The Darkness of Light
A sliver of light pierces the blinds and scars her eyelids. She feels as though she has not slept at all, although she must have drifted away into the blissful unconsciousness of slumber at some point. Sleep eludes her despite her craving for it. Even the pills which she obtains as often as she can manage with the increased scrutiny of doctors, only provide temporary relief. The alcohol she washes them down with probably does not help. This miserable cycle is all she knows, and she chose it so she cannot complain.
Not for the first time or the last, she sees James’ face. His kind smile, the happiness which radiates from every pore in his slightly tanned flesh. The smile which loves her, forgives her, and encourages her. The same smile which she has persistently tried to destroy. An oft repeated conversation wallows out from within the recesses of her memory.
‘A measure of politeness is not too much to ask for, is it?’ said James. ‘It’s not that hard to smile and say hello.’
‘I’m not a nice person,’ she replied. ‘I can’t sweet talk. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad because I can’t change. I’m bad okay? That’s it.’
James stepped close to her and placed his hands upon her shoulders.
‘Don’t say another word, or I’m going to leave right now. I have had enough.’ She shrugged out of his grasp, ignoring the hurt in his eyes and focused on her own pain, and comforted herself with the fact that she was bad and she thoroughly deserved the misery to which she now clung. It was the only solid ground in her sorry existence: her anchor.
She turned away from James and busied herself with the dishes which had piled up in the sink. She knew he had only not done them because he was respecting her wishes for peace and quiet in the mornings. Feeling his gaze on her, she said, ‘Leave me alone,‘ she said. ‘I have to clean the house. That’s what I’m here for: to serve you and to fuck you!’
She knows it isn’t true. It wasn’t true when she said it then or any of the countless other times she had said it. James is a decent man: loving, honest and caring. He has only ever tried to help her. Despite his shortcomings, and the frequent and unjustified tongue lashings she has given him, he has remained faithful and gracious. She doesn’t deserve him. He’s too good.
Flinging, the doona off her and across the bed, she rises and enters the bathroom. Every step evokes a memory, every breath a painful reminder of her hopelessness. James is already awake as usual, having risen early for his morning run. The sounds of breakfast making drift down the hall. It is normal everyday noise, but she will tell him to be quiet before she says good morning to him. Once finished showering, she dresses and ties her hair without once looking at herself in the mirror. She only ever sees disaster reflected in the glass: her figure gone, her face aging, her broken heart advertising its desolation through the windows of her tired eyes.
When she reaches the kitchen, James turns to look at her and smiles. ‘Good morning.’
‘You’re too noisy,’ she replies.
James shrugs, and approaches her. ‘Give me a cuddle beautiful.’
In his arms she feels warm. His passion for her burns her skin and eventually she has to break free, hoping she held the pose long enough to satisfy him in his delusion that they are happy and have a future. She goes to close the blinds James has opened as he always does when he wakes. He likes the light while she finds it intrusive. Knowing that no one can see inside their private world, does not stop her from believing that they can.
‘It’s nice outside,’ says James. ‘A nice sunny day, and the air is fresh. It’s a little stuffy in here.’
‘I like my privacy.’
‘You can have privacy without being in the dark all the time, and besides think of the money saved on electricity bills with the lights off instead of on during the day.’
Glaring at him, she attacks his parsimony. ‘That’s all you care about, isn’t it? Money. Money. Money.’
James appears ready to retort, probably along the lines of how she rails against him for leaving lights on and using the remote controlled garage door to enter the house, instead of using the front door.
‘You’re stingy, and I’m sick of it,’ she says. ‘I like my privacy. It doesn’t matter about the money.’
They have serious money problems because of her profligacy. She buys him things he does not need, and pushes money through poker machines as though the notes grow on trees in their backyard. She does not even like those machines, and does not understand why she wastes money on them. Neither does James, but he no longer says anything. They split their accounts some time ago, because she said she was tired of paying all his bills. She knows they are mutual bills, but she has never been able to bring herself to trust him enough to use the words ‘us’ and ‘ours’. It is a mystery why he stays. She starves him of sex, but is extremely proficient when she does consent. She makes him laugh sometimes, and she buys him nice clothes to wear, even though she knows he doesn’t need them and they can’t afford them. Even if they are struggling, it is important to her to maintain a good show of prosperity. James doesn’t seem to understand.
