Marianne’s younger sister, Rosie, was in the kitchen at the time trying to tend to his arm, but she was quite useless. He stood hunched over the sink, pressed against the cool brass cover of the countertop which ran along its edge. They’d succeeded in getting him to respond, however meekly.
“I… I’m fine. Honestly.” His skin had turned into a pale ivory. His arm was completely wrecked to the elbow with bite marks inflicted by a canine, Blue, an Alaskan malamute. Blue was a ruddy great brute of a dog, sixty kilograms of fur and muscle and appears about three generations away from a wolf. He belonged to Marianne’s older brother, Brian. Blue took after Brian in a way which was uncanny. Brian was stout in stature and double the weight in hair and fat. Both Blue and his master would smack their wet chops at the sight of food and let out the same grunt of affection only gluttony can muster.
The ceramic tiles in the kitchen were flecked with blood which trailed its way through the hallway and out towards the garden. Pete’s eyes were closed, and his breath was shallow.
Marianne’s disheveled voice in his ear.
“I’m so sorry.”
As for Marianne’s mother, Elizabeth, she was aghast, hysteric, beside herself. How embarrassing it was for her! This would surely ruin the rest of the week’s holiday and impress upon Pete an opinion of her family which was to reveal itself in the following months in a manner that she found most disagreeable. And Elizabeth was right: it had ruined things. If you paid close attention, you would have surely noticed a melancholy behind Marianne’s warm smile. Marianne’s family never took well to outsiders. They had no idea about her feelings for Pete or cared to. Marianne ached with the burden of her family’s disapproval for Pete. She felt the opportunity to declare her feelings for Pete fleeting. Now it was impossible for her to do anything at all.
Marianne pressed her fingers tightly against her lips. A silence filled the room. It felt as though you could hear a secret slip between Marianne’s fingers. If you listened hard enough for a while, you might have noticed a second silence in the room. This silence was different from the first one. It was the silence of an unspoken admission of Marianne’s feelings for Pete which, under different circumstances, would surely have matured into the relationship fate intended had her family allowed her to think of anything else but themselves. Pete was to be conceived of as a man who resembled the other men in Marianne’s life, as an object she could never get ahold of.
You see, when you wait a few weeks or a month to allow affections to blossom, anticipation adds savour. But after a year knowing Pete it began to sour during that last week in August at Hamberie. In fact, the silence was so thick you practically eat it.
. . .
On the day they left for Hamberie, Marianne had the car loaded by six-thirty and they were ready to go. It was full to the brim as if ready for the apocalypse.
“Is everything accounted for?” Her mother reminded us.
It was a rhetorical habit of Elizabeth to give a backseat comment and see that everything was organised, despite her not lifting a finger to help. According to Elizabeth, there was nothing more guaranteed to leave a salutary impression than an unprepared guest. Marianne had packed everything: assorted gluten-free biscuits, pot yogurts, wet wipes, disposable camera, a special pillow, a CPAP machine for her father, and a cake and Valium for Elizabeth in the back seat there with a check list of all the above to reassure her mother that everything was indeed accounted for.
“Yes, of course Mum,” said Marianne. The bite in Marianne’s voice was lost on her mother. Elizabeth stretched her slack neck towards her husband.
“I’m rather looking forward to seeing what this is all about, aren’t you, John?”
By this of course she meant Pete Goulet, Marianne’s first love since the divorce. To her family, Pete and Marianne were just close friends. Pete was the manager of the farm which he’d inherited from his parents. Marianne rented and ran the place as a holiday resort, which Pete helped out with.
“Oh yes, we’re quite lucky. Lucky to have such a beautiful daughter marrying such a wonderful man.”
“For goodness sake John, Marianne’s not marrying anybody, we’re going on holiday, remember?”
“Is that right? All the more reason to be lucky then.”
Lucky… oh, yes, so lucky! On Saturday night, Marianne would get the overnight ferry back from France. Sunday morning, she would see to her parents, clean the house, strip the beds, change the sheets, shave John and go home to more cleaning, feed the cats, change the litter trays and tend to the garden. Monday: visit the grandkids of her step daughter, ex-husband’s and prepare them packed lunch with sandwiches cut in perfect geometric triangles along with an apple, one of your 5-a-day. Her to-do list seemed endless:
Take the kids to school.
Pick kids up.
Take kids to park.
Ready for bed by eight.
Sometimes Marianne worried about her age. The fatigue and chronic aches and pains didn’t help, the width of her hips, the balding from stress over the years. Her tendency to complain about Elizabeth made her feel like she was becoming more like her mother every day, and she hated it. On Tuesday Marianne would make cream teas for the local drop-in centre and captain the community bus for an afternoon. Ever since John’s diagnosis, there was something which compelled her to ‘give back’ despite running around the clock. Wednesday, she bargain hunted for furniture on Facebook marketplace or Craigslist despite having just enough to get by. On one of these bargain stints, she collected a chandelier and some 19th century oil painting to give the gîtes an air of antiquity. She drove it home after barely fitting it in the boot, only for her to then lug to France on the ferry that night.
Follow Thomas on Instagram at @tomjgorst. Click here for Part 2.