Chrissie decides that anyone who gives her shit about her marriage is unfair.
So she remarried within eight months of Linton’s suicide.
So she barely knew Alan and everyone presumed she married him for his accountant’s salary.
A month after Linton’s death, Chrissie circled Churchill Gardens with Eddie, her knuckles red from squeezing tight to keep the pram from tipping on the slick cement.
“Hiya, Chrissie,” a voice chirped.
Recently, Chrissie did everything in her power to ignore people. She found their pity, the empty offers of homemade sandwiches or childcare, suffocating. She prided herself on seeing through their sympathy-filled eyes to their appreciation of her potential as gossip fodder.
But the voice was so cheery that curiosity overcame her.
She turned to see Alan standing there with a bright grin and his hands in the pockets of his flannel jacket. It took Chrissie a moment to recognize him as a boy from school and another to remember him as the precocious one who’d gone to university in Manchester.
Chrissie and Alan visit Dad at the Gardens every Sunday afternoon and sit at a kitchen table crowded with scotch, Cadbury chocolates, and cigarettes. To his credit, Dad treats Alan like an old football mate, greeting him with a slap on the back and Tottenham updates. “We’ll have to watch the next game together,” Dad says. “You and Chrissie come up here and we’ll get Chinese takeaway. It’ll be a jolly good time.”
“What are they saying about me now?” Chrissie asks as she parks Eddie’s pram next to her seat. She strokes his sleeping cheek. She hates it when Eddie cries, not because it annoys her but because it means something is hurting him.
“Why do you want to know?” Alan asks. “It’s all the past.”
“The usual,” Dad replies. He knows Chrissie needs something to grind her teeth on. Something petty to distract her from the torture of regret. “They’re envious.”
He means that a young widow holds a hallowed status in a world of divorcees. What he doesn’t mention is how close Chrissie came to joining the latter group.
Alan claimed he returned to Churchill Gardens to visit his parents, but soon enough Chrissie discovered that his parents no longer lived there.
Romantic in a cartoon-character way, Alan had come back for Chrissie. He brought flowers and a pristine white card trimmed with lace, apologizing for his tardiness in delivering condolences. A week later he invited her to dinner, boldly, almost inappropriately so, but maybe that was why Chrissie said yes. Over lamb drizzled with mint sauce and strawberries and cream for dessert, Alan boasted of everything from his coveted university education to a brief stint as a roadie for the Salford Jets that brought him into contact with a limitless selection of booze and girls. “But I never met anybody like you,” he said, and Chrissie suddenly recalled the box of chocolates he gave her for Valentine’s Day in Year 8.
When Chrissie was little enough to play dress-up with Dad’s parkas, she went through sporadic episodes of hating her father. All the other girls had beautiful mums who braided their hair and straightened the collars of their sunshine-yellow summer dresses. Dad did not know how to shop for little girls and Chrissie received many a schoolyard taunt for it.
Chrissie sensed that some part of Eddie, young as he was, grasped his lack of a father and her role in it. The prospect that she’d fail to buy the right Christmas gifts or console Eddie after lost football matches frightened Chrissie. Combine that with the paucity of money, the way she twisted and turned every penny of the child benefit checks as if budgeting could be solved like a jigsaw puzzle…The mere thought that Eddie might hate her made her nauseous.
Chrissie gave Linton’s parents blurry shots of their son she took in the early years of their marriage; in return, she received faded baby pictures still in their frames. Both sides, it seemed, latched onto whichever part of Linton’s life they had the least part in. Or they wanted to let go of what they remembered most because it hurt the most.
But Chrissie never disposed of the photo in her purse, the one nobody but the gray-haired recordkeeper knows she possesses, the one that justifies carrying a purse when everything she needs fits into Eddie’s pram. She has stroked it so often that the paper rubs off like dandruff, and nowadays, she keeps it in a trading card display case. Linton would assume Chrissie kept his mug shot to humiliate him, which makes her cry because for once it’s not like that.
