“I can’t believe it! How can she just… ask me that – after all these years?!”
Jon’s expression is a study in puzzlement:
“Why can’t she ask you what?”
I shrug angrily: “You know…!”
Some things don’t bear repeating, especially not to my husband.
Jon raises both eyebrows in that charmingly innocently inquisitive way that completely diverts attention from the fact that my hubby supports himself – and me – by arresting people who crawl over fences and try not to get shot.
Maybe it’s a good ability for police-work as well as marriages.
“Just forget it, hon.”
He hoists himself up from the old armchair – with such a mock-effort that he almost knocks over the stale red wine on the small table. He hasn’t really touched it.
I thought we were going to have a romantic evening. Of sorts.
Jon walks over to peek out the window, hands clasped behind his back, as if he was about to return to his real work of making some really groundbreaking astronomical observations.
There’s enough to observe, actually; the stars come out by the thousands here in the burning Arizona night. Too bad none of them ever seem to be lucky.
“It’s just… ” I start and then choke on my words.
He turns instantly:
“It’s been 15 years, Jon… !“
“Wasn’t she your best friend back in school? I remember when you told me about, back on Skye, that you and her – “
“I told you a few things about that. Enough.”
He nods carefully, licks his lips a little.
“Okaay… maybe you should tell me why you brought this up? I thought we we’re going to get a little… ”
He nods towards the wine, and then seems to remember that he hasn’t really touched it because he was actually longing for beer, driving all the way home along that flood of dust that they call a road out here.
I just shake my head and down my third glass. I don’t have a problem with the choice of drinks for the night and I’m not going to go get a beer from the fridge and put it on the table now just. It’s Friday night for crying out loud. If he wants to get something from me he has to play it my way – just a bit.
Not even sure I’m in the mood any longer, though. Somehow it just came out while we were talking about something completely different. That thing with Siné…
… And the air in here feels like it’s venting from a toaster.
“You know, a lot can happen in 15 years, Carrie…and that’s just normal.”
Ah! Sermon time. There are things I both love and hate about Jon. This is one of them.
He drops down in the far end of the sofa where I sit, as if to keep some sort of tactical distance:
“By the way: I met Tim Wilkes the other day,” he suddenly informs. ” – Did I tell you that?”
“No? Tim who – oh, that Tim!”
“Yeah, can you believe it? I almost stumbled into him right outside the station. 2 seconds later and he’d have passed by – for a meeting. He didn’t look a day older, I tell you.”
“So… what had he done in all those days that hadn’t passed for him, but only for the rest of us?”
“Haha – wouldn’t you like to know, beautiful?”
He comes over, just for a sec, kisses me on my forehead. Then he’s back in his corner. Jon has a fantastic instinct about my insecurity; those damn leaks here and there that I still haven’t plugged, that seem to spring open at any goddamn little opportunity.
But I was not thinking about how I dislike being thirty and not really having done anything with my life except getting married with children. No, I wouldn’t be so… weak.
I’m supposed to be the counselor, for Christ’s sake!
Jon actually picks up his wine, finally, but his appreciation of the first gulp looks decidedly artificial.
“He’s still the same old wonderful guy I remember from high school – Tim. And he shouldn’t be – do you know what he does now?”
“No, Jon, what does Tim Wilkes do now?”
“He’s a tax lawyer – in Memphis of all places. A regular Mitch McDeere!”
“Does he work for the mob, too?”
“If he does, he didn’t say so. Guess he saw my badge, huh?”
“Guess he did… “
“Well, he was here on business and, uh, we just had time for a cup of coffee and… “
I take a deep breath; try to remember that he is trying really hard.
“So… was it still the same – you know, feeling of friendship – between you after all these years? Or did he feel like a stranger?”
“Both… I guess. I’d like to have spent more time with him to find out. Those 45 minutes really sifted away fast. But we did dig up a lot of good memories while gulping down Starbucks… a lot of good memories. I think I might want to see him again.”
“But you told me you just drifted apart after high school, right?”
“So it’s not the same, Jon.”
“But I think you said that that’s what happened between you and Shee-na, too?”
“Whatever. Your native language is almost as good for knotting up the tongue as Navajo!”
“It’s not my bloody ‘native language’! I was forced to learn Gaelic at school because there’s this idea that it’s vital for Scotland’s national identity to keep alive a language that only about 1% of the population still speaks. And – my dad – and especially mum – insisted. She could never get a hang of it herself, though.”
