Lullaby by Claire Seeber

By Claire Seeber

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Hello—Mrs Finnegan? Are you still—’ ‘Sorry. ’ Slowly my brain kicked back in. ‘Thanks so much, Jenny. How stupid of me. I knew it’d be something like that. ’ I took a deep breath. ’ ‘No problem. ’ She giggled shyly, as if she’d slightly overstepped the mark. Yes, I agreed, of course he was. Lost without the indomitable Pauline, head of Mickey’s stable of capable women. I was about to ring 118 for the hotel’s number when a car pulled up outside. I went running to the front window, skidding across Jean’s sparkling hall.

Quickly,’ and the urgency of her tone shot through me like a red-hot poker in my guts, and before she could go on I leapt out of the shower and grabbed her arm. I must have pulled the skin too tight because she winced and I said, ‘What? ’ And I felt a kind of relief, just for a second, but then I said, ‘Mickey? What about Louis? ’ and she couldn’t look at me, she wouldn’t look at me; she just handed me my dressing-gown and then turned away and went towards the door. And whether it was the brandy meeting emptiness and Mickey’s scotch, or me moving too fast, or just the pure, pure horrid shock—but I passed out—went down like a tree, apparently.

I thought they must be ahead of me, and I walked on through the next rooms, but they weren’t there either; so I retraced my steps, thinking Mickey must have gone back to look at a picture. He could be a real slow-coach, Mickey, sometimes. I’d known him to stand in front of one painting for a quarter of an hour, whereas I’d just get bored, wanted to keep moving, on to the next thing. Only he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere in the gallery. My heart started to beat a little bit faster, but I thought he must have just gone out; perhaps Louis was crying and I didn’t hear; they’re probably in the small exhibition shop, buying postcards.

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