Grace sat down on the couch, on the spot he had made by moving back for her. How easily they accommodated one another – their bodies had their own language of give and take, each continuously shifting and making space to accommodate the other; each daily making way or leaning in as the other needed. Grace was about to shatter this bond; her heart had started its own personal excruciating breaking. Perhaps this would break them open to let the world in.

David reached for her and she kissed his outstretched palm, leaving her lips to linger on his skin.

“I need to tell you something, David.”

His arm encircled her waist, pulling her down. “No talking. Just lie with me for a bit.”

Grace obliged, gratefully. A reprieve, ever the gentleman; even in this he was treating her softly.

David moved onto his side, making room for her. She slid in next to him, facing him, savouring the warmth of his hard familiar torso. Grace felt her muscles relax from the warmth of this body she knew and loved so well – every contour, every scar, every weakness. She put her hand, palm open, against his chest, and watched it slowly rising and falling with his deep, sleepy breath.

She felt the thump of his heart against her hand; constant, steady and predictable as the sun. This was the heart she was preparing to crush. Grace closed her eyes and let herself breathe the spicy smell of his cologne. Here she was again, under his wing. It felt like the most natural place to be –   easy,  comfortable.  Here  she  was,  back  home,  painted with garish make-up and stinking of smoke. She felt good against him, and dirty and cheap. He drew her in. She melted.

“I really have to tell you…”

Her hand lingering against his heart, in the darkness of the room, she tried to find his eyes, but they were closed. He whispered, shhhhh, and kissed the side of her neck. A part of her wanted to stay there for ever, safe in his embrace with their daughter securely in the next room. But it should have been Johnny. She forced the image of the young boy with freckled cheeks into her head, conjured up the dark beautiful face. She took a deep breath.

“It’s okay, Gracie. I already know.”

Her heart stopped. “How…?”

“I can smell it on you. I know you’ve started smoking again. It’s all right.”

Relief, then grief, flooded her body. Oh beautiful, naive David. She did not deserve him.

His warm hands crept under her shirt and circled her breasts. His breathing deepened and he pulled her towards him with a familiar urgency.

“It’s okay, I forgive you,” he smiled.

Grace was transported back to those first days under the oak trees at university, her longing for him then, the delightful discovery that he longed for her too, the friendship that had slowly built itself into something that all of a sudden, one day, became urgent. After weeks of looking and yearning: the moment when they both had to touch, to move into an accelerated realm of companionship that would blossom into physical love.

Their first kiss one night in a friend’s dorm room; their awkward fumbling becoming surer and stronger; the pleasure of his beard against her neck. Beads on the string that threaded their lives together. Her husband. Her baby’s father. She saw it all: the wedding, Sindi’s birth, the tired, sleepless nights that overwhelmed and dragged her into a chasm so deep, so empty, that Grace thought she had lost herself for ever.

David moved on top of her now, warm breath chasing her neck, while tears streamed down her face. He soothed, cooed, kissed the tears away while his hand worked surreptitiously to undo her skirt. She arched her body towards him, loving him with fierceness that surprised her, wanting more than anything for this to be enough. She moaned, forgetting about Johnny, Sindi, her mother-in-law. For a time there existed only David. His body by now was naked and she took in with him the final impressions of the last time.

It was the strangest sensation to one who had felt herself a victim all her life, to willingly inflict the worst kind of pain on one you love. Grace had gone through life blameless, believing that the hand God had dealt her conferred a righteous innocence. Yes, she bore that cross.

She loved, she sacrificed, she did for others. She defined herself by this good; felt herself to be a special category of human being by virtue of the loss of her mother. She had protected those charged to her care, except for this day, when she would become the vehicle of destruction for David. Yet she had to do this breaking, inflict this pain, in order to be true to herself. She was sure that if Johnny walked out of her life she would die.

Grace lay with David, their limbs still entwined, and cradled him to her chest as she told him everything. Slowly, deliberately. She started with the day of Mary’s death and ended with Gwen at the traffic lights. She made clear her intention to leave. She would forever after recall the heaving sobs, childlike, into her chest of the beloved face she could not see. And when he finally looked up, the light was gone from his eyes. To watch a life shatter is not easy, more so when you are the cause of that shattering.

David went and came, went and came, in and out of the room. Pleading followed questioning; bargaining followed pleading. Was she sure? He understood how losing a parent that way could fester, unresolved, and make her do things she  really  didn’t  mean  to.  If  he  had  known,  he  would  have supported her more, been a better husband. How terrible it must have been for her to bear this burden all alone these years.

He could understand, in a way, the thing with Johnny. It was grief, unresolved grief. This stranger had taken advantage of her, how was Grace to know that, blinded as she was by sadness. He could forgive all of it, everything, right then and never speak of it again if she promised to swear off the impostor. Grace couldn’t. By the time light filtered into the living room through the cracks in the blinds, it was over, everything. A joint life, carefully crafted, lay tattered before them and Grace could not help but wonder: was he worth this, at the same time as she reassured herself that yes, he must be.

It should have been Johnny.


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