When the woman woke up in the morning she felt rested and calm, as if a storm had passed. She heard her husband gently snoring in the darkness. She turned on the bedside lamp and saw that he was sleeping, cocooned, the gold coverlet pulled up over his head. She watched him for a moment and then carefully slipped out of the bed.
In the bathroom she dressed in the clothes she had taken off the night before – because they needed to bring so many things for the baby, they had themselves packed lightly. When she emerged from the bathroom her husband was still sleeping. It was a few minutes before six o’clock and though she wanted to, she did not wake him. Now that they were here she wanted to get to the orphanage as soon as possible. How could they not? How could they wait? How could he sleep?
It was warm in the room. She lifted one of the heavy drapes away from a window but there was nothing to see: just her strange face peering back at her from the darkness. She dragged a chair across the awful carpet close to the bed so that the glow from the bedside light pooled on it, sat down in a chair and began reading The Dark Forest.
As a bookmark she had been using a photograph they had been sent of their child. In it he appeared to be quite beautiful, almost angelic, but the woman was skeptical, because it appeared to be a rather old photograph, like the ones found in photograph albums, the thick paper curling and a bit yellowed around the scalloped edges. Perhaps it was a photograph they sent to all adopting parents as a sort of lure, and their baby would look nothing like the one in the photograph. She had unwisely mentioned this possibility to her husband, who had told her she was crazy. You always expect the worst possible thing to happen, he had said. Yes, he was right about that, but how could she not? And that did not mean she was crazy. It meant she was wise.
She was wise: It has been her idea to adopt a child. When her cancer had once again returned and any further treatment was inadvisable, and it was clear they could never have a baby themselves – that had been clear for quite some time – she knew that they must adopt one, anyway they could, so he would have a family when she was gone. Otherwise she knew he would be lost.
When the man woke up, he was alone in the bed. Assuming that his wife had once again bolted, he sat up quickly only to see her sitting in a chair beside her side of the bed, reading. She was dressed and looked unusually alert and alive.
What time is it? asked the man.
A little after seven, said the woman. She marked her place in the book and set it upon the table. Can we go now?
To the orphanage!
I’m sure it’s too early.
No. They will let us in now, she said, as if she knew.
Can I have something to eat? I’m starving. He stood up. Let me take a shower, and then we’ll go downstairs and get something to eat. Quickly, I promise. And then we’ll go the orphanage. Is that okay?
Yes, she said, it’s fine. She smiled at him.
He walked across the room. The carpet felt unnervingly texturous beneath his bare feet. He leaned down over the chair and kissed his wife’s forehead.
She reached up and touched his cheek, and then his lips. She looked at him, her fingers once again touching his cheek.
I love you, he said. Very much.
She said nothing but smiled at him once again.
The dining room of the Borgarfjardarsysla Grand Imperial Hotel was designed in the style of a ballroom, the vaulted ceiling was gilded and sprouted many crystal chandeliers, as if the huge one in the center of the ceiling had, like some invasive unthwartable species of plant, sent out ineradicable shoots in all directions. The gleaming parquet floor was crowded with very large tables, all laid with white linen cloth and set with ten places of gleaming silver, porcelain, and crystal. Three of the walls were divided by marble columns into frescoed triptychs illustrating scenes from what appeared to be a belligerent mythology. The fourth wall was punctuated by French doors opening out onto a broad terrace on which stood many snow-covered iron tables. The chairs had apparently been taken away for the season – or seasons, more likely. It was very bright in this room, the light coming mostly from the chandeliers, not from the world outside the French doors, which despite the great white drifts of snow, reflected no light from the sky, which was completely dark.
The man and the woman paused inside the doorway, immobilized by the room’s size, glare, and silence. It was the kind of room that one feels reluctant to enter, as if in one of our former lives some great violence had been done to us in a room exactly like this. None of the tables was occupied or gave any indication of ever having been occupied, so complete was the stillness and silence that enveloped the room.
