He sits by my side, his gaze seemingly stuck somewhere behind the computer screen. I talk to him, softly. Again. But still I get no reply. I stop what I am doing and I lean back, inconspicuously observing him somewhat more attentively than before, from the corner of my eye. Something is eating him up inside, I know him only too well. I just wish he’d talk to me.
I’ve got everything sorted into neat piles on the bed, right there in front of us. We’ve stopped for a while, giving ourselves a little breather, alongside a cuppa and a biccie, and a wee little fluttering of wings around Twitter. Just to see if there are any new instalments in any of the sagas that have had our attention absorbed for the last few months — if not Brexit then May, if not May then Labour, if not Labour then Trump, if not either or each of them, or all of them combined in one great big heavy over-looming shadow, then this dismaying state of global affairs that’s been rubbing our skin raw one way or the other.
How can we extricate ourselves from all this? How can we lock the world outside of us? Try to forget how unseemly it all seems to be becoming almost by the minute? How can we undress those garments as heavy as armour, and just be?
Underwear, check, 1 pile. Three bras and double of panties. Two PJs + two spare tees. Socks. Pair of black tights. Check, check, check.
Tees, tops & tunics, shirts, whatever, check, 1 pile. Six short sleeved ones, as many long sleeved. Check.
Dresses, check, 1 pile, neatly folded, my two other tee-shirt dresses. I’m wearing one for the flight, ready to peel layers off once greeted by the Portuguese autumn sun.
Cardis, check, 1 solitary pile of two, a thin cottony one and a woollen one. Won’t need more than that.
Leggings, jeggings, jeans, trousers, shorts, that kind of stuff, check, 1 pile. One pair of smart trousers for the smarter occasion, the occasional weekend lunch out with Mom, the trips to Lisbon and Porto to meet your co-bloggers. The mandatory pair of jeans. The leggings I can’t seem to ever get out of, and which Mom thinks so uncouth. Shorts for loafing about in the garden, soaking in some more sunshine and warmth.
Flipflops, espadrilles, one pair of dressy sandals, check, 1 pile. No fuss, no worries. I spend most of my time out back in the garden, anyway, blissfully barefoot, twirling my toes under the sun. Who needs shoes?
Toiletries, check, 1 bagful. Ointments and potions and lotions, tying to ward off the years that insist on passing by at an ever increasing speed, speedometer on reverse count, time leaving us ever closer to moment zero. Pots of camel coloured paint, wands of black magic, sticks in hues of mauvey pinks, for when the days are so cruel that they have to be hidden from the face, lest the world gasps in horror and your world sinks a little bit further, a little bit deeper.
Beachwear, check, 1 pile. She never wants to go anywhere, that’s true, but I’m sure as hell going to try to make it to the seaside. Even if I have to carry her, the usual imp whispers on the back of my ear, an image of my mother expertly tucked under my arm suddenly taking my imagination by storm. Which would be a fine sight and an even greater feat but there you go, it no doubt goes towards eagerness. Still, I’m packing some: a cozzie, and a kaftan. Just in case I get lucky, or Mom forgets herself and says yes.
Ah. Medication, check, 4 weekly boxes, 4 extra weeks in pharmacy packaging. One great big plasticky pile of chemical smörgåsbord. Part and parcel. The umlaut to my o. Or my u or my a. The pale coloured confetti of my life, the stuff that variously either keeps me alive, or living a little longer, or living a little less uncomfortably, and all living a little bit less so that I can live a little more, somehow.
And then the rest. The other unmentionables, the very same ones the other woman at baggage check, the other time, made you empty out onto the solid frost of the stainless steel, together with all else that you and all others like you need to carry around in order just to face a day out, or just a two-and-a-half hours international flight. Your smalls spilled onto a public thoroughfare, and with them your vulnerability, your necessity, your difference. Your lack of ability to be like everybody else walking past behind you, and do as everybody else does, feels, walks, lives.
Ah, and you remember still. You do remember the spectacle of your life, there, that day, that public exhibition of you like some lesser Emin contemplating your difference in your underwear and sanitary needs. You remember. Of course you do. The sniggering and snorting and uh-ohs behind you, them however the free expression of a known sameness. The humiliation. The shame of it all. And your face so hot, so red, your blood so boiling, such anger rising through your veins. Why this, you wanted to scream. But you didn’t. Now, instead, you make different arrangements for that kind of smalls, and just in case.
