She brought back leaves of cactus, cut them into strips and hung a strip over every door, every window, every aperture through which an evil spirit might enter the hut. And how, I wonder, will this story end?
The sun has come up and I am sitting by a window that is foggy with the breath of a life gone by. The thermostat in my room is set as high as it will go, and a smaller space heater sits directly behind me. It clicks and groans and spews hot air like a fairytale dragon, and still my body shivers with a cold that will never go away, a cold that has been eight years in the making. As painful as I remember?
Or rather, it was a productive and fructifying pain. Love, thick and dark as Alaga syrup, eased up into that cracked window. I could smell it — taste it — sweet, musty, with an edge of wintergreen in its base — everywhere in that house. It stuck, along with my tongue, to the frosted windowpanes.
It coated my chest, along with the salve, and when the flannel came undone in my sleep, the clear, sharp curves of air outlines its presence on my throat. And in the night, when my couching was dry and tough, feet padded into the room, hands repinned the flannel, readjusted the quilt, and rested a moment on my forehead. So when I think of autumn, I think of someone with hands who does not want me to die.
They had spent the night in an hotel by the Helford river. He had feared, when Alison insisted on stopping at a chemist in Truro, that she was planning one of her fucking headaches to be exact a non-fucking headache but this fear had been groundless.
After dinner with Rory, who entertained them during the meal with a description of his life as a milliner, he had, elevated by circumspect consumption of wine, gone up to their room to find that she had bought not, as he supposed, soluble aspirin, but a choice of contraceptives. This is what she told herself: That is the typical American policy: She rummages in the paper bag. Everything is fresh again, still to be enacted.
Just what the doctor ordered, he says. A bottle of lemonade, a hard-boiled egg, and Thou. He rolls the egg between his palms, cracking the shell, then peeling it away. She watches his mouth, the jaw, the teeth. Beside me singing in the public park, she says. It was weird that you asked, because I did walk through Hyde Park yesterday and thought of you losing yours to someone you had never met before and never would again.
I might not be unhappy — just a dim old biddy in a chair, knowing nothing, expecting nothing. I had asked him to be frank, so I could not complain. Now he was hurrying me out.
There were twelve people in his waiting room wanting their turn. In summary, as he helped me into my coat, he gave me the route map: Maggie could hardly take him in. Brown curly hair, a light stubble of beard, piercing green eyes framed by laugh wrinkles. Cookie halfway to her mouth and uncharacteristically breathless, she admonished herself, Get a grip. You clearly need to read more books by men.
What are you, a girl or something?