When Rosie's marriage suddenly ends one night in Sydney, her entire life collapses. She doesn't know what to do next. Her sister suggests she move to Lucknow, a town in Central Victoria, that they knew in their childhood. It doesn't seem to offer much at first. But her life changes in ways she had not thought possible. Lucknow isn't just a romance, it's about life in a small country Australian town.
|Publisher:||Threekookaburras Pty Ltd|
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Nick Larkin came home late. He hadn't seen his wife since he'd left early in the morning when baby Hamish was still asleep. Rosie had been shopping during the day then she'd spent time making a Nigella Lawson recipe of tequila and lime chicken that they could enjoy together over a bottle of chilled sauvignon blanc. Now it was well after 10 o'clock, their dinner sat ruined in the oven while the salad lay limp and watery in a bowl on the kitchen bench. Rosie had long lost her appetite, and their baby had fallen asleep hours ago.
'Where have you been?' his wife demanded.
He stood silently with his head averted, as though he didn't want to look at her.
'I've been waiting for you. I wanted to have dinner with you. You haven't seen Hamish at all today.'
Nick walked over and poured himself a large glass of whisky, took a sip then looked at Rosie.
'You didn't let me know you were going to be late,' Rosie said, angered that Nick wouldn't look at her. 'There's a dried up dinner in the oven if you want it.'
'No,' he said, staring at his scotch, swirling it around in the glass.
'This can't go on!' Rosie cried. 'While I'm here all the time you are here less and less! I'm staying home looking after our baby. I miss you. I want to talk to you but you keep working overtime. Can't you tell them at work that you need to get home?'
Nick didn't reply. The silence between them grew, filling the room and pushing them further apart. It had started a couple of months ago. Rosie didn't know what was wrong and Nick wouldn't say but the gulf between them kept increasing. Sometimes she thought she had just imagined things were bad and believed their marriage was getting back to normal but there were other times when Nick was a stranger.
What do I have to do for him to care? Her anger deflated like a burst balloon and she felt a bewildered despair. She looked at him, tall and handsome in his smart, business suit. She was wearing a printed cotton dress that after a busy day was worn and grubby. She was a tired mum while he still looked fresh and stylish.
Nick stood looking at her, sipping his scotch.
Why doesn't he just say sorry? Rosie wondered.
'This won't keep happening,' he told her.
'Great,' Rosie replied, forcing herself to smile at him. 'Because it's really getting me down.'
He was still silent. It made her uneasy. There was such a stiffness in his manner; after all, they'd been married three years. They'd met four years ago when he walked into the tiny jewellery shop she'd had in Melbourne. Was it only four years ago, Rosie wondered, when I'd had my own business, heaps of friends and a busy social life? It seemed another world to her life on Sydney's North Shore where she spent all day with their baby.
'It won't keep happening because things are going to change,' he continued, as if she hadn't spoken.
He finished his glass of scotch then turned his back on her and poured another one.
'What's going to change?' Rosie asked anxiously.
'I've been offered a job in Hong Kong,' he said with pride as he turned around to look at her.
Rosie rushed over and hugged him but he stood there stiffly. 'We're going to Hong Kong?'
He moved away and sipped his scotch.
'I'm going, but not with you.'
Rosie heard the words but didn't understand them.
'What? It's too far to commute. You can't just fly back every weekend. Of course, Hamish and I will come with you.'
He shook his head impatiently.
'Let me finish, Rosie. Let me say what has to be said.'
'What has to be said?'
She could hear herself parroting him, but she couldn't comprehend what he was saying. It was as though the ground was shifting under her, as though her legs were untrustworthy. She felt like she was falling into a disaster; if she could just slow things down then she could stop it.
'You haven't kissed Hamish goodnight, Nick.'
'No, I haven't.'
'It's important that you give him a goodnight kiss.'
'It would be better if he was awake,' Rosie agreed, 'but it's still important. You're his father and he loves you.'
Nick put his glass down and moved down the darkened passage. She watched him go into Hamish's bedroom. Why wouldn't they go to Hong Kong, too? There was no reason why they couldn't go. It might be fun, Rosie thought.
Nick came back and took a big swig of scotch.
'I'm sorry,' he said.
Rosie felt her heart melt. He was sorry. He did love baby Hamish and her, after all. He was sorry. It was like the world turned and she was back on solid ground. She could forgive him. He would be grateful, and their lives would go on, stronger for overcoming the distance that had grown between them. She would discover it was some problem at work that explained his behaviour.
'I'm so glad to hear you say that, Nick,' Rosie said, moving to him then kissing him. 'It has been really hard. You seem so distant, darling, and Hamish and I love you so much.'
He moved away from her. 'Stop it!'
'Stop what?' she replied, stunned.
'It's not what you think,' he said. She saw him slowly take a big breath. 'You and Hamish are not coming to Hong Kong with me because I will be living there with another woman. She is a work colleague. Her name is Karen, and we've been sleeping together for two months. She found out today that she has got a work transfer to Hong Kong so we can be together.'
Rosie's legs buckled and she grabbed the table.
