Chapter 5 : Red Sky at Night
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A rare sunny afternoon finds Andromeda staring out of the kitchen window with an absent smile. It feels so good to feel the sunlight bathe her skin, to close her eyes and forget everything except the warmth that smothers her face. She is alone in a silent room, the only sound coming from the voice of her husband as he reads to their daughter in a nearby room. To her he sounds like a lullaby, his tone musical and soothing, as she dreams of someone other than him.
Today is Wednesday, a day spent like any other day of the week when they all rattle about in their London townhouse and await their fate. The war, dark and unpredictable, passes agonisingly slowly for her as days pass without news, without events and sometimes she wonders if she and Ted are deliberately isolated. Shut off from the world outside because they cannot risk travelling too far away from their home, she finds herself staring out of windows and praying that something will give her a sign. But they don’t exist unless she creates them in her head, counting magpies and watching the sky at night for any clue, any indication that things have changed. But it isn’t to be.
She twirls a loose piece of string through her hands, her mind elsewhere as she threads it in between her spindly fingers. She doesn’t want to be trapped inside her own life anymore, she finds it overwhelming. Everywhere she looks she sees him; he’s carved into the wood, fading into the wallpaper and with every breaths she takes she inhales his scent, his imprint left on her clothes and skin. But Gideon is late, as always, and the feel of him is just a memory. His letters, full of unfulfilled promises, are scattered on the kitchen table and she stands with her back to them, unable to face the truth that he has not returned, once again. Ted has made himself scarce, leaving her to her silence and the wall she has already begun to rebuild. She has to learn not to take it down so easily, to ready herself to let him in so readily.
Hope is a devastating thing; it builds her up so high that when it crumbles she falls hard, dropped into the pit of depression with which she has become so familiar. But, she tells herself, this time will be different, he really will come this time. Dropping the string, she snatches the letters of the table and rifles through them so fast that she receives a small cut, a tiny split in the skin where the parchment has torn her skin. It stings, causing her to gasp and pause. The smallest wounds hurt the most, seemingly inoffensive. She sucks her finger, eyes closed as she regains her composure. Her breathing stills her beating heart, the slightest thing enough to sway her mood. Opening watering eyes, she reads his final letter; it arrived months ago, allowing her time to read, reread and memorise until it has come to the point where she cannot have mixed up the date. She checks the day, the month, the year, and she is not mistaken. Yesterday has been and gone, the sun setting and rising until the mere sight of it brings a horrific sense of dread. He’s not coming. He has abandoned her.
She remembers the day he left to fight, the day she told him she would be strong in his absence, how she reassured him she would wait. But her faith in him has taken small knocks, each night spent waiting by the window slowly chipping away at her hope. She should trust him, should believe that it’s only once, a mistake. But she finds it harder and harder to believe in him and her ability to wait. Perhaps she should have given up when he stopped writing, or when the first time he left her waiting by the window became a second and third time. But no matter how hard it feels to wait, it is nowhere near as painful as the thought of living without him.
“Please,” she whispers to herself, half begging, half praying to a higher power in which she long ago lost faith. Her eyes closed, she grips the table’s edge, reminding herself that she can still feel, that she is still alive even though all hope has left her.
When he told her he was leaving her for the cause, she never imagined it would be so hard, fighting her battles alone. He used to make her feel like there was some point in it all, that no matter if they couldn’t be together they could still find ways to be happy apart. She has given up the fight, the battle for happiness she never felt she deserved. It wasn’t for long, he told her, he’d be back before she could miss him. But how many times had he said those words to her, how many more times can she believe him? This time isn’t like all the others, when he would waltz away into the distance to pursue his own endeavours, distant and mysterious, but she nonetheless had faith that he’d return safely. Not this time. This time, she might never again caress his face with her hand, might never again feel the touch of his lips on hers. No more smiles and laughter; he risks it all.
“Andromeda?” She doesn’t turn her head straightaway, her eyes closed as if prolonging the serenity. Ted waits for her to lift her head and relinquish her grip on the table, his eyebrows frowning slightly. “Are you alright?”
Alright; such a small word, encompassing so many meanings she cannot even begin to comprehend how it relates to her. No, she isn’t alright and hasn’t been for quite some time, in the broadest sense. But she tries not to burden him with her anxieties and instead shrugs, offering indifference. He is not fooled, he never is, and closes the distance between them with a few steps, though he will never be that close to her mind. Laying a hand on her shoulder, he forces her to meet his gaze. She can feel the tears welling up suddenly, struck by a new-found need to cry that only his kind face brings. He understands her, completes her and the cruelness of life fills her eyes with sorrow.
Wordlessly, he takes the letter from her, scanning the all-too familiar scrawl. “Do you want to go?”
