She knows it’s him just by the knock.
She isn’t sure how that is possible, how she can recognise someone just by the echo of their knuckles on wood, but she does. And she wonders if this is what it is to really know someone, to know every sound they make.
She imagines him on the other side of the door, in the white shadow of the porch light, his car parked in the driveway like he never left, the sound of metal clicking like crickets as the engine cools. And she presses her cheek to the door, sure that she can feel the heat of him through the wood, that she can smell him; peppermint and black coffee and something else she won’t know now.
She waits for him to knock again and he does; he’s nothing if not predictable. The knock resonates deep in her bones like the heavy hum of a bass note and then her hand is on the lock, her fingers tracing the smooth edge of the handle. The metal is cold and it makes her shiver. She shivers again as she thinks of that February morning when they woke to snow, neat and white, like something from a Marks and Spencer Christmas card. How they had called into work, told them that they couldn’t make it in, and made a snowman in the back garden. How he’d laughed when she used a red chilli for the mouth and said they had the sluttiest snowman on the street. Remembers the sun in his hair, how cold his fingers felt against her jaw when he kissed her, how warm his mouth was.
He says her name, like only he can. He takes his time with it, draws out each letter as though it’s a spell that won’t work if he says it wrong. But all she hears is a string of apologies; the same three things over and over. I love you. I need you. I’m so sorry. Words he’s stolen from films and melodramatic love songs. And he says them like the crack in her heart can just be painted over with promises and a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
The first time she listened — the second, the third — and at night, as she tries to fill their too-big bed, she thumbs through each one as she would rosary beads, seeking out comfort in other people’s words.
“Are you there?” he asks and she wants to shout, Yes! I’m just where you left me.
But she doesn’t, just lets her hand fall from the lock as she waits for resolve to harden like glue in her veins.
“Let me in,” he says and her fingers falter for just a second. But then her eyes find his keys, sitting quietly on the table by the front door, exactly where he dropped them as he left.
You wanted to go, she thinks, keep going. And turns off the light.
Tanya Byrne writes in Surrey, UK.