By Chris Elmswood
The pages remain
Waiting to be fed
Ink waiting to be shed
Where nothing has been laid.
Your paper remains
White as your fingers once
Buried in the earth
That inhabits my chest
Buried in this snow
That erases each trace
Every trait of your face
You shall never be gone
You shall never come back
I forgot the name
Yet you still remain
In the snow that fell
When you come across his poem for the first time, you pointedly avoid clicking on the file. When you borrow his laptop again and see the folder in his open Documents, you waver a second before deciding that you can use your own computer after all.
The third time, you click on the folder. There is only one file in it.
You look up from your newspaper, blinking through your glasses.
'Yes. Very astute remark.'
He rolls his eyes and sits at the kitchen table with his cuppa, still in his dressing gown, his hair dishevelled from sleep. Since you came back to him, you started noticing more. Noticing the little changes. How he'd taken up the habit of drinking coffee in the morning – like you used to – instead of tea. He only went back to his usual cuppa for breakfast one or two weeks ago.
When he brings the cup to his lips to take a sip his skin creases at the corner of his mouth. He looks older now. You returned to find him divorced, with a child, working alone – and still writing about you. If one could call that writing.
You don't know what it's all about, really. Writing. It might be his way of trying to achieve something, perhaps the very same thing you went to search for, years ago, leaving him behind.
When you returned, you didn't consider apologizing to him at all. Then you saw the bleak rooms of his new flat, simple and impersonal. Anonymous, except for an unlikely teapot on the chest of drawers, an old cello in its case covered with dust in a corner of the living-room, and a little stone figurine of a child dancing on a bookshelf. Remains of a time you had almost forgotten, offered to you again because he had kept it alive.
For the first time in your life, perhaps, you felt the urge to beg for forgiveness.
You did not beg for forgiveness. But you asked him to move back in with you.
'What are you daydreaming about?'
His question snaps you out of your thoughts, and you realize he's been staring at you the whole time. You avert your gaze and pretend to resume your reading.
Your lips curve up into a smirk.
'You heard me. Why do you need confirmation?'
He pouts and drinks a sip of tea in silence. Your smile broadens.
But then you notice the distant gaze on his face and all you know is that you must chase it away. You hate that expression on him, almost as much as the pain-stricken one he wears sometimes during nightmares, calling out your name. At first, you were at a loss as to what to do; then all you could think of was to shake the broken figure lying by your side until he woke up and snap at him, reminding him you were right there. He blinked, always surprised, always lost, before recognition dawned on his face.
'You know that missing teenage girl?' you say, commenting on the article you've barely read to bring him back to the present. 'They found her. She's safe.'
'Oh? That's good.'
You frown at his lack of interest. Wasn't he following this dreadful kidnapping? Repressing a sigh, you put the paper away.
'I'm done reading the news.'
His tone is absent. You stand up and start pacing the room. 'Nothing very interesting today.'
'It's Christmas soon.'
'So...' You fall back into your armchair and shift a bit. 'Are you spending it with your family?'
He chokes on his tea and gives you a look before breaking into a fit of giggles. This time you scowl, piqued.
'What's so funny?'
'For God's sake, of course I'm spending it with my family!'
Something sharper than disappointment stirs inside your chest, but your face remains in check. A small smile is playing on his lips as he walks up to you. You did not expect the pair of arms that wrap around you from behind, nor the warmth of the lips pressed against your curls, just above the temple. Mechanically, you close your eyes.
'You're an idiot,' he whispers. 'Who do you think family is?'
You cannot help but shiver at the touch, still not quite used to it.
'You have a son.'
He hums against your brow. 'Yes. And he'll be at his grandparents' in the countryside with his mother.'
Tilting your head to the side, you quietly demand that he lower his touch. He shakes his head at the regal attitude and kisses his way down to your throat.
'Is that all right, though? Wouldn't you want to see him?'
This is probably the right thing to say, but you're not sure. You've never liked this kind of conversation.
'He's only one, so he wouldn't remember anyway. I'll see him for New Year's Eve, at his mother's. You're invited, by the way.'
'I thought she didn't want to see me.'
'No, she just doesn't want her son to enter this flat before he's fifteen, I think. She believes you're not responsible enough to take care of him, as you're just a big child yourself.'
'I am not!'
He laughs and kisses you on the nose, making you blink.
'Won't you stop doing that?'
'Mmm... nope. Come on get ready. We're going out.'
'Because you're bored. And it's snowing.'
'That is completely unconnec—'
But he's already gone to change, and so you comply with a groan.
You are waiting at the door when he comes back, wearing his winter jacket and that hideous beige bobble hat his ex-wife knitted for him.
'Why do you still wear it?' you ask before you can stop yourself.
'Because it's warm,' he replies, unfazed. 'Why don't you put on your scarf?'
'Lost it,' you lie, refusing to make any further comment. You used to wear a scarf before, a green one. You were wearing it the last time you saw him before you left.
As he closes the door behind you, a smile discreetly graces your lips. An idea has arisen in your mind.
'I heard music last night. Did you play the cello?'
'No, I didn't.'
He falls quiet.
'I can't knit,' you blurt.
He looks up from his book and stares.
'Just so you know,' you say offhandedly before reaching for your cello and resuming the Christmas Carol you've been playing. Today is the twenty-fourth already. And even though it means nothing to you, you know it's important to him.
