It’s dark when she arrives home. She takes off her shoes: cold feet on cold concrete, house silent. The fire in her heart has grown small and kept barely alive by the kindling of her thoughts. Deep and shallow breaths, pumping air in and out, mixing herself with the world. Is she diluting herself, or is the world concentrating her? Where do these questions come from?
Her name is Grace. It hasn’t always been. When she was born her parents named her Tom. It was an understandable mistake. To them she looked like a boy, and few thought too hard about it back then. That name hadn’t fit her at all though. That name still rolled around her head like a broken wheel.
She couldn’t feel her heart anymore as she opened the front door. Silent hinges. No warm body there to greet her. He’d packed up his stuff during the day whilst she was out at work. At least the idea of home has a certain warmth even if all the material is cold. But without him, the house had radiated away much of its warmth.
For a moment she feels like crying. It passes and then she feels like nothing.
She pulls the door closed behind her, a deep resonating sound echoes through the hallway as it’s closed. She feels like collapsing, this time she gives in and starts to cry.
They met on the 9:07 Shorncliffe train, third carriage, Monday May 3 2006. She was on the way to a meeting, he was on the way to meet a friend for brunch. In the half-empty carriage their eyes met, and there was a connection immediately. If they could have felt each other’s heart-beats they would have had no doubts that they should strike up a conversation. Yet the distance of strangers in this world is so vast. So they didn’t.
They both got off at Central. Both desperately struggle to find something to say some way to bridge the divide, but neither says a word. Fate decides to force the moment and as Sam trips on a stair Grace catches him.
‘Hi’. She says. Hands still holding Sam’s arm.
‘Hi’. He replies.
Both are nervous, the silence expands but their eyes stay locked.
‘I’m Sam’, he says finally, disappointed he can’t think of anything more charming.
‘Grace,’ she says as she puts her hand out to shake his, cringing to herself at how formal she seems. ‘Do you drink coffee?’ Grace continues, calculating out how long she has before her meeting.
‘I know a great place around here’, he smiles.
They get coffee. Grace has to leave eventually for her meeting, by that time she’s 10 minutes late. They make plans to have dinner. Dinner develops into a long walk discovering each other. Soon they are on the phone to each other for hours at night. It’s not long before Sam moves in.
The tears come and they don’t stop. Her body shakes and heaves, the trauma of distance forcing itself out. She’s still in the hallway, slumped against one wall. Tangled up in herself. Time moves in and around her, and her tears evaporate into the air of the dimly lit hall. She is pulled up by some invisible force, stands and wipes her eyes.
Sometimes life is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it’s just thinking about doing it.
The hallway seems so long, but at the end of it are soft couches to collapse on. Sleep is her only plan.
A lifetime away a phone rings. And rings. And rings. No, not far away, right here, right now, in her pocket.
She pulls out her phone. It’s Sam.
‘Hello?’ She asks.
‘I just wanted to check you got home fine’, comes the eventual reply.
And then she is a vortex. A whirlpool of mind inside a body pulling around and down. Thoughts drip into the flurry of activity and spin. A small pause grows larger. Can he hear her tears?
‘I’m at home’. Is her compromise reply.
‘Are you ok?’, he asks.
She is being ripped apart by distance. Sam so far, Sam so near. An alternating current of emotion.
‘No’, she breaths.
‘Me neither’, he confesses.
The whirlpool slows, the vortex stops, like a hole at the bottom has been plugged. She is no longer being pulled down, just around. The impossibility of this conversation realises itself. She almost smiles. Distance has been folded by a phone-call.
‘I don’t know what to do’, he adds. ‘You’re the only thing I can think about. I thought we were doing the right thing, but now I’m not so sure.’
Fuck, she thinks.
‘Have you had dinner?’ she asks absent-mindedly.
‘I can’t eat right now’ he says.
How could they be the cause and solution of all this suffering?
‘I have to go Sam.’
‘Call me if you need. Please.’
Sam sighs and places his phone back in his pocket. It was true Grace was all he could think about. All his life had been about for 10 years.
He didn’t know how it had come to this. He loved her and she loved him, but the closer they had gotten the more they had pushed each other apart. It was as though each recognised something of themselves in the other and resisted that. Until eventually this separation. He was so tired.
He buried his head in his hands. In the background his sister making dinner. His niece playing a video game. His brother-in-law watching the nightly news.
Grace was a fact of nature. A universal force he had come into contact with but couldn’t control, that even Grace couldn’t control. Just had to be.
One day over breakfast they quietly decided to separate. That was a week ago. Tonight was their first night apart in 10 years.
The more he thought about it the sicker he became.
The whirlpool that is Grace slowed fractionally every moment, like a wound healing, imperceptible but incremental.
Surrounded by artefacts that cause memories of Sam; his voice still echoing in her mind. Meeting Sam had been like a miracle that opened her eyes to life, a connection that had justified all the suffering she had experienced before him. It had been so beautiful, but so sad. They had multiplied each other’s happiness immeasurably but had deepened each other’s pain so much as well. Things that could be ignored before had opened up, like the volume had been turned up on things each wanted to forget.
In that moment she felt that the beauty of life was so closely tied to the pain of life. The passing away of beauty is the arising of pain.
The minutes passed slowly. There seemed to be an inevitability to their individual suffering, neither made a move to call the other but time was leading up to that moment. A realisation dawning over both of them that there was no him and her anymore, but that there was just a them.
In her mind she replays old memories. Simple times like cleaning the kitchen together, accidentally burning something or wine on the verandah.
She stops herself and tries to think this through. She can’t live without Sam. The pain of being away from each other eclipsing the petty fights, the misunderstood communication, the minor insensitivities that are the shadow side of proximity. Her hand already reaching for her pocket, gripping the weight of her phone, all habit, all automatic. She starts to call him, unleashing the potential energy of this device like an explosion. Sam coming home is all a result of the action of her picking up her phone.
She waits for him on the chair outside the front door. The world is breathing her, pushing air in and out of her, whilst sounds trickle into her ear into her mind. The world is inside her and Sam is coming home. The wait is not difficult; she can feel the distance between them decreasing. Neither pleased nor sad, the sharp edges of life have been dulled until they can no longer cut. She pays attention to her breath which is a compromise between the inner and outer. Something has changed, something in her is flipped.
Sam drives slowly, carefully, belying the almost desperate desire to see Grace. His hands feel the steering wheel, radio playing below attention. The dark night feels calm and he feels stoned as the lights play softly around him, as the warm wind stirs the hairs on his arms.
She hears the car before she sees it. It hums into the driveway. Sam unfolds himself from the car and steps out. For a moment he stands at the car door eyes fixed on her. He suddenly remembers how tired he is. He feels older than he is. Looking at Grace she briefly appears geriatric. Is this a premonition of them getting old together? He hopes it is.
He makes his way up the path, as she makes her way down.
Their eyes make contact and neither breaks the gaze. 10 years ago the world knocked them together, now they chose it for themselves.
‘I want to be with you forever’, he says.
‘Welcome home’, she replies.
They grip each other’s hands and walk through the front door. Silent hinges.