The night grew darker, and with it came a clumsy, clattering sound from outside the front door: keys rattled, bags scrunched, someone knocked their head against the door, it seemed. Curious and equally confused, Henry got up and, in his habitually slouched gait (resumed when Sadie wasn’t there to correct it), he walked through the foyer in order to inspect. As he neared the door he heard a key being inserted into the chub lock, before it was removed and replaced by another, as the figure behind the window pane of the door shifted clumsily and paused after the second unsuccessful attempt at opening the door.
‘Do you have to be such an idiotic door?’ a famoliar voice said. ‘Trust us to buy the most unreliable lock in the city.’
The door was finally pushed open, revealing a soaked and miserable-looking Sadie. Having withdrawn ever so slightly, Henry approached his significant other—who was drenched from head to toe—and placed a hand on each of her shoulders, focusing his eyes on her: she looked like a kid whose parents had forgotten to pick her up from practice.
‘Hey, hey, what’s up? What are you doing home?’
‘The key wouldn’t work,’ she sulked.
‘I know, that door. Come here.’
He hugged her as she dropped a number of reusable bags to the floor, absorbing some of the dampness into his clothes as he kissed her moist neck.
‘How’s your mother?’
The mere mention of the ‘M’ word transformed Sadie’s demeanor from sulking schoolchild into vexed vixen.
‘That woman,’ she said as she paced through the foyer and into their bedroom, where she removed and dumped her heavy, rain-soaked clothes onto the floor. ‘She’d reduce a statue to tears if she hurled enough abuse at it.’
‘Look, I told you before,’ said Henry, following Sadie. ‘She’s the only woman I know who could turn the Dalai Lama to a life of violence.’
Sadie had abandoned every item of clothing save her underwear. Henry looked at her, thoughts entering his mind, the least salacious of these being: ‘Why am I thinking of leaving this woman?’ And why was he? Was he dissatisfied with Sadie or with life in general? Was he even dissatisfied, or simply a little jaded? He’d thought about the future without her, and without Sam. He’d considered a small place—somewhere rural—a minimalist existence in which he could finally focus his energy solely on his work, free from the prevalence of technology—of mass media, online social networks, big brother—but would that really make him happy?
Nice is all we can ask for, Stanley had said.
‘The woman revels in the past,’ Sadie continued as she fished the room for clothes. ‘She talks about the past, the past, the past. My father: she constantly talks about him. I can’t deal with that, Henry. It’s too much.’ Her voice had become grating; she had grown exasperated. She said in a tired voice as she stopped doing anything: ‘You have to let go,’ before raising her voice an octave or two once again as she resumed her search for clothes. ‘She keeps bringing up the home; how the whole thing’s terrible, was it the right thing to do . . . how she gets so lonely. And I know she’s allowed to get lonely, of course she is, but, my God, does she make you feel like you’re solely to blame. She really likes to make sure you feel it, too. You know what she said yesterday?’
Sadie placed her hands on her head. She was worked up; her breathing had become more rapid, and her gesticulations were as frequent as those of an Italian stereotype. Here, she pointed a finger at Henry in what to anybody else would feel like an accusatory action, but Henry had seen this countless times: this was Sadie dishing out the nugget.
‘She said—verbatim: “If I had known that parenting was so important I would have taken it more seriously.” What does that even mean? Is she showing regret, remorse for some shortcoming of hers as a mother? No. Because that’s not what Helena Cohen does. What she’s saying is that I’m a failure of a daughter. A girl who never fulfilled her potential, who never fully transitioned into adulthood and who runs a vintage clothes store when in her heart she knows—no matter how hard she tries to convince herself—that it doesn’t make her happy.’
This, Henry realized, wasn’t only a rant about her mother; at its core it was a confession of discontentment, and for a moment he felt terrified, but the feeling quickly passed as he watched Sadie park herself on the bed as she readied to get dressed.
He could watch her dress day in, day out. That was one thing he’d never grow tired of. The gentle curve of her calves, and her thighs that were strong yet unquestionably feminine. Her little—and he had to be quick to say little—pouch tummy, which he’d kissed in moments of passion and moments of playfulness. Her rump, which he admittedly found incredibly alluring, never seemed to change, not in the seven years they’d been together. He watched her sloping shoulders that curved to her neck, which was home to a single mole. Her chin, which was ever-so-slightly pointed, lived beneath even-sized lips. Her nose that gently pointed upwards in curiosity existed above that mouth and below grey-blue eyes whose pupils would dilate individually, as if they were playing a joke on their host, or the individual looking into them. Crowning all of this was a head of hair of a color which tended to be indistinguishable; in a certain light it looked mousy blonde, in another it looked strawberry blonde, and in some cases it simply looked ginger. Whatever the color, it was always full and flowing and seemed to fall gracefully to her shoulders, apart from when it was soaked, like in this instance, where her fringe stuck unflatteringly to her forehead like a damp mop.
She slipped on a dry pair of jeans, one foot failing to find the light at the end of the tunnel, and she pulled with both hands until her toes peeked out from within the denim.
Leaning against the door frame, Henry asked: ‘So you’re unhappy?’
‘Have you been drinking?’ Sadie asked from the bed in a voice that couldn’t be associated with any distinguishable emotion.
‘I’ve had a few. Steve’s in the kitchen.’
‘Well, then, I’m not talking to you about something of such gravity until you’re sober. You can’t ask me if I’m unhappy when you’re half-drunk and expect me to engage in a conversation with you about my level of contentment. I don’t mean to be . . . just . . . let’s wait until we’re both sober, OK?’
‘Or both drunk,’ Henry said, or proposed.
‘Well, I could be coerced into having a gin or two. I could use a trip to Reunion after the time I’ve had with that woman. I just had to leave. She won’t let me forget about it any time soon, but I had to: it would’ve ended in homicide.’
She leapt from the bed and placed a cream sweater—one of Henry’s—over her head and fed her arms through the sleeves, pulling it at the bottom with both hands before lifting her arms up and slapping them against her thighs. She performed this action a number of times, as if waiting for something to happen, an example of her many idiosyncrasies which had first attracted Henry to her.
‘Why don’t you have a drink with me and Steve? I’ve got some jazz on. We’ll get a little drunk and I’ll put on some Doors and you can do your Jim Morrison impression.’
Sadie smiled, approached Henry, placed her left hand on his right cheek, let it slide from his skin, passed him by, and left the room without responding.