( TWO )
Emma had moved for Mark. To be with Mark. She had moved with him, for his job, to a strange city where she didn’t know anyone, and she had moved happily. Because she loved him. Once there, though, it began to seem like a mistake. She was bored, and lonely, and hadn’t anticipated quite how bored and lonely she would be, or that Mark would have as little time for her as he did, because he was so busy at work. Because it was a new job.
She was lonely, and had nothing to do, and so she had begun to drift, feeling oddly unsettled. She began to feel lonely, and a little empty inside.
To feel purposeless, as though each day took too long to pass.
She didn’t know anyone. That was the worst part of it. She didn’t know anyone, and she had nothing much to do. She had always thought she was reasonably happy being on her own, and that she didn’t need people around her all the time, but now she was beginning to change her mind. There was a difference between not wanting to see people sometimes, and seeing no people at all. She needed people, or at least, she needed to know she could go and find someone to talk to if she wished. People in theory, she supposed. The possibility of people. Being able to just go somewhere and be out and do things around crowds of other people. Being able to talk to a checkout operator or a shelf-stacker or someone needing directions in the street.
She began seeking out crowds more than she ever had before. She went to supermarkets and malls often, and even sitting in traffic became less irritating, just because other people were there too. She began doing things just to be around other people, and to fill in her time. Running pointless errands, like getting groceries every day. Sometimes she drove Mark to work, just to waste an hour. To give her day some structure, because then she could plan around needed to go back and collect him later on. Sometimes she stayed in bed watching TV all day, because watching TV made her feel like she was around other people, their voices and laughter and smiles and life. And because it filled the silence in the house, and also gave her things to think about, decisions to make about what to cook and what to clean with.
She began to walk. She had never walked before, especially, just for the sake of walking, rather than to get somewhere. She had always run for exercise. Now, she started walking in the park opposite the house, just to be outside for longer. She walked to the shops. She walked in the botanic gardens, which was a half-hour drive away. She walked, just to have gone somewhere, and done something, and to have seen the people with their dogs and children and quick hellos, because she needed that.
And she cleaned, too, far more than she ever had, and far more often than she needed to. She’d never had a house so clean.
She cleaned. She drifted through her days. She drifted through the house.
The house was big, as well as clean, with things inside which she’d never had before. A walk-in wardrobe. An ensuite. A whole spare bedroom and absolutely nothing to do with it. The house was big, and strangely empty, because they had barely started to unpack.
Emma had barely started to unpack.
They had been there for months, and were still living out of moving cartons and suitcases, losing things and finding things and stepping around piles of boxes on the cool tile floors. They had their larger pieces of furniture, which had arrived with the moving truck, but everything else was still in cartons, because Emma couldn’t bring herself to start.
Mark kept trying to help, but Emma told him not to worry, she’d do it. And then she didn’t. She left everything in the moving boxes, and only took out what she needed, day by day. Mark thought it was a sign of something, Emma knew. That she wasn’t attached to new house, or didn’t feel the move was permanent, or whatever it might be. He thought that, but he wasn’t right. She didn’t unpack because she couldn’t decide where to put things.
Oddly, strangely, the decisions about where to put everything had begun to seem terribly important. All the decisions, one after the other, this shelf and this cupboard and this end of the lounge. So many decisions were needed that Emma couldn’t bring herself to start. She didn’t want to get it wrong. Unpacking was the only thing she had to do, while Mark worked and had a career, so it mattered terribly to her not to make mistakes. It mattered so much it seemed better to do nothing.
It was strange. She didn’t understand herself. She knew it wouldn’t matter if she had to rearrange the pictures on the lounge or reshelve the pantry. She knew that, but she still couldn’t bring herself to start, and she didn’t quite know why.
So instead, she drifted.
She drifted. She wandered through the quiet suburban house on her own. She lay on the bed, and thought too much, and missed the busy life she’d used to have. When the day was hot the air conditioner hummed in the ceilings, and when it was cool, in the mornings, she went out for walks. When the council workers mowed the park across the road, the smell of cut grass filled the house, sucked in by the air conditioning.
It was quiet here. The whole suburb was quiet. There was no-one around during the day, and no vehicle traffic after eleven at night. The neighbour’s dog barked now and then. Occasionally people exercising walked past the house, pushing prams with rattling wheels, their voices loud in the stillness.
That was why Emma had started walking. To be like those people.
So she could start saying hello.
