In a basement flat in Hackney, the telephone rings. It’s two in the morning. Isla Green stands in the hallway, pyjamaed, barely awake. She is entirely sober. A good thing, if a little fragile; a little surprising. No tide of shame waits for her, no bloom of pain. She feels clean in her skin, like a schoolgirl. She can taste toothpaste in her throat.
On the third ring she reaches for the receiver. It’s Dom’s voice she will hear if the answerphone picks up, and his voice will set her back. It’s three months since he left and every day she means to wipe the message. She lifts it to her ear just in time.
It takes her a second to place him. ‘Dad?’
‘I didn’t wake you, did I?’
She doesn’t know why she’s gripping the receiver. Why a trill
of fear has sounded in her head. It’s good to hear her dad’s voice, which is more Australian than her own these days. He’s got the time difference wrong, that’s all. At the end of the street a police siren starts its upward loop and cuts out. Its blue light flashes silently.
‘What time is it there?’
‘I don’t know.’ She stretches her free arm above her head, arching her back. In the eight weeks and three days since her last drink, she has been sleeping like the dead.
‘Shall I call back later?’
‘It’s fine. Is everything ok?’