Page 6 of Together

‘And what happened when he needed help? Because I’m sure he did, at some point.’

‘I . . . don’t know. We’d lost touch by then.’

Sarah touched her hand across the table. ‘It’s not a failure. It’s an illness. That’s what you kept on telling me, that time when you helped me.’

‘We don’t even know that it’s an illness yet.’

‘What if it is?’

‘Then, if it is, we’ll do what we always do. We’ll get through it, Robbie and I, together.’

Sarah got up and brought the bowl of chicken salad to the table, and spooned more on to their plates. ‘How’s Adam and the kids?’

‘They’re wonderful, as always.’

‘And William?’

‘He’s all right. You know what he’s like. He and Robbie are too alike to talk with each other, but he calls me, and he’s in touch with Adam.’

‘Same here. He called Dottie last week on her birthday. Not a word to me.’

‘I’m sorry, Sarah.’

Sarah shrugged. ‘He’s a better dad to her than her real dad was. How are his kids?’

‘He sent some pictures.’ She took out her phone and showed Sarah the photos of Brianna and John.

‘That girl is the spit of her father,’ said Sarah.

‘Yes, the Brandon genes are strong. Adam is more like me.’ It was an automatic response.

‘Is he back together with their mother?’

Emily shook her head. ‘He’s happier as a father than as a husband. As you know.’

‘Family is what’s important,’ said Sarah. ‘And we can find family in our friends, too. That’s what you taught me back then. You’ll let us all help you. All of us who you’ve helped. That’s what it’s about, being part of a place. And you’re part of this place now, whether you like it or not.’

‘I know,’ said Emily. And as good a friend as Sarah was, Emily didn’t add that being part of a place was one of the things that worried her the most. Because that was fragile, too.

A pattern is harder to break than almost anything, Robbie thought. Once you started it going, it had its own inevitability, its own momentum. You might as well try to stop the wind.

But Emily knew something was wrong. And he knew, too. It had been months, now. Maybe even years. There was a fog clouding a part of his life: a different part every day. It moved in without warning and left him lost. And she knew that he knew, and he knew that she knew, and yet neither one of them had said anything.

It was a pattern they had laid down at the start of their relationship: not right at the start, but later, when they had discovered that their love could only last if silence held it together in certain places.

Friday was always his night to make dinner and he usually made chilli or phoned out for pizza. Tonight he did neither. He waited until six o’clock and then he went outside to where she was digging weeds in the garden, her head shaded by a broad-brimmed straw hat. He knelt beside her on the grass.

‘Oh,’ she said in surprise. ‘Are you helping me?’

Her voice was pleasant: she was happy to see him, she loved him and she was the same, but there was a small wariness in her eyes. Because any variation from the pattern was cause for concern, now. The variations were what was wrong.

‘It’s Friday,’ he said, ‘but I haven’t cooked dinner. Do you know why I’m saying this?’

‘So that I know we’re having pizza?’

‘So that you know that I know what day it is, and what time it is. Because I don’t always, do I?’

She didn’t reply.

‘This is something we have to talk about. It won’t go away if we ignore it.’

‘Nothing goes away,’ she said.

‘Are you frightened, sweetheart?’

She nodded. He put his arm around her shoulders, kneeling beside her in the grass.

Chapter Four

August 2016

Portland, Maine

The hospital in Portland was bigger and more specialised than Pen Bay Hospital where Emily had worked all those years, but she knew one or two of the people working there. Sometimes when she went up to Portland she arranged to meet them for lunch, or coffee.

Today she sat in the waiting room with Robbie among other patients and their families, waiting to see the neurologist. In her hospital career she had seen mainly pregnant women and young mothers; it was slightly shocking to see so many elderly people in this waiting room, and even more shocking to realise that she and Robbie were also elderly.

‘I always picture us as young lovers,’ whispered Robbie to her. ‘I still see you as you were when we first met. Does that mean I have a memory problem?’

He had good days, and he had bad days. Today was a good day. He’d got ready, taken care of the dogs, talked about their mutual friends, joked about where they were going, chatted about what restaurant they should go to in the Old Port for lunch after his appointment. He’d let her drive, but that was normal when they took Emily’s car. He didn’t misplace his keys or his wallet or forget to tie his shoes.

Emily had worried about it being a good day: what if the neurologist failed to spot the symptoms that had become apparent to her?

But she would have worried if it had been a bad day, too.

He called it a fog. Fog was a part of daily life in coastal Maine. The chill of the water met the warm southerly wind and produced condensation. You could be inland, in a clear blue summer day, and as soon as you came within half a mile of the coast, maybe even a mile, the fog would billow in around you. Some summers they had fog every single day. She could look out of the windows of their house and think that she was floating in a cloud.

‘That’s not a memory problem,’ she whispered back to him. ‘That’s being a softy romantic.’

The neurologist, Dr Calvin, was reassuringly aged. He had no hair on his head but a surprising amount growing from eyebrows, nostrils and ears. Emily had researched, of course, and knew what to expect; she’d asked Robbie if he wanted her to explain the tests to him, but Robbie had said he didn’t want to know.

What is today’s date? What day of the week is it? What is the season? What state are we in? What city? What building are we in? What floor are we on? I’m going to name three objects and I want you to repeat them back to me: street, banana, hammer. I’d like you to count backwards from one hundred, by sevens.

She sat in the spare chair and watched and listened to the doctor and the man she had loved for most of her life. She listened to the answers he gave. She watched him trying to draw a simple clock.

It was a good day. A good day, today.

But as he drew, horror crept over her, cold and insidious as fog.

Chapter Five

Afterwards, they didn’t go for lunch at the restaurant they’d chosen. They didn’t have to say anything to know they agreed; Emily drove them back up the coast and back to Clyde Bay, where she didn’t go home, but parked in town, instead. They took the dinghy out to the boat and wordlessly climbed aboard and got her ready to sail.

They’d done this so many times together. They each had their allotted tasks and their bodies performed them automatically. It was like a piece of music, the notes the same every time even though the performance was slightly different. It was a pattern that ran its own way.

They could be silent about this new knowledge if they chose. He knew they could. They had ignored bigger things.