Stone and Metal

Her hands shake as she struggles to get the key into the ignition. It’s 5am on a wintry Friday, and she tells herself that she’s cold, that’s why she’s trembling.

She would be cold too, if she weren’t wearing her heaviest winter jacket, gloves, a scarf and the other requisite staying-warm clothes one favours in winter. She’s picked up the habit lately, of little white lies-to herself, to him, to her friends.

The key finally slots in and she starts the engine, sighing in relief when it comes to life quietly-not the angry roar it sometimes starts with. Out of the corner of her eye she notices a sheet of white frost on the lawn, the blank whiteness recalling to her the note she’d left once she’d finished putting together a small suitcase.

~~~~~

He stumbles into the empty, cold kitchen at 6, noticing in the back of his mind that something is amiss. Usually there is coffee brewing-today there is none. Further inspection reveals the appliances are all still turned off from last night, and the table is bare, save for a folded piece of paper.

By no stretch of the imagination is he a morning person-her influence. During the past few months of living together, he’s picked up her habit of being an early riser.

Not patient or awake enough to prepare coffee, he removes an energy drink from the cupboard and sits down to open the note.

At first nothing computes. He stares at the paper sleepily, not registering anything of what is written. The words don’t make sense, until they do. Even so, he still doesn’t understand.

Things between them were fine, or so he’d thought. The rockiness early on in their relationship had smoothed out, and she had eventually agreed to move in. Even so, they’ve been getting along well. They don’t argue much, and cohabiting is easier than she had thought it would be.

This note says otherwise.

I need to get away for a while. It’s nothing against you, I just need some space. I’m going to spend some time with my family, go somewhere to think about my priorities and what I want out of life. I need to straighten things out, sort myself out.

~~~~~

She opts to drive, rather than a much quicker flight. Driving means inexpensive motels for overnight stops, and finding a supermarket to stock up on a few things to eat between one motel and the next.

It means stopping in at Laundromats to do laundry, where she sits with a book and pretends to read while she waits. It means living out of her suitcase, rotating around the same few t-shirts and jerseys with the same two pairs of jeans. Thank God it’s fairly acceptable to wear the same jeans day after day, she thinks one day as she piles her clothes into the dryer.

It means buying the odd new shirt or item of clothing to expand what she’s got, trying to make it last, trying to stretch out her clean clothes as long as possible.

It means control over the journey, and halfway she pulls into a petrol station. The motions are generic-checking tyres, filling up the tank and handing over money to a bored-looking clerk, looking at her map and tracing out routes as though the action will burn the roads and highways into her memory.

She’s still several hundred k’s away, and it would take her another few days if she were to turn the car around and head back to him, something she isn’t sure she wants to do right now. She decides not to.

~~~~~

It’s been five days and he still hasn’t heard from her.

The note, once pristinely smooth, has become crumpled, the formerly crisp edges worn. Since he found it he’d been rereading it over and over, trying to discern her tone or the meaning behind her words. She always was fond of puns and double-entendres, and that worries him-maybe there’s something that has some cryptic second meaning, and he just doesn’t see it?

On the third day, he crushes the note into a tight ball, tempted to just throw it in the fireplace and have done with it.

He resists though, and realizes three days later that she only took a few things. She’ll be back soon enough. After all, she won’t be able to keep buying stuff forever.

Nor can she keep travelling.

~~~~~

It’s been a month since she left, and she’s relatively settled. She’s found a holiday home to stay in, so she has all the amenities she needs. It was a week after she left that she got tired of travelling. The constant driving annoyed her, as did the ever-changing scenery.

The little cottage has become a haven. It’s located in the perfect area, on the outskirts of town. She doesn’t have to make a very long trip to town for groceries, but she’s far enough away that it’s peaceful. Every day she goes walking or driving, clearing her head before returning home and thinking, cooking, doing little chores around the house. After the first few sleepless nights, she has acclimatised now to the lack of traffic noise, and seeing farm animals-a rarity for most city girls.

One day se goes to a real estate agent, to look at finding a place to stay. For now, renting will have to do, but she’s becoming clearer on what she wants. It’s a career, definitely. It’s a small cottage, like this, in the countryside.

She goes over her finances meticulously, noting that she has enough to tide her over until she has a steady income again. Luckily for her, she’s self-employed. And being frugal has long been a habit-she doesn’t need much, and so doesn’t spend much more money than she really needs to. She’ll pick up her work again once she makes a decision.

It occurs to her when she’s in bed one night, she can’t stay away forever. She has barely written to him, only a few brief emails to let him know she’s alright.

~~~~~

The emails reassure him. They arrive randomly, with no apparent pattern. One arrives at 3am, two weeks later one at lunchtime. They’re like her-unpredictable. He’s comforted, because it means she’s thinking of him if she’s taking the trouble to write. Over email she’s never, ever been one to chat. Each word is precise and careful. As he reads he can almost see the writing process, knows that she deliberates over each word and considers the tone and message it might convey.

There haven’t been any new emails lately, and he’s starting to worry. She isn’t usually one to disappear entirely.

