By the time Richard dragged himself down for breakfast Libby was correcting her eye shadow and pushing her leftover corn flakes around; Jimmy was munching through two pop tarts at once while listening to music on his phone; and Hillary’s half-finished egg sat on the breakfast bar with a lone soldier as she caught up on the morning’s news on her tablet.
‘If you want breakfast, you’d better get it yourself. I don’t have time,’ said Hillary without looking up.
‘You could’ve woken me.’
‘I told you to get up. You ignored me.’
‘I didn’t hear.’
‘Not my problem. You better get a move on.’
‘You finishing your egg?’
‘When I finish this.’ Hillary chuckled at some news and shook her head.
Richard sighed and forced some bread into the toaster. He hadn’t been sleeping well. And woke with a feeling that a tap had been dripping in the night, that before the day had started, his reserves had already been used up. There were rumours of takeovers and restructures at work — which he knew was just a euphemism for casting out flotsam like him.
‘Jimmy, are you ready for school?’ said Hillary. ‘You’ll miss the bus again.’
‘Jimmy!’ Richard scraped his burnt toast and waved a spare hand in front of his son’s face.
‘What?’ Jimmy pulled his ear buds, spilling tinny, rhyming profanities all over the table.
‘Your mom’s talking to you.’
‘Are you ready for school? You’ll miss the bus,’ repeated Hillary.
Libby, having finished her eye shadow, attended to her lipstick, leaving her corn flakes to luxuriate in milk. ‘Dad, can I get a lift again today?’ she said.
‘Sure, honey. How’s the new job?’
‘It’s alright. Some guys are a bit strange though.’
‘Yeah? How so.’
‘Dunno. Just odd.’
Hillary looked up. ‘Have they said something to you?’
‘Have they done something?’ said Richard.
‘No, dad. Nothing like that. They just seem… weird. Like… they’re from another planet or something. The way they stare. I dunno. It’s weird, I can’t describe it. Like they’ve given up on life or something.’
‘Well, maybe it’s because you’re still new there, love,’ said Hillary. ‘Give it some time. I always feel uncomfortable in a new job.’
‘Your mom’s probably right,’ said Richard, dolloping jam to sweeten the bitterness of his toast.
‘Sorry, your mom is definitely right — as always.’
This pre-morning rush was one of the rare times they still spent together. He treasured and dreaded these moments around the breakfast bar. But everything seemed steeped in secrecy these days, it was the thing that drove them all on individually — silently; it whispered in his dreams, and woke him in the morning with a hundred things he didn’t know how to say.
It wasn’t that long ago he was bouncing Jimmy on his knee, and chasing and tickling Libby around the play room. And now they were strangers. Jimmy was becoming increasingly inaccessible in his own brooding world of rap music and games; Libby, as an HR officer, would soon be leaving her blotch on the world of corporate disappointment, and already had her own studio flat lined up; and the distance between him and Hillary seemed to extend nightly.
As he drove Libby to work, they exchanged a few words, but her replies dropped off until she replied with silence. Once gone, such moments together could never be recovered, but as much as he regretted the loss, he equally didn’t know what to do when they presented themselves.
‘Love you honey. Have a good day.’
Libby smiled and closed the door behind her.
Richard staggered through the morning traffic to work. The sun shone brightly in the sky. Inside, the tap continued to drip.