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Fiction Romance Contemporary

For Evelyn Brass, home is the smell of antiseptic, cold, stale air, and stiff clothes. Home is a sickly white bed with a paper-thin mattress, and a television on which she can never quite focus. Pale blue curtains spotted with bleach in the corners. An entourage of bent cards propped up against smudged glass vases, holding flowers that are just staring to peek on the wrong side of rotten.

Evelyn Brass considers this to be her home because she does not remember having anything else to fill the definition.

She thinks that, in the smog that clings to the corners of her skull, there may be a resemblance of a house. It’s difficult, but if she closes her eyes and inhales slow enough, she can catch a glimpse of dusty orange walls and a whiff of something butter before it escapes her. It’s highly likely that this ghost of a bedroom uninterrupted was her home once—everyone tells her she grew up there—but if she can no longer call it to mind, does it really count as home anymore?

Home, Evelyn also notices, is not permanent. After two weeks of knowing only that purified ward, of alarm bells and falling asleep to the sound of wheels outside her door, she has been forced to evacuate, and now she stands in a kitchen she cannot recognise, a thin layer of dust settled over the floor.

“Does this feel familiar?” Someone asks her. Evelyn knows the voice, knows the name, but does not know why they are standing with her. She had thought Henry was a therapist assigned to help her recover, and therapists, she was certain, were not supposed to be inside…

Home? Her brain suggests timidly, but she waves it away. This is not home. There is no warmth, no familiarity here.

“Not at all,” she grumbles in reply, placing tender, quivering fingers over a kettle half-filled with water. This place has no sunset walls, and it carries no scent of freshly-baked goods—it is nothing to her, not even a phantom. “I don’t like the pink fridge. I really hate that.”

“You chose that,” Henry says quietly, strolling to the corner pantry with his hands in his pockets. “We argued about it for months. You liked the black kitchen I picked out, but you said you needed a pop of colour in it, so I suggested red. You said that would make it look cold. All you wanted was a pink fridge, and eventually I just… caved. To be honest, I’ve grown quite fond of it. I’m not sure I ever told you that.”

Frowning, a crease between her tanned forehead, Evelyn snatches her hand away from the kettle, and jostles the liquid inside it. “Is this your house? They said they were taking me—”

“Home.” Henry’s eyes are glistening. “First of all, this is an apartment. Neither of us can afford the picket-fence life quite yet. Second, this is our place. It’s under both our names. Evelyn and Henry Brass.”

Well, Evelyn thinks sourly, swallowing bile. That explains the matching rings.

When the nurse had presented her with a box of ‘salvageable’ items they had found on her person when they’d extracted her from the Mercedes, there had been a gold band shaped like the ivy that crawled between the bricks of the building across the road. In the centre had been a deep black stone speckled with white. Evelyn had been discomforted by the clone ring on Henry’s left hand when they had first met.

“We’re married?” Evelyn grits through a scowl. She struggles to understand why she would ever marry a man like Henry, her first impression of whom had been that he was pompous, strict, and grossly egotistical.

“We are,” Henry replies, removing his hand from his trousers swiftly to open the shutters above the sink. Somehow, the kitchen managed to look even darker in the daylight. “Happily. Though I suppose, by the look on your face, you aren’t feeling that way now.”

“I don’t believe you. Dr Effy said I got into that accident in the first place because I was drink-driving; I don’t think ‘happily married’ women do dangerous things like that.”

Henry’s mouth twists glumly, the first real emotion Evelyn has seen him express since she’d been reintroduced to him. “Yes, well… we had argued.”

“What about?”

“I’m not sure you would be any better off knowing.”

Evelyn cannot believe the audacity of this man—her husband. He had not been the one to wake from a six-month coma with no memory of any kind of life before then; he had not been the one who is now raggedly scarred across his face, nor is his head forever marred, shaved clean. She deserves to know why she is here, now.

“You will tell me,” she hisses wetly, picturing his face beneath her hands, his lips blue and his heart still. “And you will tell me now.”

Henry swallows so thickly that Evelyn hears him from the other side of their kitchen, and he folds his arms. They bulge beneath his shirt; Evelyn begins to doubt that she would be able to restrain him long enough to hurt him.

“Fine,” he breathes. “I have never been able to say no to you; you’re a siren through and through. I have never wondered whether I truly love you before now.”

“Just tell me why I ended up wrapped around a tree, Henry!”

Henry grimaces, teeth bared. Whatever fire they may have had between them has dissipated, and Evelyn can’t find the courage to mourn it. “You had been disappearing night after night, always leaving after you had thought I’d gone to sleep and returning before I could wake. I loved you too much to consider an affair, but it kept me restless; I had not slept properly for months. And when I finally snapped, you refused to explain yourself; you simply screamed how dare I for distrusting you, that you had never given me reason to doubt you.

