Just the first morning after he told her, "We have plenty of time," Suzan Mayweather adorned herself with a low hanging top and made her way across a wide expanse of land, unaccompanied. She did not take her umbrella or her hat or the sample sweater that usually smelt of patchouli.
At some time, the cold would settle on her skin and drag her down the grass, screaming in her head. She was not to worry herself with the trivial knowledge that it was winter or maybe near winter and she could die from insomnia. What was important was that she was liberated from the world and she could now somehow be a part of nature.
The feeling sank through her skin the way her eggs did sink into her flour. Just last week, she had attempted to bake cookies for him. He was to try them and mouthed pleasantries and drag her in and kiss her cheeks. But the cookies had turned an ugly brown, half-burnt, bitter, and stale like a frothy sea of clouds which was something a baker would not have done. Surely he had left because of that. What else was there?
She pressed herself against the grass. Only, the grass had disappeared in the night, replaced simply by a sprinkling of white flakes. Suzan took a handful and squeezed and pressed hard so that her dainty fingers marked itself around it like it was hers; like it would never melt away no matter the weather. Finally, it formed a shaky ball. She did not laugh at her creation but a smile formed at the corner of her lips. The wind picked up a sound and they flew past her in sudden starling movements. She watched the sky. It was grey. She started to wonder if there existed something extraordinary beyond that skyline. It seemed unlikely and it was not because she had gotten her heartbroken.
The sun was so far out that Suzan lost interest. She got up from the snow, separating herself once more from the coldness of nature. Little dots lined her arms and her legs stopped functioning. She took her time, biting her lips and blowing air in her hands. This was something she had learned from a movie. He had insisted on watching it. She had declined. Or perhaps it had been the other way around. It was too far back she could barely keep track. She shook her head and screamed. The sound was throaty like a vestibule of wordless emotions. No one saw or heard her and for the first time, she did not want to be seen.
She walked back to the house, her feet pressing into the snow. It was quiet. On the countertop, her phone was buzzing, the small vibrating tune reaching her from the hallway. She did not run over to the kitchen. She simply stood in the hallway, where the door to the field could watch her keenly. She turned to look at it. She imagined it knew her name and that perhaps, it knew why he had left her.
“You could have made him stay,” she whispered to the door.
It made no sound. Perhaps she was mad after all. Wasn’t that his description of her when they sat side by side in the therapist’s large office? She had listened, for a while, and then she had told him she did not understand what he had said. He had shrugged, the indifference spreading through the walls. Perhaps she ought to visit a therapist someday with news. She would start small:
He left me to go join the army and I haven’t seen him since. He hasn’t popped by to say hello. He hasn’t called to tell me goodnight.
No, he left me to go find himself.
No, he left me to…
Suzan felt unknown in her little house. For a year and a half, she had shared the space with Freddie and they had loved each other until he had stopped and moved out. What was there to say? He had left her and yet a part of her had still not accepted the idea. She, who once had been sure of life, now knew nothing. She would not call him, no. Love was not to be forced but she could wish for his return. She could wish for him to remember, quietly, the love she had spared for both of them.
But being unknown was not quite a good thing. Suzan did not know what to do or say. It was as though she had awakened one morning from a dream that had curled around her in the night. It was that sort of dream that lingered for a while but which left a mark hard to fill. Like missing something one did not have.
When she did find her way into the kitchen, he was by the stove. She stayed by the door, easing gently into the background like a small paint.
“Where have you been?” he asked without turning. “Your phone has been ringing all morning.”
She watched him quietly the way one would do to a beloved pet. Or something that would soon be gone. Then she swallowed and she folded her hands across her chest. He was stirring the stew, she knew. She liked the way his hands turned and twisted as if he was marking something. The place smelt of curry and mushroom and expensive cologne. She would miss him if he left…when he left, and it would kill her.
Then he turned to her and frowned, “Where are your clothes?” he asked.
