Posted on May 23, 2015May 23, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair5.23.2015 Journal Prompt Image from Bluebird May 23, 2015: This was before. Like this:Like Loading... Related
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There’s a time before and a time after. Harold sits at the table opposite her and they do not now speak or even look at each other. This is the time after. He loves Bessie still, but it is different from before. He loves her now like she is his left arm and is a part of him and so he has to care. He cannot imagine being without her, but he tries sometimes.
And Harold remembers the time before and how it was then. And he recalls lying beside Bessie in bed and running his hand over the landscape of her and it never was old or completely known. And he remembers the warmth of her, and moving into the space where she had been when she rose from their bed. And the smell of her in the morning, something of must and something reassuring.
Now he sleeps in the spare room. The guest room, they once called it, and Harold sometimes feels like a guest in his own house – in their house. At first it felt somehow clean, sleeping in that room. And honest it felt like. As though he was being true to who he was once more and who he had not been for some years.
It was nothing Bessie said. It was nothing and he was no one – the other man. It just happened and she was sorry that it did. Bessie couldn’t explain it. Maybe she’d been a little drunk at the time and alone and not really herself. That was neither before nor after. That was the turning point, as far as it could be pinned down. Harold has played it over and over in his head, trying to hit on the moment with greater and greater precision. Bessie has not talked about it in any detail so Harold can only imagine most of what happened.
It was after work and she’d gone for a drink with colleagues. The light in the bar was soft and yellow, like sunlight trapped in a box. And she was tired and the drink – a gin and lemon – made her light-headed. One drink became two and she was there alone with a man called Steve, alone as they could be, shrinking into the darkness of a cubicle. And Steve kissed her maybe, or she kissed him, touching under the table, and that was the moment, the moment that was neither before or after.
They came back from that, Harold and Bessie, or they thought they did. For years afterwards still sleeping together in the one bed. And they made love sometimes – but not so many that he lost count. And they moved through their shared days and nights without noticing that it was still there, what she’d done.
And then one day Harold reached for her and she was beyond him. Like she wasn’t really there. And he felt a coldness in the space that was between them in their bed. And it felt wrong then and different, and it felt like a lie, and he understood that he was in the time after.
Harold moved into the spare room quietly, without an explanation, and maybe she understood for Bessie never asked him why. And now they sit opposite each other at breakfast and they do not speak or even look at each other, except to ask if the other has slept well or to offer tea or to ask for the butter to be passed.
And Harold feels an ache inside that is as hard as a stone and he yearns to return to how it was before – with Bessie or with someone – but he thinks it is too late for that, much too late. So he tries to imagine what it would be without her, and it is like trying to picture himself without his left arm, and he cannot.
There’s a time before and a time after. Bessie sits at the table opposite him and they do not now speak or even look at each other. This is the time after. Bessie loves him. Thinks she does, but she knows it is different from before. She loves him now like he is something she belongs to, loves him like there is nothing more or less than what they have.
And Bessie remembers the time before and how it was then, even though it hurts to remember. And she recalls the easy it was back at the start of things and how words were like gifts they made to each other, uncovering them like caught butterflies in the palms of their hands, and their fingers opening slowly, gently, to reveal the wonder, and the air suddenly and often thrilled with colour and dance. Maybe she is being fanciful, but she thinks it was like that once.
Now Harold sleeps in the spare room. The guest room, they used to call it, and she sometimes thinks of Harold as a guest in the house – in their house. And guests overstay their welcome sometimes and it feels like that, too, for they have run out of things to say to each other and the air is grey and nowhere is there dancing. And there’s a dust that settles over everything and it is as though she is waiting for Harold to leave.
It was nothing Bessie told him back then. It was nothing and he was no one – the other man, the man called Steve. It just happened, a one-time thing, and she was sorry that it had. Bessie couldn’t explain it, not really – except that there had been a distance between her and Harold in the time before. A sort of cooling. And he was turned into himself more and more and he wouldn’t let her in. She felt alone sometimes, shut out and really alone, maybe that was it. Or maybe she’d been a little drunk that night and not really herself and flattered at the attention of someone else and butterfly words dancing again in the air around her.
It was after work and she’d gone for a drink with colleagues. It wasn’t something she usually did, but Harold was in that far off place and he’d been silent over breakfast and she wasn’t sure she could face him. The light in the bar was blue and green and yellow, lit up like a fairground ride, and there was music playing. And she was tired and the drink – a gin and lemon – made her light-headed, and Steve made her laugh. Her laughter felt unfamiliar, as though it was something she had not done in a long time. One drink became two and it was late and she was there and suddenly alone with a man called Steve, as alone as they could be, shrinking into the secret dark of a cubicle. And Steve kissed her maybe, or she kissed him, it doesn’t matter which, and touching each other under the table, and that was the moment, breathless and giddy, the moment that was neither before nor after: pivotal.
They came back from that, Harold and Bessie, or she thought they did. For years afterwards still sleeping together in the one bed. And they made love sometimes – the weight of him heavy on her, taking her breath away; and then when he rolled from her to his side of the bed, she felt alone and cold again.
Then one day Harold moved into the spare room. Not a word said, just an empty space beside her where he was before. Bessie did not ask him why, did not dare to, not though it was like she had swallowed broken glass and it was cutting her inside.
And now they sit opposite each other at breakfast and they do not speak or even look at each other, except to ask if the other has slept well or to offer tea or to ask for the butter to be passed. And it is like Bessie is waiting for something to fall, and she remembers as a child seeing a girl on a high trapeze, pretty in pink tulle, floating butterfly-like through the air, and she held her breath against the girl falling, and sitting opposite Harold in the morning she holds her breath sometimes and holds it till she can’t any longer – and then she gasps for air.