Can this be the restaurant? the man asked. It seems more a banquet hall. Perhaps breakfast is served in the bar.
The concierge did point this way, said the woman.
I suppose we should sit down and see what happens.
Or doesn’t happen, said the woman.
But before they could execute this plan, one of the frescoes on the far wall was bifurcated as half of the panel was swung outwards into the room, revealing a large woman wearing a parka over her waitress uniform. She made a lot of noise as she crossed the room towards them, and this journey took some time, as she was forced to tack back and forth between the many tables, no path being cleared amongst them. As she came closer it became apparent that the noise was a result of the fur-covered mukluks she wore on her feet; some sort of metal contraption was affixed to the bottom of each boot to prevent slippage upon ice. She paused about three quarters of the way across the room and indicated one of the tables she stood amid. Breakfast? she asked. Two?
Yes, said the man. Two for breakfast. He took his wife’s arm and led her toward the table the waitress had selected for them.
Good morning, he said to her, as they sat at two neighboring seats.
She righted the cups that were overturned on the saucers at both their places and said Coffee?
Yes please, said the man.
Do you have any herbal tea? asked the woman.
Mint, Chamomile, Linden, Anise.
Chamomile, please, said the woman.
The waitress disappeared back into the fresco and very soon returned with their beverages. She had removed both her parka and the cleats from her boots, so she seemed very different, almost unfamiliar. She had also brought them menus; thick leather-bound books that elucidated, in intricately italicized type, all the many dishes at the different meals served through the day and evening in the dining room. This vast menu was composed in the native language with its undecipherable alphabet so that no clues to the character of the dishes could even be guessed at by scrutinizing the many pages.
The waitress waited patiently while the man perused the menu, turning its pages, hoping to come across something that seemed familiarly breakfasty. His wife, apparently daunted by the menu’s heft, had not even attempted to lift it.
Defeated, the man closed the menu and said Eggs? Oeufs? What’s egg in German? he asked his wife.
We aren’t in Germany, said the woman.
Sie möchten Eiern? said the waitress, in German. You would like eggs?
Ja, said the man. Yes.
Scrambled, poached, fried, boiled, shirred? She apparently spoke excellent English.
What’s shirred? the man asked his wife.
I don’t know, she said. Like poached, I think.
En croûte, said the waitress. Baked in a casserole. With breadcrumbs and butter.
Sounds delicious, said the man, I’ll have that.
The waitress nodded. And for your lady?
Toast please, said the woman. Dry.
Jam or honey?
No thank you. Dry.
The waitress collected their menus and once again disappeared through the door in the wall.
Well, said the man. That wasn’t so difficult.
Why should ordering breakfast in a hotel be difficult? She poured tea into her cup.
Because everything else has been difficult, said the man.
The woman did not answer. She appeared to be studying the fresco nearest to them, which depicted a covey of young naked maidens chasing a somewhat obscenely tusked wild boar through a fairy-tale forest. She lifted the cup of tea to her lips but quickly replaced it in the saucer. It’s too hot, she said. She looked down at the cup as if its inhospitable temperature was a personal affront.
They sat for a while in silence, until the waitress emerged from the kitchen, carrying a silver tray on her shoulder, on which sat two plates beneath silver domes. She placed one in front of each of them and then removed the domes, revealing on his plate a ramekin filled with eggs surrounded by fried potatoes and two slabs of very thick bacon and on hers two slices of slightly scorched toast. A sprig of parsley had been added to her plate, perhaps to compensate for its meagerness, but it had the opposite effect, making the dry toast look even more desolate.
The man forked over his eggs, revealing a mattress of breadcrumbs beneath them. A fragrant steam rose up against his face. He looked over as his wife. She was staring despondently down at her plate of toast.
Is that not what you wanted? he asked.
She shook her head a little and smiled, sadly, at him. No, she said. It’s exactly what I want.
