The Man in the Shed
Don gave me a hug and a kiss. Stuart introduced those faces I’d spoken to on the phone. They were happy about the food, and I was happy to leave them to it. I had the kids waiting outside in the car.
    I saw them again, about five that afternoon. I drove by with the kids to find out Stuart’s plans for dinner. I slowed down, and from the street I could see them in the window. They were standing now, beer bottles in hand. Someone must have been telling a joke because I could see Stuart in a convulsive fit with a hand over his mouth and Don, more expansive, as he leant back, mouth open wide. I thought Stuart could ring home later and let me know his plans.
    I was glad to get home. Clara and Bella were acting up in the car. Both of them had got too much sun. At home I ran a bath for them. I made that old-fashioned emulsion my grandmother used to drum up from vinegar and rubbed it into their sunburn while they squealed and shouted. They were hungry, and around six Bella started whining for pizza. I said, ‘Let’s wait and see what your father’s plans are.’ It would be like Stuart to invite everyone back here; that would mean a quick run down to the supermarket. The pizza place is on the same block. I didn’t want to make two trips. To take their minds offtheir stomachs I switched the telly on. I thought I would ring Stuart’s office. But each time I picked up the receiver to dial I put it down again. If they were having fun I didn’t want to be that grumpy bitch who brings things to a close. So I thought I would text Stuart. But the moment I had the idea I saw he’d left his mobile on the table. It was sitting with some papers I think he had meant to take to the office.
    At seven o’clock I went to get pizzas. The girls came along for the ride in their pyjamas. There were half a dozen people in the shop so we had a bit of a wait. After giving the pizza order I thought I’d run by Stuart’s office and gauge the mood. This time as I slowed down the blank window stared back. If anything the letters in the window were more bold—S. Richards. Engineer and Quantity Surveyor. Bella asked why we were back at Daddy’s office. ‘No reason,’ I said.
    I thought they must have gone off for a drink somewhere. A phone call to that effect would have been nice. But then perhaps Stuart was planning to come home soon anyway.
    At home I put the pizzas out on the table and left the girls to it. I walked over to the phone and picked up the receiver. Bella looked up, a wedge of pizza jammed into her mouth. I put the receiver down and poured myself a glass of wine.
    The girls watched the Saturday-night movie on Two. I tucked them into bed at ten and without complaint from either. This was as late as they had ever been up. They seemed to know that something about the night was different but they didn’t want to know what it was. While they were watching TV neither one could shift their eyes from the screen.
    There was some washing to bring in, and outside under the clothes line I looked up at the night. We live in one of the inner-city suburbs. There must have been some cloud about because the sky over the city was a sickly yellow. I heard a siren, and closer, maybe two streets over, the God-awful noise of a boy racer tearing up the night, and more distantly the steady rumble of the city. The washing still contained the airy warmth of the sun from earlier in the day, and for some time I stood there, with Stuart’s shirts bunched in my arms, just listening.
    I thought I would wait until midnight before taking further action. I sat on the couch watching the minutes tick by. At the stroke of midnight I picked up the phone and rang the police. I was surprised to hear a woman’s voice answer. It made me hesitate—just a bit. ‘I don’t know where my husband is,’ I said. There was a pause at the other end, and in the intervening silence I heard the silliness of my complaint. Stuart wasn’t missing. I was sure he knew where he was. I

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