Is there a difference between giving up and giving in?
By Kelley Mether
In the dark he groped for her hand, a new habit.
“I love you,” he said. Silence stretched between them, pulsing a second too long to be comfortable.
“Do you?” Her voice came out flat, lifeless, although she had tried for light-hearted. He ignored it and pressed on. Always safer to ignore it.
“Yes. I really do.” He made himself smile into the darkness, desperately scrabbling to…what? He wasn’t sure what. To make it good. Keep it at bay, at least. “Who would have thought we would be here now, fifteen years on, two beautiful daughters. Did you ever imagine it would be like this?” Too late, he wished he could retract his words. Too open. It was as good as bait.
She took it. Instantly. “Never. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine that my life would be like it is now.” This time the flat, lifeless voice was deliberate. Laced with sarcasm, but delicate enough to be misheard and ignored, if he wanted. He wanted. And so he floundered on, searching for safe ground.
“I can just see us, in twenty more years, another Christmas, but this time with the girls coming to visit us from their own homes, maybe with their own children. We’ll have more time to relax, then. It’ll just be us, maybe we’ll be travelling around Australia, being grey nomads together.”
In the darkness her profile could have been cast from stone, it was that unyielding. Only her eyes glittering in the darkness as they stared unseeing toward the ceiling. She seemed to be weighing her words, and their unspoken weight crushed his chest and withered his soul while he waited. But when finally it came her tone was light, just the right amount of contrived amusement to mollify him and contradict the truth of her words, so he could continue pretending. “It’ll have to be a pretty big caravan if it’s just you and I on our own together.” He echoed her empty laughter, but the relief in his own sounded desperate. And he still didn’t have what he needed. What would make it all okay.
Letting go of her hand, he rolled on his side, facing her. She felt feathery touches along her jawbone and along her hairline. She gritted her teeth and he felt the clenching of her jaw against his fingertips. He persisted, fighting the feeling of desperation. Long seconds of silence stretched between them again, before he felt it: the softening of the jawbone, the downward fall of her shoulders as the long exhalation of air left her lungs. She had given up, given in.
Turning on her side to face him, she smiled. Eyes flat and lifeless as the voice. “I love you,” she said. He smiled, relieved and triumphant. He rolled over on to his back, his mind immediately drifting to other things: the overgrown lawn, the broken carburetor, the late report due yesterday. Life could go on safely again, at least for now.