Home > Little Whispers

Little Whispers
Author: K.L. Slater




Four months earlier



Irene places the last items in the box, kisses her own fingers and presses them on top of the contents before closing the lid one last time.

Soon, she will leave this world and its pain and miseries behind and for her, that time can’t come fast enough.

Since she found out about her illness, Irene has done little but debate whether to tell her daughter the truth. She has lurched between feeling sure the past should stay buried to convincing herself that Janey needs to know and she needs to hear it from her own mother, her flesh and blood.

Irene glances down at the box, her breathing ragged, her bony hands shaking and pale. All the answers are here for Janey when she feels ready for them. All Irene needs do now, is to set the ball rolling and tell her everything.

She hears Janey’s footsteps down the hallway and her daughter appears with two mugs of tea.

‘Ready for a cuppa, Mum?’ she says, her voice bright but her face is grey and drawn and tells a different story.

‘Come and sit down beside me, Janey,’ Irene says, her voice like scratchy parchment paper. ‘There’s something you need to know. Something that will change everything.’






When I’m stressed, worried or upset, I clean. Needless to say, with everything that’s been happening over the last few months, my house looks more immaculate than usual. Even though it feels like our lives are falling apart in other ways.

I’ve been cleaning the kitchen for the last hour. Not just a cursory wiping-down of the worktops and mopping the floor; I mean proper grafting. Bottoming out the cupboards, disinfecting the shelves, sorting through the out-of-date jars and throwing half of them away before putting stuff back.

I look at the clock again. Eleven thirty, four minutes later than when I last looked. Rowan will be in his last lesson before lunch, and my husband, Isaac, will probably just have taken his seat in the interview room at the smart glass-fronted offices he texted me a snap of earlier: the regional headquarters of Abacus, an innovative technology firm that reached the Sunday Times Hot New Company Top 100 list last year. A company that has very recently headhunted Isaac and wooed him for interview with a stunning remuneration package.

I scrub harder at a stubborn rusty stain in the cupboard under the sink. I don’t know whether to hope Isaac gets the job or not, and it feels like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, I want life to get back on an even keel after dealing with Mum’s death just four months ago. The thought of Isaac getting a dynamic new job and us moving to a new house in another area, with everything that entails… Well, my heart sinks just thinking about it.

Mum’s death changed me in ways I can’t even put into words. I’ve only told my husband the bare bones of it so far, although I’ve promised to tell him everything in time, when I feel ready to go through the stuff she left. He’s offered to sit with me, look through it together, but although I’ve tried, I can’t bring myself to do it. I just… can’t. The mere thought of watching the horror settle over his face is all too much, even though he’s reassured me it will change nothing about his feelings for me.

And that’s why another part of me longs for the fresh start Isaac says this new job might offer.

‘Relocation expenses fully paid, double my current salary, and even a mortgage subsidy for the first twelve months,’ he read from the emailed information pack.

Plus on top of all that, it could gift us with a relationship boost we’re in desperate need of.

It’s not that we’re constantly arguing or particularly want different things in life. In some ways that would be easier to bear, because at least it would indicate that there’s still some energy, some passion there. But the emotional rot is way more pervasive than that.

Over the past year, we’ve seemed to slowly fade away from each other. Nothing dramatic and measurable; it feels more like we’re drifting off in separate hot air balloons. As if we’re mere acquaintances now instead of the best friends and passionate lovers we used to be.

At first, when we sensed things were going wrong, we made countless efforts to reconnect. We scheduled date nights when Rowan would stay over at Mum’s and spent quality time together without television or phones. Sometimes we’d just talk, making a conscious effort to look at each other rather than Isaac keeping one eye on his emails.

Nowadays, we don’t bother with any of that. Without even discussing it, we seem to have somehow both decided it’s hopeless to even try any more. We’ve come to a dull acceptance that this is how it is between us.

After maxing out three credit cards to the limit eighteen months ago, we took out a ten-year loan and paid them off. The bank would only sanction the deal if we agreed to secure the debt on the house. So we did.

The day we used the loan to pay off the cards, it felt so liberating to cut them into little pieces. Three little bits of plastic that had held so much power over us. Isaac gathered them up and threw them in the air. We laughed as the tiny, sharp chips showered down on us in the kitchen like celebratory confetti.

But within months, the toll of the loan payment swiftly dampened down our optimism. When the head gasket blew on Isaac’s car, essential to him doing his job, he was forced to ask the bank for a replacement credit card to enable us to carry out the necessary repairs.

I stopped suggesting modest improvements to our three-bed semi a long time ago. Ideas like refreshing the kitchen cupboards or finally getting rid of the peach bathroom suite in favour of a modern white one. The family holiday abroad we’d hoped to take soon became just a pipe dream.

A year ago, I gave up my job as a teaching assistant at Rowan’s primary school to become Mum’s carer and we’ve just about scraped by each month with barely a penny to spare. She lived in a little council flat just around the corner from us and, apart from some meagre savings she’d put by, Mum lived on her state pension. Cobbling together her funeral costs using her own little bit of money made me feel hollow inside.

In our early years together, that flush of new love, a scarcity of available funds never seemed to matter. But ten years down the road, it’s pretty hard to get fired up about a rosy future when there are no holidays, no social life and hardly a week passing without another bill landing on the mat.

It’s just life, I suppose. One that plenty of people will recognise. The shiny newness of each other is bound to wear off over time, isn’t it? It’s the same for most married couples, I think. I read about it often enough online and in magazines.

The only trouble is, we haven’t been married for twenty-plus years. We wed in Cyprus ten years ago and enjoyed a couple of years of early married life just the two of us, before having our much-wanted son, Rowan, who is now eight.

Finally triumphing over the rusty mark, I stand up with slightly stiff knees and mop my brow with the back of my hand as I look around at the sparkling surfaces and smear-free cupboard doors. Yes, this effort would meet even Mum’s high standards, I think, and that’s saying something. While I was growing up, she always seemed to be scrubbing or ironing or cleaning the windows… it was as if she couldn’t keep still or rest at all.

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