A cool, misty fog collects in her hair. Fine droplets gather and flow in tiny rivulets following the smile lines of her face. They slide from her jaw to dampen and discolor her thin blouse. She doesn’t notice.
It isn’t the wet that concerns him, but rather, the darkness that has grown to isolate her from him. Her eyes, down and to the right, hint that she is away again, lost in thought. For now, he is a decoration, a wind chime on a still day – something inconsequential.
He would wait, though, standing next to her, looking in the same direction as she. But he sees only the trimmed summer lawn from the veranda’s railing all the way to the street, a quarter of a mile distant. He is attending to and accompanying her until she returns. He has done this before, and will do it again. For a while, anyway.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asks. “Gin and tonic or something?”
She flickers as though from a brief power surge, returning.
“No,” she says. “I’d rather have another chance. Can you get me another chance?”
He casts his eyes away, searching for the right words. “No,” he says. “I can’t, but you can.”
“Maybe I will have a drink,” she says. “Gin and tonic, strong. And lime. Lots of ice.”
He knows how she likes her drink – strong, lime, lots of ice – but he doesn’t say, “I know.” He nods like an attentive butler and leaves her alone, leaning on the balustrade, looking at nothing. He walks along the painted veranda floor and enters the house, disappearing through open French doors.
Finally alone, she takes a long, calming breath and closes her eyes. Even from this distance, she thinks she hears the ice falling into the glass. She imagines the gin and tonic floating the ice. She thinks she can smell the lime raining down. She feels the first cooling sip, the bite of the gin, the sting of the tart lime, the restful relaxation that the drink always brings.
He returns with the drink and hands it to her.
She thanks him for the drink she has already finished. She is saddened that his efforts are for naught, but the relaxation has already begun, anyway. She closes her eyes and sips, waiting.
He has made one for himself as well. They pass time, shoulder-to-shoulder, ice clinking in the mid-afternoon stillness.
Clouds part and sunshine fills the world. She feels the temperature rise almost immediately.
“Would you like to sit back there in the shade?” he asks, indicating the white Adirondack chairs against the wall under the veranda’s roof.
She shrugs and they escort each other across the veranda, out of the direct sun, and slide back and down into the chairs. Wide arms on the chairs serve as tables. Now coated with condensed water droplets, their glasses rest on the arms leaving cool circular puddles.
Facing no one in particular, maybe the lawn or the street, she asks out loud the question she has been asking herself for many weeks, “Where did I go wrong?” She turns to face him, locks his eyes, and quietly, confidentially, leans toward him and, in a nearly inaudible whisper, asks again, “Where?”
Her fingers swipe away at the moisture under her eyes, her mascara streaking. “I need a napkin,” she says.
“I always forget the napkins,“ he says. “I’ll get you some.” He rises from the chair and returns to the cool, dark innards of the house.
A yellow school bus passes by on its regular afternoon run. She watches it rumble by, not stopping at the end of their long, paved driveway. She has trouble breathing, her chest compressed. She closes her eyes and concentrates on other things and, eventually, the tightness, the strangulation relaxes. She takes a long sip of the gin and tonic, finishing it.
“Would you make me another drink?”
From inside, “Sure.”
With him busy in the house, her world settles down to only chirping birds, far away barking dogs, and the hiss of distance. Her senses expand and contract to suit her isolation, to help build the barriers she needs for now.
So quiet, she thinks. For so long I wished only for peace and quiet, and now all I want is…is what?
She smiles in the memory of what was.
She reminds herself, “In reality, all I wait for now is another drink. All I can hope for is the numbness it brings.”
He returns with the drink and the napkins and sits, again, next to her. She sips, holding the glass wrapped in napkins.
She has forgotten the streaked mascara.
“It’s so quiet here,” she says.
“Let’s go away for a while,” he suggests. “The Cape. Florida. The old hotel in Montreal. How about it? A quick getaway.”
“A long escape?”
“If you wish.”
“Forever?” She looks down, away.
He tries to read in her face some glimmer, some clue. He sees nothing new to give him pause, to give him a reason to believe she is coming back.
“No,” he says. “Not for forever. We need to go away, take a break from here.” He gestures to the world around her. “Once we get back, you’ll be refreshed. You’ll feel that things will be better. You’ll look forward to tomorrow morning, to the day after. You have to.”
“I know,” she says without looking up. “I’ll go away and come back better. Right?”
“Yes,” he says, trying to hide the noticeable trepidation he feels. “Yes,” he says again to bolster his own confidence.
She sits and looks away into the distance, thinking, deciding.
“We can take a break from here, if you like,” she says. “You decide where.”
“Maybe that old hotel on the coast of Maine.”
“Good. You make the arrangements. We’ll leave right away. Today. This afternoon. Go. Make the arrangements.”
“I’ll make some calls,” he says. “I have some errands to do before we leave.”