She remembers another all too familiar conversation, the like of which had been repeated so often, they could easily have played a recording and saved their strength.
‘Our business is our business. Our problems are our problems. That was how I was raised. That is my family. Your family is different. What goes on between us, stays between us. It’s not for your mum or your dad or your sister, or for the neighbours to enjoy thanks to your loud voice. I don’t know how many times I have told you that I like my privacy, and if you can’t respect that then get out of my life.’
James held her gaze. Confident and calm as ever, he said, ‘The neighbours can’t hear anything, and they don’t care anyway. They have their own problems.’
‘Leave me alone, James. I’m tired.’
She is tired all the time due to a lack of sleep, and the exhaustion caused by depression and anxiety, but this is also how she gets out of longer discussions with James. She is not at all interested in his logic or his common sense. Her paranoia fuels her need to reject rationality. She’s been treated so badly by the previous men in her life, that James’ genuine care for her barely registers. He rarely raises his voice or swears at her, and he has never abused her either with his mouth or his hands. It was a mistake inviting him into her life though, and she feels guilty for ruining his, on top of everything else she has done to underpin the deep vein of regret which courses through her bones. She is a lost cause and she knows it. The problem is how to make James see that, and to get him out of her life. It doesn’t help that on occasions, sometimes for a whole day or even a couple of days in a row they have a relationship which is world beating. They have experienced great joy together. The day they received a phone call from the real estate agent to tell them their application for the townhouse they really loved and wanted, had been approved. The time they went to a Big Bash League T20 cricket match and roared and cheered their way through three hours of action which led to an exciting victory for their team. Their trip to Auckland for New Year’s Eve.
However, such times of joy were illusions, masking the truth of their pitiful excuse for a relationship. She is unlovable and growing increasingly annoyed by James’ dogged determination to love her. She’s tried being direct with him, and simply swearing at him until she was blue in the face, but all that did was make him shake his head while tears rolled down his flushed cheeks. The next day he would be all smiles and sweetness again, and she would play along for a little longer. It is cruel. Very cruel, but it is James’ fault. If cannot take a hint of the magnitude of her regular vitriolic tirades, then he can only blame himself for his unhappiness.
‘On the subject of money,’ says James gingerly as though he is afraid of breaking something, or fanning to life the flames of her latent rage.
She rolls her eyes and sighs loudly. ‘Now what?’
James shakes his head. ‘Never mind.’
‘My life is bad enough already, James. All you do is take, take, take. I’ve got nothing, so don’t ask me for anything, alright?’
‘Okay. Don’t worry about it.’
‘I do worry. That’s all I do. My life is shit, and you’re not helping, okay.’
It’s not a question, so she doesn’t wait for his answer, but marches past him down the hall, and throws another familiar little quip towards him as she goes. ‘I’ll be upstairs.’
In bed, where she spends most of her time either on Facebook, or trying to sleep, she wonders why James carries on with this charade. How the hell can she cleave him out of her life? What will it take for him to finally accept the futility of pursuing this relationship? Why won’t he leave her alone? It’s bloody-minded devotion, that’s all. Not real love. He’s using her for sex and money, and so she can cook and clean for him. She makes him look good. Is a ready made ego booster. He’s probably addicted to that, and the overwhelming pulse of his masculinity derived from the multiple orgasms she fakes for him.
The next day, when she wakes up, James has already left for work. He kissed her cheek and told her he loved her before he left while she pretended to be asleep. That’s how it always goes. She readies herself for work, and checks her phone: finding a love note from James in her inbox. Kiss. Hug. Kiss. Hug. She doesn’t bother replying.
Arriving home that evening, she opens the door, and notices James’ shoes are missing from the stand in the hall. The kitchen is spotless and the counter uncluttered. Her stomach constricts. her hand trembles as she reaches for a single sheet of paper lying there. When she finishes reading the farewell note from James which he has worded with typical craftsmanship, she scrunches it up and tosses it in the bin. His final message expresses loving concern for her, and advises her to call him if she misses him, or if she wants him to come back. She misses him already, but as she closes all the blinds, blocking out the summer evening light, she knows she will not call. Then she goes upstairs and settles in the darkness.