They had been told to arrive at the orphanage for their initial visit anytime between ten o’clock and noon. The concierge was able to arrange a taxi to pick them up and it was waiting for them outside the hotel when they emerged from the ballroom after finishing their breakfast. The woman had wanted to go up to their room to use the bathroom and put some makeup on her pale face, but she was afraid the taxi might not wait for them, and although the man said of course it would, she insisted they get into it and leave immediately.
The hotel was at the very center of the old town, and the streets around it were extremely narrow, made even narrower by the towering piles of snow, so the taxi drove slowly. The town seemed eerily under-populated; many of the stores were vacant, their glass windows empty or occupied by a desolate naked mannequin staring out at the cold world.
The streets grew wider nearer the outskirts, and what little charm the old city had was replaced by a modern ugliness of concrete and glazed brick, but it wasn’t long before they had left the town behind and were on a country road, bounded by snow-covered fields on one side and a forest on the other. They drove for a quite a while through this unchanging landscape until a building appeared before them on the side with the fields, surrounded by a wall of very tall fir trees. It was set quite far back from the road, and the car turned off onto a narrow driveway and drove toward the house, passing through a gap between two trees that were spaced a bit further apart than the others, but whose branches nevertheless entwined, forming a portal. Crows – or ravens; some dark large cawing bird – erupted from the trees as the car passed beneath them and flapped off, complainingly, over the empty fields.
The building they approached had the appearance of a manor house. It was three stories tall and made of stucco painted pale green. There was no sign or any other indication that the building was an orphanage and not a private home except for the sterility of its unadorned façade, whose starkness was vaguely institutional. Smoke rose from two chimneys that protruded from the slate-shingled roof.
The taxi drew up before the unassuming front door, which was raised above the level of the drive by a few stone steps, which had been carefully swept of the snow and sprinkled with dirt. The man, who was attempting to hew to his new philosophy of assuming the best in all situations, was heartened by these signs of hospitality and preparedness. They both got of the car and the woman walked quickly to edge of the gravel drive and leaned over, placing her hands on her knees. As her husband watched, she released a geyser of vomit onto the bank of snow. After a moment she straightened up, though she remained facing away from him, looking toward the wall of trees that surrounded the building. She raised one of her hands in the air with her fingers extended, as if she were taking an oath. It was a gesture the man knew well: it meant she wanted to be left alone. So, instead of going to her, he walked around the car to the driver’s window, which unrolled as he approached. The concierge had informed him of what the trip should cost, and the man gave this amount to the driver, plus a little extra. He asked the driver if he would wait a moment, in case there was some problem gaining access to the building, and the driver nodded agreeably but drove away as soon as his window was shut. The man ran a few steps after the car, waving his arms and calling out, but the taxi took no notice of him and sped away through the arch in the trees.
What are you doing? asked the woman. She had turned away from the trees and was panting slightly: the effort of vomiting had exhausted her. Did you forget something?
No, said the man. I asked him to wait.
In case we can’t get in. Or in case this isn’t it.
Of course it’s it, said the woman.
It doesn’t look like an orphanage, said the man.
Have you ever seen an orphanage before?
No, the man admitted. Well, in movies.
Probably starring Shirley Temple, said the woman.
Are you all right? asked the man. You were sick.
Yes, I was sick, she said. You’re very observant. She raised her hand and wiped the back of her leather glove across her lips.
The combination of the taxi driver’s betrayal and his wife’s recalcitrance momentarily defeated the man, and he knelt down on the hard-packed snow that covered the gravel drive. For the first time, he allowed himself to feel how exhausted he was. He wished he could lie down on the ground and fall asleep.
After a moment the woman walked over to him. She reached down and lay her hand upon his head. His thick brown hair had recently begun to turn gray, and she noticed that it seemed suddenly much grayer than it had been. Was it because she was looking down at it? Or had the trials and tribulations of their journey hastened the process?
I’m sorry, she said. We just need to do this.
Yes, said the man.
Are you ready? asked the woman.
