Honourable mention for the Cuffer Prize 2012
He knows exactly when they broke. He can almost tell you the precise time, right down to the minute, and he thinks she knows it too but she won't admit it. At least not yet. Not until it gets worse than it is. Though he can't imagine that's possible. Yet it is. And it does.
He moves her hair off her shoulders before he zips her up and then lays it back as it was. He used to tell her she was lovely but he can't bring himself to do it tonight. It's not that she isn't beautiful. She is. It's just that he doesn't care enough to even say it anymore. They kiss the boys goodnight and tell them that they won't be late and to listen to the sitter and to go to bed on time.
They don't speak to each other as they drive out Torbay Road unless it is to tell the other about something one of the boys said or did. It's all they have between them anymore. They stop at the lights at Stavanger Drive and he recalls how he drove around the subdivision there last week after work and before he went home and looked at the houses with "For Sale" signs on them. He had slowed down in front of those houses to catch a glimpse of the people inside and wondered what he would look like in their place. What the boys would be like living on this street. With him. Without her.
Raymonds is full and they are shown to their table where Chris and Jennifer are already seated. They shake hands and kiss and place their orders and raise their wine in a toast. It is an ordinary night of ordinary people. His leg is resting against Jennifer's and he feels the heat of her through his pants and he wonders if she feels it too. She doesn't move her leg and his mind wanders and he ponders the unthinkable, the undoable. He tries to imagine it and he finds himself enjoying it.
His wife is funny tonight. She has captured their attention with her stories and regaled them with anecdotes that have them laughing. He remembers that this is the way she was when they first met and that this was one of the things he had found attractive in her. The right balance of humour and sensitivity, spontaneity and sensibility. He watches and listens and in his objectivity he realizes she is the same person she ever was. Except to the extent that they have ruined each other.
She asked him the other day what it was that he wanted from her. What could she do to make this work. He tried to keep his voice from escalating into that high pitch that signals a fight is about to come, but it's hard to do. It's hard to be restrained when you just want to scream the truth.
He had wanted to say I want to unmeet you, I want to unknow you, I want to unlove you. I want to go back in time and to have never said hello to you. I want to know then what I know now. I want the opportunity to have made a better choice. But he had said nothing. I want nothing from you.
They walk down Water Street and onto the waterfront and Jennifer and Chris are holding hands. He feels he should take her hand but it is an effort just for the thought let alone the action and so he doesn't. He puts his hands in his pockets and holds the crumpled tissues that he finds instead. Jennifer is talking about her mother who has recently died and he recalls being at the funeral home and looking at the photographs of the deceased on the wall and the picture of her mother and father together when they were young and so obviously in love that it was physically painful to look at them. He had felt like he was intruding on a private moment just by looking at that picture and it hurt him to see it because you just knew they were two people who didn't know who they were without each other.
They say goodnight and get into their cars to drive back to their respective lives. The ride home is mostly silent, punctuated only by the odd comment about the evening, and then she startles him when she asks if he thinks Chris and Jennifer are happy. He doesn't know what to say to that because he doesn't even know what it means and so he says nothing and they resume their silence.
He remembers the day they got the call from the doctor after the tests and how she had wanted her to come in as soon as possible. How they couldn't talk to each other and how he couldn't look at her just to see his fear mirrored in her eyes and how they had played with the kids in the snow but forgot to build a snowman and just shovelled the same snow from one place to another.
How they both breathed a collective sigh of relief and how his voice broke on the phone when she said everything was fine. He wants to love her that much again. To have his voice betray him for the love that was in it.
They brush their teeth next to each other and she finishes first and goes to their room.
He looks in the mirror and looks himself in the eye and wonders if he could do it. Could he have an affair. Could he cheat on her even with all of this and all of nothing between them. Could he go through with it.
It is appealing and exciting and he longs to feel something for someone again. He looks at his face in the mirror once more and knows he couldn't. He does not want to be that kind of man. He does not ever want to have to tell his children that he is that kind of man.
The lights are out in their room and he feels his way to the bed along the familiar path he has taken for the last 13 years. He once read that after a bone breaks and knits back together, it is actually stronger in the area of the break than it was before. Maybe it's a myth. Maybe it's the truth. Either way it's a risk he'll take.
She is on her own side of the bed facing the wall and he slides across the sheets and spoons into her back and wraps his arms around her for whatever comfort there is in it.
Annette Conway was born in St. John's. After studying law in Ontario she returned to St. John's where she now practises. She lives in Torbay with her partner and their two children and is at work on her first novel. She has been shortlisted three times for the Cuffer Prize and two of her stories appear in the newly released "The Cuffer Anthology: Volume IV."