It Sounded Better in My Head - Nina Kenwood


There Is No One to Blame Here

It’s Christmas Day, we’ve just finished playing our annual post-lunch game of Scrabble (bonus points if you play a word with a Christmas theme) and Dad says we need to talk. He’s using his Bad News voice, and I figure he’s either going to give me another lecture about getting my driver’s licence or tell me he’s reactivated his Twitter account.

‘Natalie, this is really hard to tell you, but we’re, uh, we’re separating,’ he says.

‘Who is?’

‘Your mother and I.’

‘Separating.’ The word feels strange and heavy in my mouth.

‘Breaking up,’ Dad says, because he can never resist hammering a point home once he’s made it.

Mum walks into the room then, eating an apple. She vowed fruit would be her only dessert at Christmas this year because she wants to lose two kilos before January, which makes more sense now I know she is prepping for single life.

‘You’re breaking up?’ My tone is friendly, giving them the space to say ‘just kidding!’ in case it’s an elaborate prank, even though we are not a household that is open to pranks of any kind, most especially unfunny, emotionally scarring ones like this.

Mum looks startled at my question, and spends a long time chewing every last bit of her mouthful of apple before speaking.

No, they’re not breaking up, present tense, verb. They have Broken Up. Past tense, Capital Letters. This isn’t new information. I mean, it’s new to me, but they’ve known for ages. Ten months, to be exact.

‘What do you mean ten months?’ I slam my laptop shut for emphasis. I would like to pretend I was doing something profound in the moments before this life-altering conversation, but in truth I was watching a video of a cat getting scared at the sight of itself in a mirror.

Mum is rattled. This wasn’t her plan, to tell me right now, like this, she says. Well, of course it wasn’t her plan. It’s Christmas.

‘Remember at the start of the year, when your father went overseas?’ Mum says.

‘Vaguely.’ I want to hurry to the part of the story where they explain the fact that they lied to me for the better part of a year. Or to the part where they explain when, exactly, they stopped loving each other and how I missed it.

‘Vaguely? Natalie, I was gone for a month!’ Dad looks insulted. He’s sitting on our old beanbag, which needs more beans, so he’s awkwardly sunken right down onto the floor, with his knees almost touching his chin.

‘Yes, of course I remember.’ He went to London and bought me an ugly tourist T-shirt with a slightly distorted picture of Prince Harry’s face on it because we have a family tradition of buying each other tacky tourist items whenever we go anywhere. That T-shirt is now my second-favourite thing to wear to bed, after my green Slytherin pyjamas.

‘Well, we used that time apart to think about our relationship and when your father got back we decided—mutually—that we didn’t want to be romantically together anymore.’ Mum’s eyes are shiny with emotion, but then she ruins the moment by biting into her apple again with a loud, cheerful crunch.

It’s all so disgustingly civilised and casual. I can’t stand it. I want screaming, tears, drama. I want someone, other than me, to feel like their chest is being stomped on by a giant.

‘No one is at fault here,’ Dad says, which is exactly what someone at fault would say.

‘And you made this decision in February?’ I’m still hoping that I’ve misunderstood this part.

‘Yes,’ Dad says.

‘Ten. Months. Ago.’ Saying it more slowly and loudly doesn’t make it feel any more real.

‘Correct.’ Dad nods encouragingly, like I’m grappling with a tricky maths problem.

‘But you’ve been living together all year.’

‘In separate bedrooms,’ Mum says.

‘You said it was because of Dad’s snoring.’

‘Well, it was, in part. And in part because of the separation.’

‘But…but I just bought you both matching aprons and you said they were exactly what you wanted.’

‘Well, we can still wear the aprons, sweetheart.’

‘No, you can’t!’

There are so many reasons why this is not okay.

We might be a small family, but we’re a great one. An enviable one. Take today, for example. We do a cosy, three-person Christmas so well. We have stockings with our names on them, we watch Die Hard, play Scrabble, eat Dad’s homemade mince pies, and open our presents one at a time to great fanfare. We listen to carols, wear Santa hats and take silly photos. And now they’ve gone