47. Light Switch: Write about coming out of the dark and seeing the light.
He sat up in bed and watched her sleep below him. He looked at the face he had known so long, the face he knew better than any other. He remembered the first time he met her, the smooth skin, the flawless smile. Now it was as if someone had taken the youthful oval he knew so well and traced over it – skilfully sketching wrinkles and lines until it had changed in its entirety. The woman lying next to him now was someone completely different.
As he watched he remembered the first time he had seen her face contort in anger. How her plump lips, that he had stolen kisses from so many times, had curled round her teeth. He hadn’t been quite able to believe at the time how he hadn’t noticed how sharp those little teeth were. For days afterwards he had watched them slyly, while she was eating, while she was talking, while she was eating, watching the little incisors cut through meat. Eventually she had dropped her knife and fork with a clatter and asked him if he could please tell her exactly WHAT was so interesting about the way she ate. He had stopped watching after that.
Now his gaze fell over her eyebrows, neatly plucked as ever. He noticed there was a stray hair in the middle, above her nose. She wouldn’t like that. She always maintained her eyebrows herself, (that was her word – “maintained” – as if they were hedges she was pruning) ever since the girl who normally did her brows at the salon had called in sick, and her brows had been done by someone else. The way this mew girl had done it, apparently, was not up to scratch. This was exactly why, she had told him in the car as he drove her home, she didn’t trust people. They let you down, and they messed up even the simplest of things. Her eyebrows had looked fine to him, and he had told her so. She had fallen silent at this, and stared out the window, her face unreadable behind her large sunglasses. He watched his knuckles go white as he gripped the steering wheel. He knew what was coming next, it was just a matter of waiting… It came, as it always did. The long, drawn out sigh, the one that let him know just how infinitely disappointed she was with him, with their marriage, with their life together. It was the same sigh after they slept together, the same tight, painful little smile. And he would ask her what was wrong, so many times, try so many different things, and yet always the same result: nothing was wrong, she was fine, and then that sigh, saying the complete opposite.
He sighed himself now, as he watched her. She never moved in her sleep. No snores, no twitching. Like those statues you lying on top of crypts in churches. Perfect repose. It had seriously made him panic the first couple of times they had slept together. He had fallen asleep with his hand on her heart, the steady heartbeat the only thing reassuring him that she was alive. She had woken up once with his hand still on her breast, her eyebrows raised, not, he thought, in an entirely annoyed way. He grew to hate the way she raised her eyebrows at him, more than anything else. As well as the little sardonic smile that always accompanied them. When he showed her the ship in the bottle he had made, painstakingly, over months. When he finally introduced her, after months of her pointed suggestions, to his small, talkative, overly eager friend Bert from the office. Whenever he came up with a stupid idea – no, whenever he came up with an idea that she found stupid. Because he was stupid, in her eyes. Stupid, useless, disappointing. Ineffectual. An afterthought. He was always there, bumbling after her, getting in the way. He looked down at his hands. Big, lumbering, clumsy hands. He looked them over, flexing his fingers. No. These were strong, skillful hands. Ones that could create things. Kind ones, ones that could stroke and caress. Ones that could love. Ones that could love the right woman.
He sat up, suddenly, like a bolt. He glanced at her quickly, fearfully. Still she was silent. He lifted himself from the bed, carefully and quickly. He eased his suitcase, the one that hadn’t been used since that disastrous holiday to Majorca. He shuddered at the memory even now. He piled his clothes into the suitcase, marvelling at how many he actually had. For some reason he had always thought he had hardly any. His brain was rushing now. Did he have his passport? Driving licence? Car keys? Thank God the car was in his name. Legal papers. Bank statements. There was a bonfire roaring in his head, all of his important documents blackening and curling. He made a mental checklist. Did he have everything? He thought so. He double, triple checked, because he knew that once he left anything he would never see it again.
The sun shone over the quiet suburban street. No one was awake yet. It was a Sunday, even the maniacal car polishers and busy housewives weren’t up yet. The only person awake was a man in a suit and hat, overly formal, as if he were on his way to church. He lifted a heavy suitcase into the boot of his car. He looked, for all intents and purposes, like he was going on a business trip. Except for a small, subtle smile that was slowly dawning across his face. Like the red fingers of sunlight at the start of a glorious day.