Relativity

Relativity by Antonia Hayes Read Free Book Online

Book: Relativity by Antonia Hayes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Antonia Hayes
from Mark.
    She couldn’t open it, though. She didn’t want to know what was written inside. The previous night she’d stared at the envelope for hours, starting to tear open the flap, stopping herself, hiding the letter in the remotest parts of overlooked drawers, then finally salvaging it again. Haven’t you punished us enough? Claire asked the envelope. Mark was abstract now; she couldn’t remember the details of his face or the sound of his voice. Time and space had turned him into a ghost. Everything about Mark had long faded into the background.
    Love didn’t work like that. It didn’t fade. You couldn’t turn it off like a tap; its plumbing was impossible to plug. To Claire, love was much more like a bad smell. Like spoiled meat—its rotten stench crawled into every corner and was absorbed by every surface, and you’d forget it was there only to have the bad smell resurrected by a warm breeze.
    Claire held the letter over the stove. She turned on the gas, the metronome of the electric ignition clicking until the burner was alight. As she watched the envelope disappear into the blue flame, she thought back to her younger self. The paper burned quickly; white turned wafer black.
    Once, she’d read anything he wrote over and over again until she knew paragraphs by heart. Now the letter was ablaze. She blew out the rising fire before it reached her fingers. Smoke filled the kitchen. Claire opened the windows and wiped the greasy ash off the stovetop.
    Quark, Ethan’s pet rabbit, skidded down the hallway. He was a gray lop rabbit with white streaks, Ethan’s seventh birthday present. Particle physics was his obsession then; he’d watched documentary after documentary about it. Claire often worried her son watched more documentaries than he had friends. Ethan had put Quark in the palm of his hand and the little bunny shot off, thudding along the floorboards, an escape artist from his makeshift home in a drawer. The baby rabbit had made Ethan think of a quark. Ethan often spoke to the bunny like he was a dog, saying, “Up, Quark!” or “Down, Quark!” and sometimes he called him Hover Rabbit. Quark liked to eat bok choy, Dutch carrots, and—on very special occasions—Anzac biscuits.
    Claire scooped up Quark to her chest and took him into Ethan’s bedroom.
    â€œTime to get up, sweetheart.”
    â€œMum,” Ethan groaned. “I’m really sick.”
    Claire put the rabbit down and touched Ethan’s forehead. His skin was pink, but he wasn’t feverish; his eyes looked clear and bright. Definitely not sick. Claire knew she should send him off to school. But she remembered those rushes of anxiety she’d felt at that age: the stress of whispers, the poisonous stares, the weight-filled gaps in strained conversations.
    â€œYou can stay home.” Claire sat on the edge of his bed and ran her fingers through his hair. “I’ll call school.”
    Ethan brushed her hand away. “I want to go back to sleep.”
    â€œMaybe we should talk about what happened yesterday at school? With Will.”
    â€œMum, I told you. I don’t remember,” Ethan said, rolling onto his side.
    â€œI’m not mad.” She reached out to pat his back before thinking twice of it and retracting her arm, placing both hands neatly in her lap. “I just want to understand what happened. Did Will say something to upset you?”
    â€œHe didn’t do anything.”
    â€œWas it about me?”
    Ethan shook his head.
    She tried not to sound accusatory. “You can tell me what he said.”
    Ethan’s hands were covered in beige Band-Aids and he picked at the dirty, fraying edges. He mumbled something indecipherable.
    Claire stared at her son’s downcast face. “What was that?”
    â€œFreak,” Ethan said clearly this time. “Will called me a freak.”
    â€œYou’re not a freak, my

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