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“Luke?”

“Hmm?” Luke Graham looked up from the negatives he was working on to see Clare with the cordless phone in her outstretched hand.

“It’s your wife.”

“What’s up, Ellie?” he asked, tucking the phone under his chin.

“Luke, it’s your mam.”

He knew then. He had been half expecting it since the summer, since she’d been ill again. “What’s happened?”

“She…” Ellie’s voice cracked and he knew she was close to tears. “She’s dead Luke.”

“I’m coming home.” He pressed the red button to end the call and flung the phone against the wall, watching it shatter as it slid to the floor.

 

*

“Amelia Graham.”

“I’m sorry to bother you, Dr Graham.” Amelia sighed at the voice of her secretary. “Your sister-in-law’s on the phone.”

“Put her through, Jane.” There was a click. “Hi, Ellie?”

“Amelia, I’ve got bad news. Can you get home? It’s your mam… she…” Ellie broke off. “She’s dead.”

Amelia swore. “I’m on my way. I just need to sort out with my reg to cover me. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

 

She hung up the phone with a resounding clatter, letting her head drop into her hands and cried.

 

*

“Alice Graham, history.”

Luke was caught short by the chirpy manner in which his older sister answered her phone. “You are there. I did wonder if you’d given out a phoney number.”

“What’s up, Luke?”

“It’s mam.”

“Oh crap, what’s happened now?”

“She’s dead, Alice.”

“But… she was getting better,” Alice protested weakly. She couldn’t see Luke’s shrugged reply. “Oh God Luke, I only spoke to her on Monday night. I… I’m coming home. Tom can follow with the girls and someone will cover my classes this week. I… I can’t believe it.”

“No, neither can I.”

 

*

“Mrs Clarke, I’m terribly sorry to disturb you.” Sophie Clarke stopped the maths lesson she was giving in reply to the interruption from the school secretary. “There’s a call for you in the office.” With a nod to her classroom assistants to take charge in her absence, Sophie followed her down the corridor. “It’s your sister, Mrs Clarke, I didn’t like to say in front of your class.”

Sophie stopped suddenly, the colour draining from her face before breaking into a run to the office. “Millie,” she said, gasping for breath. “Millie, what…”

“It’s mam.”

“I knew it. Is she back in hospital?”

“No, she’s dead, Soph.”

Sophie absorbed the news silently, fighting the sinking sensation in her stomach. “I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

 

*

“Rupert Graham.”

“Thank God you’re there. I was terrified you’d be in the lab and I’d never get you out.”

“Alice?”

“Yes, me.”

“Why are you ringing me at work?”

“It’s about mam.”

“What about her?” Roo asked, absent mindedly doodling on the piece of paper in front of him.

“She died this morning, Rooo.”

“But… da said… and Millie…”

“I know. Look, can you get home today?”

“Yes.”

 

Roo hung up the phone gently and stared blankly at the wall.

 

*

“It’s for you Lottie.”

Lottie Murphy, who had been enjoying her free period, eased herself up with a sigh to take the staff room telephone from her colleague. “Hello?”

“Lottie, it’s Alice.”

“What’s up?”

“Mam.”

“What’s happened to tata now?”

“She..” Lottie swore, somehow knowing what Alice was going to say next. “Charlotte!”

“Sorry, Alice. She… she… it’s bad news whichever way, isn’t it?”

“Yes. She died this morning.”

Lottie swore again, this time Alice let it pass. “I’ll be home as soon as I can,” she muttered, hanging up and running from the room.

 

*

Roo was the last one to arrive home that evening, making an excuse about the traffic. The six sat together in the living room as they often had done, the conversation minimal for a time until Luke brought up a recent anecdote, giving them the cue to lose themselves in their memories.

 




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