Grace free-fell into her new life. Every tender security, every organising principle she had clung to in the past to make sense of the world, was gone. She had walked away from the ritual and duty that had scaffolded her life and, in abandoning these, she floundered and flailed like a chick kicked out of the nest too soon. She had jumped voluntarily; no one had pushed her. But her newly won freedom swallowed her into a state of shiftless somnolence. There was work, which she managed competently, without too much thought. She made the journey into town every morning, as she always had.
Johnny found a flat in the suburb bordering her former neighbourhood, keeping his promise that they would be close to the child she would never see. Perched in a Victorian building above a row of thrift shops, their apartment was small but sufficient. They furnished it with hand-me-downs draped with random bits of fabric, hung colourful beach wraps for curtains, and stuck candles in forgotten wine bottles. It would have been the perfect love nest had Grace been five years younger and unencumbered by motherhood.
Her longing for Sindi throbbed like a toothache. Grace pined for her, wept for her. She took a perverse pleasure in the pain of breasts engorged with redundant milk, milk that eventually dried up to reveal a deeper, more devastating pain. She called David twice a day in a bid to see Sindi. She stalked the house overlooking the bay after work, trying to get a glimpse of them as they arrived home, but David was always ahead of her. He had moved the child to a different daycare – she had phoned the day mother – and had changed her routine, while steadfastly refusing to answer the door or the phone. For two excruciating weeks after leaving, Grace lived without seeing her daughter.
This was not the auspicious start to a new life she’d hoped for with Johnny. For the first few weeks, most of their nights together were spent with Grace crying. Her lover reassured her that they would find a way to get the child, brought her little gifts of rose bouquets and trays of chocolate to make her smile. After a few days these reassurances grew thinner and thinner until they shrank to silence when the topic of Sindi came up.
One evening Johnny said, “It’s hard to see you like this, Grace. Can you try, if not for your own sake, but for mine too, to be a bit more cheerful?”
Grace glared at him for this suggestion. Johnny started reasoning that they should see the silver lining, that perhaps it was all for the best. The small flat was all they could afford and it wasn’t exactly suitable for a baby. Living with her father, Sindi had a bigger house, a garden, support from extended family. Neither he nor Grace had the grannies and grandpas to help with Sindi the way Gwen could.
Grace bristled. “You promised. That night in the car. You promised we would work this out.”
“Yes, that’s what I said.” His reply was clipped. “And I would take her on if it was that simple. But he really wants her, and he’s not letting go without a fight. And I’m not the kind of man to fight for another man’s child. I would be happy to have her, Grace, but it’s not simple anymore. Why spend money on lawyers, money we don’t have? His mother has money – he can drag this out.”
Fury rose within Grace like lava. Johnny was right, but to give in so easily?
She stopped talking to him about Sindi, but nevertheless made an appointment with a lawyer, who offered a grim prognosis. She had left the child, unheard of in most cases for a mother, and this fact, coupled with her adultery, would reflect poorly. David held the moral and legal high ground. It would be best for her to wait him out, let his anger cool, and then appeal to his sense of what was in his daughter’s best interest. Grace argued, in vain, that David had thrown her out. No, it did not matter. Her intent had been to leave anyway. Perhaps he would become calmer as his anger subsided.
Adultery. Grace walked away from the lawyer’s office with the word ringing in her ears. This was what she was now, an adulterer who had lied and cheated her way out of a perfectly good marriage. David had never hit her, had not ever had an unkind word for her. She was no better than her father. God knew, the way she felt these days, if murder would bring her baby back, she would unhesitatingly commit it. To live without her daughter would be a fate worse than death.
Grace resigned herself to waiting for David’s anger to cool, sinking into her new life with Johnny. They both worked the obligatory eight hours a day, then spent all of their free time together. Unstructured by the demands of caring for a baby and keeping home, time took on an elastic quality. Days stretched out endlessly in the present, yet weeks and months contracted themselves into what felt like mere moments.
They did nothing much, really. Each was the only planet in the other’s orbit. They’d come home, have a drink, cook supper or buy takeaways, fall into bed. They made love and spoke for hours, both greedy to imbibe as much of the other as they could. For the first time in her life, Grace felt fully understood. Johnny knew how to really listen, to ask questions that no one else had ever bothered with. They explored each other’s minds and bodies at leisure.
The space Sindi left in her life filled up with a love for Johnny that ran deeper and deeper every day. They went nowhere and saw no one. Slothful Friday nights bled into slothful weekends: lacking the structure of work days, Saturdays and Sundays passed in a blur of sleeping, drinking and fucking. They would sleep until noon, get something to eat, go back to bed until early evening, and then venture out on the town.
They frequented bars and cafés, always just the two of them. They drank a lot, laughed a lot. Nothing was hidden; everything was free – they flowed like wine across each other’s jagged surfaces; soothing and medicinal. With Johnny, all her missing pieces came back together, rearranging themselves into some sort of a broken whole. Restored – that’s how she felt. Nothing to hide. With him she could just be. If Sindi had been in it, life would have been perfect.
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