Yes, said the man.
Then come, she said. Let’s do it. Let’s find our child.
She reached out her hand. She had not replaced her glove. The man stood up and removed his own glove before grasping hers, and she led him towards the stone steps, which were sheltered by a glass marquee that had obviously been added to the house after its origin and was now covered with at least a foot snow. When they stood on the small landing outside the door she asked him again if he was ready. He told her that he was. She rang the bell beside the door, which was the old-fashioned kind that must be pulled and released. They heard nothing through the thick door and walls.
They waited what seemed like a long time, and the woman had reached out and was just about to pull on the bell again, when the door was flung open. A very tall, black woman stood before them. She was wearing a dress similar to a caftan, but it hung closer than a caftan to her tall thin body. It was made from a boldly patterned fabric of giant mutant flowers in startling shades of orange, green, and purple, and was the brightest and warmest thing that both the man and the woman had seen since arriving in this place.
Webegodden, she said. You are welcome here. She smiled brilliantly at them – her teeth were fascinatingly white, as white as the fields of snow that surrounded the house – and stood aside, holding the door open. They passed through, the woman first, the man after her. When they were both inside the foyer the woman quickly shut and bolted the door behind them. The foyer they stood in was small but had a very high ceiling; a staircase circled up above them to the third floor, where a pale snow-covered skylight dully shone. One either side of the foyer were large paneled doors, above each door was a transom of colored glass. The woman who greeted them opened one of these doors by pushing it into a pocket in the wall, revealing large room full of Biedermeier furniture.
Please, she said, indicating with her pink-palmed hand the room she had revealed. The man and the woman entered the room, which was large and bright, and it was, for both of them, like entering a sanctuary. The walls were painted pale pink and all the furniture was upholstered in yellow silk; the lamps were lit and a thriving fire burned exuberantly in the fireplace. On the mantle above it a large golden clock encased within a glass dome reassuringly marked the passage of time with whirring gears and a ticking heartbeat. A round table stood in the middle of the room; it was highly polished and inlaid with a garland of fruitwood. On it a small forest of narcissi rose out of a low gold bowl filled with gravel and leaked their peppery scent into the air. Two small golden carp swam in an apparent endless pursuit of each other in a round glass bowl. In one corner of the room, an ornate wire cage was suspended on a chain from the ceiling; in the cage a large scarlet, blue, and yellow parrot regarded them silently, sucking the inside out of a large purple grape it held in its claw.
Please, sit, the woman said, indicating the largest of the sofas, which was placed before, but not too close to, the fireplace. The man and the woman sat and the woman stood before the fire, smiling at them once again.
You are very welcome here, she said.
Thank you, the man said.
It isn’t what I expected, said the woman.
No? What did you expect?
I don’t know, said the woman, looking around the room. But flowers – how beautiful everything is!
The woman smiled again and said, So, you have come to see Brother Emmanuel?
Brother Emmanuel? asked the woman.
Brother Emmanuel! the man exclaimed.
Yes, the woman said. Haven’t you come to see Brother Emmanuel?
No – no, said the man.
We’re here to see Tarja Uosukainen, said the woman. Isn’t this the orphanage? She stood up from the sofa and looked wildly around the room as if this person, this Tarja Uosukainen, might suddenly appear from behind the drapes or beneath one of the other sofas. But no one appeared, and the woman fell back onto the sofa.
Their hostess remained standing in front of the fireplace. Her beaming smile had faded but she still wore a pleasant expression on her serene face. She regarded both the man and the woman calmly.
I think a mistake has been made, the man said, and laid his hand on his wife’s arm. Brother Emmanuel is a faith healer. The woman at the hotel told me about him last night. He felt for a moment that he wanted to lay his hand on her mouth, cover it, silence her, but stopped himself in time.
He is not a faith healer, said their hostess. He is an angekok.