'So, you can't knit...' he begins tentatively.
'I can't,' you confirm with a nod.
He chuckles. 'How would you know?'
He gapes, as if he found the whole image of you trying to knit completely absurd. Perhaps it is.
'But why would you want to knit?'
You look at him pointedly, but do not say a word. He insists a little, but drops the matter altogether when you go to bed.
In the morning when he comes down, you have been up for an hour or so. It does not seem to surprise him much. What does surprise him, however, is to see that you have prepared some tea and are waiting for him with a present.
'Who are you?' he asks playfully as he kisses you good morning.
You snort and press the present closer to your chest.
'If you don't want it, I can just throw it away.'
He kisses you on the nose again and you groan.
'I was joking. I want my present. I just wasn't expecting you to get me anything.'
You exchange packages. As you feel the wrapping paper softly, your eyes widen. His face breaks into a smile. 'You still have to open it,' he says. Then he rips the paper of his own present and gasps. 'You bought me a scarf!'
Both are the exact same style; that of the one you claimed to have so carelessly lost. But one is red, while the other is beige to match his wool bobble hat.
'I thought you hated that hat,' he murmurs, wrapping the scarf around his neck.
You shrug. 'I do. But I know you'll keep wearing it, because you like it. So I thought I'd get you something you'd always wear with it.'
He lets out a small giggle. 'You were jealous of a hat?'
'You should be thanking me. I could've just set it on fire. By accident, of course.'
He rolls his eyes and wraps the red scarf around your throat.
'Would you have preferred it green?' His hands fall down and come to rest on your shoulders. "I kept the receipt, so we can exchange it if you—'
You cut him off with your lips crashing onto his – not so much a kiss than a more vigorous shut up. When he starts moaning into it, you break the embrace.
'Why red, though?'
'To spot you more easily in a crowd.'
You give him a look. 'Seriously. Why?'
'Can't you guess?'
His tone is teasing. You glare. 'You picked red because it's a colour you like a lot, but don't wear much because you think it doesn't fit you – quite wrongly, I must say. You also felt guilty about the scarf because you knew I wouldn't buy another one, even if I wanted to. Especially never a green one. You felt like you were affecting my life with your trauma and hated yourself for it – you're an idiot, I can live without a scarf, I cannot live without you. Period.’
He seems about to protest. But you're not done just yet.
'And then you liked the idea of a scarf. The idea: “I wish I could tie you to me.”'
'What makes you say th—'
'I had the same idea.'
This silences him effectively.
You are looking for a title. You know that the state he is still in – especially at night or when he lets his mind wander back during the day, empty-eyed – and for which you can find no name, could precisely be described by the very same word. A word that would make a title for the poem you found on his laptop.
You searched for another version – one with a title, perhaps – but did not find any. While looking through his files, however, you discovered he had been listening to the pieces you used to play on the cello and wondered why he did not tell you.
Asking him directly about a title for the poem is not an option, since you haven't even told him you've read the piece.
Words are too difficult to handle. Always have been.
He shifts in his sleep beside you; his furrowed brow tells you a nightmare is coming. Soon his fists tighten, and his lips quiver with the whisper of your name.
It sends a shiver down your spine. You rest your hand on his chest. Just to feel his heart beat. His lips keep uttering the name, meaningless to you – yet in his mouth it sounds like a prayer. For now it is a plea, but you know it will turn into a desperate cry and soon, shatter the night. You never want to hear that sound again.
So you creep out of bed and skitter to the living-room. Your eyes search the darkness for a moment before finding what they are looking for. Gingerly, you pick up the cello from its case.
Your hand holding the bow trembles. You know exactly what you want to play, know exactly what piece would feel right in this very instant.
You close your eyes and swallow with difficulty. The trembling gets worse.
In your ears your heart is hammering, louder than his was in his chest. Still now, you can feel it under your palm.
A rhythm so fragile, yet so regular.
Your eyes snap open as the first note breaks the silence. And after the first note the second comes, almost instantly.
A heartbeat against your palm.
Arms that wrap around you from behind.
The warmth of lips against your curls.
Just above the temple.
From your chest, beyond the fear, comes rushing this improbable flow, still unseizable and nameless.
And even if it is just a cry, desperate and vehement in the devoted gratitude it expresses, still it is something surely he can hear in his sleep, tangling the blankets in the other room.
A confession, and a promise.
It is snowing today as well. He had breakfast, and you complained about how dull the news was while he checked his emails. But now he goes to shower, and you are left to whine alone.
Miffed, you decide to change the password to his laptop, just to annoy him. But you freeze upon seeing that he's been writing a document, and not his emails. You fall into a chair and stare at the screen.
Outside the snow keeps falling, soft and silent. Only the quiet buzz of the shower hums in your ears. Regular. Persistent.
The quivering sun of a winter morning
The notes you play while the snow is falling
The way you snap when I call you darling
The lingering touch and the wordlessness
The unfading warmth, your dear restlessness
The unuttered promise.
There's no need for a name
You and I remain
Like an old refrain
Of the passing days
Waiting to be caught
Waiting to be drowned
In the ink we shall shed
The paper we shall tread
And mark with our stain.
I shall rip the blankness with our voice
In the name
Copyright © 2017 by Chris Elmswood