The One Who is Two - Book 1 of White Rabbit
seemed to ignore him, but then lifted her face briefly to plant a perfunctory kiss on his proffered
cheek before turning quickly back to the television.
'Bye-bye, sweetie,' he murmured to the back of her head, 'See you next week.'
'You won't find Alex,' said his wife, as he came back into the kitchen, 'He'll be over the road.
Ian's got a new computer game.'
Sensing her growing anxiety for him to be gone, he picked up his jacket from the back of the
kitchen chair and, keeping his eyes fixed on the white melamine of the table, pulled it on.
Sundays were always bad, but this one, his birthday, had been worse than most. Naturally, he
hadn't expected anything from his wife, but he had been shocked by the children's indifference.
A cheap card from Alex, probably bought that morning by Stephanie from the newsagents at the
bottom of the road, and a scrawled picture from Laura, five minutes of half-hearted effort, bad
even by her standards. And then a few hours wandering around Lego-Land, acutely aware that
his sole contribution to their pleasure was as the provider of funds. He remembered the same day
in previous years – the attention, the affection, the presents bought with carefully saved pocket
money, the meticulously drawn birthday cards – and the contrast was brutally stark.
'Right then,' he said, fighting to keep the misery out of his voice, 'I'll be off. I'll see you next
Sunday, usual time.'
As he spoke, Stephanie seemed to remember something. She turned to the living room door,
calling above the pop singer's warbling. 'Laura, you haven't given Daddy his present.'
'It's on the sideboard,' said the girl, without enthusiasm.
'She's made you a present,' explained Stephanie, 'I'll just fetch it.'
Cadwallader waited by the back door, slightly cheered that his daughter's indifference was less
complete than he had thought. Something at the corner of his vision caught his attention: a flash
of white in the doorway to the living room. It was a large white rabbit, looking up at him with
blank, pink eyes, its ears erect, its fur glossy and unnaturally brilliant as if it had just been washed
'Here you are.' His wife came in from the hall and handed him a small package crudely
wrapped in what looked like recycled Christmas paper. Inside was a small medicine bottle,
brown glass with a black plastic screw-top. Holding it up to the window, he could see it was
filled with a turbid liquid.
'What is it?' he asked, genuinely puzzled.
'Perfume. Actually after-shave, as it's for you.'
He unscrewed the top and sniffed at the bottle. It had an aromatic smell, strangely familiar.
'Squashed geranium leaves,' explained Stephanie, 'It's a new fad at school. She made about
two pints of the stuff last week – I had to put the poor plant in my bedroom, before she reduced it
to a bare twig.'
Cadwallader smiled and, up-turning the bottle onto his forefinger, dabbed the liquid behind
each ear in a mock-female gesture. Stephanie watched him, unsmiling, her expression anxious
and irritated. She glanced up at the clock.
'Please go now, I don't want a scene.'
He felt his tiny bubble of pleasure burst.
'Thank you for the present, darling, it's lovely,' he called, slipping the bottle into his jacket
'OK.' The girl replied without turning round.
As he opened the back door, Cadwallader remembered the rabbit.
'Oh, I nearly forgot to ask. Her new rabbit, what's its name?'