Daylight hazed through the net curtains; sterile, bright; a day with just a little too much summer in the air. The alarm clock chimed out its last good-morning call and cut out. Holly had that smile on her face, that smile that said so plainly that she no longer loved me, but that she saw no way out; no way to break free from the complacency. I smiled too, but my smile said nothing so specific. My smile was habit, mostly a show of indifference with just a modicum of courtesy behind it.
I kissed her, gently, on the forehead, and they say that’s a show of true love. Not for me. For me, the early-morning kiss was just more of the habit, more of the twenty-year ritual that came as naturally as breathing. She rolled over, put her back to me and buried her head in a mound of mismatched pillows. No doubt she’d stay like that for the rest of the morning. Didn’t she always.
“You’ll be late,” she said when I failed to shuffle out from under the covers.
How could I be late? I left an hour early every morning just to get away from her. But, she was right. For the first time in a decade I was lying-in beyond the alarm clock’s call — wondering just when it was that we had drifted, when it was that she had decided to start turning her back to me as her first act of every day. When had she decided that she didn’t love me any more? Was it age? Had I gotten too old for her? No. No, the defiant part of my brain couldn’t accept that, the same part of my brain that lashed out at her own years. She was the one who had gotten older, the one who had cut off that thick black hair that I used to love running my fingers through, the one who had stiffened up with age and gone cold…
She was still beautiful, though. Another part of me knew that, the same part that screamed for me to stay in the bed, to listen to to the whispers in my brain that had gone unheard for half of our life together. It was the same part of me that forced the ounce of courtesy into my otherwise-cold morning smile. Yet, it was the same part of me that asked why it was that she turned her back every morning. What made her hate me so much that…
Ten years in the shadows, and suddenly the stabs of quite-ordinary sunlight were illuminating an unheard thought. In that instant, that part of me was finally being heard, finally pointing out that turning her back to me wasn’t Holly’s first act of every day. No, her first act was a smile, a smile so misunderstood. A smile that asked me to take the Friday off that I had always refused to, to stay for that extra hour in the mornings, to stay just long enough to be close to her. To stay just long enough to show that I wanted to be close to her.
How could I expect her to love me? How could I demand it? It was me… it was all me. I had been the distant one. I had been the one who had started leaving early in the mornings. And why? Over something silly? Something that happened in a single moment? Something I couldn’t even remember…
I had done it to her, I had forced her to bury her head in those pillows… was still forcing her to do so. It was unfair, maybe even unrealistic, of me to expect her to still love me, but in that moment I realised that she did. It was the only explanation that could explain the smile at the start of every morning.
I clasped my hand around her bare shoulder, rubbed by thumb along it. She half-turned her body back towards me and all I could see on her face, at first, was shock. Then I saw a morbid fear in her eyes, the most horrible show of fear I’ve ever seen. She was afraid of me. But why…
It took a moment, the longest moment of my life, and then I saw it, realised she was afraid that I was finally going to push her over the edge, put the final nail in the coffin of our marriage and force her hand. I’d done that to her — stripped out every bright spark of hope and happiness that had once burned in her blue eyes.
I leaned over and pressed my lips to her forehead, and I meant every sentiment that was said to lie behind the action.
“I think I’ll call in sick today,” I said with a smile devoid of forced courtesy, a smile filled with sincerity. Love.
She didn’t say a word, she just held me tight, both of us shivering in a way we hadn’t shivered in a very, very long time.
And I did call in sick; did finally take that Friday off and spend every moment of it with her. It was an ordinary day, no picnics, no heart-to-heart talks or open fields of sunshine. Just a day. And when it was over: Night came with heavy rain in tow. The weather had taken a turn for the worse, but other things, more important things, had changed for the better.
Shane M. Gavin hails from a rainy little border town in the North East of Ireland. He’s a Linux enthusiast who doesn’t necessarily hate Windows, an Irishman who doesn’t drink and a know-it-all who doesn’t mind admitting when he’s wrong. He’s also a so-called “mature” student and an aspiring speculative fiction writer. On the odd occasion, he can be found “blogging” at shanemgavin.wordpress.com, and doing “the other thing” at twitter.com/nodehead.