Diana Lively is Falling Down: Chapter One
Sheila Curran

      Diana Lively is naked under her shiny yellow Mac. Water streams down the plastic raincoat, carrying clouds of lather from her daughter’s hair. Eleanor, age four, wails to the shampoo gods, but it’s not the soap in her eyes that’s making her cry. It’s the indignity of having been caught with her brother’s new packet of Walking Stick Insect Eggs before she’s had time for a proper look. Worse, five of six eggs have gone missing and Mummy’s put Bunny in the washing machine.

The raincoat is ludicrous. This Diana knows. Still, better this silly shield than the possibilities that suggest themselves in venomous twigs hatching in unexpected places, for despite her intellectual powers, Diana has an uncommon aversion to insects of any kind.  The thought of one, even the childishly drawn Walking Stick Insect on the front of William’s packet — much less the two hundred offspring promised — is enough to cause her feet to move of their own accord.  And so it is, that here she stands, in this shower, on a late summer afternoon, wearing her raincoat. Diana’s heels rise slightly off the ground; her beautiful mouth twitches with each movement of her daughter’s head. To put it kindly, she is alert.  Highly alert.

Diana’s eyes are blue-grey and slightly Asian-looking in their elongated shape, though she is fifteenth-generation English aristocracy, a fact which she ignores and her husband discloses with equal amounts of daily exertion. Even when she’s had a full night’s sleep, which she hasn’t for three days — having stayed up to finish a dollhouse for Mary Colville’s daughter’s birthday — Diana’s eyes have a slightly smudged look. Her mother and eldest son are constantly after her to wear a concealer, or as Humphrey puts it, “Well, at least put on some bright lipstick, Mummy, to distract the eye! If you’d just take the time!”  Then he’d tsk, tsk and plead with her to let him just take five minutes each morning. The things he couldn’t do.

A knock sounds at the bathroom door and eighteen-year-old Humphrey peeks in, his wet hair slicked back like a blond Elvis.  “I’m done, Mum.  No cooties.  How’s Eleanor look?”

At the sound of her name,  Eleanor clambers over the side of the tub, dripping water on the hexagonal tiles.  

“Eleanor!” Diana’s voice carries with it her phobia and exhaustion, and she repeats her daughter’s name in a softer tone to reverse the effect.  Humphrey swoops his sister back into the tub and kisses her neck until she giggles.  

“Come now, I can’t do this if she’s moving,” Diana murmurs but she too is laughing.