“I was furious that you couldn’t return the love I had showered with, and I told you that if you could not tell me where you had been every night, I would leave the apartment we had made together and stay away for however long it took you to confess. You threw a roll of film at my head, told me to stay, that you’d find somewhere else instead so you never had to worry about seeing my face, and left. And now, you’re just as angry as you had been that night, despite the fact that you can’t even remember why.”

Evelyn’s lips purse into a thin line, her teeth ground so tightly that she is afraid they’re glued together. “Well? Did you get the film developed?”

“Never,” Henry utters. “I couldn’t bring myself to see any evidence of you loving another man when I wasn’t sure if you would ever wake up. When you did, and they told me of your amnesia, I figured there was no point; you were no longer the same woman. We could start again.”

“Then you are foolish and selfish,” Evelyn spits. “Perhaps I had better things to do. If I was with another lover, I can understand why.”

A smothering silence fills the room like a toxic gas; Evelyn, however desperately she wishes to run away, cannot move her feet. Henry looks like he cannot decide whether he should wrap his hands around her neck or her waist, whether he should shout or sob. Evelyn would have sold herself to see him do any of it, rather than stand there, a statue of neglected marble.

“I think we are beyond repaid,” Evelyn says, glaring at the gold glinting on Henry’s finger.

“I think you are afraid of the effort it would take to start again, rather than running away and finding a new life,” Henry replies, his voice stoic, his face betraying him. “I think you have been awake for two weeks, and you don’t know where to begin. I think you should give us one more chance. And I think—” he sighs, picking at lint on his jacket sleeve. “I think we should go get that film developed before we really make any decisions.”

“What difference will that make? I already cannot stand you. Proof that I did or did not cheat on you will only be closure for you.”

Evelyn.” Henry’s voice breaks, and he stumbles forward, reaching out to hands that refuse to touch him. “Please. Let’s try once more—you are all I have ever properly loved, and I would hate to lose you to meaningless accusations.”

There is an unignorable ache in Henry’s words, in his lunged position towards her, never touching her because he knows she does not want his hands on her. Evelyn may not like this man she is legally bound to, but she does have a shred of dignity left in her.

“Fine,” she whispers bitterly. “We will get the film developed, and you will have your answers you have wanted so desperately. If I was having an affair, you will leave this apartment and never contact me outside of divorce agreements. If not… I will give you—us—one last chance. Slowly. Make me love you again.”

The smile on Henry’s lips is heartbreaking. “That is all I can ask for.”

~

Two bodies sit opposite each other at a second-hand dining table, their hands folded, their legs crossed. Evelyn is still; Henry’s heart beats so rapidly that she can see it through his t-shirt. The apartment is silent. It smells like lavender, citrus and something Evelyn has discovered to be uniquely Henry.

“If there are photos in here of another man,” Evelyn starts, unwavering, “I want you to know that I am not sorry. Perhaps the Evelyn before would be, though. That is the most you can have. You drove her to become someone else.”

“If there are photos in there of another man, I want you to know I forgive her.” Henry’s fingers twitch. He sounds… hopeful. Something in the pit of Evelyn’s stomach pangs, elastic snapped against her organs, flung by the fingers of a long-buried guilt. “She deserves the best. I’m sorry I couldn’t be enough for her.”

In the centre of the glass table, crinkled at the edges where Evelyn had clutched it tightly, is a bright yellow envelope. For what she believes is the first time, Evelyn understands why Van Gogh had been so obsessed with that colour, had drowned himself in it masterpiece after masterpiece; such a happy, rambunctious colour, a mirror of the sun itself, and yet when she looked at it, staining her retinas sunflower, the dread that had been festering in her chest since she’d woken expanded tenfold.

“Will you open it?” She asks quietly, meeting foggy, forest eyes across the table. “I…”

For all of her coldness towards the situation, Evelyn finds herself just an ounce afraid of what may be hidden behind the dusk-hued paper. In the five days it had taken for the film to develop, she had grown begrudgingly, bewilderingly accustomed to waking in up to the sweet aroma of pancakes, her face hidden in her sheets, the cluttered noise of pots and pans echoing from the kitchen. If Henry were to leave today, she hates to admit she would miss him—most certainly, she would miss his breakfast.

“I will,” Henry uttered, no louder than the whispers of a fall breeze outside their window. And though his hands tremble when he takes the paper between two thin fingers, he is steady as he peels the envelope apart, as though he would rather die of a thousand paper cuts before letting Evelyn suffer any more.

One by one, a collection of sepia photos falls gracefully to the tabletop, blanketing each other in comfort. Evelyn’s eyes catch each of them as they tumble, and with every new photograph, she feels her lungs loosen further and further against her will; in no picture before her is there a man whose face is not that of her husband’s.

In fact, not one of them are of any men at all. Not even Henry appears, enclosed in four corners.

