You called again last night. You called when everyone was gone. I picked up the phone on the first ring. I knew it would be you. I was up anyway; hoping that you’d call. I was waiting for your call if I’m honest. I was hoping that you’d call. You always do.
“I miss you.” That’s all you said. That’s all you had to say. I miss you too. I whispered the words, could you hear them. It’s the truth. I miss you more and more. Every day I think of you and look forward to your call. It’s all I have left now.
The house isn’t the same now. The kids are all grown up and have left. Rachel is married. Can you believe it – our Rachel, a mum? They don’t visit too often. Why should they. They’re young and have their whole lives ahead, the way we used to.
Now it’s just the two of us, rattling about in this big old house. It’s far too big for us. We should move, but we can’t. Every time I mention it to Alice she reminds me why we can’t. She’s right of course, as usual. When I walk through the house, I imagine their voices and laughter. I imagine your voice and your laughter. I imagine our voices and laugher. They were good times weren’t they. We were happy. I was happy, especially during that long hot summer. It’s silly to think of it, but I always do.
The kids played outside almost the whole summer. I filled up the swimming pool and they were in and out of the water like otters, sleek and brown. We had to keep an eye on them of course. Some days, we would drop them off at friends, and we would have the whole afternoon just to ourselves. Stolen pleasure; the very best kind you said; just us, all alone together. Sometimes you held me, and I thought you would never let me go. Why did I let you go? I should have held you forever.
You were so pretty. Your hair was the colour of wheat straw, perfect white blonde, white gold, and your skin, golden and freckled with little sun-kisses. I kissed every one of them. Sometimes, I imagine that I can hear your footsteps behind me and feel the softness of your breath on the back of my neck. But when I turn round there is nothing. After all these years there is nothing but memories, bittersweet memories that taste like battery acid, or lemon juice, sharp, painful, delicious.
That long hot summer, we knew it couldn’t last, and it never. By late August, the weather turned, hot and sultry, rain clouds gathered. The roses went past and their petals fell to the ground; red and white petals turning brown and rotten littered the bare ground. Even the children seemed to know it was over. Their play seemed less joyful. They laughed less often, and when they did it sounded false and forced. We knew it could not last.
Only we were blind to the changes. Only we pretended not to notice. Only we kept the faith and hung on to every last second of delight. Only us two were so wrapped in love we could not see the end of it. If it would end, then it would end, we would hold on to every last second of joy and pleasure. We deserved that – it was the least we deserved. It was the least that you deserved. You deserved so much more.
Alice was angry when she found out. You phoned me then, I was in the city working.
“She knows,” you said. “Come quickly, I miss you.”
I phoned back and Alice answered, she picked up the phone and threw it against the wall. I came as soon as I could. I should have come sooner, or told you to come to me. There are so many things I should have done.
“How cliché,” Alice sneered, “with an au pair.” I still don’t know if she hates me or you more. Either way, she paid us both back.
There was nothing I could do to save you from her anger. I was weak, and I should have been stronger. I blame myself for not being stronger, but then . . .
There’s no point blaming anyone. I don’t blame you; I hope you don’t blame me. You knew I was weak. I was always weak. I told her that I loved you, but she would not listen. She never did listen. You listened, that was one of the things I loved about you, one of so many things.
There was nothing else for it. Alice wouldn’t see sense. She said it would all blow over. She said it was just a fling. She said we could work it out. And then she said divorce and lawyers and never seeing the kids. I tried to stand up to her, you know I did, but I’m weak. Alice was right about that at least.
I stood out in the rain. Tears and rain mixed together running down my face as I stood on the bare earth amongst the spoiled roses. But no amount of tears would fix things. It was time to be practical, and to settle down. That’s what Alice said and she was right. Alice is always right.
The children cried when we told them you had left. But they were off to school soon anyway. They never talk about you, but I’m sure they remember. How could they not; they loved you almost as much as I did. But life goes on. That’s the strange thing. Like I said; Alice was right.
Once you were gone, Alice calmed down. My clothes were put back in the wardrobe. There was no more wild talk of divorce or selling the house, or splitting the business. We even started to make love again. It was hard physical love, dutiful love. A love dried up and with all the pleasure gone; the kind of love that only really deserves to be called sex, but it was enough, for her, and enough for me, at the beginning. But it wasn’t real love, not like ours. Not the kind of love that smacks you in the face and takes your breath away. Not the kind of love that lasts forever. Not the kind of love that endures even beyond the grave. Not the kind of love that makes you call out to me from a hole in the ground under the roses every night. Not the kind of love that make the phone ring late at night when no one else is around. Not the kind of love that whispers “I miss you,” and forgives me for being so weak.
Every night when Alice is asleep and I am all alone, you call.
“I miss you.” That’s all you say, and it’s enough. I miss you too, I miss you so much. I’ll be with you soon, when I can find the strength.