The woman rose quickly from the sofa, so quickly that she lost her balance and fell forward. Their hostess caught her and gently reseated her upon the sofa, and then she dropped to her knees before the woman. She took both of the woman’s hands in her own and looking intently and directly into her face said, Please, don’t despair. Take a deep breath. Now, please. A deep breath.
The woman took a breath but pulled her hands away. Where are we? she said.
You are at Brother Emmanuel’s, said their hostess. You are safe here. Everyone is safe here. It is a good, safe place.
We wanted to go to the orphanage, said the man. I suppose the taxi driver made a mistake.
I don’t think there has been a mistake, said their hostess. She rose to her feet, but placed one of her hands on the woman’s shoulder. Will you please wait here? Just for a moment, I promise you. She left the room and slid the large wooden door shut behind her.
I think a mistake has been made, said the man. The taxi driver made a mistake and brought us here instead of to the orphanage.
But why? Why would the taxi take us here? Didn’t you tell them –
Yes, said the man. It’s the language, I suppose. The concierge misunderstood. Perhaps the words are similar – orphanage and . . . what did she say he was?
Some kind of kook, said the woman.
It’s just a mistake, said the man. Don’t worry. We’ll call a taxi from here and go directly to the orphanage.
The woman nodded but said nothing. She sat with both feet planted firmly on the floor and her hands clutched in her lap. Her face was turned away from the man, toward the table in the center of the room. She watched the fish languidly revolve in the bowl. The man shifted closer to her along the settee and attempted to separate her clutched hands, but she said, Please don’t touch me, in an odd voice, deep and choked with pain or tension.
Just wait a moment, he said. Just wait until that woman comes back. There’s nothing we can do without her.
The woman keeled forward so her head was bowed above her lap. She put her hands on top of her head and seemed to want to pull her head closer to her body, roll herself up into something small and discardable.
The man tried to unwind her body but then remembered that she had told him not to touch so he let her be.
Please, he said. Please try to collect yourself. Please, for my sake. I can’t –
You can’t what? the woman asked him. You can’t bear this? You can’t bear me?
No, said the man. Why do you always – No. Please, what do you want? Just tell me what you want.
Before the woman could answer they both suddenly became aware of another presence in the room, even though they had not heard the panel door slide open. They turned and saw a man standing midway between the door, which was closed, and their sofa. He looked rather young and was very tall and thin. Perhaps because his head was bald (or shaved), his skull and the bones and cartilage of his face seemed unnervingly apparent, as if his skin was one size too small, and was being stretched to a preternatural smoothness, or taughtness, by the bones beneath it. His eyes were dark and intense; his nose was aquiline verging on hawk-like, and his mouth was small, his lips very pale. He wore a black, floor-length tunic that was tightly fitted above the waist, emphasizing the slenderness of his upper body. It buttoned diagonally across his chest, from the left hip to the right shoulder, with gold vermeil buttons.
Suddenly the parrot, which had been quietly sulking on one of its perches, fluttered its large wings, and called out an ecstatic greeting. It leapt up and clutched itself against the bars of the cage and battered the air with its impotent wings.
Brother Emmanuel walked quickly toward the cage and touched the bird with a finger. Requiescat in pace, Artemis, he said, and the bird made another, deeper, less avian sound, almost like a sigh, and returned to its perch.
Brother Emmanuel then turned away from the cage and faced the two people on the sofa. He looked at them for a moment, as if he was only now seeing them, and they both looked at him, and for a moment time suspended itself, and nothing moved, except for the fish circling the bowl and the tiny insistent flakes of snow falling and rising gently outside of every window. And the ticking gears in the gold clock.
The strange moment passed, and Brother Emmanuel said, I understand there has been a mistake.
Well, yes, said the man. Perhaps –
We are supposed to be at the orphanage, said the woman. This isn’t the orphanage. She said this accusingly, as if Brother Emmanuel had somehow suggested it was, or was trying to duplicitously pass it off as an orphanage.
