A Whole Lamb and a Cigar
by Rachel Carmichael
She hears the phone ring, and her husband stumbling out of the bedroom and down the stairs
to answer it. She drifts off again for a minute or two, then he is back in the room, dressing in
the dark, knocking something over.
What’s happening? she asks him.
Called out. A wee girl.
She wishes he hadn’t told her. She falls asleep again anyway.
When the alarm clock goes, she has forgotten that he’s gone until she turns on the light and
sees a pile of clothes and the collapsed stack of football programmes on his side of the bed.
That’s more for her to tidy up today. She goes to the next room to wake the girls. The room is
cold, the storage heaters are useless. Maggie next door is getting central heating in time for
Christmas, but Maggie works. There’s no job that she can do, with the girls to look after, with
his shifts and the call-outs in the middle of the night.
She watches them each morning as they walk along the pavement and disappear round the
corner, the little one stopping to pull up her socks, then running to catch up with her big
sister. They haven’t really noticed. Sometimes the older one asks if Daddy’s still at work.
She thinks about what they’ll eat tonight. In the freezer she sees the three dinners that she’s
made for him this week, then stuck in some Tupperware so that she wouldn’t eat them
herself. They got the freezer after the last big case, nearly two weeks’ overtime from that one.
Maggie says you can get a whole lamb, butchered, for £11. Maybe she’ll speak to him about
that when he’s back.
It’s still early. There was little on the morning news: searches continue, concern is mounting.
She turns off the radio, too cheerful and trivial.
The house is tidy and clean without him in it. She used to laugh at this, his disorderly
conduct. She sits for a while with a cup of tea and her library book, but a romance feels
wrong in the circumstances, and she thinks she might have read this one before. The street
outside is quiet, children at school or kept indoors. She writes a list to take to the shops and
thinks about phoning her mother. She puts her finger in the zero, turns and releases it. By the
time it has clicked back to the bottom of the dial she has imagined her mother’s voice asking
questions she can’t answer, and changed her mind.
A key turns in the front door and footsteps thud up the stairs. Water runs in the bathroom. He
comes into the kitchen in jeans and a jumper and sits down without a word. He looks tired,
older. He smells different. She doesn’t know what to say to him.
Where are the girls? he says.
It’s Thursday. School.
He picks up the newspaper, glances at the back page.
Anything to eat?
It’s all frozen. I can thaw something for you.
I’ll be outside for a few minutes, he says.
He takes a cigar from a drawer, grimaces at her as he wiggles it in front of his mouth.
It’s the only thing that takes away the mortuary smell. She’ll have to take his suit to the