The sun shone, though the day was far from warm. As she’d sat, waiting for him, the first few flakes of snow had fallen. It had seemed strange to see it happen, in the sunlight, and they had come down so slowly that, at first, she hadn’t been sure it was snow at all, so fragile was the offering that it looked to her more like debris. Ash. Like the aftermath of some great fire.
Sorry I’m late. The fucking dog’s been driving me mental. She’s in heat.
He’d been scowling into the cold air, as she’d watched him round the corner past the chemist, and the lines on his forehead had not yet settled back into his face. She thought he looked tired and irritable, and the possibility of being punished by one of his foul moods had spurred in her a desire to keep the walk brief, or to avoid it altogether. Disappointment hit her in the stomach, and she began thinking of an out. Fake a phone call. Feign a limp. But it wasn’t long before he was smirking at her, dancing on the spot to keep warm, and she found herself smirking back. Once again, the open morning seemed to roll out before them, like a bolt of gold fabric.
No bother. Where shall we go?
With a glove between his teeth, retrieved from his coat pocket, he tapped the sign of the cross with his one ungloved hand and nodded in the direction of the church.
They soon fell into step, in the fashion with which they were most familiar. Being closer to the ground, she set the pace, and he matched it with slower, longer strides, beside her, occasionally overtaking whenever she paused to pick a leaf from a bush, or kick a clump of mud off her boot. They covered the same ground, in both direction and conversation. She asked him about work, and he made her laugh with his story about the broken coffee machine; he asked her about whether she’d resolved the fight with her mother. She’d smiled into the collar of her coat.
Do we ever really resolve it?
He blew air from his nose, to signal his response, as his smile had also been hidden from sight. He glanced over to her and wondered if she’d taken this as a rebuff.
All the while, the snow continued to fall, as they navigated their way along the path behind the graveyard. Each was happy to take the other’s lead, and forks in the road were met with instant decisions from whomever spotted them first. The outcome did not matter, either way. At some point, there would be a mutual understanding about the need to head back, and they would muddle their return along the same route, as they always did. All the minutiae of decision making was as unspoken as the topics they had each learned to avoid. It went on like this for some time.
However, on this particular morning, the rainstorms of the previous evening had left a brown carpet of sludgy detritus strewn across one or two of the smaller pathways, leading down from the churchyard towards the river. They had started their return journey, and she had been looking at how prettily the snow had fallen on the gravestones, not noticing that he had stepped up onto the verge, to avoid the fallen branches of a nearby tree, almost concealed beneath the snow.
Isn’t everything so terribly still in winter. She’d said. I think that’s why it feels bleak sometimes, because we’re unnerved by the way nothing moves.
He had turned to answer her, pulling his collar down to smile this time, when she fell.
The toe of her boot caught momentarily in the loop of a branch, and the trip landed her on her hands and knees. She was embarrassed, and stood up more quickly than she should, wiping bits of leaf and mud onto her jeans. It reduced her to an instant feeling of childishness, and she felt her face grow red. It was then that she noticed him standing on the verge and realised why she had fallen and he had not.
She had a sudden and ridiculous urge to punch him then. To sink her fist into the soft of his side.
You could have fucking told me. She said, picking gravel from the ripped palm of her hand.
He gawped down at her, open mouthed, eager and pained, but his hands hung gormlessly, and he stayed fast to the spot. Knowing better.
You’re bleeding. He said, almost to himself.
After a minute, she laughed, feeling silly at having betrayed such anger. She sensed relief in him, and once again they fell into step. She even jokingly recreated the fall, pulling ludicrous faces, and he heaved himself forward, folding in half with laughter. Their breath burst out in hot clouds of steam, and it wasn’t long before they arrived back at the start.
She stood and watched him begin the walk to his car, waiting for his customary wave at the corner, which she returned. He looked small against the backdrop of the street. Almost silly, in his own childish contrition. She had wanted him to look back so she could show him everything was alright really. That she wasn’t so hurt.
Next time, let me know if I’m going to stack it, dickhead. She yelled, laughing. He had gritted his teeth and nodded, drumming the roof of his car. He looked at her then, for a moment or two.
Or at the very least, catch me. She called, as if she didn’t already know why he hadn’t.