'There's no good way to tell you,' Nick said. 'Here, come and sit down.'
He put his arm around her and walked her to the couch then offered his glass of whisky.
'Here have a few sips, you're in shock,' he said.
The whisky burnt a red track down her throat.
'You've been having an affair?' She was engulfed by rage. 'I've been staying home looking after our baby and you've been having an affair! How could you do that?'
Nick, who was kneeling beside her, flinched. Rosie jumped off the couch and pushed him over, he fell on the rug and the glass dropped out of his hand and rolled away spilling whisky in a golden stain.
Nick stood up, furious. 'Didn't you wonder why I kept coming home late? Did you think I missed having dinner with you? You just talk about your baby. You go on about some tiny thing that Hamish did. I've been having excellent dinners with an interesting woman. I've enjoyed having adult conversations.'
She moved towards him and felt a rush of anger like a flow of boiling water. She reached up and gave his face a hard slap.
'You've been having an affair!' she shrieked. 'I've been looking after Hamish.'
'Be quiet,' he hissed, 'or you'll wake him.'
'As if you care!' she yelled.
He didn't reply, they looked at each other and the silence once again grew between them, blame and anger and hurt blooming vividly from the pain of his words. And in that silence also grew a number of possibilities. Would he say sorry so they could sort their awful mess out? Can I forgive him? Rosie wondered. A movement from Nick broke her thoughts.
'I'm leaving,' he said.
He walked through to their bedroom, dragged two suitcases from a cupboard and threw them on the bed. Rosie followed, and leant against the bedroom door watching Nick. He was emptying drawers into the suitcases then throwing in suits and ties.
'This is all I'm taking, clothes, a few things,' he said. 'I'm sorry it has come to this.'
'You're not sorry enough to change things,' she said.
He didn't reply as he threw his shirts into the suitcases.
'Totally gutless,' she said. 'It's bloody cowardly, that's what it is. I'm amazed you even told me to my face. No counselling, nothing to discuss, you walk in and tell me that because Karen can work in Hong Kong then our marriage is over! How am I supposed to join those dots together? Hey? Hey? Talk to me, Nick! You're my husband!'
She'd given up everything on the strength of his promises. Their wedding on a remote Fijian island had been impossibly romantic. Not many people had been able to come because it was so expensive. After their marriage she'd moved into Nick's high-rise apartment that overlooked Sydney Harbour. After the baby, they'd bought a house on the North Shore. Her life had the structure of a fairytale. But it was a fairytale, she knew, that had been pockmarked with loneliness after she'd left her business and her friends in another city.
Rosie felt her heart burst open as tears flooded her eyes.
He kept going until the suitcases were full. He closed them and locked them.
'What else?' He stood and thought. 'Shoes!' He rushed off and found his old gym bag, came back to the bedroom and threw all his shoes in it.
'I feel bad, Rosie, I do,' he said, pausing to watch his wife crying. 'But it's better this way. I don't want a long, drawn out bitter war with you.'
He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a thick letter.
'I've been to see a lawyer. We can't get divorced yet, there has to be a year's separation. That starts from tomorrow. You will be fine, financially. Well, you should be alright. You won't have to work so you can look after Hamish.'
He dropped the letter on the bed.
'Read this letter. Better still, take it to a lawyer who can talk to my lawyer.'
He took his phone out and rang a taxi, then left Rosie standing there while he poured a last whisky.
Baby Hamish is sleeping in the next room, Rosie thought. He doesn't know our world has just collapsed. She cried again and felt angry that she could do nothing more than cry. She didn't hear a sound from Nick or Hamish. It was as if the world had stopped breathing. Nothing will ever be the same. That was the only sentence her brain could hold on to. Nothing will ever be the same.
She heard a car horn.
Nick came in and lifted a suitcase off the bed.
'Don't go! Nick, don't go!' Rosie cried as she reached for him.
But he moved past her. She heard the front door slam. Then he was back. He picked up the second suitcase and the gym bag and stood looking at her.
'I'm sorry,' he said, and walked out the door.
That morning Nick had lived with her and baby Hamish, father and son shared the same green eyes. It had been an ordinary morning with a blue sky as Sydney had come to life around them. Birds had sung in the back yard, the sun had crept into the kitchen as Rosie fed Hamish his breakfast. There had been no portent of doom, no inkling of trouble, no shard of fear in Rosie's mind. Nick had made a coffee and left at dawn. Had he said anything to give her a clue? She racked her brains. Nothing.
She had read her horoscope and Nick's, too. She recalled hers had said it was a good day for romance. That was so terribly, horribly wrong. It was the worst day of her life! Rosie started sobbing, great heaving cries so she was nearly sick. She was panting for breath and as her breathing calmed down she heard the silence again. An empty silence. A silence devoid of life, a black hole of silence where everything had stopped.
'No! No!' Rosie stood shakily and went to the kitchen to find her phone.
She tried Nick's number. It went straight to voicemail, 'Thank you for calling Nick Larkin. I'll get back to you as soon as I can.' His recorded voice was calm as though he hadn't just left his wife and baby for someone called Karen.
