Better or Worse
After six months of living in Store Creek with the cold weather, it was good to finally arrive at spring’s doorstep. Merlyn wondered if that was why Ben had decided to visit today. He said it was a rental inspection. But that was just a joke. At least, Merlyn hoped it was a joke. Although it was two years since their separation, they had been married for three years. Nothing needed inspecting.
Merlyn’s mind was put at ease once he arrived. He appeared to have no interest in checking on anything. He chatted for an hour or two before saying that it was time to return to the city and that he had a big week ahead of him at the State Ballet.
While walking down the dirt driveway, Ben said, “I’m sorry Merlyn. I know you like living here but I’ve decided to sell Nanna’s House.”
Merlyn stopped walking. “Oh,” she said.
She thought, That’s why he came. She knew she had no right to question his decision. She had had the benefit of living in a house she loved with very reasonable rent.
“It’s too big an expense,” explained Ben. “Holiday houses are a luxury. A luxury I can’t afford. You originally said that you staying here was only temporary and that you would find somewhere else in Store Creek.”
“Yes, of course,” said Merlyn.
“I have to do what’s best for me,” said Ben.
“It’s fine,” said Merlyn. “You, definitely, have to do what’s best for you.”
Ben nodded. He looked away towards the surrounding hills and said, “Marry me.”
Merlyn felt she must have misheard him. However, she caught the look in his eyes and then knew she had not. She turned towards the garden in an attempt to order her thoughts. There were many reasons to say, no. Many more to say, Let’s see. She looked closely at the overgrown garden. She never did clean it up as she had promised. It wasn’t laziness. She couldn’t bring herself to interfere with it. It was doing such a magnificent job on its own. The Carolina jasmine was covered in large, trumpet-type, yellow flowers – toxic to children but too beautiful to remove with no immediate danger. Merlyn could smell its perfume, every now and again, when the breeze came their way. Below the climber, the ground was completely covered with tiny, blue forget-me-nots which had spread uncontained for the past few decades. Nothing looked stressed or confused or in need of a momentous decision.
For some reason, possibly due to the forget-me-nots, she said just as quietly as Ben had, “Yes.”
As he was in no state to hear anything subtle, Ben continued talking, “I know it’s unexpected, after two years and all. At the beginning, I thought I’d be better off without you.”
Although a little offended, Merlyn wanted Ben to finish what he had to say. He may not say these words again.
“The thing is,” said Ben. “I’m worse off without you. And even if I wasn’t, I don’t want to be without you.”
He couldn’t say any more. That was all he had.
“I already said, yes,” said Merlyn taking his hand. “Anyway, technically speaking, I said yes five years ago and that still applies because we are still married.”
Ben smiled and pulled Merlyn towards him. He was considerably taller than her. She breathed in the smell of his chest. It smelled good. It seemed so long since she had smelled it and, yet, it was still very familiar.
Pushing aside the overhanging vine from the front door, Ben light-heartedly complained, “I don’t know why we have to have a front door that is so well camouflaged that it is a mission to get back into our own home.”
Touch Me More
The next morning, Merlyn heard the early birds chatting amongst themselves. Even they seemed to sense something was different. She looked at Ben’s sleeping body. He was peaceful. She reached over and touched his back lightly enough so that he wouldn’t wake. He hated being touched when he was asleep. He found uninvited touching and draped limbs annoying. Intrusive. For that matter, even when he was awake, he liked to be touched when he wanted to be touched. Merlyn thought it was a condition common to male dancers who tire of female advances in an industry which, of necessity, highly values male bodies.
She slipped out from under the bed covers. They were heavy and warm. In fact, too warm. A sleeping man in the bed generates a lot of heat and she had to throw off the bulk of the covers in the night. Normally, she slept with a ton of them as the nights in Store Creek were very cold. All the cracks in the floorboards and around the windows made the house the same temperature as outside. It was particularly cold on those clear, star-studded nights when the deep, black sky with its universe of lights seemed to talk of other worlds much bigger than this one.
Quite a lot later, Ben sat in the small kitchen, with its old, yellow cupboards, eating his breakfast. He stared out the window.
“I still think we should sell my grandmother’s house,” said Ben. “I’m too busy with work and you will be with me, in the city, right?”
“No,” said Merlyn.
“No?” asked Ben. “Fine. Then stay in Store Creek on your own.”
“I don’t want to live in Store Creek,” said Merlyn, “but I also don’t want to live back in the city.”
“Where then?” asked Ben.
“Waldmeer,” said Merlyn.
“Waldmeer?” asked Ben. “Why? I mean, it’s nice and all, but why?”
“There is something there for me, Ben,” said Merlyn.
“What sort of something?” asked Ben a little suspiciously.
“I don’t know what it is but I know that it’s there,” said Merlyn. “You sell here. I’ll find somewhere to rent in Waldmeer and you can come to Waldmeer on your days off.”
“That’s no way to be married,” said Ben.
“Maybe not,” said Merlyn, “but we have to compromise until we’re on the same path.”
By now, Ben knew that if he wanted this to work, he had to not insist on his own way. He had already tried that. It led to a total breakdown. This way didn’t seem ideal but, at least, it was a start. He decided to take it. Sensing his acceptance, Merlyn reached over and kissed him on the forehead. He relaxed and looked like he was thinking, Why don’t you touch me more often?