Even Liam's calm nature began to waver five days later, when the postcards started making their way onto the kitchen floor again. Ellie had gone through a few lovely days when they stopped. Liam had been making absolutely certain that he wasn’t knocking the cards off leaving for work. She had just about convinced herself that had been the cause of it (Liam had even apologised for being responsible for scaring her like that, even if it had been unintentional), when she came downstairs two days in a row to find a different postcard on the floor each day (Bournemouth the first, Portsmouth the second, both picture side up), when Liam wasn’t actually at work.
It was the weekend, and on the Saturday morning Liam got up at the usual time (no matter how much he tried to sleep in, his body clock was set to work time) and went straight into the shower. Ellie woke a few minutes later and went to join him before the kids woke as well. When they heard the boys stir, Ellie went down to get ready for breakfast, Rohan zipping around the kitchen in her pink aeroplane walker while Liam went in to get Ciaran and Declan up, something that he missed out on during the week and relished the opportunity to do on his weekends off. He took them to use the toilet and get dressed, and took them down to the living room for a quick play before breakfast, while he popped his head round the kitchen door to check on Ellie. She was stood facing the kitchen side, both hands out in front of her resting on the counter. She had her head down and was breathing heavily. With all the laughter and happy chatting coming from the front room, the quiet in the kitchen was striking. All that could be heard was Rohan sucking her dummy, the off-time ticking of the wall clock (they never remembered to put batteries on the shopping list), and the deep trembling breaths coming from Ellie. Concerned, Liam sidled up to her and wrapped a protective arm around her stomach. He pressed in tight against her back and peered over her shoulder to get a better view of what he had seen between her hands, although he had already predicted to himself what it almost certainly was. Confronted with a montage of some of Bournemouth’s most beautiful locations, Liam grabbed his wife gently by the arm, spun her round and pulled her into a tight embrace, where she began to sob. She managed to control her tears long enough to ask him what it meant, but this time he could offer no explanation.
If he struggled to find a reason on the Saturday morning, he was at even more of a loss on the Sunday morning, when for the first time he encountered a fallen postcard himself. He had planned to go down into the kitchen first to see if there was anything untoward, but Ellie had asked him to do it anyway before they went to sleep on the Saturday night. She had decided that it was probably pointless as he usually went downstairs first when he was at work and yet it wasn’t until she came down that the postcards would be on the floor, but she was too shaken to face it that morning. Maybe if he went down and the postcards were all where they should be, it might make a difference if he left the kitchen door open for her when she came down. She was clutching at straws with this idea, but she wanted to rule out any possibility, no matter how far fetched they seemed.
Liam did find a postcard on the floor, showing Portsmouth pier and seafront, picture side up. For a fleeting moment, he had thought about putting the card back on the board and telling Ellie there hadn’t been anything there. Realising that doing this would achieve absolutely nothing, save for having a detrimental effect on his conscience, he instead pinned the card back on the board and started to turn away to go and tell her about it, when a peculiar feeling crept over him and a chill started to rise up his spine. He reached out in front of him and took the latest card back down. He glanced back at the board and quickly cleared the kitchen side where he stood. Remembering the order Ellie had been telling him the cards had presented themselves (which surprised him as she normally had to tell him off for not listening to her when she was talking), he took each of them down from the board and laid them out one beside the other on the work surface. The Isle of Lewis, Edinburgh, The Lake District, Bournemouth and Portsmouth…he was certain this was the exact order of the locations Helen stopped at on her favourite holiday tour, which she took every couple of years. He flipped all of the postcards over and checked the dates of the postmarks. They corresponded with the order he had recalled, and as he stood there staring at them, attempting to make sense of a situation that made no sense whatsoever , he noticed something that made his pulse quicken and his breath shorten. On the postmarks of the cards, the time between dates matched the time between the days that Ellie (and now Liam himself) had found the postcards on the kitchen floor. According to the original dates on the postcards, the second was sent two days after the first, two days after that the third was sent, five days later the fourth was sent, with the fifth dated the day after that. Sure enough, Liam had found the fifth that day, Ellie had found the fourth the day before, which was five days after she had found the third, itself two days after the second, with the one that started it all showing up two days prior to that.
But how would he make Ellie believe that when he was struggling to believe it himself? Well, he wouldn’t necessarily have to tell her that part of it would he? No, he decided, he wouldn’t. Ellie only needed to know there had been a card on the floor, nothing else. If she had noticed anything about the pattern, she would tell him and he in turn would tell her. But if she did not have even an inkling then there was no reason to worry her needlessly. What he would do was keep an eye out for the next card (assuming there would be more, which he sincerely hoped there wouldn’t). If it was the one with Southampton Harbour on it, he would have to tell her. He carefully replaced all the other cards, before taking the Southampton one down and inspecting the date of the postmark. If it was going to perform the same trick that the others had, it would do it the next day. He would be back at work and would have to ask Ellie all about it. But, for the time being, he pinned the Southampton one with the others and went to tell her that there had been a postcard on the floor, nothing more.
(Chapter 5 due tomorrow, 22/12/08)