Page 46 of Together

‘You don’t know anything half the time. I know why you do it.’

He thought of Emily, thought about lying beside her on top of the sheets in the hotel room. The way she had touched him and made years disappear as if they had never been. Made his scarred skin feel whole again.

‘Do you believe in God?’

He was surprised by the question, and a little relieved. He thought she’d been going to ask him if he loved her.

‘You know I’ve never been one for religious stuff,’ he said.

‘But you believe in sin.’

Emily believed in sin. She thought they had done wrong.

‘I . . . don’t know,’ he said. ‘Anyway, I thought you’d decided you were done with all this, Marie.’

‘Everything that you do is dragging us down with you,’ she said. ‘You don’t care that you’re putting William and me in danger.’

He sighed. ‘This is from your parents, isn’t it? They never liked me.’

‘I’m the mother of your child. I’m your wife. And you have no respect for me at all.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘Then why are you out every night? Down at JB’s or wherever you go? And the nights you’re here, even if you’re not drinking, you don’t look at me. You don’t talk to me. I might as well not exist.’

There was no answer he could give her that wasn’t either cowardly or hurtful. So he said nothing.

She stabbed out her cigarette half-smoked, next to the other cigarette butts, each imprinted with the coral of her lipstick.

‘I’m through with it,’ she said. ‘I’m finished. I can’t live like this any more.’

‘It’s not your fault,’ he said to her. ‘It really isn’t your fault at all, Marie.’

‘I know. It’s yours.’

He nodded.

This was a relief, really. To have it spoken out loud, everything he had been thinking, that he wasn’t sure that she had noticed. But of course she’d noticed.

‘But it’s over,’ she continued. ‘It’s over. I can’t put up with this any more. I don’t deserve to be treated like this.’

‘No, you don’t,’ he said, honestly.

‘So I’ve made a decision. Either you’re here with us, Bob, or you’re not. If you want to be a family, be a family.’

‘I want to be William’s father,’ he said. Wishing he had a beer in his hand.

‘That’s the thing, Bob. William comes with me. We’re a package deal.’

‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying that either you start acting like a real husband, or William and I are leaving.’ She knocked another Winston out of the package and struck a match. He noticed that her hands were jittery, but her face was closed. Chin out. Eyes hard.

He remembered when he had first met her. It had been Fourth of July weekend in Peacock Park, with picnic blankets spread out everywhere, radios blasting out competing music. They’d both been drunk. Her hair was longer, long enough for her to sit on, and it had been in Pocahontas braids with coloured ribbons on the ends. ‘Catch this!’ she’d yelled to him in her Midwestern accent and she’d tossed him a beach ball and he’d bounced it off his head. His leg still hurt back then, but he’d forgotten it for a little while when she’d laughed.

They’d both been running away from something. She was trying to escape her closed-in evangelical family; he was trying to escape the memory of Emily and what he’d done in the war. All their running hadn’t done anything, in the end.

‘And if we’re leaving,’ she said, ‘we’re leaving. William and I. We’re leaving for good.’

‘I understand,’ he said.

‘No, I don’t think you do. You need to stop this, this . . . whatever you’re doing. The drinking, the avoiding us. Or you won’t be seeing William again.’

‘You can’t do that.’

‘I think you’ll find that I can. And I will.’

‘He’s my son.’

‘You don’t love him.’

‘Of course I do!’

‘If you loved him, you wouldn’t be dragging him down.’

‘I’m not dragging him anywhere.’

Marie stood up abruptly, scraping the chair on the linoleum. ‘You’ve got another woman, haven’t you?’

He hesitated.

‘You are! You’re having an affair, you bastard!’

‘Keep your voice down, Marie. You’ll wake him up.’

‘You don’t care about waking him up when you come in dead drunk!’

‘Calm down, please. Please, Marie.’

She pointed at him, with a shaking hand that held her smoking cigarette. ‘He’s innocent. I’ll do anything to protect him, Bob. Even if that means taking him away from you forever.’

Emily took a bath the next morning, washing for the third time to counteract the fact that she didn’t want to wash Robbie from her skin. The bubbles were cloying, hibiscus-scented, and the bathroom was aggressively pink: pink bath, pink sink, pink toilet, pink tiles on wall and floor, pink-tinted lights around the vanity mirror. She made the water as hot as she could stand and climbed in, stretching her body in the bath.

A soft double knock on the door, and Christopher leaned his head in. ‘May I come in? I brought you a cup of tea.’

She didn’t want a cup of tea; she wanted time alone, to think. Even though thinking was painful.

All she could do was think about Robbie, and when she was going to see him again. But she was here, with her family. Polly wasn’t going to lie for her. She would have to invent excuses herself, with Polly watching her and knowing.

She knew now that for the last ten years she’d been deceiving herself about her true feelings. But that was very different from consciously deceiving the people she loved, and who loved her. It was the difference between suffering, and making other suffer. She thought of the icons of the bleeding, torn Jesus on the cross that hung from the walls of the clinic in La Paz, dabbed in lurid red paint; so different from the austere, restrained cross in the church where she’d accompanied her parents to service every Sunday as a child. But the message was the same in both.

This was not what good people did.

‘Thank you,’ she said. He came in, closing the door softly behind him, and set the cup on the side of the bath. Then he sat down on the side of the bath, too. He was neat, controlled, but the bathroom tinted his hair and skin pink.

‘I’ll say this once,’ he said. He stared at the pink tiles on the wall above her head. ‘I know who you’ve seen.’

She started, violently enough for the water to slop over the side of the bath. ‘I—’

He held up a hand. ‘Please, don’t say anything. You want to reassure me, but I don’t want you to lie for me. Just listen.’

But he didn’t say anything for several moments, and the only sound was Emily’s quick breathing and the dripping of the tap into the bath.

‘It’s that man at the airport,’ he said at last. ‘He’s the man you never talk about. You’ve been thinking about him for ten years.’

‘I haven’t—’

‘Don’t lie, Emily. Please, don’t lie.’

She swallowed. ‘I didn’t know that I’d been thinking about him.’