The kitchen was teeming with adults and children and heat. A madness of noise and laughter. I pulled at the waist of my jeans.
They greeted us excitedly. That’s what happens when you arrive a bottle of wine late. I noticed that everyone had made more of an effort to get dressed up than we had.
Ah you're all such shiny people! I had said after kissing each of their warm damp faces.
Charlie complained that no one seemed so pleased to see him.
It's just that your Dizzy is so lovely Suzie said
Yes of course she is, except for when she's not, you know she didn’t tell me that it was a fancy dress thing tonight.
I laughed awkwardly and got us some drinks, he hung around for a while, stilting the conversation. An unwelcome appendage to our group. He eventually wandered off in search of better company. I’d done my best to accommodate him. I was relieved and told a story about him from the weekend. Everybody laughed.
The evening continued in the same way it ever did except that Charlie didn't reappear. He was normally there, the first amongst husbands to start to remind us of the children's bedtimes, or the swimming lessons tomorrow or the lunch plans.
On a trip to the toilet I didn’t spot him either, Has anyone seen my husband? I had announced jokingly. No one had. Maybe he'd left without me? I checked my phone, time for one more, maybe he was actually enjoying himself? Having a good time?! Or maybe he’d just fallen asleep somewhere?
An hour or so later I was wandering past friends wearing an unsteady smile searching for him. I knew this place well, felt comfortable here - downstairs anyway. I looked past the living room into the window of the study, a small book lined room with comfortable chairs. This was where the house cat hid from the house dog and so had a fused reek of cat shit, cat food and cat fear.
And that was where he was. And that was when I saw her, this friend of Suzie’s. She was holding a book and speaking intensely. Charlie sat leaning on the back of a chair, hands clenching himself steady there, probably trying to draw attention to his arms. His upper body was tilting backward as if this woman were a light too bright to be that close too, he needed distance to see her more fully. I waited a moment, hovering outside, really spying now. And aware suddenly of how stooped I was and how the sweat was sitting on my upper lip and clinging to my armpits. I pulled at my jeans.