TWO FOR EXILE
The steak tried defending itself with a series of threatening hisses. Years ago I had made her get the same pan as the one I had at home. Between my palms I ground some mustard seed and sea salt.
The air was perfumed.
They were both in the other room. Were they talking? Whispering? No, it was quiet, but not that artificial silence that descends when a secret is trying to be told.
She came in. I flipped the meat. The ring was still on her finger, a good sign.
We had gotten out just in time, and barely at that. So bad and sudden, I had not had time to be frightened by the prospect of a plane ride. She had not had time to ask where we were going.
I had always avoided writing anything political. Only about appetite, and that was not controversial. Always only a matter of taste.
We could not bring the dog. Even if we had, had a cage, we could not take the risk of being stopped for anything.
We stood in the front hall. So much was being left behind. I bent down to kiss the dog goodbye. Not understanding, he ran into the other room to get his play ball. We quickly shut the door behind us. Waiting for the elevator there was the muffled sound of surprised barks.
There is something I should say. Out of respect, I owed her a line.
"If I were sick, poisoned, you would want me to have a cure. She, she was my cure..."
Even as I said it, I knew it sounded absurd. Tessa must have thought so too, but only silently stared.
Before we left I had not called. I told myself there was no time, but really I had no idea what to say. I clung to my seat on the plane and the few hours of peace left which it represented.
I cut the steak into three pieces.
Knocking at the door, everything became like a silent, slowed down film, my pounding heart providing the sound track.
Opening the door she was totally surprised, smiling wide. Then, we both stepped through the doorway. God, I wish I knew what I had said. There had only been the pounding of my heart and the dry click of the suitcase's brass corners finding the floor. They both looked confused, totally. Who said "I have to sit down"?
My prose was lean and now life was stripped down to its most basic needs too. Where to sleep, what to eat, are we now safe?
Some juice hit the pan birthing a plume of steam.
Despite everything, we all ate. I was hungry, but also just to have something to do. That tiniest glimmer of happiness from this brief distraction. They did not look each other or even me. Heads bent in prayer to the meat, the silence was oppressive.
"My moustache is trimmed the way you had always wanted to see it."
I had hoped the casualness of this comment might catch them by surprise and lead us to something better. All I got, briefly, from them both, was the look often given to a mad dog.
Plates empty, knives lay in murky pools.
All the past aside, I had created a complicated web, here in this room. I looked at Helen. Added melancholy had further paled her face. Her coloring, she now looked like a life sized China doll. It was my fault, I know.
After the initial shock and who knows what else, things may change. There very likely could be anger. I expected it, I just do not want to see what may lie in wait beneath that Greek tragedy mask when it cracks open.
I always knew, I never did.
We were all exhausted. The world seemed to be falling apart. And now all that ruin, reduced to scale among the three of us.
Tessa was falling off her feet, but to go into the other room was too great a risk. Did she ask me to come? What would happen if she didn't?
I was equally tired and in no better of a situation. Did I go into the other room? Bedroom, guest room?
It was Helen's house and it was crazy to add insult to injury. At this point I just wanted to sleep, but I could not go anywhere either.
Helen was the third in this bad game of chess. Did she go to bed? What if the couch was empty in the morning? What was there to say?
A younger her would have been flattered that he had sought refuge here. She knew better now, though.
We were all rooted to the spot.
We all sat there. A tableaux from the end scene of some play. Despite myself, my eyes kept shutting. I was sorry for them, both of them. I was sorry for myself, having been caught. My one consolation was that it had at least been in so dramatic a fashion.
I gave in. Like a coward, I allowed myself to flee into sleep calling it nature.
There was a beach. Everything was grey and its harshness was enhanced by the tiny black pebbles which blanketed the shore. Cliffs bordered this desolation and were thoroughly dotted with cave like holes. Further down the shore stood a woman with her back to me. She was in a sort of shroud, but seemed familiar.
From the caves came the sound of horns, thousands of them, all in unison. Their nasal tone recalling a snake charmer or tribal sacrifice.
I walked towards the woman. Every time I got close or seemed to be making progress, she would suddenly be further down the shore. I tried to call to her, but the wind only seemed to carry the sound of the horns, there was no room for me.
Image above 'Yo-Two' by Wayne Wolfson
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