There was something at the moment and Suzan tried, almost too hard, to understand. It was as though his question and his subtle love and affection were ethereal. And she could not hang on well enough. When he would go away, finally, suddenly, she would discover she had no recollection of him. And wouldn’t that be the saddest thing on earth, she reasoned.
“I’m sorry, Fred,” she said, slipping in fully. “I wasn’t out long anyway.”
He resumed his cooking. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he mused. “You are slipping away and I don’t know what to tell you.”
She sighed. “Don’t say anything, Fred,” she tapped his shoulder, lovingly, and took her phone. “I promise to take your advice more often.”
Silent and stormy words hung in the air. He stared at her like he was looking at a framed painting at a concert hall: a detached, quiet, full stare behind thin lashes.
"We are moving out, you know," he said. "And we haven't packed and it just feels..."
She heard him the second time. "I know, I know." She could not let him finish his words, would not let him hurt her with cold, quiet words. It had to be like this.
"What are you going to do when we get to Portland?" the words were tacitly displayed.
She eyed him and touched her face. "Maybe buy a good cup of coffee and a sandwich and a burger."
He nodded and turned off the stove. She helped him set the table, trailing her fingers along the table so that she would remember, later, when she was alone. Then they sat overlooking the field as the snow fell fast.
There was a fishbone in her plate of stew. She took it out with her spoon and dangled it in front of him. He laughed and opened his mouth. She pushed the bone in and he covered and chewed. He said nothing.
“What do you think will kill you?” she asked him.
It was the least friendly question to ask and it had sprouted suddenly. Looking at her, he knew she had mulled over it for some time. He drank water and looked out, wordlessly, through the window.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked him. She had stopped eating.
“One hardly knows what to say when one is asked about…”
She helped him, “Death? Don’t you wonder about it?”
He stopped eating.
She nodded with a quiet understanding. “Well, of course, I do,” she said. “And that’s why I asked you. What do you think?”
He shook his head and allowed time to pass between them. There was nothing to say, honestly and it bothered him. Why was she allowing her mind to follow the path of knowing too much and knowing too little almost at the same time? He looked at her. She looked at him. There was longing in her eyes. What was he to say anyway?
“I think that death is the end, I guess,” he said. “We are never really here, right? So we are just waiting to be taken someplace else.”
She regarded him with eyes that said so much and then she nodded as if she had nothing else to say.
Words would never be enough for the sort of pain she felt. It was the kind of pain that soaked words in so that all that was left was a burning in the skin. Like an afterthought or a life before.
“So what were you doing outside?” he asked, spreading his hands across the table. She did not eat from her plate but she could tell it had grown cold. It reminded her of rain beating hard against her skin and crushed Styrofoam cups in the basement of her old house. Then, the world had been a bleak sketch of something wrong and something half right at the same time and she had dragged herself through the days. She was not a survivor, that was words too many. She was Suzan Mayweather and that hardly counted for someone too afraid of being left alone.
She loved him. But loneliness was baggage she was not done bearing. It was like a myriad of forgotten dreams laced in between her fingers. Her hands shook as she brought them on her lap beneath the table. She dipped her black clogs into the carpet and sighed.
In the night, he pressed his body into the thinness of her frame. It was maybe eleven or so but she was wide awake. She listened to his ragged breaths and then she pulled away, gently, as if his touch all but irritated her. She felt him stiffen behind her. His hands came again to touch her around her shoulders. He was not trying to pull her back in. He was saying something else. She suddenly wished that he would grab her and kiss her.
She wanted, suddenly, for that show of force that would make her come alive again. But he dropped his hands and turned away. She waited for a minute and then turned around.
She trailed her hands along his bareback. He was wearing no shirt even though it was cold in the room. Gently, he turned around to look at her. “Were you asleep? I’m sorry for waking you up.”
She nodded. “Why don’t we make a baby?”
He swallowed. The light in the room was dim. It was hard to make his face but she knew he was thinking about it. Finally, he spoke and she knew, she knew alright, that they were never going to be parents.
“Are you sure about that? I mean we both agreed we wouldn’t try for a child until you were done with school.”
