Sitting now, close together on the bench, after the initial deluge of words and tears, both Grace and Johnny had lost their tongues. She had so many questions. What had happened to him in prison? Grace’s mind got caught on the fleshy image of a man called Benzien – the malignant name had stuck with her – whom she’d seen on TV just the previous week, demonstrating to an audience the everyday evil he had casually sown. She had snapped the TV off, not wanting to have even an echo of that monster’s past in her home, her space. How many Benziens had Johnny encountered? And what had he lost to them?
It was almost completely dark when Grace gathered her stuff and got up to leave.
“Do you live nearby?” She nodded, yes.
“Let me walk with you. You shouldn’t walk alone in the dark.”
They walked together in silence, through the subway, onto a little side street and up the hill towards Main Road. Droplets of mist suspended in the glow of streetlamps clung to their hair and coats.
“You know, Johnny, you were my only friend.” He smiled but said nothing.
“Besides my mother, I had no one but you. You don’t know this, but you made life bearable for me.”
They walked on in silence, but as they got closer to her street suddenly Grace didn’t want him near her house, near David and Sindi. Johnny symbolised her old life. He was a living, breathing ghost from her past, and she didn’t want him contaminating the new.
“I’m okay here, Johnny, I’m just a few streets up. I can make it alone.”
He nodded, stopped on the corner and awkwardly patted her shoulder as she turned to continue on her own.
“Grace!” he called after she had progressed a few steps. “Do you have a pen? You look like an office lady.”
She noticed then his steel-toed boots, the same type her father used to wear. Grace dug in her bag and handed him a ballpoint pen.
“And a piece of paper?”
After scratching around for something for him to write on, her hand fell on the hard edges of the unopened envelope. She pulled it out, briskly folded it over to hide her address, and handed it to Johnny, who scribbled something on it, then held it out to her.
“This is my number. It’s my home number. Phone me. I’m home after seven, usually. I’d like to keep in touch.”
The envelope hung in the air between them for a few moments. Secret upon secret, Grace thought. What was she letting into her life? The past was racing faster than she could run, insisting on making its presence felt. She took the envelope and stuffed it back into her bag.
“Really. Phone me.”
She nodded. “Goodbye, Johnny.”
Grace turned and walked up the damp, dark hill without looking back.
David was frantic when she reached home, bombarding her with a series of questions while holding a crying, writhing Sindi. The baby seemed to be reproaching her too. Grace apologised, blaming the taxi drivers’ strike, and scooped both of them into her arms, soothing ruffled feathers.
Soon anger and worry had dissipated. She and David ate a simple supper of roast chicken, and the nighttime routine swallowed the rest of the evening. In bed Grace tucked herself snugly against her husband, who had, for once, turned in early too. Her arm crept around his waist, first gingerly, then pressing him towards her. She buried her face in the back of his neck. She sensed the shock in his body – Grace was always needing space, always finding ways to needle a little bit of distance between them – then felt him relax into her. He sighed contentedly. She sensed a question in him but felt it dissipate as she pulled him in tightly towards her. She knew she had been difficult for David, who was always kissing, stroking, needing touch. Grace found such demonstrations of affection stifling, an invasion of her body, even more so after Sindi’s birth and an endless need for her mother’s body. She was always holding, bathing, stroking, nourishing the child, and David’s physical needs were too much after days of having her body colonised by this little person. Her husband had been starved of physical affection, Grace knew, guiltily; and at the times when she could bring herself to bear his advances, she had a habit of folding one arm tightly across her chest, as if to preserve some little part of herself.
But on this night, the night of Johnny’s coming back, she needed David, wanted him with a physical hunger that surprised her. Inhaling his sweet, slightly musky smell, she banished the day’s events from her mind, as he turned, folding in towards her.
That night the house on Saturn Street permeated Grace’s dreams. In her nocturnal travels she walked up to the front door, frightened, knowing that an important task awaited her inside. Sindi was in the living room – she could see her through the big front window – and Grace needed to get her out as quickly as possible, but as she reached for the front door, it shifted out of her grasp. Several times she woke, drenched and breathless, only to fall asleep and back into the same dream, while David slept like a baby.
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