Short Story: One for Sorrow
It’s the magpie that makes me think of Laura again after all these years. As I come round the corner it’s standing in a patch of sunshine in the middle of the garden, pecking at the remains of an apple, but when I approach it flies away. they’re larger than you expect, up close.
Laura always wore black and white, like a magpie, never any other colours, and she had the same tilt to her head and the same blue sheen on her silky, black hair. I didn’t really miss her until now.
No, that’s a lie: she was always there, like an ache, not in my heart like as they say in books, but in my gut, as if she were a hunger which could never be appeased. But then, of course, that’s what she is. What I mean is that I was able to put my need for her on one side and get on with my life, instead of having her in my head every waking hour.
Roughly, I put down the bucket of water, the iridescent soap bubbles slopping over the sides. I pick up the sponge and sweep it across the smooth surface of the car, wiping off the dust and the dead leaves and the bird droppings, leaving a trail of white foam sparkling in the sunlight. I remember when I tried to show her the right way to open a bottle of champagne, easing out the cork gently, only I didn’t know she’d shaken the bottle… no, push the thought away, subdue it. I lift up the bucket and fling the contents over the car. How long must I bear this pain?
It’s ridiculous. She’s been dead to me for so long and yet I remember every fleck in her eyes, every mischievous line on her face, every gesture… this is pointless. I’ll never see her again. She’s gone.
By the time I come out with the second bucketful of water, I’ve got myself back under control. I’m even able to smile and say a few words to my neighbour.
I’ve offered to get the shopping while they all go up to visit Granny: when I come in from cleaning the car, there’s a list waiting on the table. I stand there stupidly, staring at the piece of paper. I know the words by heart now. I’m sorry I can’t give you the kids you want so fucking much. Have a nice life. I ran upstairs, but her clothes had all gone, and my carefully-hidden leaflets about artificial insemination were torn into shreds and strewn like feathers across the bed.
When you’ve got nothing left, it’s only natural to grab at something… anything, whether you want it or not. I read somewhere that marriage is like a birdcage in a summer garden: all the birds outside are desperate to get in, and all the birds inside are dying to get out. I can see her wry smile. Yeah, tell me about it.
Shopping for groceries isn’t my favourite occupation, but I’m glad to have the chance to be alone, so that I can spend some more time uninterrupted, thinking about Laura, the ultimate, bittersweet luxury. I don’t only remember making love with her, although that’s the part I like best.
I imagine walking by a river with her, talking about books, then leaning over an ancient stone bridge, watching a pair of swans, almost motionless, reflected in the water. Her delicate fingers claw out a lump of moss from between the stones, then she looks up, serious for once, and tells me that she loves me.
I select the tins and packets from the supermarket shelves automatically, my mind running through the rain with Laura, sharing an umbrella. Sitting on the sea wall, eating ice creams, lips sticky with salt spray. Laughing at each other, feeding the birds together in Trafalgar Square and competing to see who can hold the most pigeons on one arm. It’s all fantasy; we never did any of those things. I never even told her that I loved her.
They’re home when I get back with the shopping. I help the children to lay the kitchen table for lunch, trying to ignore Laura perched on the edge, wearing my white towelling robe with the sleeves rolled up, a taunting expression on her strong, intelligent face. This is what you wanted, isn’t it? Your nice, ordinary marriage and children? You chose them; you’ve got them. I smile down at Adam and Sarah. Sometimes I think my punishment is greater than I can bear.
Outside the window the swallows are gathering on the telegraph wires. Like me, they’re getting ready to leave, stretching their wings for the long flight. It’s only the beginning of September; it’s going to be a hard winter. But if I left my husband after seven years in the wilderness and went to look for Laura, would I even find her?
Emily Lock is a freelance writer and blogger about the ups and downs of trying to evolve towards a better life.
Her Emily the Dodo blog is updated every week, with ideas to inspire you to make those changes, quizzes to help you decide what you want and planners so you can figure out how you’re going to get it, along with life hacks to make it easier. Come and join Emily on the journey to a happy life.