“I know,” she said, agreeing with a little too quickly. “Go back to bed then.”
He reached out to cup her face. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
She smiled even though she knew he would not see. There were tears in her eyes. Her lips shook. She was feeling hollow in her bones; like the tipsy curve of a wound. “I just thought we should have a child.”
He kissed her forehead. It reminded her of her mother standing by her bed, a kiss hidden behind her hands and a question on her lips: what are you thinking about, my dear?
“I love you,” he said.
She was the first to wake up. He was not on the bed and underneath a calm façade, she felt fear. It was not the ordinary kind. It was the fear only found at airports or behind steel, back heavy with a load too light to carry. She stalled in the bathroom, staring at her face in the mirror. She pushed two blue pills in and sipped water from the faucet. She sat on the toilet seat and touched her face.
What would happen to her if he left? She did not want to think about it but she knew, deep down, that it would kill her. Again, it was not love. She had to go see a therapist. Would he accompany her? She could ask him except asking meant telling him she had a problem. That she was afraid of something that had not happened yet. That she was afraid she was living a reality without him in it. Because if she could get used to it, it would not hurt when it did happen. Was that much of a problem?
He was not in the kitchen. His favorite jacket hung still on the wall by the door. The living room was empty. Outside, the snow had thickened so that it felt as if she was living in a different world. She gripped her cellphone too tightly and dialed his number. As it rang, she imagined he had driven to town and gotten in an accident and had died. Then, her mind went to him leaving. Leaving was probably the easiest she could think about. She immediately felt powerless, the way she had felt when her mother had left too.
Ten years was a long time but the scar and the fear remained. She tapped her fingernails on the wall. It rang twice before she realized it was ringing from underneath the cushions. Suzan stopped breathing. She knelt on the floor and held her head. She began to cry, low sobs that left her with small grief.
She saw him through the window. There was a small pile of logs in his hands. She swallowed and stood up. When he came in, she smiled through clenched teeth. He kept the logs by the door and took off his gloves.
“What are you doing?”
She shook her head.
“Were you crying?”
She shook her head.
He sighed. “Do you want help?”
She bit her fingernails. She was not going to cry. She was strong because the first morning she realized she was scared by the thought that he was going to one day leave her, she had run out into the field, unaccompanied.
He etched closer and touched her hands. “Get dressed, Su,” he said.
She eyed him. He had shaved off his beard. She remembered thinking he looked like an old painting. His beard against her skin used to be rough. His brown eyes were soft, almost as if he was afraid too. He was wearing the sweater she bought him last Christmas. Everything seemed too much even for her. She pressed her hands to her stomach and groaned.
“Why won’t you tell me what’s going on, Su?” he asked.
“It’s nothing,” she said to him.
He did not kiss her.
She tried to bake cookies again in the afternoon. He stood by the counter, drinking a bottle of red wine. Did he know it was stolen? “Tell me a story as I work,” she said.
He chuckled and told her a story about his dog.
What was his name again?
Christophe, he said to her.
She laughed, spilling an egg on the counter. The yellow yolk stared back at her. She dipped her hands in the flour and dapped it afterward on the egg. He eyed her. “Are you sure you know what you are doing?”
Would he leave her if she got this one wrong again?
“So tell me about Christophe,” she said.
He did not tell her about Christophe. He simply watched her. The cookies turned out good. He dipped his in his glass of wine. She slapped him playfully and laughed and bit her lips.
It was night when she told him she wanted a baby again. He was wearing a shirt this time around. “I don’t think we are ready for such responsibility.”
She sat up from bed. She was cold and so hot inside. “But I want to carry my child. I am lonely.”
“Is this why…?”
She shrugged as if she was ripping something out of the shadows. No, don’t call her a monster.
“We aren’t ready,” he said.
She could feel nothing now. She slipped back in bed and sighed. She would say she did not mean it the way it sounded later but as her back hit the mattress and the sheets that smelt of sunrise and sunset, she said, “We were never going to make it, Fred.”