"The pictures I contemplate painting would constitute a halfway state and attempt to point out the direction of the future – without arriving there completely"
After the hanging, or rather the attempted hanging, he thought he should at least talk to her about it. At any rate, he thought that she should talk to him about it: that would be the decent thing to do. A month after it she still bore upon her neck the ligature marks so she made sure to wear scarves. They had become integral to her wardrobe: big colourful scarves with great swirly patterns, contrasting with the studied black that made up the rest of it. They were sitting in Grays Coffee for the first time, because the rain had started to slant down five minutes after their shopping trip had begun. It was the first time they’d done something leisure-wise together since the hanging and he was trying to ignore the strangeness of the human weight opposite him. He had just got used to blank space where he would have been, like she had been cut out of the air with scissors, the hole sutured perfectly shut.
The coffee was okay here. He had questioned internally whether he should ask her what she wanted and then order for her, or whether he should motion to her to order herself, first. He had then realised that yes, he was questioning everything. Everything was now on the table, ready for re-assessment and re-assimilation. The table was circular and the chairs made of thinning wicker. He forgot the sugar and went back to get it. He asked her was it enough. She nodded.
“So much for our shopping trip,” he said. In here you could really feel that clammy September heat, so he took off his overcoat. He looked at her saying nothing, sleeves at her knuckles, fingers around the coffee cup, both sides, with the nails resting on the porcelain. At some point she had stopped biting them. “You never know how true it’s going to be, do you.”
She was looking at perhaps his neck or earlobe or a chalk sign behind him. “What was it you said you wanted to get,” she said as though it wasn’t a question.
He answered it like it was. It wasn’t like she had never spoken since the hanging, but she’d said little, at least little of any substance. He felt a twinge of excitement but also nervousness so he shifted in his seat and ran his fingers through his hair. His leg started going, that soft nervous pounding, but he doubted she’d mention it. “Well, it’s getting to the change in seasons, and I’m not feeling like I’ve got much for winter per se. Like, I want to be prepared for it, when it comes. And you know winter, like it sneaks up on you. Like it’s still clammy now and obviously its clammy enough that I’ve taken my coat off – and I really did think today would be hands-down coat weather when I saw that sky when we woke up – but I’m thinking that, yeah, maybe some … jumpers wouldn’t go amiss.” The top of her latte was unbroken. “Are you not, did you not want coffee?”
She looked down at it like she was noticing it. “No, I’m … I don’t really mind. I’ll drink it.”
“Because, it’s just that, if you didn’t want coffee, or like, if you don’t want coffee, or anything, say in the future, then you have to make sure you say. Because I don’t know if you don’t say. I don’t want you to be not liking things when we could do something else. Did you want to come out today?”
She picked up a spoon and broke the latte foam and sloshed it about but she did not drink. The intake of breath before speaking was long. “I could have stayed in, but I don’t mind. I don’t really need anything. And Saturdays they’re busy. But it’s fine. This is fine.”
He felt the strange dripping acid of resentment. “Fine. That’s such an odd word isn’t it. Like how we always say fine but we usually mean shit.”
“Or we just mean fine.”
In his mind’s peripheral vision he saw his hand on the doorhandle, curiously closed. If there were sounds at that point he either didn’t notice them then or didn’t remember them now. He had opened the bedroom door into their long bedroom and it was quite dark, with only a little August light spilling around the curtains. When he thought about the chronology he saw the spilling light, like it was somehow leaking or escaping, first, then he saw her a split-second later. She had a belt, one of his big leather ones, around her neck. The other end was tied to the light fixture. The shade and bulb were missing.
Later on he’d found the bulb in a drawer and the lampshade on the dresser.
At the moment he came in she was going purple and her tongue was hanging from her flat open mouth. Her arms were slack. He ran in and picked up the overturned stool. He stood on it and took her weight. She was very heavy. He pushed her up towards the ceiling, enough to loosen the belt. She was not breathing. He fumbled to untie the belt from the fixture but somehow ended up pulling it out of the ceiling and they both crashed down in a shower of plaster.
Sirens. Shoelaceless shoes. Plastic cutlery. Assessment. Medication.
“So are you fine now?”
“How’d you mean?”
“Like are you better? Or getting there?”
“Can we not.”
“I want a nice day.”
“Nice? Nice is basically fine in sheep’s clothing.”
“No it isn’t. Not always.”
“Nice is pleasant, anodyne, neutral. It’s MOR and carefulness. It’s knitting and jam.”
“Yes. And that is what I want.” He thought that he saw her smile.
“You want nice? Nice is what you want. After the forgive the cliché but emotional rollercoaster you want nice?”
“Yes. Because of the as you say emotional rollercoaster.”
“We need to talk.”
“We don’t need to do anything. We can just be.”
“You almost just weren’t.”
“Can we not.”
“We need to talk about it. I’ve been through, what I’ve been through, what we’ve been through it needs … discussion.”
“At some point. But please not today. Can today not just be a nice day.”
“Yes,” he conceded, “yes, today can be a nice day.”