No, said Brother Emmanuel. You are correct. This is not an orphanage. And yet you are here. Something has brought you here. I am Brother Emmanuel.
The taxi driver, the man said. I suppose he misunderstood. Could you perhaps call a taxi for us?
Of course, said Brother Emmanuel. If that is what you wish. But does it not occur to you that perhaps you are meant to be here? That no mistake was made?
No, said the man. That had not occurred to me.
And you? Brother Emmanuel looked at the woman.
She was watching the snow fall outside the window and seemed not to hear him.
Brother Emmanuel waited. He stood very still and looked intently at the woman. Finally, she turned away from the window and looked directly at him. A log in the fireplace collapsed and sent a shower of chittering sparks up the chimney. The sudden commotion in the fire made the man flinch, but neither Brother Emmanuel nor the woman seemed to notice it.
Am I meant to be here? the woman asked.
Brother Emmanuel said nothing.
What is it you do here? Or pretend to do?
Brother Emmanuel smiled almost imperceptibly. You’re very angry, aren’t you?
Of course I’m angry, said the woman. We are not where we are supposed to be. We have been taken to the wrong place. Either mistakenly or maliciously, I don’t know, and I don’t care. We are in the wrong place!
This is my home, said Brother Emmanuel. It is never the wrong place. No one comes here by accident, or is misplaced here. One moment, and I will have my helpmate call you a taxi. It is not terribly far to orphanage. You will be there in no time at all.
The man and the woman said nothing to each other in the taxi on their way to the orphanage. The sky was no longer night-dark, but remained completely covered with low, densely opaque clouds. They sat close to the doors on either side of the car and left an expanse of seat empty between them, and both watched out their separate windows at the white fields passing by.
The taxi was driven by the same man who had brought them to Brother Emmanuel’s, but no one alluded to this prior journey they had made together. The taxi retraced its original route back into the town, through the narrow streets, past the hotel, and then crossed over a bridge that spanned a frozen river into countryside that mirrored that on the city’s opposite flank. They traveled about a mile in this direction and then the taxi pulled off the road and stopped in front a two-story building that looked like a school. Its large windows were symmetrically arranged across its façade, which was covered in yellowish plaster that was, in several places, peeling away in large strips, revealing a wall of cinderblocks.
The driver turned around and said Orphanage, and pointed at the building. The man leant forward and gave money to the driver and then got out of the taxi, but the woman remained seated inside, so he walked around to the other side of the car and opened the door.
Let’s go, he said. We’re here.
The woman looked up at him and said, I’m a little afraid.
Afraid? he asked. Of what?
I don’t know, she said.
We’re finally here, the man said. It’s not the time to be afraid. It’s the time to be happy. Come, he said, and held out his hand.
She turned and looked at him. What if . . . she began, but then stopped.
What if what? the man asked.
She shook her head. Nothing, she said. She did not take his hand, but lifted herself out of the car, and stood beside him. The man shut the door of the car and the taxi drove away. They both stood and watched it disappear down the road, back toward the town, as if it was deserting them.
Well, said the man. Shall we go in? He held out his hand and the woman paused for a moment, regarding it, as if she was not sure what his presentation of it meant.
Take my hand, he said. Please.
She reached out her hand and grasped his, and then they walked up to the front doors of the building, on which was spelled out in those cheap adhesive letter that are bought one by one in a hardware store:
st barnabas orphanage
There did not appear to be a bell or a buzzer so the man rapped loudly on the frosted glass panel of the door.
They’ll never hear that, the woman said, and knocked loudly on the wooden part of the door, which was almost immediately opened by a woman wearing a white nurse’s uniform. She also wore white shoes and a white paper cap was bobby-pinned to her obviously dyed red hair.
Hello, she said. She opened the door wider and stood aside and the man and the woman entered, finding themselves in a large foyer with floor covered with linoleum tiles in a checkered pattern of red and beige. Two staircases, one on either side of the room, rose up to the second floor, where a gallery connected them.
