It was the middle of August when she realised. Night was falling, hiding the world beneath its inky veil. The windowpanes glowed yellow, the light spilling out and illuminating the garden table where they sat. The drum of music floated on the balmy air. The bushes hummed with invisible life.
She smiled and nodded as she tried to listen to the story her friend was telling her. But she could not hear the words. They washed over her leaving no mark. She could not listen because her attention was across the table with him.
‘I think I’m going to ask Laura from work on a date,’ he was saying to the friend next to him.
She felt an unpleasant jolt in her stomach – a sudden wave of reaction to what she had tried to convince herself was not there. Her friend talked on obliviously. She glanced across the table. He was looking at her.
‘Can I kiss you?’
She was both surprised and knew it was coming. Her eyes did not leave his face, did not leave his lips as they uttered the question. It was as if everything in her mind was erased in that moment. There was nothing but instinct. She did not want to answer with words. She did not want to nod her head as if she was shy or submissive. Instead, she answered him the only way she could – by leaning in and pressing her lips against his.
It had been coming for weeks, but she did not dare say it out loud or even think it. The way she looked at him had changed. He permeated her thoughts more and more, slowly creeping under her skin like ivy up a brick wall. He was there – no matter how much she pretended he was not.
The bedroom was bright and filled with yellow. The first rays of sunlight crept over the rooftops and streamed in the window. As her eyes moved around the room, she wondered when this had happened. She had not noticed as the dark blue of night slipped away and was replaced with the glow of the new day.
There was a crack in the window and a breeze rustled the edges of the white muslin curtains. She watched as they bellowed outwards into the room like a rotund belly, before contracting and lying flat and thin against the window once more.
‘Do you mind if I smoke?’
She rolled her head across the pillow and looked at him. He was waiting.
‘Sure,’ she said and turned away. ‘Out the window, if you don’t mind.’
She felt his weight press down into the mattress as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He stood up and the heaviness disappeared, leaving her alone. She ran her eyes over his back and watched him as he pulled on his shorts, patted the pockets and pulled out a crumpled packet of cigarettes. He took one out, threw the packet on top of her dresser and walked over to the window. The curtains fluttered and flapped around him. He rested his arms on the windowsill and leaned outside.
She wanted to say something to him so he would turn around and look at her. But she did not have anything to say. It was only weeks ago that they had not been able to stop talking. It was as if they had said everything they ever wanted to say in those first few days together and now were trapped in an expansive silence, vaguely hoping it would disappear and the words would return.
After a few seconds, she pulled her eyes away from him. She looked at the outline her body made underneath the bedsheet. It clung to her limbs like cling film. It dipped in the space between her legs. The fabric was crinkled from sleep and she liked the lines that ran across it. She pulled the sheet taut against her legs, her hips, her stomach. She smoothed it flat against her chest with the palms of her hands. When she was wrapped completely, the shape of her body vivid beneath the sheet, she rested her hands on her chest.
An old movie came to her mind – Bardot lying on top of the bed covers, beautiful and enigmatic, asking her husband how he loves her.
Totally, tenderly, tragically.
But she did not feel beautiful or enigmatic. She felt transparent and obvious. There was a gulf in the bedroom, in the space between them, and she longed to close it, to cling to him no matter what. She wanted to run to the window and grab him and find the words again.
But she did not. She stayed where she was. Maybe it was better to let him drift away.
He flicked the cigarette butt out the window, walked over to the bed and lay down. Her body jumped as he landed. He put his arm behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. She ran her eyes over the edges of his face – from the dark line of his widow’s peak down along the bridge of his nose and across the curves of his lips.
‘Are you in love with me?’ he asked while looking at the ceiling.
Yes, she thought.
She rolled her head away from him and looked at the window once more. The wind had calmed and the curtains were still.
‘No,’ she answered. ‘Are you in love with me?’
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