‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 14
I woke to shards of dark light, a cold space in the bed beside me and the familiar quiet noises of the house in early morning. I guessed it was about six. As my thoughts stretched back, I sat up with a jolt, seeking warmth and reassurance… What had it been?
Shivering violently, I slipped out of bed and shrugged into my dressing gown. Slanting rays of light crossed the landing and I tapped faintly at the bathroom door, hoping to hear a familiar voice, but the door swung in, revealing emptiness. The shaving light glowed over the mirror.
Leaving it, I crept quietly downstairs and found nothing to remind me of last night: no half-cup of tea, no warm kettle, no shoe lying by the sofa. I dithered in the half light. Should I phone, or go back to bed? Hovering, I dialled Arthur’s number, but there was no reply. I wearily climbed the stairs and ran a bath, lowering my aching body into the hot water to wash away the indecision hanging over me. Had there been a man in my bed last night? Had we revealed ourselves, urged and wept? Incredulous, I slowly shook my head, soaped my body and dreamed.
An hour or so later when Elaine woke up, our house looked as it always had, just the two of us. So easily did she brush her hair and slowly put on her shoes while reading and eating toast with jammy fingers; so easily did life slip by in its usual holiday patterns, I felt as if the whole of last night must have been a dream. While Elaine was arranging to meet up with her friends for some last minute Christmas shopping, I was tidying, furtively wrapping presents. Not until later did I start seriously to wonder where Arthur was. Without his reassuring presence, the house felt too large.
Around mid-morning, three things happened at once: the doorbell rang, the phone went and the post arrived. Automatically I picked up the handset and said, “Wait a moment, please, there’s someone at the door…” before stretching to the latch and pulling it open. On the step was a box with my name and address on it in handwriting I did not recognize, and an assortment of junk mail that the mailman had left perched on top. I went back.
“Hello? Hello…sorry about that, the doorbell….”
“Marian, it’s me.”
“Sorry to leave you this morning so early, but I thought it best to go while Elaine was asleep. I didn’t want her to catch me there, you know.”
“Very thoughtful… Where are you? Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine, absolutely….fine.” Memories of last night fizzed down the line. I felt weak at the knees. The slightest push would have toppled me.
I managed to say, “I could do with a hug, right now….”
“I would love to. The thing is….” My heart dropped into my boots and I could feel a drum beating in my ears. I leaned on the wall, my breath coming in short gasps.
“I’m coming back, Marian. But there are some things I have to tidy up first. It’s something I need to do before we become any more…” The words were rushing out now, probably in a mix of confusion and guilt. “I’ll get everything sorted.” There was a long pause. “If I had stayed, I might not… I won’t be away long.”
“But–” Arthur’s words flew over my head. I could pick out the odd phrase.
“Away? When will you be back?”
“Not sure. A week or two, probably.”
“Where are you?”
“A service station, a dive somewhere.”
I was shivering violently, my teeth chattered with emotion, cold and disappointment.
“Well” I swallowed, forcing some words out, “I hope you get everything sorted and– ” My voice broke, “I – I will always be here for you.”
“Thanks Marian. I’m sorry to go away like this, but I can’t leave the situation just hanging.”
I nodded, but of course, he could not see me. I grinned sheepishly, but still he could not see me. Cross with myself for wasting time, I forced out some more words, barking them, to delay weeping.
“Are you trying to let me down gently?”
“No! Of course not. Is that what you think? I don’t get my kit off for just anybody, you know,” he whispered. “Please Marian, wait for me, please?”
“Yes, of course I will. I wish you could have told me before you left.”
“Yes, I wanted to wake you – I would have liked to, but then I might not have come away. You know how it is, sweetheart.” His gentleness undid all my sharpness and I wept quietly. Feeling I had nothing to lose, I took a great leap and said, “I love you, you know. I hope you can come back soon.”
“I will, my lover, as soon as I can, I promise.”
It was only after I had put the phone down that I realized I had no idea where he was.
The box had been left by Arthur. In it, I found a letter: “Dearest Marian… I’m so sorry to have to go away, but my affairs with Vivienne need my attention.” In the box I found a large, gangly pot plant that would need watering. “I would be very grateful if you could water Lilian’s peace lily for me, now and then. Just until I get back…”