She was wearing the blue sundress. His favourite. She wore an open shirt over it, the white one with the hole in the side. The dress hung more loosely than it had done last summer. He stepped off the train and walked towards her.
She looked up to see him and felt that familiar swell. The warmth spread throughout her body and reached the point where she had to let it all out in one big breath. He always did that, knocked the wind right out of her. Every single day.
He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. She kissed his cheek, looked into his eyes and got lost for a moment.
“I’m on double yellows,” she said. They walked out of the station and towards the car. She got in the driver’s side, he on the other. The windows rattled as they shut the doors. The car was old and rusting, but it usually ran and she loved it, even though the radio was knackered and the tape player only worked sometimes. It wasn’t working today.
He looked at her hands. One on the wheel, one on the gearstick. Her wrists looked slender. He could see the crease on the leather of her watch. She’d moved up a couple of holes, at least. In such a short space of time. Her left hand was naked.
“Where’s your ring, love?”
“Oh, it was sliding around. I didn’t want to lose it so I took it off. I’ll get it resized in the week.”
“You’ve lost weight,” he said, hoping that the compliment would bring that sparkle to her eyes. She smiled, a little weakly, and didn’t say anything.
The drive passed mostly in silence, peppered with small talk. He tapped a rhythm on his knees. She hummed a few bars of the song in her head. Mostly they were just comfortable in the quiet, enjoying the green of the trees as they drove through the lanes. They stopped at a market to buy some supplies, there was nothing really in the fridge, and continued home.
Laden with bags, she went into the kitchen to start on dinner. He went upstairs to unpack his bag. The house felt different to him, almost unfamiliar. It was cleaner than usual. Not quite clinical, but so much of the clutter was gone. He noticed that the white orchid had been moved into the bedroom, when it normally sat in the hallway. The linen on the bed was new. The room had a fresh feel to it. She’d arranged the books to look neater, more uniform. He’d liked them how they were when he went away.
The bathroom was different, too. There was a new cabinet in the corner and all of his toiletries were neatly arranged. He noticed that the medicine cabinet had a lock on it, now. He shook his head a little and turned on the shower. Travelling always made him feel a little clammy. He stepped in and jumped back. She usually liked a cool shower, but the dial was set to scalding.
She was slicing mushrooms when he went down to the kitchen. A small pile of chopped onions sat on the counter, and he could see the tracks on her face where her eyes had watered. Looking closely, he could see that her cheekbones were more prominent, her jaw more defined. Her eyes looked bigger, but tired and sunken. She rolled her sleeves back to rinse the knife under the tap, and he saw the four angry scratches down her forearm.
“You’ve been scratching again.”
“Absentmindedly,” she said as usual, pouring a little oil into a hot pan. The stood in silence as the oil started to heat and spread. She threw on a couple of steaks and stepped back as they started to spit. He moved towards her and put his arms around her waist. There was less of her than there had been.
“Why don’t you let me take over?” he asked.
“No, it’s ok. You get a drink and relax. This won’t take long now.”
He went to the fridge and opened two beers. As he put the bottle caps in the recycling bin, he noticed the several empty bottles already in there. At least three litres of gin. Several empty tissue boxes, too.
“Have you been alright on your own?”
“Of course I have.” She turned to face him, smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’ve been on my own before.”
They sat down to eat. He didn’t know what to say, she couldn’t meet his eyes. There was the sound of cutlery on plates or there was silence. He wasn’t comfortable. The steak was tough.
“Steak’s nice,” he said.
“The house looks different. Did you put things away?”
“I threw them away. I was sick of having so much stuff. I couldn’t think with all those things in the house.”
His knife squealed against his plate. She grimaced. More silence. They finished their food and he took two more beers from the fridge. They drank in silence until she finally looked up and straight into his eyes.
“You didn’t write,” she said.
“I didn’t know what to say.”
“I wrote almost every day.”
“I know. I liked your letters. All of them. They were lovely.”
“You could have written back, could have called. I didn’t know if you were ok. You know what that does to me.”
He looked down at the table. He did know, and he certainly never meant to make her feel that way. It was just how it was sometimes.
“The drink,” he said, indicating towards the bin. “The weight. Is that because of me?”
She looked at him for a moment, a world of sadness flashed through her eyes before she blinked it away. “No, love, it’s not. Don’t you worry about me, not for a second.”
But he did worry. He always worried. Worried about how she was, worried that every bad day she had was somehow down to him. “I’m ruining your life,” he looked back down at the table, but she was up in a flash. Nothing but resolve in her eyes now. She knelt in front of him, one hand on his knee and one against his cheek, guiding his face until his eyes met hers.
“You’re not. I promise you, you’re not.”
“I’m making you ill.”
“No, I’m just tired. I’ve worried about you whilst you were away, but you’re back now. I’m ok. Don’t you worry about me.”
“You shouldn’t love me. Why do you love me?” He searched her face for the answer, hoping to find it written there. She moved her lips up to his and kissed him. Her fingers moved into his hair and stroked it softly.
She pulled back, eyes shining, and looked straight into his soul. “You’re in my bones,” she whispered.