Three Wishes(7)


by Liane Moriarty

Cat felt the boy’s hand at the back of her head. As Dancing Girl was thundering toward the finish line, the boy was pulling her to him and Cat’s eyelids were closing as if she were sinking into a deep, delicious sleep. He smelled of Dunhill cigarettes and Palmolive soap and tasted of Colgate toothpaste and Tooheys beer, and she had never wanted anything so bad as she wanted that boy.

The boy turned out to be Dan and Dan turned out to be her husband and her husband turned out to be a cheat.

Cat drained her beer and started on one of the other two.

Gemma and Lyn had adored Dan from the moment Dancing Girl had come in second and they turned around to claim their champagne, to find him claiming the kiss he hadn’t won. He managed to extricate his wallet from his back jeans pocket and hand it to Lyn while keeping his tongue firmly entwined with Cat’s. So cool! So sexy! So dexterous!

How could she admit the adorable Dan wasn’t so adorable after all?

She wasn’t going to tell them.

She slammed the beer down on the table, reached for the third, and looked up to see her sisters walking through the pub toward her.

Gemma was dressed, as always, like an oddly beautiful bag lady. She was wearing a faded flowery dress and peculiar holey cardigan that didn’t match the dress and was too big for her. Her glinty red-gold hair was all over the place, a tangled mess that fell past her shoulders. Split ends. Cat watched a guy at the door turn to look at her. A lot of men didn’t notice Gemma, but the ones who did, really did. They were the sort of men who wanted to brush her hair out of her eyes, roll up her cardigan sleeves, and tell her to zip up her bag before her purse got stolen.

Lyn had come from teaching aerobics at the gym. Her straight, blond hair was in a smoothly coiled knot at the back of her head. Her cheeks were pink and healthy. She was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt that looked suspiciously like it might have been ironed. A fair, lanky, sporty-looking girl. Her nose was too pointy, in Cat’s opinion, but she was attractive enough. (Although, maybe not?) When Cat saw Lyn she saw herself in three dimensions. Three very vigorous, Lyn-like dimensions.

Cat felt that sense of pleasure and pride that she always felt when she saw her sisters in public. “Look at them!” she wanted to say to people. “My sisters. Aren’t they great? Aren’t they annoying?”

They saw Cat and sat down on the waiting stools without saying hello.

It was one of their rituals, never saying hello or acknowledging one another. People found it strange, which they found enjoyable.

“So I’ve been going to this new deli for my lunch,” said Gemma. “Whatever I order, whatever, it seems to shock the woman behind the counter. I say, I’ll have the fruit salad, and her eyes widen and she says, The fruit salad! It’s the funniest thing.”

“I thought you hated fruit salad,” said Lyn.

“I do. That’s just an example,” said Gemma.

“Well, but why not give an example of something that you actually ordered?”

Cat looked at her sisters and felt her limbs becoming weak with relief.

She ran her finger around the rim of her empty beer glass and said, “I’ve got something to tell you.”

The Cabbage-Leaf Trick

Do you know, I can never see a cabbage without thinking of breast milk.

I wonder if they still do that? The cabbage-leaf trick. I can tell you when I first saw it. It would be over thirty years ago now. My first week as a nurse’s aide. Everyone at the hospital was in a tizz because a young girl had given birth to triplets. Everyone wanted to see them. They even had reporters from the papers!

I happened to be making beds in the maternity ward when the three babies were wheeled in for their feeds. Sister Mulvaney, the cruelest woman you could ever hope to meet, was directing the whole event. My eyes popped as the nurses undid the mother’s bra and peeled off soggy green leaves! Your br**sts sometimes become very hard and swollen when you start nursing, you see, and for some reason chilled cabbage leaves soothe them.

Gosh, but that poor young mother was in pain. You could tell. Her face was all set and white. Her three little babies were sound asleep but in those days they were sticklers for routine. You fed them every four hours on the dot. The first little baby did not want to be woken. They tried everything. Undressing her. Moving her around. Eventually, Sister Mulvaney sprinkled some water on her little face. That certainly woke her up. But the moment she started crying, the other two were off. All three screaming!

They got two of the babies and showed the mother how to tuck them back under her arms, one on each breast. But she couldn’t get the babies to latch on. Sister Mulvaney was barking out instructions and the mother was doing her best to follow them. By this stage, the babies had worked themselves up into a fine rage. What a racket! The whole ward was watching.

Eventually, they gave up and got a breast pump to try and get her milk started. They were dreadful, clunky old contraptions in those days. You could tell that poor mother was upset, with her babies hollering, Sister Mulvaney tut-tutting, and everyone pretending not to stare. All of a sudden she just burst into tears. My supervising nurse said, very know-it-all, “Ah the three-day blues, all new mothers cry on the third day.” And I remember thinking, But my goodness, who wouldn’t cry?

CHAPTER 2

“Die, you little motherfucker.” Lyn squatted down on the kitchen floor and aimed the cockroach spray like a machine gun.

“Language, young lady!” Lyn looked up to see her stepdaughter, Kara, sucking in her cheeks in a parody of a horrified parent.

“I thought you were gone,” said Lyn, feeling a bit silly to be caught doing her private Hollywood gangster act. She didn’t normally say things like “motherfucker.” In fact, she generally swore only in situations involving cockroaches or her sisters.

“It’s escaping!” said Kara helpfully.

Lyn looked back down to see the cockroach scuttling across the tiles to a microscopic tunnel under the sink. No doubt it would now live a long, happy life and give birth to many thousands of sweet little cockroach babies.

Lyn stood up and looked at her watch. It was just on nine o’clock. “Aren’t you very late?”

Kara heaved an exhausted sigh to indicate she could not be expected to cope with yet another imbecilic question.

“Well, aren’t you?” asked Lyn, because she couldn’t help herself.

“Lyn, Lyn, Lyn.” Kara shook her head sadly. “What am I going to do with you?”