Carving Green (1061 Words)
“I know that I have wronged you.”
The prelude. The introduction. I have wronged you, he would say, and then—you have wronged me, too. We have both of us been like strangers to each other, when we are bound with a union that should have changed our sense to one.
That was the truth. It was a little late, for truth. If all was practical in love as it was in signing a lease or paying a bill, they would both confess, and understand, and be done with it. But it was Eddie who confessed. It was Eddie, who could not understand, and yet wanted that and needed it.
“I have been selfish,” he said, “I have not tried, even a little, to accept you. Perhaps a little. Not nearly enough. I see that; I know it. And I am sorry, Kate. I am so sorry.”
Sorry. A curative word. She should accept it, and heal him, too.
“It is well enough to say you are sorry now,” she said.
There was a mix of fever and fragility in his face. There was something else, too. Subtle rebellion. This was an apology, but there was insurrection behind it, like an assassin holding a white flag. Kate Arber hated that look as if it were at the front of everything.
“But you don’t mean it, do you,” she said. “You’ll go back. You will be hers. You shan’t be untrue, shall you? You can’t help where you put your heart. Who can? After all, I—”
“Kate.” He touched her hand.
She stared at him wildly.
“What will you say?’ she asked. “Let me guess. Let’s pretend. You will say, ‘Kate, she is sick. She’s just a child. She needs me.’ And I will say, ‘And what am I? A stuffed doll?’ And you will reply—you will reply—”
She couldn’t think.
He sat silent as stone. His features were drawn and tight.
“Look at me,” Kate said, softly. “Look at me and tell me you will not see her again.”
He lifted his head. His eyes were dark and full.
“I will not—I will not see her—ever.”
His voice broke. It was a light break, but definite.
She hurt then. It was the first time she had felt actual pain during their conversation. But though he was certain it was gone and though she wanted to pretend it was a limping thing in need of a splint, they were still in love, and that not just in play or name but in fact. In his suffering Kate was ashamed, and wasn’t brave enough to say so.
Mr. Arber raised his hand to his forehead. He looked unwell, or as if he wished some sickness on himself so that he might rest and rage in it for a little while, in physical upset rather than spiritual. And there was no doubt his spirit was being carved like green wood at each new edge of their conversation.
“Are you satisfied?” he asked. “I promise.”
She couldn’t answer.
This was not right. It wasn’t reconciliation, but war. If Eddie had been a rebel through a single look, Kate was like a second Attila with her free words. It would have been wise, if she had tempered her anger with mercy. The friendship between her husband and that crippled girl was, in its curious strength and realness, innocent, pure. But in her own loneliness she cut the raw, living bark near a sapling heart. The wound bled silent but deep, and sure.
Eddie rose from his chair.
“You are right,” he said. “I have never been unfaithful to you. And you are right, too, in the rest.”
She drew a trembling breath.
“I am not yours.” He met her gaze with a twisted exultation.
She stood, too. She took his hand.
“Wait,” she said again, more quietly. “Sit.”
He did not move.
She rested her hand on his breast. She couldn’t bear his eyes.
“I think it is a lie they tell,” she said, “to say one’s heart is their own, to give as they please. I know that it is a lie. Because when I saw you, I fell in love with you, quite before reason or sense allowed it. I didn’t know you from the boy down the road. And yet—I knew.”
He did not answer. He breathed tense and swift, and her hand rose light and fell, on his chest.
“I was so angry,” she said. “So angry, when I began to lose you. A thousand wild scenarios went through my head at first. I would say to myself, ‘Now I will join him—now, we will be together as we used.’ But I was stupid, proud. I was selfish. The worst, the worst was when I found out about that girl. When I saw you speak to her it pained me because, I had almost forgotten—I had almost forgotten what it was to speak to you as she did, as if we were both children, unassuming, brave. And I was not sure enough in myself, to trust you with something so tender.” She tried to smile. “‘Be brave, Kate! Go to him. Love him. Remind him what it was to love, when we loved, and that you love him still.’ But I let you go. I cut you away, myself.’
His breast heaved convulsively. She lifted her eyes to his face.
“You gave me your heart, I think,” she murmured. “And I put it in someone else’s pocket.”
He saw in her mouth and wet lashes, the grief and shame that were his own.
“No,” he said. “If my heart isn’t mine to give, it isn’t yours to take either. It was always with you. It is now—whether you want it or not. Whether I would give it to you, or not.”
She looked at him with new hope.
“I am sorry,” she said, “so sorry.”
There was that word again. “Sorry.”
He took it from her like medicine, and, after swallowing, gave her back the silver spoon.
“I am sorry, too, Kate.”
Written in response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt, “Observe.” Also written as a response to Ross Hoddinott’s beautiful photograph, “Track Leading Through Lanhydrock Beech Woodland with Bluebells in Spring, Cornwall, UK.” Check it out and support the artist!
Image (c) Art.com.