She’s trying to love every part of him now as if it will make up for the love and patience and forgiveness she withheld during six years of marriage. But Linton’s absence is a black hole, vast and hungry and impossible to satiate.
Chrissie brings Eddie along on errands though Alan’s salary could easily cover a babysitter. She never takes her eyes off Eddie, cannot risk losing her son for even a moment.
At home, Chrissie tries to convince herself she is a good wife. She receives Alan when he returns from the firm and sets out his favorite Victoria sponge and tea while supper simmers on the stove. Maybe if she behaves perfectly, she and Alan will sleep in the same room forever. Maybe the fact that she did not marry Alan for love will keep them together. If love never exists, then the lack thereof cannot change anything.
At night, after Alan falls asleep with his arms folded under his head, Chrissie crawls out of bed and tiptoes to the balcony. The cold night cuts easily through her thin nightgown, but she welcomes the discomfort. She positions herself so she can still see Eddie’s cradle from the balcony.
Linton’s parents were romantics, which is how they ended up naming their kid Edgar Linton. The kid hated how stiff Edgar sounded, so he insisted on being called by his middle name, which had the taste of an apple cultivar.
Linton would sooner have named their son Margaret Thatcher than christened him after a fictional cuckold, but he hadn’t been in much of a position to stop Chrissie from doing just that. It’s a secret buried deep in Chrissie’s heart that she did it to spite him. Everyone assumes she did it in remembrance. Sometimes Chrissie wants to believe it, too, because it makes the what-ifs whizzing through her mind simpler.
Gossip was fun until Chrissie became its new favorite subject: the girl whose husband killed himself in Scotland Yard. The girl who, despite her show of intense weeping, remarried in eight months.
Only Chrissie knows she got in a fight with Linton and told him to fuck off. He did, got into a pub brawl overnight, and landed his arse in the docks. Her anger eclipsed any concern for him and, in a fit, she told Linton to kill himself.
He might have cut himself to show her.
But nothing changes the fact that the warders didn’t find him bleeding out, too dizzy to speak, until it was too late.
Chrissie traces over the inscription on the headstone until her finger tires. Edgar Linton Brentwood, 2 Sept 1954 – 27 Jan 1983. Beloved son, husband, father.
She kisses the moist dirt, swallowing its earthy flavor, and returns to Eddie. She knows which memory she’ll tell Eddie first, that of Linton’s excitement whenever a new Corrie episode aired. Once upon a time, they curled up on the sofa together to share a bowl of cherry ice cream and catch up with Ken Barlow. Chrissie can’t pinpoint when exactly it happened, but eventually she peeled away, muttering just loud enough for him to hear that he acted like a dumb little kid.
She misses the strangest things.
Her reverie fades as she exits the cemetery. Chrissie can’t afford for Eddie to know about Linton. She won’t bruise his childhood with the notion that his mother was anything less than perfect.
The electric blender bellows as Chrissie beats bananas, strawberries, and cream to a pulp. She carries the mixture to the table and spoons it to Eddie while Alan knocks back a vodka shot. Something at the firm stresses him, but he won’t tell Chrissie what. She comforts him anyway by bringing liquor back from her grocery runs and letting him play with Eddie despite her anxiety.
She is a good wife, she reminds herself. The kind that won’t break the marriage she put her hopes for Eddie into.
“You’re getting stress wrinkles.” Chrissie slides onto Alan’s lap and tries not to think about the lemon-and-tobacco fragrance of Linton’s lips. “Let me kiss them away for you.”
Minglu Jiang is a high school student and writer from Detroit, MI. Her stories have appeared in the Copperfield Review Quarterly, Voyage YA Journal, Ice Lolly Review, and Five on the Fifth. When she’s not writing, she is an avid bassist and songwriter. You can find her on Twitter at @jiang_minglu and Instagram at @minglujiang23.