A wistful smile animates her face. “I’ll be fine here alone. You go. I’ll get ready.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
She looks at him softly, without accusation. “I’ll be fine here. You go and do what you have to do. Take your time. I’m fine here.”
She feels the tickle of a light kiss on her forehead. “I’ll be right back,” he says.
“I’ll be fine,” she says again as he descends the stairs toward the car. “Good bye,” she says quietly in the afternoon stillness. “I’ll be fine.”
Fine? she thinks, as she watches his Audi back from the three-car garage and follow the long driveway to the street, and away.
From her chair on the veranda, she thinks, I’ll never be fine again. Not as I was. But, I‘ll try. I can’t live like this.
She lifts herself from the chair and stands, stretching her back, and finds her way into the home she has lived in for her entire life. She passes through the anteroom. In the corner, an alabaster statue of a Greek God standing on a marble column greets visitors. A pair of wooden Georgian chairs next to the statue wait for tired travelers. If asked, she would be unable to remember anyone ever sitting in those fine chairs. They are only stately decorations.
She enters her grand hall that features a sweeping marble staircase rising to the second floor, as well as two sets of closed double doors along the opposite walls. Behind one pair is the library, with floor to ceiling bookcases filled with classics. Opposite the library doors on the other side of the hall are the dining room doors, closed also. In the rear, beside the stairs is the swinging servants’ door to the kitchen.
She takes the steps to the second floor slowly. Echoes follow her footfalls, one by one.
Getting away might be the best medicine she thinks, as she ascends toward her bedroom. A breezy coolness hushes its way through the house and up the stairs. It ruffles her pale sundress. The banister steadies her climb to the top level. She follows a wide corridor that leads to her bedroom, one of six closed bedroom doors along this hallway.
Everything is an effort, she thinks. She considers taking a nap before packing for the trip. So tired. She must be packed before he returns.
All the doors along this second story corridor are unlocked, except for the one door, second from the last. It is locked and has been for many months, maybe years.
They are going on a trip. Where are they going? She wonders. No matter. It’s an effort to remember.
Exhausted from the climb, she throws open her door. Her bed covers, cheerful with light, neutral, pastel greens and yellows – summery colors – absorb the darkness she brings with her. Autumn’s browns, oranges, and rusts can wait until the change, the change – months away, bringing the comforting darkness of fall, leading to winter.
She undresses, laying her clothes across her bed, and pads her way into the master bathroom adjacent to her bedroom. She turns on the shower. Steam rises from the shower stall. Glass walls of the shower stall cloud up. She steps into the steamy enclosure and disappears.
Water cascades over her, putting her into a warm trance. She stands in the stream until she notices her fingers beginning to wrinkle again.
“Look at you,” she says to her fingers, “you wrinkled old hags. You couldn’t even leave a good finger print.” I guess I’ve lost some time here, she thinks. Time to dry off and rest a while.
She turns the water off and steps out into a miasma of drifting clouds and indistinct shapes, but she feels around like a blind person and finds her towel. She dries off as well as she can in the dampness and steps out of the bathroom and into her bedroom, naked. She trembles, wrapping her arms around herself in the relative coolness.
Shivering, she slides into her bed and under the covers, pulling them up to her chin.
She sighs in the comfort of her bed.
She thinks, I must begin packing. Plans are made and I must get ready. Just a short nap, first. Just some rest, and then, I’ll pack and be ready.
Her eyes close and she sleeps quietly, restfully, undisturbed in this large empty bed in this large empty bedroom in this large empty house.
Her eyes open and she awakens refreshed, full of hope.
She climbs from her bed and dresses in light summer clothes, a floral patterned blouse of green and yellow. She chooses a comfortable wrap-around skirt of a flowing solid colored material, clingy, maybe a bit daringly enticing.
Her overnight bag is under her bed. Her bureau is full of clean clothing. She packs quickly and is ready to go. The bag is light, weightless. She carries it downstairs to the veranda and sits on the Adirondack chair looking out at the manicured lawn and the street beyond. She waits patiently for him to return.
When he comes home, they will go away and she’ll be better. She knows it.
Clouds roll in. Time passes. But the darker it gets, the more she wants to call the whole trip off. It’s the weather and all, she thinks.
She rises and returns to her bedroom with her overnight bag. She replaces all her clothing in her bureau and slides the bag under her bed. She closes her bedroom door as she leaves to return to her vigil on the veranda. She plans her excuses: the weather, the lateness, her confusion, the long drive, whatever.
Her breathing sputters. After all, he might never suggest a trip again if she wants to bow out.
All these thoughts assail her as she descends toward the veranda and the gathering dark. She leaves the house and walks across the veranda and waits.
While she was away, a cool, misty, fog has risen. It collects in her hair. Fine droplets gather and flow in tiny rivulets following the smile lines of her face. They slide from her jaw to dampen and discolor her thin blouse.
She doesn’t notice.