I wrote this story almost twenty years ago and, when I read it again, I thought “not bad” – and I thought you might like to see what I was writing 21 years ago. It’s very short…
She paused, then took a single step. Out of the past and into the future. The second step was easier. She went up the sixteen stairs to the first landing and turned left into the room. It contained her deepest longings, everything that tempted her, pushed her into being more than the woman who, a few short moments before, stood with her foot on the bottom riser and waited for a signpost to point the way. Past or future?
The light coming through the landing window set her on the path and although she never saw it again, she had the light fixed in her mind. She summoned it on those occasions when she needed reassurance she had chosen correctly. Most often on Sundays. After the Visit.
She stood outside the door, composed her face into calmness, then stepped inside. The man on the bed was now so thin she could count the bumps on his shoulderbones.
He glared across at her, his hard eyes glowing blue in the fluorescent light. Involuntarily, she stepped back, careful not to allow her face to reflect her fear. He couldn’t touch her, couldn’t move at all, but his eyes hadn’t changed. Ten years ago, before they married, she thought them open and handsome, as blue as the prairie sky after a storm.
But his eyes reflected his mood and it wasn’t many months before they turned into marble eyes. Not the lovely cats-eyes or even the clear ones with two-coloured twisty bits inside but the ugly marbles that always remained in the bottom of the bag. The cheap, colourless ones. The ones nobody traded for or wanted. Never a handsome man, the intense unrelenting anger in his eyes turned him into a frightening one, reminding her of the photographs displayed on America’s Most Wanted.
During the prescribed hour of the Visit, she stood with her back against the wall, as far from the bed and the man as the room allowed. She didn’t speak. Nor did he. She because of the fear, he because of the illness.
She never brought him anything nor did she question the nurses about his prognosis. He was getting worse and she was glad.
Her neighbours never mentioned him, not since the day the RCMP took him from the farm in handcuffs, the ambulance taking her to the hospital seconds behind. When she returned, absent a husband and a stillborn child, she gloried in the silence and the space and the painless shape of her days.
She felt safe during the years he spent in jail in another province, but then they released him to a sanatorium in the city closest to the farm. She visited to confirm his presence there. She could leave the farm and live away from him, but she didn’t care to.
She slept in the room now, far away from the bed they had shared, slept with her hand resting on the black receiver of the telephone, the only one in the house, the one which saved her life.