Coupled

by Vivienne Austen.

They find each other in the night, with cold and trembling hands. In the daze before sleep, as blind as kittens, they become fingers and tongues and beastly. It’s better this way, easier as eyeless wonders. 

In the morning she wakes alone, steam billowing from beneath the bathroom door. She’ll go in next, to clean the crime scene of her body. For a brief moment in the witching hours she was a person again, as whole as anyone. Now, in daylight and silence, she’s no longer sure that it meant a reprieve from the splitting of assets and shared custody of one elderly terrier cross. The teasing apart of their lives seems impossible and will surely take years, the way it took years to create their present. She thinks in terms of fabrication; their roots are tangled. 

A year ago they were apart for three months, while he was artist in residence at a historical cottage on a far away island, and she stayed home and wondered. Wondered what he was doing, and what she should be doing with the time given, and always missing him. Slowly the unraveling of the love gained momentum. ‘I can’t live without you’ turned into ‘I can live without you’ and the first thread was pulled. He doesn’t like the tightly knitted life, and says so with every empty look.

When he emerges from the shower, ring on finger, it makes her treacherous heart flip. She thinks of a stranded fish on shore, flopping ungracefully. Helpless, hopeless. Her smile wavers, behind it all the things she can’t say to his face. When he slips back into bed, they turn on their sides, face to face. The sun goes higher, they begin again.

A long time ago, in a gallery, he found her. She was standing in a corner looking prickly, all elbows and a glass of red wine held like a bulwark. Something about her bare face and discomfort was beautiful to him. He told her so, later in the evening, over a late dinner. She said she liked his paintings, and pretended to know more about it than she did. Her friends were impressed when they met him. 

Now she finds herself alone with burden. She thinks of how often the safeguarding of a marriage is considered a woman’s toil. Like caring for an animal that’s dying, unpredictable and sharp toothed. It makes her breathless with resentment, and lonely when he’s looking at her. She’s written a list of questions: Why did my life become so small? Why did he let it happen, then love me less for it?

Things fall apart gradually; ice cliffs collapsing into the ocean. There’s nothing remarkable about their marriage, or their separation. The trouble is, in this tasteful townhouse with carefully chosen linen and canvas covered walls, she is too deeply-bedded to leave. 

When she interweaves their fingers, she is asking, is there is work to be done?

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