'Nick, what have you done? Nick, you can't do this. What about Hamish?'
'Thank you for calling,' the message cut her off.
'Stop it! Stop it!' Rosie said, desperately.
She dialled his number over and over but he never picked up. Rosie put her phone down and went to the bathroom. The mirror showed a woman with limp hair hanging over a pale face and tear-stained mascara streaks down her cheeks.
'He left me,' she told the haggard woman in the mirror. 'He left Hamish.'
She found a face washer, soaked it in cold water then patted her face. She closed her eyes, shut out that ruined woman and felt the soft, cool cloth caress her face. She breathed deeply. Hamish! What about Hamish? She stumbled out of the bathroom and went to his bedroom. He was asleep in his cot with little starfish hands above his Benjamin Bunny blanket. His head was covered in soft, downy hair like a thistle. She felt a rush of love for him so strong she gripped the side of his cot.
She felt the tears fill her eyes and flow down her cheeks. She cried harder and harder, unstoppable. Rosie held on to the edge of the cot as though it was the only thing saving her, she was drowning in pain, could hear nothing but a roaring in her ears and her own wrenching sobs. She had no idea how long this lasted. But gradually she became aware of another noise, a softer noise. Hamish was whimpering in his sleep.
Rosie picked him up. That soft, warm little body. She held him and felt his fine hair on her mouth. She carried him to her bedroom and pulled back the covers, climbed into bed and fell asleep holding him.
* * *
The morning dawned bright and sunny as Hamish woke Rosie by poking her in the cheek and smiling at her.
'What are you doing in my bed?' she asked him, smiling back.
Then she remembered, but it couldn't be real. She couldn't believe such a terrible event could still exist the next day. It was a nightmare that should have faded away with the dawn.
Hamish wanted breakfast. She picked him up, took him to his bedroom, changed his nappy, cleaned up, then carried him to the kitchen and put him in the highchair. She mixed cereal with milk and mashed up a banana. He made little 'mmmm' sounds like he always did when she prepared him food. She fed him then let him get down to crawl around while she made a coffee and sat watching him.
'What will we do today? Go to the park?' Hamish watched her, smiling.
She sipped her coffee. 'You wouldn't believe what happened last night while you were asleep, baby.'
Hamish fell on his bottom. 'Up you get,' she called encouragingly.
'Your father, yes, your father, just came home to say he was moving overseas without us!'
'Bbbbbbb,' Hamish said.
'Well, exactly,' Rosie replied, 'and not only that but he is now with a woman called Karen. Imagine that!'
But Hamish couldn't and crawled over to his toy basket.
Who is this woman who has an affair with the father of Hamish? What sort of immoral cow could do that? Am I going to let her get away with it? she asked herself, remembering how she had sobbed herself to exhaustion. Am I just going to take it?
She drained her coffee and jumped up. 'We've got things to do today, Hamish.'
She took him to the bathroom and gave him bath toys while she had a quick shower. She towelled herself dry then carried him to her bedroom and put him on the carpet.
'I'm going to look good today and so are you.' Rosie slathered perfumed lotion over her body. She blow-dried her hair before slipping on a green silk, geometric shift. She applied make-up and chose her most elegant sandals. Last but not least, she wore her best diamond earrings. Then she dressed Hamish in a cute outfit of shorts and a top. She put him in the stroller, grabbed her bag and they were off.
Down to the little jetty to wait for a ferry, then across Sydney Harbour to Circular Quay. She walked briskly up Phillip St, then Elizabeth St and through Martin Place. Turned left and stopped outside a tall, glassy skyscraper. She went in the lift up to the 20th floor and found reception.
'Can I help you?'
She was a sweet-faced woman, about 22, thought Rosie.
'Yes, you can,' Rosie replied. 'I need to see Nick Larkin.'
'Who shall I say is here to see him?'
'His wife and son,' Rosie said.
The receptionist picked up her phone, dialled a number and spoke. Rosie saw her face change and two bright pink spots emerge on her cheeks.
'I'm terribly sorry,' she said. 'But he is with a client and says he cannot see you.'
'Then I'll wait,' Rosie said, taking a seat.
'No, no,' the receptionist replied. 'I made that up about the client. He said he has nothing further to say to you. Everything is in the letter.'
Rosie felt rage overwhelm her.
'He may not have things to say to me but I have things to say to him,' she said, moving towards the door.
'No! No! You can't go in. You can't go in, Mrs Larkin!'
'Just stop me,' Rosie said.
The young woman stared as though she were a freak who had arrived out of the blue. She stood up behind her big desk but she was too slow.
'Don't bother getting up, I'll find him,' Rosie told her before barging through the big glass door.
The receptionist ran behind her.
'Stop it, Mrs Larkin! I'm going to call security!'
But Rosie wasn't listening, she was looking for Nick. He was here somewhere.
'Nick! Nick Larkin! Where are you?' She yelled out.
The room fell silent and people looked up from their computers.
'Do you know where Nick is?' she asked, but saw only astonished faces.
Excerpted from "Lucknow"
Copyright © 2017 Annie Hall.
Excerpted by permission of Threekookaburras Pty Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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