‘Passport Soup’ is a poignant short story by the brilliant Claire Keegan, about a man consumed with grief after his only child goes missing while she is in his care. At a recent workshop we read the story and were asked to rewrite from the wife’s of view. This is my offering…
‘Bad dreams?’ she asked before slamming down the phone, not waiting for his reply.
How can he sleep? How can he sleep in her room? On her bed? How can he live with himself? Lizzie would still be here if it wasn’t for him and he just carries on everyday as if she never even existed.
She would never forget and she’d make damn sure he’d never forget either.
She’d seen the milk carton pushed to the back of the fridge, hidden out of sight. She’d made sure she’d bought the one with their daughters photograph on it. He couldn’t look at it. He couldn’t face what he had done. He didn’t want to remember but she’d never let him forget.
He goes to work, he drinks, he eats, and he sleeps. He looks at her. She doesn’t look back. He speaks to her. She doesn’t reply. He touches her. She slaps him away. He sleeps alone.
As she sits on the veranda looking at the stars, she hears him in the bathroom. She knows he can’t avoid the enlarged photo pinned to the back of the door staring down at him as he does a shit. Oh no, she’d never let him forget.
She began to have her suspicions about her husband when she heard the police officer asking him if he’d had a row with Elizabeth. Frank shifted on his feet; avoided the question; avoided her gaze.
When the search party had given up trekking through fields of corn, through meadows and grasslands, searching through every ditch and river – Frank had given up too.
‘How can you give up?’ she’d screamed at him. He didn’t reply. Her suspicions grew.
She went to the drugstore with the photographs of Elizabeth and got hundreds of copies printed. She handed them out at the shopping mall, at the school gates, in the street.
‘Have you seen this girl?’ she begged. ‘Have you seen my daughter?’
Day after day she saw the pity in stranger’s eyes. She didn’t want their pity. She wanted them to say ‘yes, I’ve seen your daughter. I know where she is. She’s safe. She’s been looking for you. She was only lost.’ They never did; they just shook their head and walked away.
As the days turned into weeks then months, she travelled further afield to other towns. She drove for miles up and down motorways and side streets, always searching.
One day, she’d jerked to a halt and jumped from the station wagon when she saw the little girl in the red sweatshirt with the ‘One Direction’ bag slung over her shoulder. Her heart thumping excitedly she ran after her. ‘Elizabeth – Lizzie, it’s me, its mummy. Oh thank God’. But it wasn’t Elizabeth, it was someone else’s little girl who looked at the mad woman running after her with fear in her eyes.
When she’d driven home, her heart breaking all over again and found him sleeping on Lizzie’s bed… her bed now, until Lizzie returned. She felt something snap inside.
She wanted to drag him from the bed by the hair, she wanted to punch him, kick him, and tear his eyes out. She wanted him to feel her pain. She wanted him to suffer the way she was suffering.
She walked into their bedroom, to the bed they hadn’t shared for months. Taking the photographs from her bag, she spread them across the sheet then gently covered the twenty smiling faces of her daughter with the duvet before picking up the phone and dialling the extension in Lizzie’s room. ‘Bad dreams?’ she asked.
They passed each other in the hallway as he returned to his room. She lay on her daughters’ bed and cried herself to sleep once more.
He didn’t come home from work the following day. Guilty conscience she thought. She wished he’d never come home again. She wished he’d vanish like Lizzie did. Oh God she hated him so much.
She’d gone into his room that morning. The bed was unmade and the photographs were in his sock drawer.
It was late when the phone rang. ‘Hello’ she says. ‘Hello’ he says ‘…I was just wondering, you know. I was just wondering –‘. She hung up. ‘Fuck you’ she said. ‘I’ll make you wonder alright.’
On Friday, she lit the furnace and tidied the house. She showered and dressed in her blue evening gown and put on the necklace he’d bought her for their first wedding anniversary when she’d been pregnant with Lizzie.
She saw the look of surprise on his face when he came in from the snow and the house was warm and dinner was on the stove. She saw him frown as he looked at the table set for three. ‘How about a drink – Honey?’ She forced a smile. She saw hope in his eyes as he took the glass of amber liquid from her outstretched hand.
She knew he’d check under the duvet when he went into the bedroom. He’d think she’d forgiven him when the photographs weren’t back there. She heard him whistling as he changed out of his work clothes. The bastard… He thought everything was back to normal. She’d seen the way he’d looked at her breasts in the low cut dress. She felt sick to her stomach. She downed a glass of whiskey and poured another one .She ladled the soup into his bowl and placed the photographs on the steaming surface. Nine passport photos of their daughter. One for every year of her life. ‘Dinners ready’ she called.