You speak English? the nurse asked.
Yes, said the man. We do.
Welcome to St Barnabas, said the nurse. May I help you?
We had an appointment, said the man. At ten o’clock this morning, and I’m afraid we’re late.
We were taken to the wrong place, said the woman. It was the fault of the cab driver. We got here as quickly as we could . . .
Of course, said the nurse. There is no need to worry. Perhaps you will sit here and I will see if Dr Ludjekins can see you now. She indicated one of two pew-like wooden benches built into the wall on either side of the front door.
The man and the woman sat down on the bench and watched the nurse disappear through a door between the two staircases.
After about five minutes the nurse reappeared. She held her hands clasped in front of her breast and shook them a little, in a gesture of supplication. I am so sorry, she said. But Dr Ludjekins is not here any longer. He will be back tomorrow, and I am sure he will be happy to see you then. You come back tomorrow?
Of course, said the man. He stood up. What time tomorrow?
Perhaps the time of your original appointment, said the nurse. I think that would be nice.
The woman had remained seated on the bench with her hands still tightly clasped in her lap.
Can we see the child? she asked. Our child?
The child? asked the nurse.
Yes, said the woman. The child. The baby we have come here to adopt.
Oh, said the nurse. Forgive me. I misunderstood. No, I am afraid you cannot. It is only with Dr Ludjekins that you can see her.
Him, said the wife.
Yes, him, said the wife. The child we are adopting is a boy. Not a girl.
Of course, said the nurse. I am sorry. I don’t understand. Dr Ludjekins, tomorrow, will help you I am sure. I can be of no help today. I am sorry.
No, thank you, said the man. You’ve been very helpful. We will come back tomorrow.
Why can’t we see our baby? asked the woman. She stood up. We have come so far –
Darling, it’s all right, said the man. Tomorrow. We’ll see him tomorrow. One more day. Would you call us a taxi? he asked the nurse.
Of course, said the nurse. Where do you go?
To the Borgarfjardarsysla Grand Imperial Hotel, said the man.
Of course, said the nurse. I will call now. A taxi will come in any minute. She turned away from them and hastened back through the doors.
For a moment neither the man nor the woman said anything. The man took a few stops across the foyer, carefully only stepping on red tiles. He stopped his hopping journey across the foyer when he heard his wife speaking behind him. He turned back towards her, but kept both feet on red tiles.
You didn’t support me, she said. You never support me.
What? he asked.
When I asked to see him. You didn’t support me. I’m sure if you had supported me, we could have seen him. She would have showed him to us.
I don’t think so, said the man. She said only the doctor could show him to us –
I know that’s what she said. But it doesn’t mean anything. If you had supported me, if you had told her we had to see him, if you had given her some money –
Yes: money. You don’t understand how anything works! If you had given her some money, a few kopeks or schillings or whatever it’s called here, I’m sure she would have brought us to him.
We’ll see him tomorrow, said the man.
The woman sighed. She pushed open the door and left the building, allowing the door to shut behind her.
The man stood there for a moment, regarding the closed door. He could see his wife’s shadow figure, standing just beyond the smoky glass. He realized he still had his feet ridiculously splayed on separate red tiles and slid them back together.
When they returned to their hotel room the woman, exhausted from their travels and travails, once again stripped down to her silken underwear and got into bed.
Don’t you want some lunch? the man asked.
No, the woman said. I just want to sleep.
I’m hungry, the man said. I’m going down to the restaurant. Should I bring you back something? You’ve got to eat.
I’m not hungry. Just go. She drew the gold coverlet up over her face. The man stood there for a moment, as if there was something else he could do, or say, but could think of nothing, so he went down to the lobby.
The restaurant was closed. A chain hung across the open doorway from which depended a small sign that said CLOSE. The man looked into the vast, empty space. The lights were all turned off and the room was almost dark, although it was only the middle of the afternoon.
This is an extract from What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron, out with Catapult.
Image © Matt Trollen