Travelling has never been quite the same, after that. Has it?
I sigh. I ask him again just as my own eyes and my mind move from one pile to the next, one thought to the other, one memory to another. It’s strange, the sort of things that come to your mind, unbidden, at moments like this, I tell myself. We let our minds wonder — and all they can come up with is this? Is it this that better encapsulates our now wariness of it all? Our weariness? Your smalls spilled over in an airport, like the eviscerated entrails of a dead bird? Is that it?
I look at my stuff again. Experience tells me that I should have the regimental 15 kilos or thereabouts. If less, then I’ll be able to add a couple of knickknacks or two, maybe a pair of substantial shoes for the flight back. I don’t much fancy three hours in a coach Portugal-side wearing my lace-ups, especially not if the mercury hits the forecast 28° Celcius. And it’s going to be so many weeks again, it’ll be winter by the time I return to England. Flipflops won’t cut it, then, and neither will espadrilles.
And what will he do without me here? Will it be like the last time again, and he half fall apart? And me half falling apart, but that’s not important and that I will not let him know. Not in words, in any case, him who knows every breath out of me. But him…?
But those are not the things I want to know, not the questions I want to ask him right now. Right now, all I want to ask is why his eyes are so far away, such silent stillness locking them where I seemingly cannot touch them. What is he thinking? Which rivers and rapids are his thoughts navigating, right this moment? It’s our last day together for the next eight weeks. And I am already missing him. Even though I’m still here, and tonight we’ll still fall asleep in each other’s arms, like teenagers in love.
Hon…? And still he does not reply. I look at what his eyes can possibly be gazing into so intently for not seeing it, and I see the luggage booking page. Still. And the luggage, unbooked still.
I don’t much want to go either, you know… I tell him, by way of starting a conversation and as if I haven’t told him so a million times before.
But you have to… His reply finally comes, uncertain and as if he hadn’t agreed so another million times before, too.
Yes… What else can I say. We lean together, our heads against each other, and I feel his arm slowly rising towards my shoulders. He doesn’t say anything else, though I wait for him to. And again I sigh. We’re alone, the two of us, and in that moment we are a whole world, the universe. In moments like this.
We haven’t abandoned your mother right trough to the very end, honey, and we’re not abandoning mine either… Even if we have to be apart — but I do not add that. I do not need to.
Though I know that’s not it. Or not just it. There’s something else. There has to be. I know him. Of course we do not want to leave each other. Of course we do not want to be apart for such long periods. It goes without saying. And of course he worries when I travel alone, knowing just how fatigued I already am halfway through the flight. But he’s never been so silent before, or so actively boycotting what needs doing as he’s doing this time, and I am clutching at straws here. I know there’s something else and I don’t know what else to do. Apart from waiting, but there’s not so much time left for that. Not any more.
Of course not, it’s not that… it’s just that… It’s just that I wish I could go with you… All this working working working, and for what? I don’t want to be without you. I don’t know how to be without you any more. Things are not the same, without you. And what are you going to do when you get there? How’re you going to cope?
There. Out of the blue. His words. For the first time, wasn’t it? And the rest. As if you didn’t know it. And all in tandem with everything else, as if it could just sneak past, go unnoticed. And for once I do not joke at him, as I usually do. For once I do not tell him that I’ll be packing him in our big blue case next, just so that I can take him with me, Just you wait and see! The joke is getting all too worn out, anyway.
Mentally I add him to my piles of things to pack and take away with me: Husband, one, check, 1 extra suitcase. Navy blue, the colour of such melancholy things as longing, and loneliness, and despair. The colour of the blues. There. In a not so neat pile. What is taken, and what is left behind. In one not so neat pile, inextricable lives needing to be circumstantially extricated before they can be resumed again. How does one do that, and not leave empty shells behind? And is there a pill for that mal au cœur, too?
© Nina Light 2016 CC-BY-NC-ND
featured image ‘borrowed’ from Dublin Airport website