The roads were oily, slick with rainwater and dark underneath the expanse of grey clouds. I pulled my cap down low over my forehead. I could see droplets rushing from the peaked edge and falling in front of my face.
The road was lined on either side by large, detached houses, each bright in the glare of the streetlights. I followed the pavement past them, squinting through the rain to peek into their front rooms.
The wind howled; it moved with great gusts, curling around houses and bending trees with its strength. I pulled my coat tighter around me; the buttons had come loose some time ago, and I had yet to get round to sewing them back on.
A young girl was sat in a window seat, looking out at the storm. Her eyes were round and glassy, her chin balanced on two delicate palms, propped up by pointed elbows. She did not shift, entranced by the falling rain.
I shoved my hands into my pockets, as deep as they would go. I’d forced my work apron into one of them, and my hand pushed its way in alongside it. I could feel the fabric crumple against my knuckles, and I pushed a little harder.
My steps slowed as I passed the girl in the window. A trickle of water ran down the glass, sliding from her eye down to the windowsill, where it stilled. Her eyes stared blankly past it, and my own unfocused in turn. I always sat near windows as a child, and was often called out for daydreaming in school. I’d picture fantastical voyages, charter imaginary lands, and stare out of the window, my eyes idling on the sports field outside. I’d never seen a horse in real life, let alone ridden one, but I’d see myself loping across the fields, perhaps with arrows or swords stashed across my back.
I’d walked to the end of the road, and found myself stationary and waiting to cross. The traffic lights bled green into the sky, and it reflected in the puddles on the ground. Despite the cold and the rain, I took a right turn, deciding to meander the long way back to my flat. I was already wet, I reasoned, and heading home was not so appealing as it had been a mere few weeks ago.
The wind threatened to pull my cap from my head; I reluctantly pulled one hand from my pocket and steadied my hat. It was not something I usually wore after my shifts had ended, but I had found that, in adverse weather conditions, it could be rather useful as a means of keeping the rain from my eyes.
I worked for a small sandwich shop, downtown and right in the city. We had busy lunch rushes, the shop teeming with businessmen, all uniform in their suits and long coats. Sometimes I’d feel dismay as I stared at them, feeling a wasted lifetime settle inside my stomach as I made lunch for people earning ten times my annual salary.
I could hear waves crashing in the distance, and decided to follow the gradual slope of the pavement down towards the coastal path. Thunder rumbled in the sky, a deep rolling sound that seemed to shake the earth.
After we’d locked up the shop Amy had stopped me, her small hand wrapping insistently around my forearm. She’d asked if I was okay, and I replayed that moment in my mind, watching the slight squint of her eyes and the crumpling of her nose that suggested a genuine concern for my wellbeing. I’d smiled, trying to mirror the squint and the crumple, feeling my lips force themselves upwards. I felt like a clown, painting on makeup and stretching my skin into unnatural shapes to please others.
She seemed to sense my fallacy, and she’d given my arm a gentle squeeze before letting go. The rain had started, then, and she’d offered an apologetic smile before running to the bus stop, her tiny hands holding her apron above her head.
The houses on this road were terraced, crammed together as though they were being pushed inwards from both ends. One family had left their curtains wide, and they were inside, three of them squashed onto a two-seat sofa, two others sat on the ground beside them. The television was turned off, and their faces were alight with laughter. A board game was sat, forgotten, in the centre of their misshapen circle. One of the children, a small, dark-skinned girl wearing glittering red bangles, let her head fall backwards as she succumbed to her joy. The man, who I presumed was her father, smiled at her, his eyes crinkling at the edges.
I could feel tears prickling at my eyes, and I turned away. I could hear his voice echoing in my head, and I forced my legs to walk faster, pressing on towards the sea. The crash of the waves was louder than my memories of his callous words, and I sank against the fencing, my hands reaching out for the wet banister that followed the steps down towards the beach.
I could feel the imagined swell of my stomach against my sweatshirt, could hear the thrumming heartbeat of a growing life inside of me. My hand clutched inside my pocket at empty air, and I let out a sob. The beach was empty, and there I succumbed to my pain.
I saw every test that had come back negative, could feel the cold plastic gripped between my anxious fingers. His hands had rubbed soothing circles into my back, but in the end it hadn’t been enough.
Trying for a baby had sapped at our relationship, and, slowly, it had turned us against each other. I became weak from the effort, and he blamed our failure on me.
I kicked against the pebbles, my flat-soled shoes sliding against the wet rocks. I longed to wade into the ocean, to let the waves fall against me, tearing my very being down and washing it against the shingle.
Instead, I stood and watched. The ocean was green-grey in the storm, angry and curling into fists before each wave broke, white-flecked horses colliding against the shore. The horizon stretched endlessly ahead, each shade of grey melting into the next, leaving no distinction between land and sky and sea.
I’d been sleeping, in the half-doze that I could never shift from when I knew he was still awake. Awaiting the slight creak of the door, I lay, dreams and reality merging. Then he was pressed against me, naked, half hard against my thigh. I’d been tired, too tired to fully process what was happening, and he’d slapped me, then, sharp against my bare stomach.
His eyes had widened with shock, and I had to focus on that, disorientated and dazed as I was. My own eyes had narrowed, however, and he’d apologised, regret tumbling from his mouth, a waterfall of apologies and breathy repentance. I’d turned away from him, too shocked to even cry. He’d got angry, then, cursing me for being too tired, for not trying hard enough, even though he had a real job, one which paid real money and required real work.
The waves crashed against the shore. The shingle was pulled ruthlessly back into the sea, before being deposited on the beach again, moments later. I watched this pattern repeat for a while, feeling the rain soak through my clothes and dampen my skin.
Eventually my feet began to drag me home, up the steep slope back towards town. My body worked on autopilot, carrying me back to a flat which held nothing but memories I did not wish to revisit.
My building was tall, and it leered above me as I pressed my fob to the door. I stepped into the cold white light of the entryway, and fumbled for my key to the letterbox. One letter fell to the floor as it swung open, and I bent heavily to pick it up. It had no address or postage stamp on it, just my name scrawled in familiar handwriting. I locked my box back up, and held my key between my teeth as I stepped into the lift and ripped the envelope open.
My love, it read,
My beautiful, strong, wonderful love. I am so sorry. I never meant any of it, and I most definitely never meant to hurt you. We can try again, or we can not, I don’t care – I just need you.
What happened that night was a mistake. I didn’t mean to do that to you. I was just so overwhelmed.
I should never have left. It must have been a shock, waking up and finding me gone, and for that I apologise, too. I’m sorry.
Meet me tomorrow. I’ll be waiting for you outside of the shop when you finish work.
The lift dinged as it reached my floor. I stuffed the letter into my pocket so that I could unlock my door, my face expressionless.
I walked into the kitchen, flicking the light on as I went. I stood beside the recycling bin and, reaching into my pocket, pulled out the letter and tore it in two. I let it drop into the bin, and removed my wet clothes, letting them fall in a pile on the floor.
I couldn’t be certain, but I thought that I might have to call in sick to work tomorrow. Or, I reasoned, at the very least, I’d be leaving early.
I wrapped myself in a towel, and settled myself on my sofa, blissfully alone.