The tapestry of noise and sensation became its own form of silence for Jenny. The roar of the waves filled her ears, and she loved the gritty thickness of the sand between her toes. She had come here alone, dressed in whatever was to hand that would not have woken Hitch, shaking at the thought of him waking up and asking her what she was doing.
Her thoughts had reached an operatic pitch, pursuing her from the house all the way here to the coast. It had been exciting to drive like that, and when she had walked down here, the lull of the waves and the sea breeze had washed over her anxieties like high tide.
No longer underneath his arm which he draped across her as a gesture of comfort and connection. It reminded her of the padded harnesses that dropped and locked onto you before a rollercoaster started.
He was at his most boyish in confusion, but in time his control would assert itself and he would revert to his default method of expression – cold, controlled anger.
The tranquility of the beach could not dislodge the bolt of nausea lodged at the back of her throat. Her eyes were hot and prickling with unshed tears. Jenny sat there and wrapped her arms around herself, seeking sustenance she had lived without for so long.
He had never raised a hand to her. His voice was a terse, dry whisper and he did not impose or force himself in any way. Jenny could never point at an incident or behaviour to justify her feelings before the invisible court of opinion she carried, but it lived inside her, resisting definition by shifting itself when she sought to tell someone about what was happening to her.
All the things that appealed to her about Hitch had become the wounds he inflicted. His discipline and organisation, once a way to abdicate responsibility sucked the air from her lungs, made her considered objections into tolerated tantrums. She received silence by default, a cold bank of indifference in the space between them. Jenny had been two weeks out from closing the boutique when they met, and his order had been thrilling to her, she ran not walked into life with him.
His desire for order became hers, and she enjoyed the reflected glory of being married to a serviceman. It threw a sheet over her failures and foibles, and in that new life, she never had to mention the woman she had been. Only the role she had taken on, and what it involved.
Being Hitch’s wife was a good role for a time. A life of comfortable, taciturn quiet instead of being a participant in a game that had no rules and no clear winners. The lack of highs and lows became a balm for her.
Their mutual inability to conceive had been the first major test of their marriage. Hitch had reacted to it in the same way he did to everything, which was not at all. He deployed and although Jenny had spoken about counselling, fertility treatments and her own fears, he had offered no insight beyond suggestions they adopt. He had only shown passion in his frustration with the military, and even his political opinions had toppled from the centre into nihilism too polite to explode into anarchy or upset.
She kept a lovely home for him. Her additions and suggestions never held in place and rejected with polite rejection or considered, logical arguments. Jenny’s experience that women held onto slights and grudges with the care that some collected stamps or trading cards, but Hitch would refer to a perfect database of slights and defeats, repeating her own words back to her as though she were a broken light bulb or a dying plant.
When she had gone to a spiritual festival in Suffolk and had her aura read, the teller experienced a canned enthusiasm at how serene her aura was, all cool whites and eggshell. She held onto her reaction until she was driving home where she burst into a fit of weeping that made her pull the car over and sob until her body ached from the force of it.
She had been purple fire once. A chaotic, exciting carnival act that endured long periods of rejection and near-poverty in return for bursts of activity, recognition and excitement. Giving it up had not been a thing of ease, of maturity but defeat. Her life would be a letter, written all in lower-case pencil, left in direct sunlight to fade forever.
Jenny tried to talk things out. Hitch gestured to the adoption papers and frowned at the surprise of her outburst. He recovered with more ease than she did.
The kettle had just boiled; he said and went to make tea.
Jenny was being walled in, Hitch had a detached craftsmanship applied to everything he did, including his marriage, but Jenny struggled to breathe around him.
The stomach shrinks then bloats when starved and Jenny knew another part of her experienced that sensation.
She had ordered art materials, but he had intercepted the delivery, and refused to allow her to open them, already on the phone to arrange a return and a refund. She wanted to dash past him, tear open the box just to see what was inside, but she stood there, tearful and apologetic as he exchanged a brief, friendly chat with the customer service team before ending the call and walking away from her in silence. He went upstairs to work on his models in the spare room, or cleaning the rifles in the secure box in the loft now that adoption was off the table for them. Something about him, but he never said what.
Jenny tried to provoke him, alternating between lavishing and denying him sex. The bedroom had been a warm study of polarity but even that grew to be as cold as everywhere else, disappointing and dry.
Jenny would go to sleep, hoping that a valve in her heart or an artery in her brain would malfunction and she would be free. Hitch would be happier, she told herself.
He already behaved like a widower.
Jenny sat there and watched the waves, enjoying and hating playing truant. She chuckled that such a small gesture had become a platonic ideal of rebellion but she still held onto her anxiety and guilt. Hitch was firing off his worst, possible reactions like fireworks in the night sky of her imagination and so she got up and walked back to the car.
Her phone burped and shuffled inside the glove box where she had left it. Her bowels liquefied as she retrieved it.
Calls from him. Voice mails that started as dry admonitions before breaking down into bizarre rhyming couplets, his voice waxing and waning like he had been drinking.
What saddened her was that she could not find it in her to love or accept this from him any longer. If there had children, she knew she would have found a way through to him and listening to him grow more irrational with each message; she imagined a perfect trap falling on her forever.
There were other calls to follow. Her mother had emerged from the self-obsession of old age to ask her in a worried voice to call and make sure she was okay.
Her brother, asking if she had seen the news and please call him.
Her intuition, no longer pale and serene but far from purple prompted her to switch her data on and scan the headlines.
The fast food restaurant just down the road. Hitch had stopped going when the manager had tried to explain why they did not offer the breakfast menu all day but now it was national news. The videos of survivors, their faces stained with tears and babbling at their relative fortune.
Jenny saw her husband’s name and sank back into the driver’s seat.
She tore her eyes away, looked back at the waves and waited for an answer as her phone rang again.