She walked, and cleaned, and mostly, she waited. Mark went to work, and came home, and had very little time free for Emma, and Emma stayed at home and waited for him, and that was sometimes all she did, just waited. Sometimes she lost track of the days, and thought Friday was a Thursday by the end of the week. Sometimes she lost track of whole weeks, and things she was meant to do. She drifted, like nothing in this life was real. Like one day she would wake up and start to actually live again.
After a month she hated it.
After two months the neighbours still hadn’t spoken to her.
She couldn’t stand it, but she didn’t complain. She couldn’t complain. She had to do this for Mark. To not make a fuss. To be here for his career, because he needed this, right now, and she didn’t know what she wanted her career to be anyway, so she might as well be here for him.
But she hated it.
She didn’t have a job, or any friends, and still she had nothing to do all day.
She knew Mark was starting to worry.
( THREE )
“I met someone,” Emma said, while she ate dinner with Mark. Ate the dinner she had made because she’d had nothing else to do all day, even though when they’d first started living together she had told him she wasn’t going to be the cook all the time. “Someone who might be a friend.”
“Oh,” Mark said. “Good. Who’s that?”
“Someone from down the road.”
“Guy friend or girl friend?”
Mark nodded, and seemed pleased. Oddly pleased.
“What?” Emma said, a little sharply.
Mark looked up, pretending to be puzzled. Emma knew he was pretending because they had been living together for years.
“Why’s it good she’s a girl?” Emma said.
“It isn’t especially.”
“Then why say it?”
Mark shrugged, and seemed a little impatient. Tired and impatient, but trying not to sound it. “It’s good you have a friend,” he said. “That’s all. Nothing else.”
“But why’s it good she’s a girl?”
“I don’t know. It was a joke. Because I don’t need to be jealous.”
Emma looked at him, surprised, wondering why he’d said that. “Jealous?”
“I would of a guy. I don’t if she’s a girl.”
“Oh,” Emma said, slowly. “Yeah, I suppose not.”
If her voice sounded odd, Mark didn’t seem to notice. Her voice definitely sounded odd to her, but she might just have a guilty conscience.
A guilty conscience for no actual reason she could think of.
They ate. Emma sat and tried not to feel guilty, and wondered why she did.
“Oh hey,” Mark said suddenly. “I was meaning to tell you. Or ask you. Graham wondered if you wanted some work.”
Emma didn’t answer. She kept chewing slowly, kept concentrating on her plate.
“It’s no big deal,” Mark said. “Just if you were interested.”
“Not really,” Emma said, then, “A job doing what?”
“I’m not sure. Filing, I think. Working out which files they need to keep and which they throw away.”
“How would I know which ones to keep?”
Mark was quiet for a moment and she realised she’d said something wrong. “They’d tell you,” he said, as if that was obvious. “There’d be a list or something, I assume. You’d just follow their instructions.”
Emma thought. The suburbs didn’t seem so dull, all of a sudden. Not if someone else, someone interesting, was around during the day. “Nah,” she said. “I’ll find something eventually.”
Mark shrugged, but she knew he was annoyed. She looked up at him. “What?” she said. “We don’t need the money.”
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m not bored. I’m not depressed. I’m completely fine.”
“You sleep in a lot.”
Emma looked at him for a moment, and was suddenly annoyed too. Annoyed, mostly, because he had been. She stood up, and picked up her plate, and took it through into the kitchen. She scraped what was left on it into the bin, and started loading the dishwasher.
“What?” Mark called.
After a minute, “You should think about it. The job.”
He did. After a moment, he followed her into the kitchen, and touched her back gently as she put saucepans into the dishwasher. A touch like a caress, like an apology.
“It was only if you were interested,” he said. “No pressure.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I know.”
He stood there watching her load the dishwasher. She ignored him and kept scraping dirty dishes and stacking them inside it. After a moment, she felt bad for snapping. “Hey,” she said, without looking up. “I know you’re worried about me, and me being on my own, but I’m really okay. I’m fine.”
Mark didn’t answer. He nodded, but didn’t seem to be listening any more. Emma looked up, and he smiled vaguely, and then went into the lounge and turned on the TV.
He got like that sometimes. Her sounding like she was happy again was enough to end a fight. He didn’t actually listen to what she said.
Emma sighed, and got the last of the dirty cutlery from the sink. In the lounge, Mark started changing channels.
“Hey,” Emma called. “I’m sorry. About the job. Thank you for thinking of it.”
Mark didn’t answer, and she didn’t think he heard. She put the dishwasher on and went and sat down next to him.