“What?” Her lip trembles as he wipes a tear from her cheek. He is too late to remove the old tears stained across her face.
“Go,” he says gently, pressing the letter into her hands. “Go to the station, wait for him there.”
“I can’t,” she murmurs, soulless eyes staring at the crumpled parchment in her palm. “He’s not coming. He’s not coming back.”
“He’ll be there,” he assures her, his voice soothing. “Go.”
“What about the child?”
It’s an impersonal word, harsh and uncaring, but Ted is used to it. He knows she is trying to distance herself from anything that might break her heart; Gideon has made her too scared to give it away. Her fragile state reveals more than she would like; love slowly destroys her from every angle.
“I’ll stay here, I’ll look after her.”
She looks up, guilt creeping into an uneasy frown. “I can’t go. It’s too late, he’s gone.”
“You’ll never know if you don’t try,” he says sharply, causing her eyes to widen. He rarely raises his voice. “Go to the station, wait there and I’ll come and join you when my mother arrives.”
She doesn’t dare believe that it’s possible, she’s scared to leave the house in dangerous times but both she and Ted know she will never rest until she has given Gideon one more chance. She needs to know, to put her own mind at ease. Peace will never be hers whilst she lives in uncertainty. He has to prove to her that she can trust him. The wait drives her wild with anxiety.
Slowly, she makes her way upstairs to fetch her cloak, each step forward she makes seemingly an impossible task, the weight of her worries dragging her down. She places a trembling hand on the door handle, words filling her head as she tries to convince herself she is doing the right thing. His train was delayed, that must be it. His path was altered due to unforeseeable problems… It sounds feeble in her mind, her imagination creating excuses to forgive his behaviour, to accept the last twenty-four hours of agonising worry. Nothing detracts from the broken promise, the shattered trust and the fact that she should know by now how the tale goes. She waits and he disappoints, she waits and he dashes the hope, she waits and he abandons her once again.
She enters her room, tears brimming over, and she takes the thick material limply in her hand. The smallest tasks are impossible and she hates him for reducing her to an eighth of the woman she once was. He took it with him when he left her for the war, leaving only the smallest trail of breadcrumbs behind so that she can find her way back to him and so find herself again. Until then she doesn’t know who she is.
Clutching the cloak to her shivering body, she sinks onto the edge of her bed as the pink light bathes her body. Another night lies ahead of her as she tosses and turns, devoid of hope. She doesn’t want it anymore, she wants to be free from it all. She dreams of being a better mother for her child, a more faithful life and never needing to rely on another man ever again. But it’s too late for that; Gideon has stripped her of all it means to be herself. She wants her life back.
The knock on the door causes her body to jolt, her heart thudding against her ribs. Absorbed in her thoughts, she had allowed herself to get lost in the dark place inside her mind. The door creaks open as she collects her reason from the far corners of her mind in time to look up and meet the eyes of the last person she expects to see.
He stands awkwardly in the doorway of her and Ted’s room, tall against the doorframe and his face cushioned by bruises. They stare at each other, his gaze pulling her to her feet, lovers reunited after a year of separated hearts; Andromeda cannot find herself in him. The softness of his eyes kills her; this is not the strong man she once knew. He is broken.
He steps towards her, finally, and takes the cloak from her hands. “Andromeda.”
He makes to take her shaking and in his own, but she dazedly holds them flat against her chest. “No.”
The word sounds harsh and loud in her ears as it blows aside a few breadcrumbs. She knows she is not herself. Gideon stands there, so close but so far away, staring dumbstruck at her lovesick form. He frowns, confused. He tries to speak, but words have deserted him just as he deserted her. She is beyond forgiveness.
“Do you have any idea how worried I was?” she murmurs, mostly to herself.
“What?” His throat is hoarse and dry, the sound rough against ears adapted to silence.
She swallows audibly, eyes closing as she steadies herself. “You’re late.”
He reaches for her, attempting to draw her close to him. But his embrace is shrugged off, provoking disgust where he once would have created desire. She steps back, legs pressed against the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry,” he starts but she shakes her head, bile rising in her throat.
“Sorry doesn’t… it isn’t good enough, Gideon.” Her voice catches and she desperately tries to clasp at her composure as it slips away. “I haven’t slept for a year, I can’t eat, I can’t think… You never contact me, I never know if you’re alive or dead. And you come here, late, expecting me to take you in my arms and love you like I used to. I can’t, I can’t do it. You left me and took my faith with you.”
Her hands grip the side of the bed as she numbly holds herself upright, the blood roaring through her ears blocking out the sound of the mattress springs as he sits slowly down beside her. He does not make to wipe away her tears, or draw her to him; instead, they sit only a few inches apart as they try to silently close the distance between them.
