He watches the rain. It is running down the window. He is thinking of a woman who is far away. He cannot remember ever thinking about anyone for as long as he thinks about this girl. Even so, his thoughts are like a silent movie; images without feeling or soundtrack. He is practicing being neutral. The phone rings. It is his ex-wife. She wants to change a night with the kids. “It’s fine,” he says.
She is apologising. “I’ll make it up to you.” He tells her again that it is OK; he had no plans for the night she wants to change. “I’ll take them an extra night next week,” she says. Then she is gone again and he returns to the window.
He wonders if his wife has a lover yet. Once the thought would have made him apprehensive, reignited the smouldering ash of his emotions after the affair. Something inside him has changed though. For the first time he imagines his wife happy with another man and there is a tiny feeling somewhere inside that he wants this. That he wants her to be happy again. “Weird,” he mutters to the emptiness but finds himself smiling. Part of that smile is for her, a bigger part for the fact of not feeling anything else; no fear, no anger, no hurt. It has been a long time since he felt so removed from her; felt that she cannot touch him anymore.
He reaches for his coffee, holds the mug in his palm feeling the warmth in his fingers. It strikes him dully that he did love his wife for a long time and that the feeling has gone; not even replaced with something close to love. It has just gone.
But where does love go? Not the love for ourselves but the love we feel for others. It fills our hearts then quickly or slowly it goes away. He had once read somewhere that the love we feel defines us more than the love we receive. He thinks about this for a while. Where love goes seems an unanswerable question and a little dangerous. He finds it strange that he has never thought of it before.
The woman occupying his thoughts spoke of love once or twice. It is a big word, she said. They were lying together on a Friday afternoon in Melbourne. Too big for this strange thing between the two of them, she meant. And he knew this was right in a way, in the normal way of the world. But something about love is small too, he thought, easily given, easily lost. His wife said to him once, “I love you but I’m not in love with you.” The thought of this makes him turn from the window.
He mentally shifts away from this time; this time he tells no one about. Increasingly he will not even tell himself that story. But now he remembers that at the time of the affair, he never once hated his wife; not even her lover. He thought he understood love then; that it can be a cruel, spoiling thing and yet almost impossible to resist. He had, early in their relationship, loved his wife so much that it had made him crazy at times. And then it made him calm and good. But in a long, dangerous, despairing drive South on the day he found out about the affair it was the knowledge of the unassailable nature of love that almost destroyed him.
He is a lot of things but he is rarely dishonest with himself. He knows that somewhere in the morass of their feelings for each other, he had stopped being someone his wife needed. He knew it then and he spent four wasted years trying to discover the key again. He avoids thinking about that time now because he did not like what he remained long after her love for another man had gone. And he does not want to be that person again, lost to himself.
He switches his mind to the sad-eyed lady thousands of miles away. He thinks about her hands. He remembers her crooked smile and the way she looks up at him sometimes with a look he can’t fathom for meaning. She is beautiful and she does not believe she is beautiful. Lying in bed in the late afternoon he had stroked her bare breast and shoulder and listened to her talking. He was filled with the wonder of another human being, so mysterious, like a planet. It made him believe in the beauty of the world again.
“Shit,” he murmurs and turns up the music. “You are a sentimental fool.” But he knows that he has never been sentimental. Inside him there is a faint stirring. His heart is making room for someone else. He is not altogether happy about this; sometimes feels nervous, sometimes sick. But he knows it is happening.
The rain keeps pouring. He feels uneasy, has felt uneasy for weeks. Part of him knows they will meet again, part of him believes this will never happen. There is a rumble in the distance. He holds his palm against the cool glass of the window. Somewhere a car swishes along the flooded highway and he wonders where it is going.