She picked up two sugar cubes with little silver tasses and offered them to him for his tea while footsteps were heard in the gallery outside their room. He refused. All sounds in the house were normal earlier, like the sound of hot water boiling and the shuffle of his soft leather slip-on shoes. They were pointed at the toe. They were now pointed to leave. She remembered their wedding day photo; family feet elegantly positioned towards the photographer. A position of unity. The witnesses.
Flicking butter off her toast in a decisive but cautious manner she was haunted by their passion as a couple, at least the tender memory of it, like an aperitif she once drank. This morning her looks were met with good-natured outrage and pity, but she’d made up her mind before he did. Still, she’ll drift past it. She would. It was just a little hiccup.
He had always kept a photograph of her in a gold frame, though she didn’t appreciate the gesture. The frame, in her opinion, was gaudy and she disliked the image of herself even more. It was a horrible likeness—a likeness he for some reason enjoyed. Yet for her, the frame surrounded her like some garishly rigid and inflexible confine. She hated the shape of it and what it meant: her erosion. Now their wedding portraits meant something different too. All of it did.
His bright red plaid socks came into her view; a momentary distraction. But she refocused and found him fingering toothpicks on the table the same way he did women, discarding them casually. Morning absolutions had now been performed while she worked in a little dishonesty and sipped on the hot water of corruption. For once, she would not provide the emotion he so often enjoyed using against her. She knew he was prepared to judge and declare any outburst as out-of-order.
His breathing slowed to almost sedentary, as if to say ‘dare she breathe’. She knew it would. He stopped reading his papers, which were strewn on the wooden table, even though their presence was more essential to him than her company. She pondered the distaste of being forced to maintain good relationships that would never recover. The morning’s hurtful comment, almost an epithet, presented to her with a curt nod and a sly smile, made her lose balance between her shoulders and spine while steam continued to rise from tiny flowered cups. Cups from her wedding dowry. But she said her peace. She’d recover.
Haunted by a tender passion they once shared, yet knowing they should have separated and dispensed from the niceties sooner, each tried not to mince words between pleasantries, even though there was little to keep their conversation afloat. Dimly lit corners in the room now reflected the dying light in their hearts; light once full to bursting, now has left the heart beating while unoccupied and disenchanted except to gratify the displays of unity they felt obligated to uphold for family. The jury.
As each exchange between them became more arduous, she devoted increasing effort to the peculiarities of carefully chosen words not entirely unpleasing for her lips, causing her to wonder how she could defend her decision to leave him. A voyeur outside the window would only see a couple pleasantly having morning tea, while inside, a contest of wills was taking place, with servants purposefully standing inaudibly outside the room. The judges.
The tea, which had been so carefully presented, now sat ignored while the couple steeped and brewed. His face visibly showed he’d had enough, the pink draining out of his complexion and spilling over into hers. Time had run out and patience went with it, which he now punctuated by fidgeting with his watch. She thought about who was waiting for him as he rose, vacating his seat to drift past all of it. All of her. She had assumed perhaps she’d be the one getting up first.
Everything in the room felt his energy leave and even the motionless tea sensed the current of his pull. It rippled as he passed. She almost spoke to stop him leaving but elected to say nothing, inhaling deeply while her chest, swelling with each breath gave the only indication of her inner thoughts. He’d left the framed photo of her behind. Alone now, she picked up his tea, added two sugar cubes and finished it for him, feet securely on the ground. A verdict.