No one is home
He played choral music in his car. We were high up in his black Range Rover, stuck in traffic on Sixth Avenue, Midtown.
“It’s Brahms,” he said.
“Why are we driving in Manhattan?” I said.
His mouth turned down for a moment and then he smiled. “We don’t have to be here, you know?”
We sat in the Petrie Court Cafe, in the Met, overlooking Central Park. I ordered the lobster sandwich. It arrived with a pile of crisps on the side.
“Just like at home,” I said. “I thought they only did this in England. Crisps on the side.”
“Here too. They’re chips,” he said. “You’re homesick?”
“It comes and goes.”
“We’ll go to London for Christmas?”
The plane went into a holding pattern over London. All of those red and brown roofs were below us as we circled through a white void of sky. I did not want to be here and I desperately wanted to be right here.
The plane commenced another cycle. Despite the almost-eight-hour flight I began to feel airsick only now, the city not so very far below us.
“Heathrow must be congested,” he said, beside me.
“It always is. People are either coming or going.”
“Maybe we could stay?”
I stared at him. “Do you mean it?”
“Yes, of course I mean it. Let’s move to London.”
He wanted me, his second wife, to be happier than his first. I knew this because he had told me. Maybe at fifty-seven he was finally getting the hang of this married caper. That is what he called it “this married caper”. Not “this marriage” not “this love”.
It was two years since we had met and he updated his profile picture on Facebook to include me.
“Took long enough,” I said.
His gaze stayed on the computer screen, on the photo of us. “People will think we’re father and daughter.”
I shrugged. “Who cares?”
“Remember that day?” he said.
The photo was taken out the front of the Lincoln Center. It was summer, hot and light. We were going to see the New York Philharmonic. He was excited, talking it up. He hummed some bars of Beethoven’s “Emperor” into my ear, while his friend took our photo.
“The Adagio,” he said, when I looked at him.
Now we sat in our Islington flat with a London drizzle falling outside.
“It was so hot that day,” he said. “How hot does it get here?”
An American in London — he was an anathema. He opened his mouth and once he spoke people looked at him differently.
“Everything is so fucking gray,” he said.
“And you spell gray with an ‘a’ not an ‘e’.”
“I know. It’s unbearable.”
“Positives?” I said, because he used to say this to me when I was feeling low in New York.
He smiled. “That is such an American thing to say, sweetheart.”
“Well, come on then,” I said, and readied myself for a litany of the wonderful things he had discovered about London. I waited.
“I’m thinking,” he said.
He bought an oriental rug precisely because it was old and faded, from someone else’s living room, where the sun reached only half way down.
“So the sun does shine here,” he said.
I read the card beside the rug and smiled. “This one came direct from Jordan.”
“That explains it.”
He rolled the rug across the floor of our living room.
“It’s so expensive,” I said.
He laid me down on it and looked at me, between his arms and underneath him.
“Lucky me,” he said, pressing me deeper into the memory of sunlight.
I came home from work and he was already there, crying in front of the television. He didn’t want me to see that, wiping his eyes, sniffing and changing the channel. The World Trade towers had been gone for ten years and his country had morphed into something unrecognisable.
“What is it?” I said, sitting beside him, waiting for awful news.
He pulled a face. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.”
He turned the channel back on — it was news footage of a blizzard in New York. The city was buried under twenty inches of snow. People skied down streets. A man was killed by a falling branch in Central Park.
“You didn’t tell me it could be like this,” he said. “Homesickness.”
“It sneaks up on you.”
We were in the British Museum — the Egyptian Death and Afterlife Gallery. He wanted to go somewhere that was quintessentially English and we laughed at the theft of Egyptian tombs being utterly, thoroughly, completely English. Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon and all the rest of them.
We studied a mummy — dated approximately AD 100-120, wizened and yellow, lying bare behind glass.
“How awful,” he murmured beside him.
“The mummy? He can’t help it.”
He smiled and put his arm around my shoulder. “No. He is so alone. Exposed. He will always be here, right here.”
He needed a break from London. After three months. The rain had become “infernal” as had the tube, the traffic, the people.
We touched down at JFK Airport. It was midnight. After customs we caught a taxi to a hotel — we had let out the apartment.
He laughed when he sat on the back seat beside me. “Manhattan in spring is so beautiful.”
As if I hadn’t seen it before.
“It’s only thirty five degrees out,” the driver said. “Cold.”
I calculated one degree Celsius.
He looked over at me, shook his head and said loudly to the driver, “It’s Manhattan in spring at midnight. It’s perfect.”
We arrived at the hotel. Our room was fifty two floors up. He moved to the window in our room and I stood beside him. The city lay before us, ablaze — orange and white, glittering, jerking and shifting. The horizon glowed with electricity.
Melissa Goode is an Australian writer living in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney. Her work has appeared in Best Australian Short Stories, The Fiction Desk, Crannóg, Pithead Chapel, Cleaver Magazine, New World Writing and she has been a featured writer in Bang! One of her short stories has been made into a film by the production company, Jungleboys. She is currently writing her first novel “What we have become” which was selected by Random House for a fellowship with Varuna, the National Writers House in Australia.
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