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The Silent Wife

By:Kerry Fisher

r and shake your head at your own stupidity.

While I was taking my vows, I kept my eyes on Nico’s, cocooning myself in their kindness and warmth, insulating myself from the rest of the room. But Francesca’s stares were drilling into my back, making me stumble over the pronunciation of Nico’s middle name, Lorenzo. I imagined the whole family rolling their eyes. Nico squeezed my hand, reminding me we’d discussed how tricky this might be, prepared for it. That, as the politicians liked to say, ‘we were in it together’. But I still felt the prickle of Francesca’s opinions swooping between us, looking for a crack or a crevice in which to park her protest, the fermented fury that two years after her mother had died, Nico had chosen to marry again.

Despite my best efforts at getting to know her, she veered between stonewalling and outright rudeness. Sometimes her face lit up when I suggested a trip to the cinema or dinner out, before closing down again as though any enthusiasm for my ideas would be disloyal to her mother. Coming to our wedding would probably seem like a betrayal with bells on it, so I’d suggested to Nico it might be kinder to give her the choice about whether or not to attend. But Nico was resolute. ‘We want to be a family, not an opt-in, opt-out multiple-choice group. We’ve got to present a united front. In the end, it will make her feel safe.’

But how could your father marrying again be a cause for celebration? For a thirteen-year-old, it must have rammed home the message that her mother’s memory was fading further and further into the distance. That her father, the person whose grief had been as acute as her own, had learnt to live without her and now Francesca was stumbling forwards, alone in holding the bereavement standard aloft.

When I heard the shrieking behind me, my heart leapt for a second, thinking Francesca had finally lost control. Even the registrar paused as a scream reverberated round the room. Light footsteps that could only belong to Nico’s seven-year-old nephew, Sandro, echoed on the marble floor. The clack of high heels followed him, then the door banged shut.

I resisted turning round, forcing myself to tune into the registrar who was working up to the words I’d dreaded, the bit about in sickness and in health. I couldn’t concentrate on what we were promising each other, only that Nico would be saying these words for a second time. Had he for one moment imagined the burden of that vow, the reality he might be forced to face? Had Nico really expected Caitlin, with the toned biceps and sleek hair, to cash in the bit about ‘in sickness’, to watch her slip away, a little more, week by week? When he thought about having kids, did he ever imagine sitting at a table set for two, talking brightly to a teenage daughter, trying to ignore the third place where Caitlin used to sit, shocking and bold in its emptiness?

His voice caught on those words. I put my hand on his arm to reassure him I was expecting to bulldoze through the next fifty years without so much as a fallen arch. The way he grabbed my hand made me realise his first marriage would shape his second.

Thank God I’d lived long enough not to expect the fairy tale.

2

LARA

A little frisson of disapproval dominoed around the congregation – a unanimous Farinelli family frown – as Maggie walked in, barefoot, clutching a single sunflower. If not exactly dancing, she was close to prancing as she made her way down the aisle on the arm of her son, Sam, as though the very beat of ‘Chapel of Love’ was seeping up into her feet, bringing joy to her limbs.

As Sam did a little shimmy past in his junior-sized top hat and tails, I hoped no one else heard my husband, Massimo, say, ‘It’s like the circus coming to town.’ I couldn’t resist a glance at my mother-in-law, Anna, standing there ramrod straight, her pillbox hat perched like a predatory eagle on her head. Her face was a perfect picture of disdain, as though she was having to concentrate on not shouting, ‘Will someone switch this racket off?’

With a quiver of hat netting, Anna leaned forward and caught my eye. She was far too polished to pull a face that might be intercepted by anyone else – but I knew the dawn of new daughter-in-law comparisons was gearing up in the starting blocks. I might even have a chance of emerging victorious this time after so many years of ‘Caitlin got her figure back very well after Francesca was born. But then, you did have a caesarean, I don’t suppose that helped.’ Followed by some suggestions on how a scarf could ‘help disguise that tummy’ and the odd cutting from the Daily Mail entitled ‘Drop a dress size in ten days!’ left on my kitchen table. I’d also been found lacking in gardening, cooking and what Anna called ‘household administration’ so I hoped Maggie wouldn’t possess a huge array of secret skills to put me to shame.

Maggie didn’t give the impression that she cared what people thought of her very much. With the little rose tattoo on her ankle, her bright blue toenails and her corkscrew hair cascading down her back, she looked more like someone celebrating a pagan ritual at a New Moon party than a bride trying to integrate herself into a new family where the obstacles were already piled up against her. She was going to need a whole lot of self-belief to resist Anna’s decrees for ‘Farinelli family behaviour’.

If I knew Anna, she would have tried every which way to stop Nico marrying Maggie. ‘Two years is far too soon, you’re still grieving.’ ‘It’s not fair on Francesca. She doesn’t need a new mother; she needs a father to focus on her.’ ‘Do you really want to take on some other man’s bastard child?’ And she would probably have used those very words. Anything that didn’t fit with Anna’s world view would be singled out and shot.

But she obviously hadn’t managed to put Nico off Maggie. His face was ablaze with emotion, as though he couldn’t quite believe this carefree crea

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