Her hand hovers hesitantly in mid-air, undecided over whether to rest a palm on his forehead. She casts a forensic eye over the pores of his skin, the deep lines etched around his eyes and lips, the fine trembling hairs in his nostrils. She observes the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, then leans in with a delicate twitch of her nose to inhale his slightly sour, musty breath. She watches him sleep for some time, content to have him all to herself. He looks peaceful, she thinks, like the boy she fell in love with all those years ago.
Lately though, shadows had been lurking on his face. He would come home, with dark pouches under his eyes, shoulders hunched, looking more wretched than the day before. He would shuffle into the kitchen, his lips grazing her cheek, only brightening somewhat when he saw the children.
“How’s my little princess?” he would say to the girl and she would drop everything, wrapping her little arms around his knees.
The boy always hung back until he said, “How’s my little man?”
Sometimes he would wrestle the boy down onto the floor, other times he gently ruffled his hair. They would interrupt each other to tell him about their day, showing him drawings of houses on stilts and stick figures of mummy in an apron, while daddy, dark and mysterious, loomed at the back.
“You’re the cleverest little boy and girl in the world,” he would say and they never grew tired of hearing it.
After a while though, he would wilt, his eyes pleading with her to take them away and so she would shepherd them out of the room, eventually to bed.
Later over a glass of wine she would inevitably ask, “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, just a little tired,” he would reply.
“You’ve been a bit distant,” she would say, trying a different tack.
“I’m sorry, I’ve just been busy at work.”
Sometimes she wailed, “Why don’t you talk to me?”
“I am talking,” he muttered. “What do you want me to say?”
Her hand moves away as she remembers the boy and girl have stayed overnight with friends. I won’t disturb him yet, she thinks, because we are alone. I will do something special, I will make him breakfast in bed. She cannot hold back the flutters of excitement as she skips into the kitchen. She pulls out bowls and plates, pots and pans, whisks eggs and pancake mix. Sausages burst open under the grill, bacon sizzles. The coffee maker hisses and whirrs, toast springs to attention. After breakfast, she says to herself, we will talk, who knows, we may even make love.
Noises from the bedroom tell her he is awake and her stomach, nervous and hungry, now clenches with violence.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” she shouts, trying to sound bright and carefree.
There is no response, only the clink of cutlery against glass, as she carries the tray into the bedroom. He walks out of the bathroom, hair damp and glistening, fully clothed, while she blinks rapidly, as if by so doing she can erase the offending image. There is a tremor in her voice when she asks, “Where are you going?”
“Sorry, darling, I have to go into the office,” he says.
“But it’s Saturday morning.”
“I’m sorry. I wish I didn’t have to. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“But I wanted to talk to you,” she says, hating the whining of her voice.
“We can talk when I get back.”
“But I made you breakfast in bed, all your favourites. Surely you can wait five minutes.”
“I can’t. There’s a taxi waiting for me outside. Got to go.”
He leans over and gives her one of those cool, chaste kisses on the cheek that she has come to detest. She flinches and the tray drops, a glass splinters, coffee oozes onto the carpet, orange juice slides down the wall like tears. Out in the hallway, his footsteps stop for a moment, maybe two, before they quicken and she hears the front door slam.
S O Asante is a freelance journalist. She is new to creative writing but is trying to hit the ground running.