Lucas closed her nightstand drawer, careful to leave no evidence he had opened it―she would notice a handkerchief pushed aside, know he had been snooping through her things. Retrieving his book, he reclined on the reading sofa next to the window collecting patches of frost. Reading gave a momentary comfort, distanced him from the emptiness where penance is never paid. He dozed off studying the falling pattern of snowflakes.
When he awoke, the house was silent, the heaviness hanging in the air like a noose waiting for him to slip through. Katherine rested on the edge of the bed, her back more familiar than his memory of her face. He knew she was careful not to look at him, his presence pressed against the raw nerves of her pain. “Good bath?” Lucas watched her from the doorway, sleep still clouding the words he wanted to say.
The delicate dance between them had become habit, and he was rarely, if ever, careless. She didn’t answer and he went to the bedside table, feeling for the switch of the lamp. His hand hovered above her arm without touching it, just close enough that she might feel the heat. She recoiled from him as an injured animal would. The hope she might one day let him near again diminishing with each look she refused to give, each word she refused to say. They were two bodies occupying the same space but they were strangers. He was loathed and unwelcome. He gathered his clothes and left her the room.
Lucas pulled on his heavy coat and quietly left the apartment. The young doorman gave a broad smile and held the door for him. He nodded to the boy, stepping out into the flurry of snow gathering in the corners of the curb and stair edges.
He stopped at the small café across from the pharmacy. Removing his coat, he shook it before entering, the soft door chimes announcing his arrival. The hostess waved her arm across the room indicating he could sit where he liked. Her soft perfume was warm and inviting, he paused in the drift of its subtle notes before taking a window table. He ordered coffee and toast.
The boisterous conversation and laughter of the morning’s patrons pulled him back to that summer. They had been watching the parade, the confetti settling into Julian’s curls, his tiny, plump fingers reaching for the falling colored strings. They had been laughing. He had only let go of Julian’s hand to catch the chocolates for him, thrown to the happy crowd pressing close and loud.
His cup sat full and cold, the melted butter a puddle in the soft groove of uneaten toast. He pushed the untouched food away and paid his bill. Glancing back to the window from the street, the smiling hostess cleared away the remnants of his visit. He still smelled her perfume and the stone in his throat grew. It had chilled considerably since leaving the apartment that morning. He put on his gloves and lowered the brim of his hat. The strengthening wind pelted him with the biting sleet of the premonition, his legs moving heavily toward home.
When Lucas returned he found the bedroom door ajar and rapped on it gently. Without waiting for an answer he pushed it open to find Katherine still sitting on the edge of the bed, her gaze fixed beyond the window. He called out to her though he knew she wouldn’t answer. After a time, she turned slightly, glancing over her shoulder, apathy or loathing he couldn’t tell, visible from the side of her face.
“I’ll put the kettle on.” He prepared a light meal of toast with jam and placed the warm kettle, napkins, and cup on the tray. He returned to the room with his offering. She made no move to accept, pushing him away again with her turned back.
He startled awake to her pounding fists. His reading glasses nicked the bridge of his nose with the force of her blows but he allowed each one to wound him as it would. Each contact from her enraged hands was absolution. Darkly warm, bitterly sweet.
“Why can’t you die? I hate you!” Throwing herself to the floor, she tore at her hair, her nightgown, ripping it from neckline to hem. She was burning and there was no water for her fire.
They fought to exist in a world in which they no longer could, separated by guilt and blame, where there is no forgetfulness, no forgiveness, only a child’s bloodied clothes. The bruised body they carried like a tiny bird, the blonde curls caked in mud, those pale cherub cheeks. So great was the mistake, nothing existed but the gaping horror.
They had been too happy. It had all been so perfect. He would have gladly lain underneath the wheels of that carriage. Fate may have been satisfied, sweetness would have still existed in the world. Since that dark morning, he could not point to a singular hour when the thought of death muted to a hum. The question of whether the ebb is stronger than the flow was more a matter of indecision than curiosity. Whatever grief demanded, they had paid double but he could only think that grief, too, must surely have an end.
Katherine’s inability to ever love again made life irretrievable, happiness as momentary as that beautiful child. How could he blame her for her loathing? It was the only, and last thing, they would share.
He watched her for a long time, until he no longer saw the softness rise and fall, her hair streaming across the pillow like a cool, dark ocean. He wanted nothing more now than to ride out forever on its ebb tide, sinking into its depths. They would meet again, and cruelty would never find them. He once read somewhere―or was it his own thought―that all destinies eventually return, their hearts caked in dust.