It turns out Harold had been planning his escape for quite some time.
‘Irreconcilable differences’ – that’s what the papers said.
Harold had taken the kids and not come back. I’m not going to win myself any friends here, but I shocked myself with how little I missed them at first. I called my friend Claire to tell her what happened and she was aghast. “How dare he take your kids?! How dare he walk out on you?”
The words made sense when I heard them, but I couldn’t muster up the vitriol to match her ire. I stopped listening to her after a while and left the phone off the hook. Slowly wandering round the house, I found myself trailing my hands along the pristine walls that we’d had painted just last month. The smiling faces of Alex and Milly looked out at me from the photos that we’d had taken whilst we’d been away in New York.
They were propped up on a park bench somewhere in Hyde Park, the auburn leaves of autumn falling around them. The composition was perfect, the mise en scène – ideal. They were even wearing the cutest matching pom pom bobble hats that I remember buying especially for the shoot – adorable. When I looked a little closer, though there was something a little off about it. Milly and Alex were smiling, cute little rows of milk teeth perfectly white, but there was something wrong with their eyes. They shined, unnaturally, as if they were both on the edge of tears.
The more I explored my own home, the more I started to see the discrepancies between my life and and my home. The kids’ rooms were spotlessly tidy. I breathed in deeply, trying to detect a trace of them, but I all I could smell was fresh paint and varnish.
A vintage rocking horse sat facing the corner of Milly’s room, I remember how she had hated it when we’d put in there. She’d spent hours crying in her cot, telling me through the baby monitor that the horse was watching her. It had cost Harold nearly £600 at an auction, so I wasn’t about to move it out of there.
One day I was taking some photos of the rooms for an abortive home decor blog post when I noticed that she’d turned it round to the face away from her – I remember being proud of her early independence, she wasn’t even 3 yet.
Mine and Harold’s room was perhaps the most eerie. The bed sheets were smoothed down to a tee, it hadn’t been slept in for days. A blast of fresh cotton fragrance blasted me as I walked through the room and irritated my sinuses. Harold had said that the automatic air fresheners were a step too far, but I’d insisted. He said that it masked our own scents that it made him feel like he was living a show room and I remember asking him what was so wrong with that.