This is how his return was supposed to have been: Rain slides down the window pane with the soft glow of midnight blue sky as they curl up in the smallest ball and forget the times they buried each other alive and pretended not to hear. They forget they did not always resurrect as the same people, capable of the same love. They deny the existence of the Other Woman. He wraps his wedding band around his finger, and his hand around her wrist, binding them together. I am my beloved and my beloved is me. A variation on the theme.
And this is when he would have her tell him that he left starlight inside her, that it became his child, growing all these months. He wants to see her belly swollen with memories of him. He wants to have marked her, somehow, to drape a sheer scarf over the womb and say now we exist in one body, apart of you and a part of me. So even if you walk away again, even if you have the right, I will follow you around forever. And you will follow me.
But this is not what happens.
Her room is a war zone: furniture broken, as if by bombs, lamps smashed into the walls. The bed completely turned over, limp, as a woman with her spine snapped. One light bulb survives, shocked and dazed as a refugee. It always shocked him, the red desperate strength of her rages, somehow so much more violent than even his best fury.
The last time she let him in her bedroom, after she knew everything, after she knew where he spent those Friday evenings on the road, she broke a plate across his skull. And he wiped the blood from his eyes and smeared it across her eyes so they were both blind for the duration of things.
A sudden paralysis: centered on the heart, but also spreading to the lungs. Asphyxiation. He’s seen the heap of wet yellow cloth in the corner, a heap the size of a woman’s body. The sari has fallen back from one shoulder so he can see the long, jagged scars on her arm. He can name them all, time, date, place.
“Penance,” she mumbles, a whisper softer than the rain, softer than heat, softer than blue, a tiny almost-crying that breaks him every time. “You broke your hands for me. Now I suppose that could have been a gesture of love.”
He cups her face in the palm of his hand, as if holding water; shh, shh. Don’t talk now. He moves his hand and she pours back into herself, right through his fingers.
So he wraps her in a sheet, slides his arm under her body. She groans and for the first time he panics. Why is it that he can never remember how to touch her without causing her pain? He carries her out of the war zone, down the streets, ignoring the stares of street vendors and children and old monks. He carries her right up the back stairs of the room he has rented, he doesn’t stumble or trip. She is the one in the cocoon now, he is the one spread around her as wings. His mouth is pulling back from the cut on her neck, just the barest touch, a lover’s healing. A Band-Aid. He brings her wrist up to apply another such bandage, but she stops him.
“I can’t love you yet. Maybe in a week, maybe in a month, this will go away but I still remember her. I do. But I want to go home. Take me home, I’m tired of running myself into the ground.”
Her eyes leak water, she’s raining, he thinks. And then: it’s not rain. Her whisper is the soft, harsh tearing of silk: “Tell me, lover, tell me why I wasn’t enough, why I can’t keep love, why it all leaks out. Tell me what’s wrong with me. What is diminished in my soul?”
And this is too much for him. And he walks into the bathroom, shuts the door, and plunges his face into a sink of cold, cold water, his entire head submerged, drowning out the words he can’t say to her because he’s proven that he doesn’t have the strength to keep them from becoming lies.
All this is done in silence, the silence of afternoon heat, the silence of useless love evaporating. and that’s what makes the humidity cling to the mirrors, that’s what leaves sweat on the windowpanes.