Her feelings were in constant melancholy. When that Thursday had accumulated into a sunset, she was unmoved. The dwindling clouds did not produce in her the wonder of a new-born, but reminded her that time erases. Turning to her husband, whose boulder-like face had seemed closed for hours, she saw him wide-eyed. Some element of that fatal sky had forced him to spread his features. In wonder, his saw mouth had dropped open into a smile. It was not for pain. There was no blood starting from the edge of his bottom lip. Since she noticed nothing glorious before his sight, she could not tell if his reaction was rational. She wondered if perhaps her own irrationality had prevented her from seeing something, or appreciating what she had already seen. She looked at the sun and felt her lids stiffen. It was a large, red porthole in the sky and the cirrus flaked alongside it like a shoal of fish. It would sink, she thought, and drown in the night. Unless her husband meant to worship a representation of death, she could not understand him.
Celestial objects were nebulous things to behold. One had to place her opinion on top of them in order to like them, fabricating a mirror out of their various substances. She already had a mirror inside the cottage, but she was too wrinkled to enjoy looking in it. She said to herself ‘People must look at the sky because their reflections are no longer beautiful’, but this did not sound convincing any more. Traces of dampness lingered in the air from the rain that morning. The scent of watery leaves on the patio was apathetic to her scepticism. It astonished her husband in combination with everything else.
She would not talk to him about it. For her, the rare instance of the day worth commending was the silence that had remained between them over most of its course. She was convinced she loved her husband, but sometimes she desired to be reminded that her consciousness existed by itself. With Laurence, the necessaries of conversation were never enough. He did not want to grunt when he poured her tea, but complement the variety of perfume she had used. He did not want to cough and say pardon, but comfort her that his indigestion was little cause for her concern or worry. He did not want to talk of pointless things, but speak on the subjects of architecture and politics which she had endeared to teach him from the beginning of their marriage. He had done so well, and she did not know what she could return him in exchange. Quietness absolved this expectation of hers. Without having heard his loving comments she felt no obligation to deliver her thanks, which always felt arduous or guilty.
As a result, her imagination became more available, as if the noise that did not come out of her mouth was saved in its primordial form within her mind. Many times after waking, she had closed her eyes and studied the numerous shapes that were created behind them from large blotches of darkness; the same material, she supposed, of which her words were made. Now, before the indifferent sun, she repeated this task again, reorganising the moulds of possible flirtations and complaints to produce certain fond projections within the theatre of her head. A sculpture of twigs and tracing paper that she had structured in her ninth year solidified into the bench on which she had grieved during her thirteenth. The transition was immediate and reasonable. It was justified by the figure of a horse: the animal that she had wanted as a toddler, received as a girl, and lost as a teenager in the suddenness of a lightning storm.
When this explanation manifested on the stage, so did a heavy fog that promised thunder. It was as tall as the roof of her mind. She half-expected it to leak into the material cosmos outside when it reformed itself into the same gold ring that she now wore, although in a form that glistened instead of rusted. The original was bound tight. It seemed like it would totally restrict the joint on the wearer’s finger. She could not believe that she had accepted the thing during the wedding that proceeded her education. She felt the older, battered object on her own bony digit and considered how much it had joined with her. It was no more a piece of jewellery than a knuckle, and she preferred it that way. The ring on the stage was virginal in comparison. It had arrived to her at a young age when she denied new experiences, and it affirmed that denial despite the change it signified.
Now, she revoked the colour of the lightning. The ring was transfigured into the pallid whistle which Laurence had used once that day to call his dog. She knew he bought it the day before but, since he always hid it, she could not work out the precise hour. It might have just appeared to him, like the object of a curse. Its nozzle sloped like a mallard’s bill and the metal at the back dropped down like the top of a neck. To her, it resembled the severed head of a bird. She could not tell if that was significant, yet the whistle in her mind had changed into it. The whistle was the splintered cranium of an old iron duck. She knew it was significant, she was just uncomfortable. Laurence did not deserve the pain of having it.
