Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour.
Look at my hands. Count my fingers.
Look at clock (or watch), look away, look back.
Stay calm and focused.
Think of a door.
It was nearly light when it was finally done. A streaky gray wash across the canvas of sky. Dry leaves and mud clung to his jeans, and his weak body ached as his sweat cooled in the damp, chill air. A thing had been done that could not be undone. A terrible necessary act. An ending and a beginning now knotted up forever. He expected the hues of the world to change to reflect that, but the earth and heavens remained the same muted shades, and there was no tremble of anger from the trees. No weeping whisper of wind. No siren wailed in the distance. The woods were just the woods, and the dirt was just the dirt. He let out a long breath and it felt surprisingly good. Clean. A new dawn. A new day.
He walked in silence toward the remains of the house in the distance. He didn’t look back.
There’s still mud under my fingernails when David finally comes home. I can feel it stinging against my raw skin, deep under the beds. My stomach twists, wringing fresh nerves out as the front door shuts, and for a moment we just look at each other from opposite ends of the long corridor of our new Victorian house, a tract of perfectly polished wood between us, before he turns, swaying slightly, toward the sitting room. I take a deep breath and join him, flinching at each of the hard beats of my heels against the floorboards. I must not be afraid. I need to repair this. We need to repair this.
“I’ve cooked dinner,” I say, trying not to sound too needy. “Only a stroganoff. It can keep until tomorrow if you’ve already eaten.”
He’s facing away from me, staring at our bookshelves that the unpackers have filled from the boxes. I try not to think about how long he’s been gone. I’ve cleaned up the broken glass, swept and scrubbed the floor, and dealt with the garden. All evidence of earlier rage has been removed. I rinsed my mouth out after every glass of wine I drank in his absence so he won’t smell it on me. He doesn’t like me to drink. Only ever a glass or two in company. Never alone. But tonight I couldn’t help it.
Even if I haven’t entirely got the dirt out from under my nails, I’ve showered and changed into a powder-blue dress and matching heels and put makeup on. No trace of tears and fighting. I want us to wash it all away. This is our fresh start. Our new beginning. It has to be.
“I’m not hungry.” He turns to face me then, and I can see a quiet loathing in his eyes and I bite back a sudden urge to cry. I think this emptiness is worse than his anger. Everything I’ve worked so hard to build really is crumbling. I don’t care that he’s drunk again. I only want him to love me like he used to. He doesn’t even notice the effort I’ve made since he stormed out. How busy I’ve been. How I look. How I’ve tried.
“I’m going to bed,” he says. He doesn’t meet my eyes and I know that he means the spare room. Two days into our fresh start, and he won’t be sleeping with me. I feel the cracks between us widen once more. Soon we won’t be able to reach each other across them. He walks carefully around me and I want to touch his arm but am too afraid of how he will react. He seems disgusted by me. Or perhaps it’s his disgust at himself radiating in my direction.
“I love you,” I say softly. I hate myself for it and he doesn’t answer but unsteadily clambers up the stairs as if I’m not there. I hear his footsteps recede and then a door closing.
After a moment of staring at the space where he no longer is, listening to my patchwork heart breaking, I go back to the kitchen and turn the oven off. I won’t keep it for tomorrow. It would taste sour on the memory of today. Dinner’s ruined. We’re ruined. I sometimes wonder if he wants to kill me and be done with it all. Get rid of the albatross around his neck. Perhaps some part of me wants to kill him, too.
I’m tempted to have another glass of forbidden wine, but I resist. I’m tearful enough already and I can’t face another fight. Perhaps in the morning we’ll be fine again. I’ll replace the bottle and he’ll never know I’ve been drinking at all.
I gaze out into the garden before finally flicking the outside lights off and facing my reflection in the window. I’m a beautiful woman. I look after myself. Why can’t he still love me? Why can’t our life have been as I’d hoped, as I’d wanted, after everything I’ve done for him? We have plenty of money. He has the career he dreamed of. I have only ever tried to be the perfect wife and give him the perfect life. Why can’t he let the past go?
I allow myself a few minutes’ more self-pity as I wipe down and polish the granite surfaces, and then I take a deep breath and pull myself together. I need to sleep. To properly sleep. I’ll take a pill and knock myself out. Tomorrow will be different. It has to be. I’ll forgive him. I always do.
I love my husband. I have since the moment I set eyes on him, and I will never fall out of love with him. I won’t give that up. I can’t.
Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Pinborough