“Oh, Evelyn,” Henry whispers, his hands hovering over the prints like he fears that if he even breathes upon them, they will crumble. “These…”

He does not finish. Evelyn, for once, feels the same.

The first photograph catches a dark, ruined stone coated in slick moss and half-wilted poppies, lit by a dreary, old-fashioned lamp Evelyn recognises from the corner of her bedroom. She points in question at it, asking herself, but Henry beats her to the answer.

“You loved antiques,” he says, not unkindly, and tilts his head in affection. “Well, you loved old things. Things that once had a life. Things you could breathe new life into.”

“That explains the gravestone.” Evelyn traces the stone with the tip of her finger, and the words etched into it: Maurice Goldstone. Not yet, not ever, forgotten. Father, brother, son. 8th August 1918-8th August 1944.

“He must have been a soldier. He has your mother’s maiden name; he must have been a great grandfather to her, or to you, or…”

“The next one is similar,” Evelyn interrupts, sliding the photograph of Maurice Goldstone’s remembrance to the side and gazing down at a discoloured bronze wall, lines of names she does not recognise stretching to the horizon. Around one name, more poppies dance. “Andrew Goldstone. September 15th 1937-December 25th 1974. Perhaps Maurice’s son.”

“Well, I know that one,” Henry says, shaking his head. “Your grandfather. Whenever your mother came over for dinner, she spoke of him. Very highly, I should add. Said that he had been the best father she could ask for before he was enlisted to Vietnam. You’d never met him, I don’t think.”

“Why would I want to photograph all of this?” Evelyn wonders aloud, blinking until her eyes dry, drawing the next picture from the stack. “Why would I sneak out at midnight to do so?”

Henry falls silent, but it is a quietness that Evelyn does not recognise from him—often, Henry’s lack of sound means that he has nothing more to say, or that he is tired. This lapse screams that rather than knowing nothing, he knows everything, and i holding something out of her reach.

Henry.” He sits, unmoving, so unlike himself. “What is this? Why would I want this?”

“Not long before your accident, your mother passed,” Henry murmurs. His hand raises to cradle his chin, and Evelyn realises with a start that his cheeks are wet, damp with silver tears. “She’d become quite unstable towards the end of her life, seemed to remember things that had never happened, talked about how you should call your grandfather to check on him despite…

“She forgot your family’s history almost entirely. She appeared to believe they were all alive, that you were all going for dinner with them next Sunday, then the next, and the next. You were angry that she was ignoring what they had done for their country, that they had given up their lives for our safety and she refused to accept it. She died midway through an argument with you, and… I just don’t think you really recovered from that.”

“That’s why you were willing to forgive me for an affair,” Evelyn notes. She raises her head from the picture of a beautiful white gate, entwined with more of those blood-red flowers, drenched in golden light from the streetlamps either side of them. “I was grieving.”

“I tried my best to be there for you, my love.” Henry draws a long, blunt breath. “But suddenly, I wasn’t enough for you. I think… I suppose you needed your family. Your mother was all you had left, and I simply did not make the cut anymore.”

Three weeks ago, Evelyn had rolled her eyes at this man, believing he cared more for himself than for the woman riddled with scars and a brain running richly with the Lethe. Today, she wonders if there has ever been a kinder man, with more selflessness in his blood.

“You’d lost everything that came before me, and I knew that. I couldn’t bear to lose you, but I knew you couldn’t bare to see me, all my family still living and loving, when everyone you loved had slipped through your fingers.”

Around Evelyn’s finger, a gold band hugs her. It glints in the light; that black and white stone stares at her.

“You did everything you could,” Evelyn says, her fingers twitching out to her husband’s. She is no longer the woman she once was, but she isn’t sure she wants to be anymore. She thinks she has a lot to learn, and a lot of time to do so.

“I almost lost you to your grief,” Henry sobs, shuddering.

“I’ll stay,” Evelyn promises. “I will stay for you, and you’ll never lose me again. I’m not sure I love you yet, but I’m certain with time I could adore you once more. I think it would be impossible not to.”

Henry’s smile is tragic, but hopeful. Through their window floats the sweet music of a busker beneath them, and the air smells optimistic. Evelyn struggles to believe how she could have ever hated this home.

“That is all I can ask of you,” Henry says, and it sounds like I love you.

“You don’t have to ask anymore. I’m staying of my own accord,” Evelyn confesses, and it sounds like I will love you more than I ever did before.

May 04, 2022 02:04

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3 comments

Anissa Waterman
22:18 May 11, 2022

I love the structure of your story. It captivates from the beginning to the end. I could feel the emotions in the dialogue. That's important to many readers.

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Chris Morris
07:42 May 08, 2022

Wow, there are so many things to like about this story. I feel it has many layers and it expertly written throughout. It's very well told and captivating all the way through. Great stuff, well done.

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Madelyn Grace
11:48 May 08, 2022

thanks so much!!!! :D

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