She recalled the set of a dry and sandy January, where he first described himself as a singer. He had no interest in a musical career, but he liked to mention his hobby in a professional manner because it gave him a wild sense of confidence. He said on that same date that he liked wildness. Anything untamed pleased him, especially the improvisations of a runaway tongue. He told her the Swiss rhymes he learned on a boyhood trip. He could talk and sing and whistle without interruption for impressive periods of time. He always preferred to exasperate himself than remain placid, and he always hated to rely on other people and other things. He only got the whistle recently, when he got bronchitis.
He had left the hospital two nights ago, grinning like a soldier who had lived. He had never before felt well after feeling so terribly ill. Till dawn, he snored in his sleep and when she complained at breakfast he laughed. ‘My body is celebrating.’ he said, before lowering his cutlery to the table. His grin became uncertain. His feet shuffled. Then, he chewed down on his lips, not to withhold one laugh too many, but because laughing had strained him. He was still recovering, it seemed, and he would have to refrain from using his voice if he desired to keep it. He refused to lie down and he demanded to go on the walk they had planned after the meal. She refused, and so he went alone. He went into town with their collie and he came back scarred on the mouth, having grinded his teeth and lips trying to hold back from coughing. It was at dinner she noticed the string hanging around his neck. He told her it was the Cross.
She did not have to ask him much else to discover it was a reluctant purchase. When she knew that, she guessed it was something to make the dog obey him, now that he could not befriend it with his bird-like call. This was reason enough for her to plunder through his coat before he got up the next morning. She seized the string from the breast pocket and pulled it out, learning that he had bought a whistle, not a dog-whistle, and must have been trying it all his walk home to the failed comprehension of the animal with him. For pride, she guessed, he had not queried for the help of the shopkeeper, and now he was suffering for it.
Still, he refused to be rid of it in the days following, just as he refused to lie down. His pace was as ecstatic as his blow, whether contending the low and airless flats or the high and windy cliffs. So, his throat grew more terrible than both. He defied the world to take away his sense of humour after so long staying in a ward. She told him he would lose his speech if he continued like that. He called her a constant nanny, never allowing him to do as he pleased. He always preferred to exasperate himself than remain placid and defensive and helpless. To him, the whistle had stolen part of his voice, so it might as well have stolen all of it. By Wednesday evening, he struggled to read the headlines.
In the theatre, the whistle dropped and merged with the whispers he had not had the chance to press against her ears. Together they became a murky water, then the blackness that was the interior of her eyelids, then something that dripped beyond them. Olivia opened her eyes and saw that she was crying. They only fell like an involuntary sweat, but they were tears all the same.
She gaped at the sun like she did before, trying to mimic Laurence’s outer features in such a way as to guarantee the achievement of the same inner conviction. There was the sun again, incompetent and red. If it were a pimple, she should have pierced it. If it were a tangerine, she should have tasted it. If it was of blood, surely she should have heard it drip by now. Merely the pattering of the damp leaves was summoned, and not by a fay or sprite, but the staggering of Laurence’s feet. She understood the sun was a great, garish object that hurt her eyes and from this she could tell that her mind had circled back on itself.
Maybe the roundness of the sun was wonderful because it generated her wheel of remembrances. But the theatre stage she had imagined was square and she knew that she had more frequently drifted into pleasing and shocking sights there on an earlier occasion. Why, when they were walking on the cliff that morning, she had imagined a peacock spreading its wings in the pews. She had enjoyed regarding it better than the spree of unfixed emanations she had just conjured up.
The paving stones of her back garden were not sublime for thinking. Laurence had laid them some seven years ago and they were only now in use. He looked about as breathless as he did when he first set them down, and back then the sun was shining brightly. Intransigent, his smile remained open, although it could not have improved his breathing. She finally decided to query him about it.
‘Why does it amaze you into a grin?’ she said. He croaked, turned a small way and wiped his cheeks. ‘Why?’ She approached him nearer.
‘Is it important?’ he said. ‘You were grinning too.’ He coughed twice, but it was hard to tell if he was signalling the fact that he had few words left.
Olivia felt her mouth to find it was a grimace. ‘When did I stop?’
He sighed. ‘When you closed your eyes. It’s a pretty sunset, but it hurts to look at it after a while.’
‘After a while. . .’ She paused to scour the heavens for commiseration and murmured to discover they were as they ever had been. Laurence adjusted her coat for her, tutted affectionately and wiped her eyes. He made a sign to go in, but she told him no. She could not believe that a revelation had passed her by.