Lyrics quoted: Grey Street ? Dave Matthews Band.
"Oh look at how she listens. She says nothing of what she thinks..."
She walks the last stretch home. It's nearly summer, which means their street is nearly not as depressing. Post-war brownstone blocks. Satellite dishes on the tiny balconies. Garbage bags at the door, waiting to be collected.
Once this was paradise. Her uncle and father helped her renovate the small apartment. Two men who shared her tastes, and her unshakeable belief that, in fact, their tastes, their beliefs, their opinions, were in a way better than anyone else's. People she could work with.
"She just goes stumbling through her memories."
She had felt so elated when she carried her new furniture up these stairs. The stairs she now takes twice a day. Once down, once up.
Sometimes, just sometimes, she wonders whom to blame for her life. She always had someone or something to blame. Burnout was one thing. Her ex was another. Most of the time she doesn't. Most of the time she pretends she is perfectly happy.
"Staring out on to Grey Street."
She has to be happy. As the old song goes, she got her cake and ate him too. But she doesn't like to remember that song. He played that song. Once. She had expected a lot; anger, resentment, grief. For some reason she had not expected acceptance. Or indifference.
He'd given her a lot. She also had a lot. But she played hardball, and had not expected him to be better at it. Most of it was still in storage, because where she comes from, you buy your way out of trouble. At Ikea, if you have to.
Where he came from, you accepted that sometimes you watch TV sitting on an old deck chair. She bought her way through trouble. Her father's wallet always ready. He gritted his teeth and just put his face into the wind. It builds character they say. Is that why she couldn't shake this feeling of no feelings? There is no accomplishment in coasting through, is there. And the arrogance of upper-middle class money only carries you so far when it comes to self-respect.
Her old stuff was still in storage. He hadn't held a single scrap back. He just wanted what he thought of as his. It took some time, but deep inside her mind, she is starting to see his point.
Sometimes she thinks she could take that key, drive up to the storage box, load it all in, and start over. But her daughter greets her at the top of the stairs, every day.
"I dream myself a thousand times around the world, but I can't get out of this place."
Her husband was home. He was always home. He waved at her from behind the TV. He was playing a game, as he usually was. The kid was fed, the house sortof clean, so she couldn't even yell at him.
Some philosopher. He liked to call himself that. She couldn't call him on it. He was her dreamboat after all, and what she needed most in the whole wide world was to keep pretending that he was.
But late at night, when she couldn't sleep, the irony of it all snuck up on her and invaded her mind, where it would linger for the rest of the day.
He used to come home like this. He would be tired, very tired, but never as... she didn't know how to call it. He just didn't seem to feel the way she does. In fact, he seemed to feel, full stop. He was annoyed, angry, beaten down, or elated, or just cheerful. He was always something. He cared about... everything. He lived life as if it was his. He owned it. He owned himself. He'd built it with his two hands, and he burned with that tiny flicker of life so few people actually possess.
She never saw that. She saw a life she was not accustomed to, and it wasn't enough. He didn't have enough, ever. He reached up for more every day. But he had everything he wanted, either then and there, or in his dreams.
All her husband had was hers, literally. Even sex with him felt like charity, because charity had been his life for so long it had become a habit, a lifestyle.
"There's an emptiness inside her, and she'll do anything to fill it in. But all the colours mix together - to grey"
He hadn't accepted charity. Ever. What he wanted, he conquered, with a grin and a joke.
But that was ten years ago. And she heard he was fine. She wished she could feel fine. Or bad.
Is that what he meant when he called people heroes? Ordinary people who refused to be ordinary? People who never got jealous, but got going. Probably it was. She wasn't one.
She'd never understood why he didn't want to talk to Danny anymore. She thought it was hatred, but that wasn't it. Hatred is like love; you have to care about the person you hate. She saw now that he'd just decided that Danny was worthless, a traell as he put it. The old Norse word for ?slave', or person without honour, without bloodline, without drive to be a warrior.
And all it takes is that lack of a small, tiny, inner flame.
She hugged her daughter, and looked at her husband. His white T-shirt stained, his face unshaven. His pride in his heritage laughable, as laughable as his grandiose claims about himself. A kept man, and somehow perfectly happy with it. As once she had been kept.
But he would never try to flee the cage as she had. He was happy as a pet.
She had a pet. And a daughter. And a small, but nice, apartment. A job with modest prospects. She liked to think she had it all.
He has nothing. But his nothing is the start of a lot of something. Her all, is all there ever will be.
"And it breaks her heart."