I put down my glass on the table with such force, that for a moment I’m afraid I’ll shatter it.
He nods, but doesn’t pursue it further.
Jon wouldn’t have survived as long as he has on border patrol if he didn’t possess an acute danger sense.
“It’s okay… It’s… okay… ” I manage to crank out, like a choked whisper. “But maybe Siné Munroe and I didn’t just… drift apart.”
He looks at me, waiting, glass still in his hand.
The house is silent now. Completely silent.
The kids have long stopped rumbling about upstairs, hopefully because they are fast asleep. The desert outside seems to have absorbed every other sound than the insisting ticks from the old Civil War era clock in the corner; about the only valuable Jonathan’s great-great-great-grandfather left his family.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
I shrug. Suddenly I feel dead-tired and it’s not the wine. It’s like liquid lead suddenly decided to sift through every synapse of my brain.
Somehow it feels familiar… the few times I thought about Siné since we moved to the US. Since I stopped writing after the fifth letter she never answered…
“I’m not sure… “
“About that you don’t want to talk about it or… “
“ – Should I go get you a beer?” I make to stand up. He gently pulls me down.
“Carrie, you’re evading the question.”
“Figures – I should never have married a policeman.”
Jon bites his lip then does some kind of imitation of a nod. As if we’ve reached a conclusion.
“Okay,” he says. “Okay, I guess… I’ll just go check on the kids, then.”
He gets up and reaches the door to the stairway before I stop him.
“Jon – “
He’s got one hand on the stairway rail, but he hasn’t taken the first step.
“Come over here,” I say weakly and touch the empty space in the sofa beside me, as if to give some kind of sign that isn’t really a sign of anything but my indecision.
And then, when he comes over, I feel this… sharpness inside. Like something cutting through.
Jon puts a hand around my shoulders.
“Maybe you should pour some more of that awful wine.”
“Is it really that awful?”
“Yeah… you were never very good at picking wines.”
“It’s your fault. You hate wine no matter what brand.” I lean against him, slowly, like I’m finally giving in after trying to fight gravity for too long.
“I should never have married a man who hates red wine.”
“I have other qualities.”
“Carrie – Tim Wilkes and I were best mates. I’d have given my life for him. I know how that feels. It’s not that different with guys…”
“Siné and I were best friends. At least that’s what I thought.”
“I changed… I guess. It was after the accident.”
“I told you I was in a bad way. My bones had healed but everything in me was still shattered and my folks didn’t know what to do. You don’t send your daughter to a shrink according to McDonnell doctrine.”
“But you empty an extra bottle because that helps her much better?”
He just snorts a reply.
I lean my head against his shoulder – finally; but at the same time I cross my arms, pull my legs up under me.
“I would have died for Siné, too… and I think she would have died for me. The problem was… when I actually died – almost died – she wasn’t there. And when I came back to the land of the living, it was a different world. It was no longer my world. But Siné was still in the old world. We tried to … continue as if nothing had happened but… “
The sharpness… it’s almost cutting through now; my chest, my throat. All the shards boring their way to the surface. I shiver.
Jon’s grip round my shoulder tightens a bit.
“Why don’t we talk about it?” he says gently.
And so we do.
It’s way beyond midnight. Jon went to bed without me. I couldn’t really sleep. I think I told him everything. Finally.
From that time when we were six and Siné told Mrs. Morgan that it was she who had smashed that hideous garden leprechaun by knocking it down on the path stones by her front door – and not me – who was the real culprit…
… and until that last camp together, at fifteen. Over in the Black Cuillin, those mountains that are the real reason Skye has another, less romantic name:
The island of shadows.
That camp when she finally realized what a freak I’d become, because I tried to tell her about how I really felt after the accident and because I never should have.
There are some things you don’t tell people, not even your best friends, especially not if they are only hanging by you with a fingernail or two.
And then mum and I moved back to Cleveland and I wrote and wrote and never heard from her.
So how could she do this… now? What’s her agenda?
Suppose she really means it? Would I want to… forgive her? Do I have the right to insist on that after all these years?
Doesn’t time heal everything?
But what’s worse… what if I’m just number 236 in the line that she asks this? What if I just become one of the crowd now, someone way, way out in the periphery? Wouldn’t I then humiliate myself totally by accepting?
I feel ashamed of myself for making such a big deal of it, but I can’t help it and I don’t know what the right thing to do is.
For a long time that night I just look at the screen on our little laptop:
Facebook friend request – Siné Munroe Robertson to Carrie Reese
Accept – Ignore