They were very polite. From time to time during his courtship of their mother, he gave them small presents. Tubes of sweets, puzzles, or games to play. Anna, the less complicated child, was pleased by these, opened them at once, and showed her delight in smiles and the occasional hug of appreciation. But Emily was a different kettle of fish. Politely, she would thank him, then disappear with the parcel unwrapped, to deal with her loot in private, and presumably decide, on her own, to give or withhold approval.
Once, he was able to mend Anna's Action Man - she did not play with dolls - and after that there was a certain rapport between them, but any affection that Emily had to show was bestowed only on her pets. She had three. A hideous tom cat, which hunted ferociously and had no conscience about stealing any food he could get his brazen claws into; a smelly old spaniel who could not go for a walk without returning home filthy; and a goldfish. The cat was called Breeky, the dog was called Henry, and the goldfish was called Gilbert. Breeky, Henry, and Gilbert were three of the many good reasons why Bill moved into Clodagh's house. One could not imagine these three demanding creatures being domiciled anywhere else.
Emily and Anna came to the wedding in pink and white dresses with pink satin 1sashes. Everybody said that they looked angelic, but all through the ceremony, Bill was uncomfortably aware of their cool blue eyes boring holes in the back of his neck. When it was over, they dutifully flung a bit of confetti and ate some wedding cake, and then departed to stay with Clodagh's mother, while Clodagh and Bill went off on their honeymoon.
He took her to Marbella, and the sun-drenched days slipped by, each a little better than the one before, enriched by laughter and shared experiences and starlit nights when, with the windows open wide to the warm velvety darkness, they made love to the sound of the sea whispering on the beach below the hotel.
By the end, though, Clodagh was missing her children. She said a sad goodbye to Marbella, but Bill knew that she was looking forward to getting back. When they drove up the short approach to her house, Emily and Anna were there, waiting for them, with a homemade banner held aloft, proclaiming, in wobbly capitals, that they were welcome home.
Welcome home. Now, it was his home. Now, he was not only husband, but father as well. Now, when he drove to the office, he had two small girls in the back of his car, to be unloaded out onto the pavement in front of their school. Now, at weekends he did not play golf, but cut grass and planted out 1lettuces and mended things. A house without a handyman can slide into disrepair, and this house had had no man in it for nearly three years. There seemed no end to the squeaking hinges, defunct toasters, and balky lawnmowers. Out of doors gates sagged, fences collapsed, and sheds demanded creosote.
As well, there were Emily's animals, which seemed to thrive on emergency and drama. The cat disappeared for three days and was given up for dead, only to reappear with a torn ear and a hideous wound in his side. No sooner had he been wheeled off to the vet than the old dog ate something unspeakable and was sick for four days, lying in his basket and gazing at Bill with red-rimmed, reproachful eyes, as though the whole thing were his fault. Only Gilbert the goldfish remained boringly healthy, swimming around his tank in aimless circles, but even he needed constant care and attention, his tank cleaned, and special food purchased from the pet shop.
Bill coped with all this as best he could, remaining deliberately patient and cheerful. When 1tantrums blew up and there were quarrels and fights, usually ending with cries of 'It's not fair!' and an earth-shaking slam of a door, he kept out of the way, leaving the necessary arbitration to Clodagh, terrified of getting involved and saying or doing the wrong thing.
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