in the rearview mirror, her heart aching.

She didn’t tell Madeline that, as they’d walked hand in hand back to the car, sandy and sticky, the word “help” screamed silently in her head, as if she were begging for something: a solution, a cure, a reprieve. A reprieve from what? A cure for what? A solution for what? Her breathing had become shallow. She’d felt beads of sweat at her hairline.

Then she’d seen the sign. Their lease at their Newtown apartment was up. The two-bedroom unit was in an ugly, soulless, redbrick block of apartments, but it was only a five-minute walk to the beach. “What if we moved right here?” she’d said to Ziggy, and his eyes had lit up, and all at once it had seemed like the apartment was exactly the solution to whatever was wrong with her. A sea change, people called it. Why shouldn’t she and Ziggy have a sea change?

She didn’t tell Madeline that she’d been taking six-month leases in different rental apartments across Sydney ever since Ziggy was a baby, trying to find a life that worked. She didn’t tell her that, maybe the whole time, she’d been circling closer and closer to Pirriwee Beach.

And she didn’t tell Madeline that, when she’d walked out of the real estate office after signing the lease, she’d noticed for the first time the sort of people who lived on the peninsula—golden-skinned and beach-haired, the sort of people who surfed before breakfast, who took pride in their bodies—and she’d thought of her own pasty white legs beneath her jeans, and then she’d thought of how her parents would feel so nervous driving along that winding peninsula road, her dad’s knuckles white on the steering wheel, except they’d still do it, without complaint, and all at once Jane had been convinced that she’d just made a truly reprehensible mistake. But it was too late.

“So here I am,” she finished lamely.

“You’re going to love it here,” Madeline enthused. She adjusted the ice on her ankle and winced. “Ow. Do you surf? What about your husband? Or your partner, I should say. Or boyfriend? Girlfriend? I am open to all possibilities.”

“No husband,” Jane said. “No partner. It’s just me. I’m a single mum.”

“Are you?” said Madeline, as if Jane had just announced something rather daring and wonderful.

“I am.” Jane smiled foolishly.

“Well, you know, people always like to forget this, but I was a single mother,” said Madeline. She lifted her chin, as if she were addressing a crowd of people who disagreed with her. “My ex-husband walked out on me when my older daughter, Abigail, was a baby. She’s fourteen. I was quite young too, like you. Only twenty-six. Although I thought I was over the hill. It was hard. Being a single mother is hard.”

“Well, I have my mum and—”

“Oh, sure, sure. I’m not saying I didn’t have support. I had my parents to help me too. But my God, there were some nights, when Abigail was sick, or when I got sick, or worse, when we both got sick, and . . . Anyway.” Madeline stopped and shrugged. “My ex is remarried now to someone else. They have a little girl about the same age as Chloe, and Nathan has become father of the year. Men often do when they get a second chance. Abigail thinks her dad is wonderful. I’m the only one left holding a grudge. They say it’s good to let your grudges go, but I don’t know, I’m quite fond of my grudge. I tend it like a little pet.”

“I’m not really into forgiveness either,” said Jane.

Madeline grinned and pointed her teaspoon at her. “Good for you. Never forgive. Never forget. That’s my motto.”

Jane couldn’t tell how much she was joking.

“So what about Ziggy’s dad?” continued Madeline. “Is he in the picture at all?”

Jane didn’t flinch. She’d had five years to get good at it. She felt herself becoming very still.

“No. We weren’t actually together.” She delivered her line perfectly. “I didn’t even know his name. It was a . . .” Stop. Pause. Look away as if unable to make eye contact. “Sort of a . . . one-off.”

“You mean a one-night stand?” said Madeline immediately, sympathetically, and Jane almost laughed out loud with the surprise of it. Most people, especially of Madeline’s age, reacted with a delicate, slightly distasteful expression that said, I get it and I’m cool with it, but I now place you in a different category of person. Jane was never offended by their distaste. She found it distasteful too. She just wanted that particular topic of conversation closed off for good, and most of the time that’s exactly what happened. Ziggy was Ziggy. There was no dad. Move right along.

“Why don’t you just say you split up with the father?” her mother had asked in the early days.

“Lies get complicated, Mum,” said Jane. Her mother had no experience with lies. “This way we just close the conversation down.”

“I remember one-night stands,” said Madeline wistfully. “The things I did in the nineties. Lordy me. I hope Chloe never finds out. Oh, calamity. Was yours fun?”

It took Jane a second to comprehend the question. She was asking if her one-night stand was fun.

For a moment Jane was back in that glass bubble of an elevator as it slid silently up the center of the hotel. His hand around the neck of the champagne bottle. The other hand on her lower back, pulling her forward. They were both laughing so hard. Deep creases around his eyes. She was weak with laughter and desire. Expensive smells.

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