'Chronicle of an Ending' by Vanessa Couchman
A piece of paper flutters to the floor as I hang up his coat. I unfold it. A jeweller’s receipt. My pulse quickens. I scrunch it up again and replace it in the pocket. It’s a while since he bought me jewellery. Once, he draped a gold filigree necklace hung with a tiny snowflake diamond across the pillow. Another time he hid a ring in a chocolate mousse. Lucky I didn’t swallow it. We giggled, speculating on how we’d recover it if I had.
I don’t mention the receipt. Neither does he.
He’s going on a business trip today and tomorrow. They’re becoming more frequent, these business trips. When I ask him about them, where he went, whom he saw, he grimaces, “Oh you know, the usual thing. Interminable meetings with tedious people and undrinkable coffee. A hotel room that could be anywhere.” I don’t ask anymore.
Normally he phones from his hotel. Today he doesn’t. I phone his mobile. Switched off. I keep listening to the answering machine to hear his voice. I don’t leave a message.
I shuffle papers around my office desk, make a few inconsequential phone calls. Life on hold, just living on the surface, skating across an ice-ridden pond.
I remember the luminous weekend we spent in the Lake District. It was the peak, though we didn’t know it then. We took a photo of our reflections in a tarn, a gust of wind scurrying over the surface, rippling and breaking up the image.
Afterwards I told him I might be pregnant. Mixed emotions chased each other across his eyes like clouds scudding across a March sky. Then I wasn’t.
Another unproductive day in the office, the tingling in my stomach at his foreseen return offset by a sombre dragging at the base of my spine.
He’s back. We make love. He’s as tender as ever but it’s as if he’s at the other end of a tunnel, drawing away. Afterwards, we lay side by side, an unbridgeable gulf between us. I bite back all the questions. Not now. Not yet.
He’s late. Six o‘clock, seven o’clock. I tidy papers, plump cushions for the nth time. His key turns in the lock. I turn my face up to kiss him. His lips brush my cheek, not my mouth. My heart plunges.
He doesn’t take his coat off. I sit down. He paces around the living room, picking things up, putting them down, glancing through the window, avoiding my eyes. Opens his mouth to speak and then closes it again. I keep silent, willing him to speak but not wanting to know, suspended in the limbo between suspicion and revelation.
My heart pounds. Sweat prickles my palms. My mouth is dry as dust.
He stops in front of me, takes my hands. The truth won’t wait any longer.
She’s pregnant. His wife.