Well, It’s Time
“Well, it’s time and past time,” he said, gazing at her as she washed and put away the last glass and then pulled off the apron which, as always, had been simply hanging around her neck, ties undone.
Turning to look across at him, she appeared disturbed, but not undone. “And that means what, precisely?”
“It mean as we’ve run out of time, Holly. You and me. Us. We. Our togetherness has frayed at the edges so much that there’s damn all left of the fabric. There’s nothing but too much of familiarity and none of mystery.”
He was swiping across the table as if to sweep up crumbs though there were none and both of them knew it.
“Have you ever thought that the reason there’s no mystery is because neither of us is particularly mysterious?” She had reached to still his hand as she spoke, stroking it lightly with one finger before moving away again.
“No,” he was emphatic. “No, I haven’t. And . . . ” he added, getting up and going to the stove where he caught up the kettle, went to the sink and set about filling it before putting it back on the stove and switching the gas to medium-high. But he never completed his sentence. Now it was she who gazed at him with a rather steady regard, some askance thrown in for good measure.
“ ‘And’ what?,” she asked. “And what, heart? What do we lack? What have we lost? What is it you believe we’ve not got? Or is it, perhaps, never had?”
She sat down at the table, pulling her breakfast coffee cup closer, adding, “And, if it’s coffee you’re thinking of making, I’ll take a cup. But, use the strong French Roast, please. This sounds like serious talk coming, and serious talk requires strong coffee, yeh ?
He didn’t bother to answer, just pulled a jar of ground coffee from the freezer and set about fixing the filter before adding the coffee. Still without speaking or looking at her, he took bread and jam from the shelf and a plate from the drainer. Slicing the bread thickly, he plopped four slices into the oversized toaster and pressed the plunger down and placed the plate in front of the toaster before coming across to put the jam on the table. Leaning there, hands flat on the table, elbows locked, he stood looking down at her lowered head.
“ ‘And’ what? I’ll tell you. Somehow we’ve worn all the colors off. There’s naught but traces left of what once was. With Mickey and Corrie both gone these past five years and only the two of us now, the years behind us are rolled up neat as an old carpet and the years ahead of us are just -- yawning away. And I’m - lost, I’m ... ”
His voice faultered and failed. She looked up at him and was shocked to see the glitter of unshed tears.
“I’m lost,” he continued, almost whispering, “and I’m afraid.“ He straightened up and moved away from the table, back to rescue the toast, reversing it before plunging it down again for further browning. “What’s worst about it is that you haven’t noticed.”
He swung around in her direction again. His voice firmed, grew more declarative. “That’s why I’ve called TIME. I mean, if a thing is dead, it’s dead. And then it’s only right and proper to call it so and set about the business of dealing with the body.”
“Ahhhh, Wilf,” she sighed.
Her head was down again, hair hiding her face, fingers picking at the chip in the rim of the coffee cup.
For the first time in a long time, he heard her voice as full, and strong, with that deep timbre and resonance he’d always loved. Was it for that, alone, he had fallen in love? Was it her voice that was the source of promised mystery and color. Only her voice? Which, he realized belatedly, was still speaking. What was it she was saying?
Even as he tried to pull back the words and make sense of them, she came to a sudden stop. And then began again, rising up from the kitchen table and coming to clutch his arm in a grip so tight, so vicious, that it hurt.
“Do you know that more often than not, all down through the years, from the very beginning, you’ve listened to only the sound of my voice, never my words? Do you know that? Do you know that you always have done?”
She grabbed his arm to shake it as if something she hated. Her face was clenched in a way he’d never seen - never noticed? - before.
“For years and years, you’d hear the sound of my voice and you’d be somewhere between gob-smacked and awestruck. But, you never listened to me. To what I was thinking or dreaming or wishing. I would say. I would speak those things. But one sound of my voice and you were gone. Where I could not follow.”
There were glints reflected deep in her eyes. But he couldn’t fathom they could be tears. She’d always seemed calm and remote by nature. Except in bed. That had been part of what had kept him enthralled. Her mystery. Her secret colors. Both of those reflected in the music of her voice.
She dropped his arm as quickly as she’d grabbed it. Walking away across the room to stand by the window, she spoke with her back to him.
“When we were young ... ”
She tossed her head and then hunched her shoulders, folding her arms tightly, grasping each elbow to pull them tighter yet.
