She sat at the dressing table in her underwear, staring at her face in the mirror, toying with the antique wedding ring on her finger. Outside the window the snow was falling as a steady, dense cloud.
He was already underneath the sheets, expectant. Gingerly, he patted the pillow and said, “Come and tell me about it here.”
She took off the ring, put it on the jewellery tray, walked to the bed and sat upright on it, her back against the headrest. “Have you ever wondered what it would really be like to have a child?”
He shook his head, puzzled. The drink and the day had taken its toll. He looked sleepy. But determined. “What do you mean? Of course I have.”
“But really? I’ll get fat and stupid and talk about nothing but schools and clothes. You’ll get bored with me. We’ll become like the people we used to laugh at. Like our parents.”
“I don’t think I’ll turn into Dad,” Miles replied, very seriously, shaking his head.
“Don’t be so picky. You get my point?”
“No I don’t! Of course kids would change us. They’re supposed to, aren’t they? But you seem to assume it would be for the worse?”
“It’s just… it frightens me. Everything is so irreversible. What if your job doesn’t work? What if Beulah doesn’t work?”
“I thought you loved it here. You seem so well, Alison. Have you taken a good look at yourself in the mirror recently?”
She had, and she knew what he meant. She had a colour to her cheeks that had never been there before. She felt strong and vigorous. And happy most of the time. But there was more to it than this. There was the question of behaviour. Of stability.
“I am happy here. Now. But that doesn’t mean it will last. Miles. What if we don’t work?”
The question took the wind out of him and she felt terribly guilty on the instant.
“I didn’t mean now,” she said quickly, stroking his face. “I meant some time in the future.”
He turned towards her and put his hands together in an odd little gesture, as if praying. “Listen, Alison. I’ll say I’m sorry as much as you want me to. I know I’ve neglected you recently. I plead guilty.”
She reached out and put her fingers to his lips. “No. I wasn’t asking for that.”
“In that case,” he replied, “I don’t understand. At all.”
And that was true, it was so obvious. Miles was utterly guileless, she knew as much all along. “What happened on the night of the Burning Man, Miles? What really happened.”
His dark face looked guilty for a moment. “Do we have to go through that again? Something stupid. Something I’d like to forget. I’d had too much to drink. Bloody Marjorie was handing around her pot cakes like they were bonfire toffee. And…” He struggled for the words. “There was something in the air that night. You felt it too. If you recall.”
Oh, Alison thought, I recall. And not just Burning Man either. The fiery furnace inside Paternoster Farm and the way it devoured Harry Blamire were always there.
“But love,” he continued. “That’s in the past. We all have skeletons in our cupboards.”
“I know,” she said plaintively, and knew she was lying. Nothing would please her more than to tell him about Harry Blamire and his fiery end. Yet, she had to ask herself, wasn’t that because she could pass on some of the blame to Miles himself? And Harry was just one secret. There was the previous night with Justin. The possibility — no, she knew this now — the certainty that he, not Miles, would be the father of her child. Nothing could steal that from her lips.
“Then,” Miles whispered, bringing his face to hers, “let’s bury all that here and start afresh. This has been a wonderful day, love. I feel closer to Dad than I’ve ever been. Closer to you too. Forget the job, forget the past. We have each other, Alison, and I love you now, more than ever.”
“Yes. Ditto,” she said automatically.
He laughed. “Don’t lay it on too thick.”
“Oops,” she giggled. “I am a cow sometimes, aren’t I?” That was another thing about Miles. He indulged her, and asked so little in return.
“No. I mean, yes.” He was serious again. “Oh God, Alison. Why do we always have to pretend we’re perfect. I’m not. You’re not. What does it matter? When you were sick, I thought I might lose you. It takes some time to come back from all that. There was the move. There was you, and you’ve changed.”
“And I know you won’t go back. To those bad things.”
“I had a nervous breakdown. You don’t have to couch it in awkward phrases. I was crazy. Deranged. Out of it…”
“All the usual words. They’ll do,” she finished. “And no, I won’t go back to those things. I might choose something new, something similar. But not the same. Can you accept that? Can you believe I might not be the tame little wife waiting at home for you?”
“If I’d wanted a tame little wife I would have looked elsewhere,” he said firmly. “And you’re not going back to anything. You’re brighter, stronger, better than I’ve ever known, and this house, this place, they have some part in that. Me too I hope.”
Not just you, Miles, she thought. There was infidelity to conceal, a murder to hide, she thought to herself. It was amazing how a few logistical problems could stave off boredom. But he was right. In some ways she was more in control of herself than she could ever remember.
“And we will have that child,” he said. “Promise.”
“Yes,” she answered, and sat still, patient, as he fumbled with the fastening of her bra. The little clip fell away. He kissed her breasts, slowly, each in turn. Alison felt her nipples perform their primitive response, growing until there was enough for Miles to work with. She pushed her thumbs down the sides of her knickers and eased them off, then, with Miles still suckling away like a desperate brat, slid under the bed clothes.
He stopped, and his big, enthusiastic face came up to hers. “Toybox?” he said, with a hopeful glance at the cupboard.
“No more toybox,” she replied solemnly. “We’re past the toybox stage. Forever. We have to find our own magic.”
Alison kicked at the duvet until it fell from the bed and leaned over him. Miles reclined in his nakedness. Still a good body for thirty five. Taut and muscular, with a dark, natural tan. And ever ready for action. She stroked him gently and Miles emitted a long, slightly theatrical sigh.
“There are,” she said, “so many things you can do without toys. For instance…”
Some moments later, Miles Fenway moaned long and loud, nothing theatrical inside the sound at all, just joy and the promise of a sweet, sharp ecstasy around the corner. Arched over him, with her mind somewhere else altogether, Alison was briefly aware of two things. From downstairs a sound, like the kitchen door opening and closing. And, deep inside her, dancing to some primeval beat, the rhythm of creation stirring into life, seed meeting egg, fecundity encountered at last.
(c) David Hewson 2012