The heavy grey wind slapped across my face as I walked home to my car in the afternoon with the dull rumble of the river beside me and the sting of my hair in my eyes. With every gust my wrap dress would unwrap and lift then tangle itself between my thighs and little bites would come through my stockings into my legs and hip. I shivered walking, underdressed for once and hugged my bag against my side, the dangling arm holding my lunch pail cooling and whitening. The car was warm inside, having been parked outside all day and the leather had swelled and softened with it as I snuggled into it before putting my key in its holder and pressing the button that turns the car on and flinching from the too loud radio over the whine of the engine.
I backed out and began to drive, heading towards the mountains that hover protectively over our little hill and tried to let the tension seep out of my shoulders into the warm leather. Rubbing my dry lips together and feeling the flake of my matte lipstick as I indicated left for our street.
As the tension uncoiled, the tiredness began to set in and the fog of it surrounded me until I was wrapped securely in it unable and unwilling to break free. Thinking of dinner and wanting, wishing more than anything to not make and not cook and not eat anything but instead to crawl into bed and sleep for a week. But like always, I parked my car in its spot and turned off the engine. Sitting quietly listening to the radio for a few minutes as I always do before climbing out, collecting the bin and tapping my heels against the polished floor boards as I clicked into the kitchen and began the second round.
When Bingley's contract ended on his last job, it was of little concern. He's never been out of work since he graduated and has jumped his way up the career ladder as he always planned. And when 3 months later I returned from my time away, it was not so much of a worry that there was not much on the horizon because something always turns up. And we still had savings and we could keep on keeping on. Then Christmas came and the cool hand of it started to play around in my chest at times, as I watched our little nest egg erode.
Then it was 7 months then 8 and I would wake in a cold sweat thinking of it. Thinking how I couldn't support us all alone. Not without many things giving. And I love working, but we're a team, and all of the responsibility would suffocate me in the night until I sat up gasping.
At 9 months the cracks started to appear, and I began to feel each day that someone had a hold of the key in my side and was winding too much every day, and I worried about how many more winds I could take before the spring cracked and I was broken. But when I was at work I could shut it all out. I could be busy and work hard and not have time to dwell or be anxious. I could be good at my work and while the spectre of a looming exam was never far from my thoughts, I would chase my fear of failure and of study and of financial responsibility away and would instead throw myself into learning and procedures and having one thing in perfect harmony.
And it worked, most of the time, until the morning I came in and found out that the gentleman I'd done a procedure on the previous day had died. Had died of a complication that had come from the procedure that I'd done. That had it not been for me he and his kindly eyes and his soft voice would have still had life and his family would still have had warm hands to hold. And all the rest of that wretched day I worked, but the tears would not stay out of my eyes, and all I could think of was how I never see my children and I work so hard and in the end I have taken a life instead of given it. That that poor man's family would
have been called and if he had not met me, if it had been someone else, maybe he would have lived.
I came home that night and sat on my bed with my feet on the floor and I sobbed. I sobbed until all the tears had gone and the spirit had gone from my breath and so the only sounds that came were the sounds of the shudder as it racked through my chest. Bingley came in and stroked my head as it continued until the nausea began and I started retching, all done. Finished. Complete.
And for all those months that I'd planned how I'd celebrate for him, surprise him when he got a new job, of all days it was that one when Bingley could finally lift some of the weight from my shoulders. But there was a catch, that as my sobs subsided in the warmth of his belly as he held me there with my feet still flat on the floor, that started the sobs anew. This new job is away. Far away and he would be leaving in 3 days time. For weeks.
I thought of getting the girls to school and the Possum to kindy and then getting to work and I thought I could do that, that the rush rush rush I had not missed, but I could do that. Then I thought of coming home every night, of rushing home in the traffic and the rapidly darkening day as the sun tucks herself under her golden pink covers and making dinner and supervising home work and tidying and ironing and washing and sorting everything and whatever strength I had deserted me. I was 4 weeks out of an exam. A specialist exam with a pass rate of 25%. And I pulled my feet up off the floor, curled up under the blanket and cried some more.
Of course, eventually I got up, because what other choice is there? I could have lain there forever. I could have used any and all of those excuses for why I just can't do or be. But what sort of life would that be? There is a steely core within me. Some stubborn tenacious sort of fibre that refuses to break, and I set about making things work. I hired a new after school nanny, I wrote up a timetable, I had a family meeting and I had most of all a long, hard talk with myself and I told myself I could do this because there is and was no other choice.
It's not been all sunshine and roses. I can't be the worker I was before he died because he still haunts the periphery so that there's a tremble sometimes when I finish a procedure now, and an assumption that all things can and will go wrong. I have none of the confidence that comes from ignorance and I have tasted real fear for the first time in my life. There is a new quietness, and I was never loud in the first place. I withdrew so far into my shell that I'm blinded even coming near the light, and part of me doesn't want to come out again, but prefers to stay hidden and safe.
I am thinner again. My elbows are pointier and when I lie flat my anterior superior iliac spines are visible, tenting the pale skin above that does not pull taut but instead drapes across them. My belly again has the slack softness where it was stretched by the Possum and faded into silveriness and no longer has anything to hold it out so it falls. My jaw is stronger and has shadows underneath and there are little hollows in my cheeks that suck against my teeth when I am tired. Strangely, my breasts have remained full and soft and have not emptied with the rest of me, I am glad of this, to have one thing left of what it used to be like to be me.
There are lines around my eyes, still faint and not permanent yet, but they will be, and I am handsomer now than I was at 21 or 25. Not that I was or will ever be pretty, but my features are less harsh on this tired face than they were on the pillowy roundness of youth. My arms and my legs are thinner and my feet are smaller too. Who knew that feet could change in size. My hair is nearly down to my waist again and is darker too, and falls out in strands that get stuck in the bristles of the broom.
When Bingley is away I have no appetite and when the exam came I did not eat because I could not. And as I lay in my hammock afterwards, drifting listlessly in the pale afternoon light I was given food and forced to eat it for all I did not want it, because people were becoming concerned and I suppose they had reason. So I ate.
And now I live by my schedule where everything must be fitted in and around and somehow squished into the few hours of each day. And the children are happy and settled. They are thriving on all the routine and are helping. They miss Bingley too, but they know he is coming home and they know how much he needed to work. We read at night on the white sofa with the cuddly grey blankets in the pale white lamplight and they snuggle into me as I choke up reading Charlotte's Web. And I turn off all the lights at a sensible hour, and I climb into bed, feeling satisfied that the washing is folded and put away and that the kitchen is clean and the ironing is done.
And I lie here in bed, in my cold bed with the late Autumn wind whispering over me and I tell myself to sleep, because the tiredness makes my bones ache and I am doing far too much for one person who does not get enough sleep. And sleep evades me, night after night. So I read and I write and I compose stories in my head. And I miss the warmth in my bed that even on my worst days was always there, that I could somehow absorb into until his regular breathing became my breathing. Or the days when the tears came when I could burrow into the warmth and have it envelop me, encase me and penetrate me until all the cold was chased away.
I'm afraid to cry, but also I don't want to. The little thread inside me, the little core that refuses to break but instead tenaciously holds every piece together is intact. And while my skin may be softer than ever before and the legs that are holding me upright are whittled down, there is still a fire that burns there in the middle, and refuses to go out and believes all this is for a purpose. If only to prove that I can do anything, if I put my mind to it.
But I'm so tired.