I wake next to him and see his peaceful, sleeping face, his hair like strands of pale silk falling over his forehead. Still hazy with sleep, I smooth a wayward lock and kiss him lightly. I am surprised to find that he is warm. I shouldn't be. After a decade of waking next to this man, I should know that when he comes to bed at night he will be cold and will wedge his icy toes under me to warm them, but that by morning our roles will have reversed and I will be the one siphoning his heat. These are details a wife should know.
I lie for a moment, indulging in the stillness of our room. I spent months decorating this room when we first arrived, turning it into our sanctuary against the world. We were so young then, Aidan and I. I was practically a child bride. Moving to Aidan's Ireland was to be the start of my adventure. We would do it together, Aidan had promised; we would make a success of whatever we tried.
I held this promise close as Aidan set up his first law practice, its solid weight often taking the place of a warm dinner when we needed to pay for phone lines and fax machines. I hugged it to my heart when we sold everything to pay for his campaigns, not at all sure that we wouldn't be bankrupt before the votes were ever counted. When Aidan took office, I wrapped myself in his words, sure that our success could only grow. I never imagined that with every passing year Aidan would shine more brightly and I would fade ever so slightly.
I nestle further under the covers, shivering with the memories of my naiveté. The sapphire duvet reminds me for a moment of the bay that is just a few hundred yards away. If I were honest, I would admit that the water is hardly ever so brilliant, more often it is a tumultuous mix of grey and green, angry like the storm clouds that gathered above it last night. While the steady beat of the rain battered our ears, Aidan and I made love. Afterwards, as we lay silent, the storm gave way to the sound of the surf beating the shore. The thought of our intimate evening makes my heart race, mimicking the frenzied rhythm we followed deep into the night. Then, as now, I could do little to stop it. I have always given myself to Aidan with abandon, though when abandon turned to abandonment I will never know.
My thoughts propel me from our bed. In the cool light of the bathroom, I examine myself. The eyes staring back at me look old for their age and, for the first time, I notice that I look pale and gaunt just as Aidan had worriedly observed over dinner. He whispered this to me, taking advantage of the lull between courses to suggest we make an early exit. With us sat other Ministers and a few Justices, even a Lord. True to his word, Aidan spirited me away not long after, only to keep me up far later than ever intended, as the dark circles under my eyes prove.
I wash quickly, without my usual routine of bottles and scrubs, basins and tubs. Folded neatly on the windowsill are the clothes I wore yesterday. I pull on the grey wool skirt topped with a pink pullover. I wrap the silk scarf around my neck to ward off the morning chill. Suitably concealed, I carry my shoes in my hands and make my way slowly back to the bedroom in my stockinged feet.
Aidan turns, mumbling to himself about the garden. I lean against the bureau, enjoying the sound of his voice. When we were first falling in love I could listen to his voice for hours, the softness of it, the lyrical accent, the tender inflections reserved just for me. I can still be entranced by his voice, persuaded to ask questions so I can listen just a little longer. Even now I wait, hoping he will say more, before realizing that if I do not go now I never will. Unconsciously, I rescue my wedding ring from the tiny Limoges box and leave the room, descending the shadowy stairs with my shoes still in my hand.
When I reach the kitchen, I pull back the thin lace curtains, letting in nothing but the darkness that encompasses our short street. Across the way, I see the Mahon children running wildly through their kitchen, each waving papers or books or bags as their parents attempt to quiet them all. I see the children fall into order at the breakfast table, their mother pecking them each in turn before running out to her car. Bridget once told me that she tries to leave before any food is thrown. I laughed when she said this but it was a bittersweet reminder of what I now lack.
I watch this all calmly, as if I have no qualms about the journey I am about to make. Bridget waves as she drives past the window and I wave back, glad that she has not honked her horn as she so often does. Maybe she too feels that something so insignificant could have far-reaching consequences this morning.
I set my boots on the ground and walk to the small desk hidden in the nook beneath the stairs. On my way back to the kitchen, I flick the kettle switch before settling at the far end of the table, carefully avoiding the two chairs Aidan and I tend to dine from. In front of me is a sheet of crisp cream paper. I hesitate, then begin to write.
Please don't hate me and don't worry for me. I need this time for myself. I need you, also,
if you are willing to wait. I won't be long. I will be safe and I pray that you will be too.
I love you.
I smile at what I have written. He will know that I am not truly praying for him. He will know that to me it is just a figure of speech, the same as saying “I hope” or even “I expect.” Knowing this will bring him relief, it will cement for him the understanding that true intimacy brings. He will be even more relieved when he discovers my passport still tucked into its small wooden box. Seeing it safely nestled among our licenses and certificates will do more to calm his worries than my note ever could. He denies it but Aidan is convinced that one day I will demand to leave, that I will tire of expatriate life. I wonder if he also believes that I will tire of him, my foreign husband becoming frustrating. I see the shadows that cross his eyes when we argue, when I rant about the inconsequential differences that make life inconvenient, relatively speaking. He has not yet discovered that my surroundings all run together, merging despite oceans and mountains.
I leave my note in the center of the table and listen for a moment but hear nothing. The kettle begins to boil, small spurts of steam puffing from its spout. Realizing that I have no need for the hot water, I shake my head and turn the kettle off, unplugging it for emphasis. Aidan drinks tea. I pull on my boots and go to gather the small leather bag I have left beside the door. I pause when I pick up my purse, then take out my phone. I am tempted to leave it on the table next to the note but I worry that he will take this as some sort of sign, an unspoken assertion that I am not to be reached, that I am unreachable. This is not what I mean to convey, so I switch the phone off but put it back into my bag. I am seeking solitude, though not at so great a cost.
I leave the house as silently as I left our bed, shutting the door with a tiny click, turning the lock with a small snap. The morning air is cold and tinged with salt, scented with smoke from a few morning fires. The porch light that I normally leave on is dim, worn down from neglect. I walk down our front path, noticing not for the first time the precision with which Aidan landscapes. When I reach the front hedge, a riot of colour in the summer but now a dry, sharp wall, I look once more at our small, darkened cottage. Somewhere inside, Aidan sleeps.
Somewhere outside is what I lost along the way.
At the end of the road, the dawn is breaking over the bay and the first rays of light are glinting off of the crests of the waves.