They helped her up the stairs and into the house. Griffin set her down in the armchair with a blanket on her knees. He got a bucket for her to soak her bloodied toes. Marie conjured from the kitchen a thick piece of meat pie, a tall glass of freshly squeezed apple juice and a cup of tea, and put it in front of her.
The children sat silent on the floor, eyes on Pearl. Pearl ignored the children, their names didn’t pass her lips; she had forgotten them. Even they saw she was pregnant. Her breasts squirmed out of her dress.
‘Not the pie, then?’ Marie said. ‘A boiled egg?’
Pearl agreed to the egg, hard-boiled, and small cut squares of pan-cooked bread. She ate while Marie got the children ready for bed.
Marie bathed Pearl. Naked, Pearl was excess skin. After the initial surprise of her size, she was beautiful as she always was, a different beauty now. She was full with a fluid whistling under her skin.
Pete’s gruff cough came through the wall, a cough that seemed older than him. Marie tested a smile on her sister. ‘A boy? Or a girl? I wonder.’
Pearl’s face remained blank and Marie let all talk of the baby fold, the where, when, who. She bit her tongue at the need to say how wonderful it was to be a mother and to tell her sister how her life would change. Pearl didn’t seem like she wanted to be pressured with this sort of talk. In the morning, Marie would see if Pearl wanted a doctor. There might be a problem finding someone to see her. They’d have to make do. Pearl had come to her for a reason.
After the bath, Marie dried Pearl, starting at her ankles, moving up her legs to her waist. Pearl’s shoulders were high and tense. She said there was no need to dry her hair. Marie set her up in Irma’s bed. Pearl’s webbed feet reached the wall. Pearl spoke bitterly of her backache, and the sleep the baby had taken from her.
‘I am going to look after you,’ Marie said. She paused, and reached out to rub Pearl’s stomach. ‘The two of you.’
Pearl bit her nails like she had when she was a child. Her lips were blistered.
‘It will all turn out fine.’ Marie patted her again.
Griffin was in bed when she got to their room. He gave her a look that she knew he had been saving until they were alone.
‘I thought she …’
‘I did, too,’ she said.
‘Is she going to stay here?’
Griffin nodded in agreement. ‘I wonder where she’s been all this time.’
‘I won’t ask her. Not yet. She’s been through a lot.’
She turned the light off and got into bed. She was careful not to shift too much next to him to get herself comfortable. It was an old mattress, and you could get stuck into a groove. It went quiet. A few moments later, Griffin added, ‘I’m more worried about the children.’
‘They will get to know each other. Fine, you will see.’ Already Marie was turning towards the side of the bed. ‘I’m going to check on her.’
‘Marie?’ Griffin called her.
She put her head against his chest and he brought her hands into his. He let go of her for a second to adjust himself under the sheet. He then moved her hand to slide into his pants.
‘Yes,’ he said. He sighed deeply.
‘Is this the right way for you? The best I can?’
‘A bit … yes.’
She repeated her movements for a few minutes.
‘Hang on,’ he said, springing up. ‘I think I need to go. I’ll be quick.’
Adopted into the Martin family in a house in Bardon, Griffin had never known his birth family. He had skin like pencil, thick eyebrows, and was large handed and awkwardly handsome at seventeen. He had gone to a private boys’ school and been chosen to represent his country in the national school cricket championships. At seventeen, boys were men.
He had to travel down to the coast to represent the school for a function. He no longer remembered what it was for, or any detail, just that when he drove away from the function he got hopelessly lost.