LURKER by Gary Fry
He was leaving her again.
Harry had to earn a living, of course—his salary provided for them both now—but even so, Meg missed her husband whenever he returned to West Yorkshire and worked his office hours.
Or did she simply mean that she disliked being alone?
She was unable to decide; it was too soon to have acquired any perspective. Their move to the coast had been her idea, an attempt to flee so many raw memories. And so it would hardly be fair to complain about Harry’s frequent absence.
After he’d moved to the door with his overnight case, she gave him a quick kiss. It wasn’t as if he’d never been away working when they’d lived inland. His job had taken him all over the world, and often for longer than the few days he spent away now. At least she could trust him…or at any rate, she felt she could. After what had recently happened, he’d surely never be cruel enough to hurt her more.
“Have a nice time,” she said, tugging open the cottage door to allow him exit. Morning sunlight streamed through the gap, making her scrunch shut her newly awakened eyes.
Harry looked at her—a little awkwardly, Meg thought. “It is work I’m going to, you know. Pleasure isn’t really on the agenda.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
But he visibly relented. “Don’t worry, Meg. I’ll call you tonight. And I’ll be home tomorrow evening. We’ll watch a film, shall we? Share a bottle of red?”
He was often grouchy when he returned, a consequence of eight hours in the office and then the two-hour drive home. The wine would be as much about moderating discomfort as it had been when she’d resorted to it recently.
Nevertheless, she said, “Sure. That would be nice. I’ll look forward to it.”
After stepping outside into the cool autumn, Harry turned and held out his luggage-strewn arms. “And in the meanwhile, take advantage of all this.” Once he’d paced aside, revealing the glorious view along the northeast coast of England, his smile grew a little more authentic. “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? It’s…well, it’s why I’ve made the sacrifices I have.”
If he meant the additional effort it took him to reach his office, she could understand that, but his words had nonetheless sounded unkind in the crisp, clear morning. Sacrifices—what did he know about that? He’d only been the father… But then she realized she was being unfair.
She watched him climb inside his company car and strap on his seat belt before starting the engine. The sound filled all the quiet in the area, which, once the car had backed away and Meg had issued a mechanical wave, was broken only by a few children headed for school along a path leading toward the village. One of them, she noticed, had scooped up a handful of dirt to lob at his companions, which elicited infectious giggles from all three.
Meg stepped back and shut herself inside.
She was still getting used to the cottage, to all its facilities located on one level. Their city-based detached, sustained by two full-time salaries, had required a lot of upkeep, but Meg had found that more difficult here, because they could no longer afford a cleaner. She’d given up work to have a child, but had always harbored a wish to do so. There were other things she wanted to focus on, such as horticulture and English history, interests she’d placed on hold while toeing the profit-making line of a restless institution.
She had her freedom now, of course…but at what cost?
Meg refused to brood, however. Forcing herself to get on with life (as both Harry and a private counselor had insisted she must), she stepped into the pristine bathroom and showered until any negative feelings were rinsed inexorably down the drain. Something gurgled cantankerously in reply—a subterranean beast, ostensibly hungry for grief—but then she dried her aging figure, dressed quickly in casual gear, and returned to the rest of the property.
There were two things she might do to kill time today: prepare a meal for her husband tomorrow or attend to the garden and all its ugly weeds. She thought for a moment, one hand clutched to her lower abdomen, and eventually decided to venture outside. Something about her husband’s behavior that morning—the way he’d appeared to blame her for complicating his life—had lodged in the back of her mind, ruling out a willingness to cook for him. This was probably just residue of the paranoiac state of mind trauma had induced, but she was nonetheless unable to overrule it. Better to get busy with some physical act, her counselor had once advised. In any case, there’d be plenty of time to prepare food during the following few days of solitude.
If she spent a few hours in the garden now, she might reward herself with an afternoon walk around Sandsend. The work ethic was strong in her, and despite a long-held wish to be free of employment, she’d always taken her responsibilities seriously. If guilt underpinned this feeling of being driven, she could at least dignify it with an honorable purpose. Such an attitude stood in stark contrast with her husband’s more cynical view on paid work, as a means to an end, a way of making as much money as possible, whatever the methods involved… But there she went feeling negative about Harry again; she had to remember that without him supporting their move here, she’d have been stuck back in West Yorkshire, with all its depressing social problems.
Meg gathered a hoe from the garden shed and then advanced upon the borders, like a heroine doing battle with mythic adversaries. She pictured in her mind hideous creatures, all writhing flesh and buzzing sounds…but in the event spotted only a centipede, crawling across the piebald lawn, its multiple legs pumping. She stooped to admire this insect, marveling at how intricately nature built things. Its segmented body was miraculous, all chinking joints and mobile limbs. Its head twitched with an intuitive sense of direction, mandibles or antennae or whatever else it boasted upfront bobbing with haste. She watched it scurry away, amid blades of grass, wondering what its purpose could be. To simply exist, maybe; to just go on and on… Indeed, what was the point of living otherwise?
At that moment, Meg heard more children coming down the nearby country lane, screaming and shouting. Lord, she could live without such racket each morning, despite realizing this was the route most youngsters used to get from a cluster of residential properties farther inland to the school at the foot of the cliff. She’d heard them many times since moving in a few months earlier, but had always managed to shut out their riotous noise. What had altered since? Maybe the fact that, after weeks of staying inside, she’d taken a few tentative steps back into the world… It might be that. Or the change might have more of a psychological basis. And did that mean she was healing? She didn’t know, and was afraid to think about it. She must simply get on with attending to her new garden.
Nevertheless, the longer she rooted out weeds and cultivated fresh blooms, the more this felt like being a parent, modifying nature with nurture. Meg had a first-class degree in history and was aware of rival debates about human action. She’d have loved to craft a person, but her stillborn child had put an end to that aspiration. She and Harry, both in their early forties, were getting too old to try again, and certainly not without risk. Her pregnancy, a mistake engendered by failing contraception, had been thrust upon her, and her husband had also been concerned about becoming a parent. Harry had been (still was, in fact) a diehard careerist, bent on domination in his field, and had assumed she’d held similar ambitions. But she’d been living in bad faith, and had told him so; the prospect of becoming a mother had changed everything, the synthesis of a new Gestalt. She’d quit her well-paid job in advertising and devoted herself to impending parenthood; Harry had grumbled in that way he had, but had eventually come round to supporting her.
And then that had happened.
It was heartbreaking, it truly was, but she had to face up to reality. She stood from her kneeling position and looked out across the majestic bay. The North Sea was a plane of glittering curls, the beach close by a fringe of gold. All the fine buildings constituting the village nestled around a river running inland, with a small bridge allowing passage to transport. With the tide out, small boats stood moored on muddy banks, while seagulls patrolled the skies, their squawks as fretful as childr—
But Meg killed these thoughts in their cradle. Her task now completed, and well before noon, she returned the hoe to the shed and then headed back for the cottage. The property was one of only several on the cliff side overlooking Sandsend. It had cost a hefty sum, and so she had to remain committed to their decision to relocate. She recalled the other interest she’d been thinking about earlier, her passion for history. She’d bought a concise guidebook to the area only last week, and had already identified several aspects of the past she wished to explore in more detail. After eating a light lunch and climbing into hiking boots, she stepped back out into a cool gray afternoon. And then headed off north along the Sandsend Trail.
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