~~~~~

As she drives, she wonders what she’ll say, snapping the radio off in irritation when it becomes too much noise. This is when it might be better to take a plane, because the drive is so damned long, but as always she prefers to drive. The familiar motions calm her. Again, she pulls into a motel well after twilight, and once she’s ensconced in her room, she pulls out a notebook and methodically begins cataloguing her things at their shared house.

She loves him, yes. But not long before she left he started hinting at bigger, longer-term commitments. They had an argument over a similar topic before, when she was reluctant to move in. He wanted her to, she wasn’t so sure.

~~~~~

It’s just after eight on a Saturday morning when the doorbell rings. He veers away from his battle with the coffeemaker (he’s convinced the machine doesn’t like him, and when he grapples with it trying to get a decent coffee it always gets the better of him) and opens the door. It’s her standing there, and his pulse picks up as he studies her. She looks vastly different, something he can’t quite put his finger on. Her hair has grown out some, no longer maintained in her usual short and easy-to-deal-with style. She looks calm yet nervous, somehow relaxed while her body is tense and she’s fidgeting with the cuff of her jacket sleeves. He watches for a moment, distracted as she wraps the sleeve’s excess fabric around her fingers, letting go immediately and then bundling it around her tiny wrists. The little motion calms him; he recognizes one of her most typical nervous habits.

It takes a few minutes before he recognizes what is that’s different about her: he can’t read her at all. Before, she was a bit of an open book. Her body language gave away a lot, even when her face didn’t.

He’s silent as he steps aside, wordlessly inviting her in.

She doesn’t look around when she enters, doesn’t appear interested. Declines coffee or tea, sits at the table.

Table = formality, he realizes. This can’t be good.

“So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking while I’ve been away. This isn’t what I want.”

Straight to the point.

“What, specifically, isn’t-?”

She cuts him off, talking fast. The words spill easily as if she’s rehearsed this a dozen times.

She doesn’t want the city life anymore. She doesn’t want to feel like she’s relying on him to make her way in life-after all, it’s his house and she lived there rent-free. And, he remembers suddenly, it was partly because of him that she got her first job.

She doesn’t want a committed relationship, nor does she want further commitments like marriage.

“Basically, you and I don’t want the same things”. He’s trying for calm and steady but his voice falters, betraying him, and she hears it too, if the look on her face is any indication.

She nods quietly, apparently having said all that she intended to say. The one thing she didn’t say was that she’s sorry. Maybe she did that deliberately, knowing that one little word won’t make this any better.

~~~~~

The next week passes in a blur. She calls a moving company, hires their services to bring all her things to the newly rented cottage she found just before coming back.

She stays at the house, and it’s a form of torture for him. Her friends drop by, loaning suitcases, bringing boxes and offers of help packing.

The first day of packing, he watches numbly. He’s detached from it all, and is trying to pretend that she isn’t really going.

He’s not convinced.

The second day he goes outside, sits on the porch and barely notices when the rain and southerly wind pick up. The wind chills him to the bone, and it’s only when his fingers are icy cold and numb, that it occurs to him to go inside.

He doesn’t want to.

Inside is where the boxes are, packed and sealed, labelled with fine-tip black Sharpie.

Moving day arrives, and by this point she is untouchable, off-limits to him. He wants to hold her close and beg her not to go-he doesn’t even know where she’s going-but he doesn’t dare.

Instinctively, he knows that once she’s gone, he won’t be hearing from her again.

Her friends help her and the removal men shift her things into the back of the truck, and he can’t stand all the pitying (or are they sympathetic?) glances he’s getting.

It’s tempting to try to barricade himself in his (formerly theirs, he thinks bitterly) room, but he doesn’t. For some masochistic reason he wants to at least see her off.

Seeing her off proves not to be such a great ideas, as he feels his throat tighten and his eyes sting traitorously.

The truck pulls away and disappears around a corner, and he slips inside to get away from it all.

~~~~~

Walking through the house, he’s struck by how cold and empty it feels. All her things are gone, precisely stripped from their place.

No traces of her are left. In what used to be their room, the phantom remainder of her perfume is gone the wardrobe, without her clothes, is too big. There are no longer loose cosmetics in the bathroom, none of her books on the shelves or DVDs by the TV.

It occurs to him that she stripped the dresser of her things, and he wonders if she missed anything at all.

Unconsciously, he finds himself rifling through the drawers, before his hand brushes against a small patches of velvet.

A sinking feeling overcomes him as he retrieves the little box, dislodging a neatly folded stack T-shirts as he does,

He’s on autopilot now, as he flips open the box. Sure enough, the ring is still nestled in the tray. He runs a finger over it, noticing and appreciating the coldness of the combined metal and the stones.

Unlike him, this ring is cold and unfeeling. It has no emotion, it does not know what heartbreak is. It is a mere symbol of love, a love which is now gone. Removing it, he holds it and feels it warm against the warmth of his hand before returning it to the box and snaps it closed.

For the first time ever, he envies a piece of jewellery that is no more than metal and stone.

Disclaimer: This is inspired by Cold As Stone, by Lady Antebellum. I do not own the song or the lyrics.

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