“I know it’s hard,” he says quietly after a while. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.” She stirs from the chill of her heart and silently places her head on his shoulder. He catches her, holding her to him with his arm around her waist. “I didn’t know what I’d got myself into. I didn’t understand the risks, but I do now. I’ll never leave you like that again, I promise.”
“You promise?” she whispers, lifting her head to look at him.
“I promise,” he confirms, kissing her gently on the lips.
She pulls away after a few seconds, a frown framing her swollen eyes. “You’re staying?”
He pauses, shifting uncomfortably. “No, I can’t.”
“What? But you said - ”
“They need me back.” Once again, the hope shatters and this time she is sure she’ll never trust him again. He grasps her hand, preventing her from turning away from him. “Don’t look at me like that, Andromeda. I’ll be back soon, I promise. You have my word.”
“What good is your word to me, Gideon?” She shakes her head, her voice trembling. “It didn’t matter so much what you promised me when you left me to go travelling, I could forgive you then. But this time I’ll never know when you’re coming back, if you’re coming back. There was never a risk before; how do I know I’ll ever see you again?”
“Stop thinking like that,” he mutters angrily, letting go of her hand and standing up, facing her. “I have to do this, I’m fighting for the good of the country, for the security of your future. What good does it do you to sit here waiting for something bad to happen to me?”
“What else am I supposed to do?” She matches his stance, her head reaching the level of his shoulders. Her chest heaves with pent up emotion. “You leave me behind, Gideon, and you expect me to carry on as normal? How can you expect me to do that? Fine, waltz in and out of my life as you wish, forget the consequences.” Her hands clench into fists, she is seething. “But don’t come back to me hoping things will be the way they used to be.”
Her words wound, he flinches. “You don’t love me anymore,” he states dejectedly.
“Of course I love you,” she hisses, grasping his wrist tightly in her hand as though he is about to leave. “Why do you think it hurts so bloody much?”
She pulls his wrist towards her and pulls him closer, kissing him angrily as their lips meet. She doesn’t care if this is the last time they’ll meet, she doesn’t care that she’s about to throw him out of her life forever, because she needs to make it count. She will make him remember that she has a soul of her own that he cannot take away from her, that she will guard fiercely with all the life she has left in her. She will not forgive his wounds. The scars will not heal.
“Don’t do this to me,” he says gruffly, pushing her off him. “I know what you’re trying to do. You can’t hate me. You can try, but I know you too well. You’re not made to hate me. I love you.”
“Let me hate you,” she says as she catches her breath, flinching at the three words she must never hear from his lips.
“Then go.” She backs away from him until she is pressed against the corner of the wall. “Go and let me live my life without you.”
He growls in frustration. “You know I can’t do that. Just listen –”
“Enough.” Andromeda’s eyes flicker towards the open doorway and sees Ted standing there, his pride filling the space between them. His face is emotionless but his voice is stern. His eyes fix on the back of Gideon’s face. “You heard her, leave this house.”
“Ted,” she whispers, almost begging. She needs him to go, she needs to do this alone.
“Leave!” he barks, digging his hand in his pocket for his wand as Gideon turns towards him.
“What right do you have to tell me to leave?” he growls, gesturing towards Andromeda cowering in the corner. “We’re not finished here.”
“You’ve had enough time.” Ted looks him straight in the eye. “You’ve had years to ruin her life.”
“How dare you - ” Gideon starts angrily, drawing his wand from his robes.
Ted makes no movement, his eyes are enough to disarm the taller man in front of him. “How dare I?” A slight narrowing of his eyes halts Gideon’s wand flick. “Need I remind you who it is who picks up the pieces every time you leave? Who is here to wipe her tears after you leave her alone yet again? I have far more a right to be by her side than you do.”
“Why did you marry her, then?”
Breath catches in Andromeda’s throat, she shuts her eyes as though that will block out his words, shelter her from the war about to break loose.
Ted withdraws his hand from his pocket, wand-free, and looks Gideon square in the eyes. “Because I am far more deserving than you are. I care about Andromeda too much to let you destroy her. I love her. And if you can say the same, then I suggest you leave now. Stay out of her life.”
There’s a moment in which Andromeda fears Gideon will respond, will fight, but he doesn’t. He returns his wand to his pocket and leaves the room, leaving an empty silence between a man and his trembling wife. She bites her lips to stop herself crying out, calling out his name, stopping him, but she can’t. All she can do is fall into Ted’s arms as he embraces her, letting her tears fall on his shoulders.
“I wasn’t - ” she starts, fighting through silent sobs. “I couldn’t – ”
“I know,” he says gently, stroking her hair. “I know. That’s why I had to.”
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by Eva Black