They both fell silent at that. She was very still but she did start drinking the coffee. He had finished his. She held her coffee cup now at ligature-mark height so it was resting slightly on the big scarf. He had seen her neck in the hospital, big swollen and raw. His leg was bouncing up and down and it made the table reverberate slightly. Everything brought him back to weight of her as he held her to stop her slipping away somehow. And then he looked now at this calm serene face with its high cheekbones and careful understated rouge opposite him, there but almost not there, and he imagined the empty space that could have been where he now was. They sat there silently for a long time. The rain beat down steadily at a perfect diagonal and he could hear it pattering at the windows.
“It’s really coming down,” he said.
“Yes it is.” She maybe smiled again.
“It’s like it gets to September and gives up. Supposed to be nice tomorrow. Although who knows: it was supposed to be nice today. Ah, it’s that word again. Nice. Oh, but we’ve rehabilitated it for today haven’t we.”
“Yes. It is a nice day.”
“We don’t need to talk about the weather.”
“Well, what do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t mind.”
“But not the weather.”
“We don’t need small talk. I don’t mind what we talk about though. We can just be.”
“I don’t know what to talk about, then.”
“And that’s fine. We can just be.”
“Silence is awkward.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
“But it is. Because don’t you feel the weight of it hanging between us? The things we aren’t saying that need to be said? Like I know you don’t want to talk about it, but quite a bit of time has gone by and I’ve had nothing from you. You didn’t leave a note. You have never explained to me why you did it. It came from out of nowhere. And you, you … you say you want a ‘nice’ day, but I don’t, I can’t just … flip a switch and act like none of this didn’t happen, like I didn’t find you dying,” he saw her flinch definitely but carried on, “yes, dying, almost dead, and then I held you and stopped you dying and if I hadn’t you wouldn’t be there but then I don’t know, because do you resent me for saving you, because maybe I drove you to it somehow I don’t know in the first place, and I don’t understand it and you owe me a FUCKING EXPLANATION because I’m sitting here and I’m terrified of waking up every morning and not knowing if you’re going to be in the world the next time I wake up and maybe it you hate me SO FUCKING MUCH then maybe you should just fucking well LEAVE, because maybe I’m … I’m …
And at some point during the seething she began crying but he only noticed when he caught breath, looked at her in the space where she almost wasn’t. The tears scored greyish marks through the rouge and rolled off the point of her cheekbones.
“Well?” he said, still breathing heavily.
The coffee cup was on the table now and she stared at it. She did not speak and she was still crying.
“And I suppose that you’re still not going to speak? After all of this? No explanation for all of it, or any of it. Nothing. You’re happy to let me suppose. You. You’re happy to let me believe that it’s my fault. That I caused this. I, I’m a good man. I’m a good person. I have done nothing wrong. I didn’t make you do this. And we are together and we are responsible for each other, and we took vows and I know you’re hurting and this is all messed up, but you owe me an explanation, you do, and you can’t deny that.”
Her voice when she finally spoke was soft and scratchy and muffled: “I don’t owe you anything.”
“You don’t owe me … anything? Well I hate to break it to you but yes, you do. All this you’ve put me through and there’s no explanation. Nothing at all. I deserve to know. I have a right to know. I need to know if it’s myfault.”
“It’s nobody’s fault.”
“It’s somebody’s fault.”
“No, it’s nobody’s fault.” She started to tear a napkin into small pieces.
“I don’t buy that. But anyhow, there must still be a reason. There must still be a reason you hanged yourself in our bedroom and if I hadn’t come home early you would be dead. And why you used my belt. And why you took the bulb out and put it in a drawer. What, so it’d be safe for re-use after you’d gone? There are so many things I don’t understand.” He realised that he had been saying all of this to the encrusted foam on his coffee spoon, not to her. When he looked at her again she was straight-backed and dabbing her eyes with some of the shredded napkin. He looked around. The coffee shop had been oddly quiet since they’d arrived. He wasn’t sure if anyone had seen the last fifteen minutes play out. He became aware of foamer hiss, the muted clattering of crockery. Someone in back was having an excited phone call about plans for later.
“I’m not going to cry anymore. We can do this. We can have a nice day. We are going to be fine. Are you coming? It’s stopped raining.” She stood up to go. He remained seated and looked up at her.
“Do you wish you were dead?”
“I’m not ready to talk about this. I can’t put it into words. Come on; let’s go, please.”
“No. I can’t do this. You aren’t trying.”
Her eyes began to well up again and she made to leave. He reached out to stop her. He caught the scarf between two fingers, felt resistance and there they were, he on the loose end and she lurching forward but she clung on to the scarf, pulling it closer to her neck. They could not let go. The barista and an old man watched, frozen. She mashed her eyes shut as the tears fell through the cracks in great gouts, and he held on, with gritted teeth. Finally, the scarf came loose at her end, exposing the purple mottle of her neck. She fell forward and landed knee first into a kneeling position. She dropped forward, right to the floor, pressed against it. And he came to her, and he picked her up and held her head to his chest and pressed his lips to her crown. And she let him.