“When we walked hand in hand and it didn’t matter the time or place. When we kissed and swooned for each other’s bodies and passions. When we bedded with such ferocity and tenderness - it didn’t matter then. When first Corrie came and then Mickey so soon after, with you so busy building the business and I so busy building our home, the kids always demanding, so much going on, if we didn’t speak much of what we thought or felt - or you didn’t - well, it didn’t seem so important. All of life was in front of us, needing us. We took comfort in each other. Every night, we’d tumble into bed and hold each other. It was always enough. For you. And then, for so many years, a smile, a lift of an eyebrow or a tilt of the head was enough to communicate what was needed or thought. We did it, anyway. Lived by looking at each other, using signals and suchlike. Had to, in front of the young ones. Sharp as tacks both of them. So close in age. So full of slam, bang, get up and go.”
She spun back around to face him. “You know, at the beginning, when I saw my voice could trap your heart, I loved the feeling of power it gave me.”
She glanced at him. “You’d have such a look of wonder. And the love in your eyes made my heart pound.” Her gaze slipped away and her voice dropped so low he had to strain to hear her next words. “Dumb, dumb, DUMB Dorothy, dumb! Why couldn’t I see what I was seeing? Why didn’t I see that we only ever really talked when it was about things that had to be done or seen to or dealt with. Never about ourselves. Or about us. As us.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t learn easily. I kept trying. Even when the children first were gone, I kept trying. Speaking to you about what was going on inside of me, if only not to feel so lonely. But like a dog with a sound beyond the range of human hearing, one word and you were gone. Leaving me to move my mouth while you - got lost in my voice.”
Her head dropped, muffling her next words. “A terrible thing it is. Speaking your heart and having only your voice heard.” Her voice wobbled.
When he heard it, it shook him, and he wondered at himself. How he suddenly was hearing her, not just her voice.
Which strengthened as she went on. “It was so tiring. So disheartening. When I accepted at last that there was nothing I would say that could match what you imagined from the sound of my voice, I stopped. Gave up. Went silent.”
Lifting her head, she stepped closer to him and peered up into his eyes. “Did you know that?” she asked him. “No. I didn’t think you did. Even now, you don’t know it.” She shook her head and turned back away. “I saw you hear the silence. Saw you falter. Come running back. And for the first time ever, you talked to me. About you.”
Her hands came up and fanned out wide, spread between them. “But it was too late. When I stopped speaking to you, I stopped listening as well. I quit. Like you, I only listened to the sound of your voice. And would slip away into my thoughts when I heard it start. Paid no attention to what you said. So, like me, finally, you gave up.”
He felt jolted, as if he’d touched a live wire. What was this? What was she telling him?
“And you know the worst of it is," she said tiredly, "that we’ve managed anyway. For what, another four almost five years? We’ve managed. And that’s a true sad silly thing.”
It grew so quiet between them that all that was to be heard was the stirring of water in the heating kettle.
The smile that passed between them was bittersweet and in it lay acknowledgement, to themselves and to each other, that they had, indeed, become two people who neither talked nor listened. But she wasn’t done.
Her voice rose again. “There was a time I wished I could be struck dumb, become a mute. To prove that you’d wander away, leave me, without the lure of my voice. But in the end, all it took was giving up.”
She hiccoughed, swallowed hard and when next she spoke, it was in a flat voice. “I guess it’s funny, in a kind of cosmic way. It is to laugh. Or weep. I’ve no clear sense of which. I stopped trying to speak of me to you and once there was nothing to hear, you started to listen and when you heard nothing, you started to speak, but by then I’d stopped listening and so finally there is silence. Except now you say, ‘well, it’s time and past time.’ I don’t know, Wilf. Is it? Are we just a comic silly story?”
She drew a deep breath and sighed it out, long and slow. The kettle had begun its low whisper of boiling water and she stepped across to shut it off. Taking up the filter with its paper cone of rich ground coffee, she gathered the kettle while he collected fresh cups and a plate from the cupboard, balancing on it the toast with jam knife atop that.
Seating himself at the table, he positioned both cups and put the plate between them before taking up a slice of now cold toast and slathering it with jam.
Carefully, she set the filter on his cup. Lifting the kettle, she began to pour, slowly releasing the rich odor of strong coffee. Only these small domestic sounds broke their silence.