Freya’s bags are in the hall, lined up in order of size. I don’t know why. Just gave me something to do, I suppose.
I while away the hours until she arrives, intermittently working (a quiet afternoon, by IT support standards – I only end up having to ask three people whether they’ve tried turning their computers off and on again) and watching YouTube videos. Anything at all. The more inane the better.
I hear her car before I see it. The lane up to our apartment block – what used to be our apartment block, I should say – is coated in gravel, and the crunch of the stones underneath her SUV tyres is aggressive. Sets my teeth on edge.
The car is too big for her. I’ve always said that. She’s only one person, for Christ’s sake, it’s not like we have a bunch of kids to ferry around. But wasn’t that part of the problem? She bought the car before we’d even sorted out the kids bit. Rushed into it. Jinked it, I thought, but never said. Even now, even after everything else has been said and done, I would still never say that.
I’m poised to leap up from my desk, every nerve strung taut, but make myself wait a few seconds before I go to the door.
“John. Hi.” Her smile is polite but distant. Her lips tight. Her eyes linger on mine for only a second before she glances into the hallway and sets her sights on the luggage.
“Freya. Come in, I’ve got your stuff ready…”
She breezes past me. She’s wearing the knitted coat I got her a couple of years ago, with the fir tree pattern. Bit too Christmassy. It’s the middle of January now, all the decorations have been taken down. Not the main thing I should be thinking about right now – not the thing that should be annoying me – but there it is.
“D’you need…” I reach for the biggest bag.
“I’ve got it. Thanks.” Another tight, drawn smile. My gesture waved aside.
“Well, how about –” I go for the others, but she holds up a hand to stop me.
“It’s fine, John. I’ve got it. You can go back to work. I do appreciate you answering the door, but there’s really no need –”
“I had to answer the door. You threw your key out the window that night.”
I’m trying to keep my voice calm and measured. Really, I am. But she shoots a withering glare at me, so I suppose I haven’t struck the right tone.
“Don’t start,” she says curtly.
“I’m not starting, I’m just saying…” I sigh, make myself take a deep breath. “Look, do you want help with the bags or not? There are too many for you to carry out there on your own.”
“I’m fine.” She grabs a smaller one too, starts wheeling it outside. “Thanks for packing up this lot, John, but there’s no need for this … this display of civility. It’s fine.”
“Not a display.”
She stares at me then, her brow furrowed, her eyes searching mine properly for the first time since she arrived. “I … look, John, it’s easiest if I do this quickly and get out of your hair.”
“Okay.” I hold up my hands and step back. The sarcasm, the resentment that plagued all of our conversations in the end – it’s coming back. I didn’t want it to.
“Alright. I guess I’ll…” She begins to carry the first two bags outside, her stride much faster than usual. She can’t get away from me quickly enough.
I watch her carry the rest out, and though I’m trying not to let my sarcasm get the better of me, I can’t help spitting the words out when she comes back for the final time.
“Why the rush, anyway?”
“I need to drop these home and get to the airport.”
“Yes, my mother and I are going to…” She stops, bites her lip, looks away.
The word hits me like a ton of bricks – I have to take another step back – and she knows it. She dips her head, turns on her heel with the last of her bags and walks away.
Iceland. On our wedding day, we promised ourselves we’d go there. We had been considering it as a honeymoon destination, but a great deal came up for a tour of the Mediterranean, so said we’d do Iceland another time – maybe next year. We said we’d sit under the stars, wrap up warm if the temperature was below zero, and watch the Northern Lights together.
Never made it, though.
Her tyres crunch over the gravel as she drives away.