Tea, the great panacea. Sharon’s hands were trembling as she filled the kettle and plopped the bags into mugs. Fiona was calmer now it seemed. As they had driven through the darkening streets the sobbing had subsided somewhat and eventually her passenger had simply sat staring through the windscreen. Her body was tight with the tension, a line too strung out to be safe, on the verge of snapping.
Pulling into the drive she had expected to help her friend out but immediately the car stopped the passenger door was flung open and Fiona jumped out and made for the front door. Hugging herself tightly she swayed from foot to foot while Sharon fiddled with the lock and the burglar alarm. Although tense, she did seem to be more in control.
“Sit down love, in the lounge. Go in there. I’ll put the kettle on.”
Now the two steaming mugs sat before them untouched. Sharon perched sideways on the edge of the cushion the better to look directly into the haggard face and to hold onto both restless hands and stop them wringing and kneading.
“Now, come on out with it. What on earth is going on?”
For a long moment the blue eyes sparkling with unshed tears stared back unblinking. Fiona took a long shuddering breath, looked down at her hands clasped in friendship between those of the other woman. She closed her lids momentarily and as she opened them the tears escaped to flood unheeded. First giving her head a sharp shake she then tipped it to one side and peered seriously at her questioner.
“What do you reckon, Sharon? Is the worst thing that could happen to you?”
“Well, if Simon was to go off with someone else I suppose. Or maybe losing my job, I don’t know, serious illness of course.”
“No, no you’re thinking too small.”
“Small, you think that’s small. Simon leaving would be devastating.”
“Yes, yes of course but bigger than that, something so big that you know you won’t ever be able to get away from it. You know absolutely that you will carry it forever and no matter how you try to go on, to convince yourself and everyone around you that it’s all fine it will be there like a cancer, black and destructive inside you.”
“God Fiona, what are you talking about? Are you ill, is that it?”
“No, The worst thing, “”A fate worse than death”” that’s what they used to call it, worse than death. What is worse than death?”
Unconsciously dropping the hands now grown still and limp Sharon covered her mouth, as if to try to stop the horrified gasp escaping. “No, oh no, oh Fiona you haven’t Not you, oh you poor thing. Was that what happened, the other night, the one after I stayed. Oh you have to call the police.”
“Wait, just wait,” With a raised palm Fiona stayed any further comments, “There’s a second part to the question.” She paused, calm now her breathing quiet and her hands finally motionless against her blue jeans. “What do you think is the worst thing that you could do to someone else?”
“Oh well, being unfaithful I suppose. Lying, cheating there are so many ways to hurt people. I think my worst fear is hurting someone in a car crash, I often worry about that.”
“Ah, so hurting someone, physically hurting them. That is the worst thing?”
“Well, yes or of course I suppose, heaven forbid, actually, killing someone.”
Now there was no sound except what came from the street outside, somewhere a car door slammed, a dog barked. It was a world away from this one, unrelated to this reality.
For long, long moments Fiona didn’t speak, simply sat staring at her friend, willing her to understand the thing that was too big, too awful for ordinary words.