Appeared in Ellipsis magazine, 2018
She stands in the hallway calling the name ‘George’ in the middle of the night in a pink dressing gown, holding a tumbler of wine. She walks back in the room and drinks the wine in the tumbler and pours some more. She sits on the bed. There is the not-unpleasant aroma of sleep. She tries but fails to place the glass on the floor gently and it slips from her fingers and clinks on the rug. George comes back. He walks in, leaving the door open. He stands there and stares at her because he’s both angry at her and in love with her, for some reason, so he loosens his tie and switches on the television and sits next to her and they watch a film called The 39 Steps and George thinks it’s a Hitchcock film but he’s not sure. He leans against her. They stare forward. The silver, staticy glow making them look holy and they now act as if the other isn’t there.
She changes the channel with the remote. The tendons of her thumb stick out sharply like a credit card beneath the skin. She goes through several channels until George grabs her hand and she stops and leaves a foreign thing on, they both don’t know what it is, it doesn’t matter.
The television says, ‘Je ne sais quoi.’
‘What does that mean?’ she asks.
‘I don’t know. What?’
‘I don’t know either.’
‘I thought you knew French.’
‘I didn’t know this was French.’
George stands and looks at her. Her hands, now sunk to her lap, hold on to each other. He picks up her glass and finds another and pours wine into them. He doesn’t like wine. To him, wine is sour and not worth the trouble. The sounds of French words fill the room like the nocturnal noise of the radiator. George’s hands are shaking as he brings the glasses over to the bed. He sits down and gives her a glass. She is expressionless. They both drink wine out of glass tumblers watching the French film. Neither of them take their eyes off the television. They are lit up, holy. She takes off the dressing gown and puts on an expensive, grey merino wool sweater. George changes the channel to The 39 Steps again and he spills wine on her expensive, grey merino wool sweater.
‘I wish you hadn’t done that,’ she says, looking at him with a certain disgust in her eyes and she sighs dramatically and gets up and wipes her expensive, grey merino wool sweater with a damp cloth and George looks at her, standing in the dark, wiping the wine stain off her sweater and thinks how much he dislikes wine because it’s sour and not worth the trouble but still he always seems to drink it, always goes back to it, always with the hangover the next morning.
‘I didn’t mean to,’ George says. ‘I was changing the channel.’
‘You’ve ruined my sweater.’
‘It’s not ruined.’
Robert Donat on the television says, ‘I know what it is to feel lonely.’ George now feels like walking out again. He wishes he hadn’t come back. But he knows if he does leave she’ll call him back and he’ll come back and they’ll sit on the bed, and drink, and watch TV and sleep and the days’ll drift by and he’ll think of her and he’ll think of himself and he’ll have none of the answers.
She sits back down next to him. He feels the heat of her. The dampness on her stomach now like a hole where a pregnancy would be. They’re both tired. They drop the empty glasses on the floor and they roll and clink against each other and they both lay there, empty and smelling of wine. She falls asleep first, lying next to him, on her side, young-looking and now less confused. Her hair, blonde and clean, sprawled over her like a blanket. When he watches her sleep he imagines she doesn’t know who he is. She doesn’t know anyone. She is asleep to the world. The film ends and something else comes on. He stares blankly at the screen and the light hurts his eyes. He stares off into the dark and feels tired. The TV says, ‘Let’s all be there,’ and he wonders what it means.
‘Where?’ he asks the television.
The television doesn’t reply but instead goes on a break and there is a shampoo advert and George gets up and leaves.
George stands in the hallway and expects to hear his name being called behind him but this time he doesn’t hear it because she is asleep. He walks outside and the night is quiet. He gets in his car and drives away.
© Michael Holloway