It’s Halloween, the end of the half-term holiday, so their huge Art Nouveau flat is not infested with the usual chaos and commotion of their new private school. Just her two children and her husband. She’s looking forward to seeing all three of them again, after her weekend away in the Tatra mountains. Forgiveness is still rife in her heart.
She stops half-way down the badly-lit street, drops her bags on the pavement, turns her key in the lock to the outer door. She lifts her bag again, clambers up the medieval stone steps, then turns another key in another lock and lets herself in.
Her children have heard her enter, and gallop through the large hallway to throw their arms round her waist and legs, depending on their height. It’s a blissful reunion, even if only after a mere two days’ absence. Little did she know that the following summer she would be abandoning them for a whole month, well and truly under the Svengali spell of her lover by that stage.
She puts her bags down yet again, pats the warm heads of her chirruping brood, shuffles her way through the hall with them still clinging to her waist and thighs, pushes the stained-glass doors to the living room open, and enters the candle-lit arena.
Her husband certainly has gone to town, bless him, she thinks. Inviting aromas waft from the open-plan kitchen. Candles and oil lamps shimmer in every crevice where a candle or oil lamp happens to stand. Gregorian chant softly floats from the stereo, shadows duetting the sonorous medieval tones. Eerie, not sonorous. In fact, she begins to think, the entire scene is eerie. Her husband has created a Halloweenish atmosphere all right, no doubt bullied into it by their children, but he’s gone over the top a wee bit.
The glowing face of a carved-out pumpkin leers at her from the window sill by the candle-lit dining table. There is candle-light everywhere, hardly an electric bulb in sight. And to top it all, a crescent moon hangs as though from puppet strings in the deep-purple sky, clearly visible through the uncurtained windows.
Her husband turns round from his steaming cauldron by the stove. ‘Hi. Welcome back,’ he says, brandishing a large wooden spoon at her. ‘Any snow in the mountains?’
She nods, tries to smile. ‘It was beautiful.’
He smiles back at her, his teeth gleaming in the candle-light.
At last her children scamper off, trying to find somewhere to hang up the small, hand-made gifts she has produced from her coat pockets: two wooden witches on broomsticks. One of the trinkets finds a home next to the pumpkin on the window sill, the other is draped over a large teddy bear sitting on the sofa in a far corner of the room. The teddy bear, like the moon and the pumpkin, leers at her.
Half-an-hour later she and her husband are sitting opposite each other at the dining table, the steaming cauldron now placed directly in front of them. The children are safely tucked away in front of the television at the far end of the room. The Gregorian music is chanting louder now, to compete with the video player. The two halves of the room are conveniently separate – at least separate enough for private conversations to take place at the dining table unheard by kiddies’ ears, yet close enough for occasional friction. Like between medieval Lydian modes and frolicky Disney jingles.
She isn’t listening to either. She’s only got ears for her husband’s words, words which jar on her forgiving mood and his caring efforts to welcome her back with food and wine and music. He’s telling her – albeit gently, carefully – that he’s going to need time.
‘Time?’ she repeats, not wanting him to answer.
But he does answer, just like the cruel goblin he’s metamorphosed into.
‘To get to know her better. To explore the relationship,’ he clarifies. ‘Look, I can’t come here every weekend. I’m going to have to spend some weekends in Warsaw, as well.’ His grey-blue eyes have turned to a spooky amber-green.
She swallows a piece of meat. It digs into her esophagus. She has to swallow again, gulp down some wine, and wait several seconds.
‘And me?’ her small voice eventually allows. ‘The children?’
‘I didn’t say every weekend, only some,’ he wholesomely justifies, not an ounce of remorse or guilt edging his voice. It’s as if he’s regressed into his childhood thirty years premature of senility. She doesn’t know this man sitting opposite her any more. Well, she knows him a bit – just enough to hate him. She hates him all over again, like she did the previous weekend, when they sat at the same dining table. All forgiveness and refreshment have blown back to the mountains.
‘So you’re going to divide your time between her and me,’ she says, swallowing her anger together with that gristly piece of meat and the blood-red wine. Blood-red, like his eyes. Their amber-green hue has been washed away by small red capillaries.
‘I just need time, that’s all,’ he repeats like the simple child he’s apparently become.
She pushes her plate away and reaches for her pack of Marlborough. There isn’t any point in crying, shouting, voicing her hatred, her fear. The man opposite her is a stranger, not a man. A selfish child. A callous, red-eyed goblin. He isn’t her husband anymore. The future isn’t theirs anymore. There isn’t any hope anymore – only fear, emptiness, broken remains of what once was a pretty good thing, if not perfect.
She closes her eyes to the evil shadows, the leering moon, the sniggering pumpkin. She puts her hands over her ears to shut out the goblin’s words and the stereo’s Gregorian tones. She doesn’t want to listen to music they both used to love anymore. She doesn’t want to think about what they used to love anymore. She doesn’t want to think about love anymore.
She doesn’t want to think about anything anymore.
The above extract is from my novel, ‘Thirteen States of Being’