“New wife, new life, New wife, new life, new wife…” I mutter the words from Ed’s email like an evil mantra.
His new partner, his new life. I’m stuck here in this endless loop of single parenting, unless Ed stoops to the occasional visit; grocery shopping (also endless); laundry and housework (ditto). Nineteen years of marriage and guess who drew the short straw?
“Where’s the list?” I ask Elsie now. She’s wriggling in her seat belt like she wants to escape. It’s hot, the temperature gauge tipping 42 degrees. The Saturday morning traffic belongs in one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The backs of my legs are sticking to the car seat. A mistake to wear a skirt today. I thought it’d be cooler. But no, my legs are in their own special desert under the dash, manufacturing sweat like we truly are arriving at Inferno Central.
I grit my teeth.
“I’m thirsty, Mum,” she says again, in that particular tone that is like pressing on a bruise. “Can we stop at McDonald’s for a slushie?”
“Elsie, have I ever taken you to McDonald’s?”
A small silence.
I pull into the car park and let out a quiet groan. The only free space is a long walk from the cool of the air-conditioned shopping mall. I rummage in the messy back seat of the car, retrieve the shopping list, grab some bags, turn to Elsie.
Grit my teeth again.
“Come on, let’s go in and get this over with.”
She scrambles out, a little monkey in her purple shorts and blue Peppa Pig T-shirt.
Forty minutes later we are through the checkout, shopping bags stacked in the trolley. I stop at the automatic door, turn to look at my daughter.
“Hey, before we go out and get hot all over again, what say we get milkshakes at the cafe?”
She gives me a huge smile.
We order chocolate milkshakes and I lean back in my seat, looking at Elsie.
“You know Charlotte?” she says to me through the straw. I nod. Charlotte is Elsie’s third best friend. When you are in Year One, there is a strict pecking order of friendship that must be observed.
“Charlotte’s birthday is in three days and she can’t stop talking about the presents she wants.”
“Oh?” I know where this was leading – a wish list, a none- too- gentle hint for her own upcoming birthday.
Elsie says, her mouth all chocolatey, “I told Charlotte that I don’t want lots of presents for my birthday this year. I want to have a day with you at the mall, shopping and stuff. And milkshakes.” She beams. “I really like shopping with you.”