The meal had been cooked to perfection.
For hours now I’ve been slaving away in the kitchen, washing, chopping, steaming, cooking and roasting. Now, at last, it’s ready. The table is laid and the drinks poured. The joint of beef sits proudly in the center of the table, glistening with herbs. The smell is delicious. I scan the table for anything I’ve missed, then call up the stairs;
By the time I’ve walked round the table and taken my seat, I can hear the thunderous footsteps of the twins racing down the stairs. Charlie bursts in first, with Dan hot on his heels. They laugh breathlessly and throw themselves into their seats, talking and joking raucously.
Those boys, I think, partly in amusement and partly in bewilderment. Where do they find all their energy?
The heavy tred of my husband comes down the hallway from his study. As he enters, he sniffs appreciatingly and smiles.
“This looks wonderful, Mary.”
A smile springs to my lips. “Thanks.”
He takes his place, pulls the joint towards him and carefully begins carving the meat. The twins begin to bicker about who was going to get the biggest piece.
The last seat at the table remains empty.
“Where’s Andria?” I ask over the twins argument.
My husband raises his head from his carving, and pulls a ‘I don’t know,’ face. The twins shrug. “In her room?” Dan suggests.
“I’ll go get her!” Charlie exclaims.
“No, I will!”
“I said first!”
I interject before it turns into another argument.
“Charlie, you go.”
He jumps up triumphantly and rushes from the room and up the stairs.
Dan turns his puppy eyes on me. “Awww, Mum!”
I smile inwardly and give him the plate with the largest slice of meat to shut him up. It works.
Moments later, Charlie charges down the stairs and sits back down. Andria follows more sedately, sitting down noiselessly. I notice she’s wearing a large knitted jumper despite the temperature. I pass over her plate and fill my own with potatoes, carrots and peas.
Soon everyone is piling their plates, passing round the gravy dish and digging in. Charlie begins talking about some football game he and Dan are in next weekend, with my husband occasionally interjecting with questions.
I turn to Andria and watch as she cuts her meat into smaller and smaller pieces.
“Hey, aren’t you hungry?”
She glances up, then continues to stare at her place. “Not really.”
“But Sunday roast is your favourite!”
Her voice has an edge to it I don’t understand. She sounds… defensive. Almost angry. “Yeah, well, not today.”
I watch her in silence, my brow creased. What’s wrong? Why is she upset?
“Are feeling okay?” I ask quietly.
“Yes, Mum, I’m fine!” She says, and now the anger in her voice is unmistakable.
I raise my eyebrows. “Don’t bite my head off, I was just wondering why you aren’t eating your favourite meal-”
“For goodness sake!” She says loudly, standing up. “I’m just not hungry! Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?”
The conversation grounds to a halt and four pairs of eyes stare at Andria. I look closer at her, and my thoughts start travelling on a path I don’t like.
Baggy jumpers. Cutting up her food. “I’m not hungry.” And other things as well… changing from packed lunch to school dinners. Going to other friends houses for tea. Going out running every night, on top of Gymnastic training. Weighing herself. Looking in the mirror all the time. And how quiet she’s become…
How can I have missed this? How can I have been so blind?
I stand up slowly and look her in the eye. I feel like I’m seeing her for the first time. Her cheeks are concave, slightly hollow, making her look gaunt and a little skull-like. Her hands, in fists by her sides, are so bony I can count her tendons and her wrists are worryingly thin. The silence in the room is ringing in my ears. I hold onto my chair to keep upright.
“Honey… Are you eating normally?”
For a moment I think I’m wrong and my heart flutters with relief.
Then I see the anxiety flood into her eyes. Her face creases like a paper bag left in the rain and she begins to cry. I go to her and hold her in my arms, sorrow like an undigested meal lying heavy in my stomach. I stroke her hair as she sobs, wishing that now we had found out it would all be over… but knowing that this was only the beginning.