••• The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes life stories
You look so lovely, even when you cry
|Look at me! Look at me. Colwyn wanted to scream in his deadpan face ...
‘I just don’t have the energy to spring-clean. Put all this clutter away in the attic in boxes. It has taken me literally years to hoard all of this stuff, Suzanne.’ Suzanne was Colwyn’s daughter-in-law. The proud mother of Adrian, Brian, Liam and Olly. She taught piano lessons in the afternoons. So, she often dropped the boys off at their ‘Nan Ferguson and Grandad Olly’s’ house.
‘You need some help. I’m sure Dawn, our housekeeper won’t mind coming over to help you out once in a while.’ Suzanne shifted uncomfortably in her sandals and maternity dress. ‘It’s so hot today. Strange weather we’re having. You wouldn’t say that it was autumn, would you now?’
‘Did you say something, Suzanne? I can’t work in this dirty room. It’s a mess. I don’t really know what I got up to keeping all these magazines and newspapers until kingdom come. What was I thinking? Sit down, Suzanne. Don’t just stand there gawking at me. Dawn has her hands full probably with those four boys of yours. Sit Suzanne. I said sit down. I had a boy myself so I know the feeling.’ Suzanne sat down. ‘Finally, some me-time. I’ve been waiting the whole day for this.’ Suzanne reached for the newspaper that she was sitting uncomfortably on and pulled it out from her.
‘And the piano lessons? You still find the time and energy to teach? Goodness knows, I don’t know where you find the inclination to do that. How do you manage with Stephen and the boys and you work? It’s not as if you need the money, you know. I mean you married a doctor. Stephen’s a specialist. A psychiatrist,’ Colwyn said this with pride in her voice.
‘I love teaching, Colwyn. I’ve had it in me for the longest time I can remember. Since high school or maybe even before that.’ Suzanne was not in the mood for a fight with Nan Ferguson.
‘You’re a good woman, Suzanne. You’re a wonderful mother, a wonderful wife. Your own mother would have been proud if she had still been around, you know what I mean don’t you? You’re like a daughter to me. I love you like a daughter and all that but you have to start looking after yourself now. How far along are you? You’re as big as a house, if you don’t mind me saying so.’ Suzanne said nothing to this last comment. Just braced herself. She was used to Colwyn by now. Nothing fazed her. She had been warned by Stephen. ‘She means well. She doesn’t know that sometimes what she says irritates or annoys us. You understand, don’t you Suzy?’ ‘Suzy’ was Stephen’s nickname for Suzanne. Colwyn detested nicknames. She didn’t shorten her husband’s name, nor her sons’ names. Gus only became ‘Pops’ when she was vulnerable. Tested.
Colwyn watched Gus’s arms rip through the air. She imagined her husband’s body quivering (another word for ‘trembles’ or ‘blooms’) in the water. There’s a chill in the air (midsummer floating on an autumn breeze) at the local swimming pool in Gelvandale. It is not far from Colwyn and Gus’s double-story house in a quiet cul-de-sac. She watches him in the water. Stroke for stroke as he reaches the other side in the Olympic-sized pool. She’s cold. She shivers.
There’s no sun where she is sitting. She knows he’ll be hungry when he’s finished swimming. Thinking that he is some kind of super athlete. There are other swimmers. High school kids. Teenagers messing around at the far end of the pool. Colwyn can’t hear what they’re saying but there seems to be a lot of cajoling. Laughing. Showing off in front of the girls. Colwyn can remember a time when Gus was once like that too. She thinks of the green light of the sea the night that Gus first kissed her when she was all shy and all of that. Not more than a girl. She thought of fishing boats in the dock. The first painting they bought for their cosy flat opposite the Livingstone Hospital. She thought of the smell of the ocean-sea-river in the air. The pink light of the sunset. Ducks and bunny rabbits. Olly really liked that story of the ducks and the other book with the pictures of the bunny rabbits in Beatrix Potter. Enid Blyton. Roald Dahl.
Colwyn stepped into the restaurant out of the cold. She didn’t notice the man at first who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. He seemed to be lost in his boots, jeans, shirt. He cleared his throat. He hadn’t even had the audacity to look at her twice yet. Look at me! Look at me. Colwyn wanted to scream in his deadpan face (it had been one of those days). Colwyn felt smothered by Stephen’s (her only son’s) precocious boys Adrian, Brian, Liam and Olly. All boys between the ages of four and twelve years old. She would sometimes babysit on date nights too. Sometimes she would just put them in front of the television and nap on the sofa. The boys would sometimes not watch age-appropriate television. Soap operas, the news bulletin. Documentaries on drug and alcohol addiction, mob justice and prostitution.
