I think of her as my nemesis.
We meet every couple of weeks to collect the child. Joint custody, you see. She’s a lovely little girl, Doris, bright and friendly; her eyes are very green, and she swims like a fish, but her dad – Tom, my partner – says she gets that from him. I try not to think about it too much if I’m honest. We have a lovely time together, the three of us – we chat and paint and play and yes, often we swim – and then we drop Doris back to her on a Sunday night. I know it’s hard for Tom. He misses Doris, and who could blame him – the situation worries us both – but after all, this happens in a lot of families. I guess it’s inevitable, the ways things are.
That isn’t a complaint, you understand. I’m nothing if not open-minded, and I’ve had a lot of therapy. Although sometimes I find Tom’s history difficult, I probably would have in any case. It’s more to do with my insecurity than with specifically her. And we have a really good relationship, we talk about everything and snuggle a lot and the sex is incredible, so I try not to worry too much. We’re good. It’s just…somehow, she’s always there. The spectre of her. I feel, somehow, like we’ll never be free of her. I suppose we won’t, because there’s always Doris, and not for the world would I come between Doris and Tom – but I do, selfishly, wish she had a different mother.
We don’t speak, her and me. Although sometimes she might look in my direction. I think, once, there was something that could have been a smile, but then the moment passed. I don’t know how Doris deals with it – she’s terrifying when she really gets going – although I guess it’s different when you live with something. And she’s a bright kid, already learning what it’s okay to say and what’s best kept quiet. And after all, I wouldn’t suggest for a moment she doesn’t love Doris, in her way.
I think the first time was the worst. Tom had warned me, of course, but nothing can prepare you really. The size, the colour, that hideous iridescence, green like an oil slick over a bruise. The eyes. Slitty, slippery, oozing bile. I did my best, I stepped forward, offered a hand to help, smiled politely like this happened all the time – but I’m sure she wasn’t fooled. Perhaps I should be glad she didn’t speak to me. It took Tom a few days to recover, but the burns heal quite fast. After all, this isn’t her natural habitat, and we should probably be grateful she’s prepared to leave it for Doris to have a relationship with Tom. It’s the best thing for everybody.
I try not to think about her and Tom. Most of the time, I manage it. I’m a grown-up, after all. Whilst I wish we could all just sit down together and talk things over, particularly now Doris is growing up a bit, I accept the world can’t always be the way we want it to be. If I want to be with Tom – and I do – I accept that she’s part of the deal. That’s just the way things are.
Just sometimes, in my sleep, I see the flick of a tentacle at the edge of my vision, and I wake, soaked in sweat and strangled in blankets, reaching for Tom and keening.