The Replacement Prologue

Prologue

Oxfordshire, December 2013

The house was silent. All the noise came from outside. They waited at the end of the drive with their cameras, their microphones and their endless questions, like vampires ready to suck out her last drop of life.

Caroline stood in the living room, watching them through a crack in the curtains that she never opened any more. The weather was dry and mild for the time of year. It was the sort of morning she would once have spent in her garden, planting and weeding, making her home as beautiful without as it was within. Keeping up appearances, only there was no longer any point. Not now everyone knew.

She told herself to stay strong. That it would soon be over. That her story was just one in an endless procession of nine-day wonders for the media to chew over then spit out, leaving her to try and rebuild her life from the scraps that remained.

The morning post lay on a side table, as substantial as the previous day’s had been. She flicked through the envelopes. Most were handwritten. She knew what they would say. The same messages of hate she had received yesterday and would receive tomorrow too.

She focused on one that had been typed. It looked official; a circular or notice of some sort. She tore it open, grateful for anything that reminded her of normality.

But it wasn’t a circular. Just a single sheet of paper, covered in angry scrawl:

This is all your fault. You make me sick. How can you call yourself a mother after what you’ve done? You’re an insult to all the millions of women out there who can’t have children of their own. I don’t know how you can look at yourself in the mirror. I really don’t.

How could you not know? That’s what I don’t understand. You MUST have known. They were your children. You were closer to them than anyone. What sort of woman are you? How could you possibly not know  . . .

She didn’t read any more. Just threw it and all the others into the bin.

A grand piano stood in the centre of the room. Once her sons had sat together on its stool performing duets for their grandparents. She remembered them laughing as they made mistake after mistake while their grandparents pretended not to notice; she had tried not to laugh herself, and her husband had muttered about the fortune he was wasting on music lessons. It had been a happy time. There had been so many happy times watching them grow up.

The piano was covered in framed photographs. In one she and her husband looked young and in love on their wedding day. In another she sat in a hospital bed, proudly holding twin babies in her arms. But most were of the boys themselves; as toddlers opening Christmas presents, playing cricket in the back garden, posing on the slopes during a skiing holiday, looking serious in their new school uniforms and later in their graduation robes. The entire history of her family captured in a series of simple images.

One in particular held her gaze, taken at a charity lunch back in August. She and her husband stood together outside the village hall, bathed in sunshine and with their sons on either side. It hurt to look at it now. To remember the last time they had all been together.

Before the sky collapsed on top of them.