Today it felt as if the entire world was against her. Colwyn wanted to ask the man sitting next to her (his shirt sleeves were rolled up to the elbows), waiting for the order he had just placed before her in a Native-American-themed-restaurant that sold steak, chicken wings and ribs, ‘Are you sad? I’m sad.’ When she was a teenager she had been drawn to older men. Older men were magic. Intelligent. They drove smart cars to where they needed to go. They had spacious homes. Families. Usually children. Usually children of a messy divorce. The man looked at her just then as if to say something. Gave her what Colwyn’s Stephen liked to call ‘the once-over’.
He decided he wasn’t interested in making conversation with her. He was thin. Effeminate looking. He was a working man. A painter or a builder Colwyn surmised from the dirt under his fingernails and his sturdy boots covered in paint. Was it her clothes? Colwyn thought to herself. Did she have lipstick on her teeth? The man smelled of ash, cologne, a smokiness. Written on his face was an expression of disbelief. The movement of his hands in his lap was careful and elegant. It was sexy. Colwyn found the stranger sexy. It came to her that this was an escape. An escape from her grandchildren, Stephen, her husband who was still passionate towards her (thank goodness for that, it meant that she was still a desired woman, that she was pretty and all that, she could still melt in Gus’ warm embrace in the middle of the night).
Everyday Colwyn deceived herself a little. She called it love when it was a bitterness. Loneliness. Solitude. Futility. When the words she was looking for was ‘this marriage is more than ‘a social gathering’, we’re here to celebrate a life that is worth living. The sacrifice.’ When she had taken a gap year Colwyn wanted to embark on a new journey every time she travelled to a new place. So far, she had been a tourist in Singapore, Bali, India, New York, Florida, Phuket, Thailand and Prague. It was almost as if she could feel Rilke’s spirit there. She became a travel agent in the end, sending people on dream holidays.
Gus had been the one who was in the mood for ‘steak or ribs or chicken wings’. So, she decided she would surprise him after his swim.
‘You’ve been so cold towards me today,’ Colwyn said with anguish in her voice. ‘Don’t sabotage us,’ was on Colwyn’s lips but she didn’t voice her opinion.
‘Sorry, I’m just distracted that’s all. Don’t read anything into my moods.’ Gus was making tea for them in the kitchen. The smell of takeaway food in the air. Colwyn was taking plates out of the cupboard.
‘You’ve been living on a diet of caffeine and cigarettes for weeks now, Gus. Tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong, right now. I demand to know. What is going on inside that head of yours? You gave up smoking years ago, the six-pack-a-day Camel man.’
‘I’ve met someone and I think that I want a divorce, Winnie. I don’t think I want to be married to you anymore.’
‘What have I done wrong, Gus? I’ve raised our boys. I’m busy raising our grandchildren now. Think what this will do to them, Gus, Pops. Please, don’t leave me. I don’t think that I’ll survive if you did.’
‘I can’t be married to you, Winnie, if I feel like this. You can move in with Stephen if you like.’
‘You told him.’
‘Yes, I told him.’
‘You told him before you told me. So, even Suzanne knows. She knew before me.’
‘So, I guess your mind is made up then. How long have you known? Weeks?’ Gus shook his head slowly from side-to-side for emphasis.
‘Months, then. You’ve known this for months now?’
‘Days. I’ve only known this myself for days now. She, the other woman, well, she wants to get married.’
‘She’s young then. The other woman. The one that you want to leave me for.’
‘This is not an easy decision,’ Said Gus, ignoring Colwyn’s question.
‘Pack your bags then. Don’t think I’m not going without a fight.’ Colwyn said defiant. ‘Tonight, I hope I will show up in your dreams. I will haunt you till kingdom come for this. Don’t forget I bought the land this house is built on. I’m not the one who is going to leave,’ and then all fight seemed to leave Colwyn. ‘Hold me, Gus. Will you, please, just hold me.’
Gus held his wife in his arms, caressed her back. ‘Don’t let go. Don’t let go.’ Colwyn whispered against the barrel of his chest.
© Short fiction by Abigail George
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Bill and Sissy
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