Page 17 of Daisy Darker

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Conor glares at him. “I tied it just fine. You heard Rose, the rope looks as though it has been cut.”

Dad nods. “Well, looks can be deceiving. It’s been a terrible night for us all, everyone is tired. I don’t think we should let our imaginations scare us into thinking what happened here tonight is anything more than it is: a tragic accident and a missing boat.” He stands, a little wobbly on his feet, I notice. Then he walks back over to the drinks trolley and pours himself another glass of whiskey. Liquid anesthetic to numb the pain.

“And you wonder why we got divorced?” mutters my mother beneath her breath before tutting, which is one of her favorite things to do.

“Because I like whiskey?” he asks.

“No, because you’re selfish. It doesn’t even occur to you that someone else might like a drink.”

Dad holds up the decanter. “There’s plenty for everyone.”

“They don’t wantwhiskey.Why don’t I make us all some tea? Including you. Clear heads are what is required.”

She leaves the room without asking who wants what. My mother has always been of the belief that a cup of tea can solve almost anything. Bad day at the office? Have a cup of tea. Struggling to pay the bills? Have a cup of tea. Find out that your husband is cheating on you with a twenty-year-old harpist? Cup. Of. Tea. She forgot my birthday once, but my motherneverforgets how a person takes their tea. It’s oddly important to her, although in our family it is pretty easy to remember—she is the only one of us who takessugar. As soon as she leaves the room, my dad takes another large gulp of his scotch.

“What?” he says, to nobody in particular. “My mother just died. I’m supposed to be upset, and I’m allowed to have a bloody drink if I want to.”

No one argues with my father; it’s never been a good use of time. Arrogance always translates his opinions into facts inside his head.

Nancy returns with a tray, after being gone longer than expected. I see that she’s swapped her black silk pajamas for a black roll-neck, cropped trousers, and ballet pumps, one of her classic Hepburn ensembles. She’s put on some makeup too—thick black eyeliner and a little blusher. I suppose everyone deals with grief differently. Her blue-veined hands are visibly trembling, and the tray rattles as she sets it down on the coffee table. Everyone takes their own cup. They have our names on them, hand-painted by Nana—even Conor has his own.

“Mum,” Trixie whispers, ignoring the cup of tea placed in front of her. My niece has been quieter than normal, and I wish I could have protected her from all of this.

“Mmm-hmm,” Lily says, without looking up.

“I need the bathroom.”

“So why are you telling me about it?”

Trixie frowns. “Because I’m scared.”

I jump to my niece’s defense before her mother can reply. I can’t stand it when Lily bullies her own daughter. “I’ll go with her, I don’t mind—”

“Nobodyis going to go with you or hold your hand,” Lily snaps, ignoring me. No one says anything, but their eyes speak the words that their mouths don’t. “There is no reason for you to be scared of going to the bathroom. You’re fifteen, not five. All those bloodybooks you read are putting silly ideas in your head. And there’s no need to be scared of Nana anymore, darling. The old bat is dead.”

Dad takes another sip of whiskey, and Nancy tuts again, louder this time. Neither of them was ever any good at telling my sister when she was out of line, which is why she’s never been in step with the rest of the world. It’s almost as if they’re scared of her.

“You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,” Nancy says.

“Why?” Lily asks. “You always speak ill of the living. Go to the bathroom, Trixie. There’s no need to be scared, it’s just across the hall. Go on, and grow up while you’re at it,” she says to her fifteen-year-old daughter who has just seen a dead body for the first time. Trixie glares at her mother, pushes her pink glasses a little further up her nose, and leaves the room.

“I think we ought to come up with a plan,” says Conor.

“I don’t remember anyone asking what you thought,” slurs my dad.

“Surely we all just stay together until the tide goes out?” says Rose.

The rain outside lashes against the elderly glass in the windows, making it rattle inside its frame. Lily’s teeth start to chatter as though it’s contagious.

“If we’re staying down here until the sun comes up, then we’ll need to keep warm,” she says. “This house is freezing.” My sister can always find something to complain about, but to be fair, she is only wearing a nightdress. “I’ll get some sweaters from upstairs. Does anyone else want anything?”

Looks are exchanged like unwanted gifts; heads are shaken, and shoulders are shrugged.

Trixie returns, Lily leaves, my dad poursanotherdrink, and my mother tuts again.

“Is that really a good idea, Frank?” she asks.

“No, it’s an excellent idea.”

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