It happened at Whitehaven, where that sense of beginning resolved itself into the rest of our lives. We were making love, if I close my eyes I can see this night, see our bed against the window, the gauzy curtain floating toward us in a kind of moonlit dance. Such poetry prescribed to memories – turns out I have this talent too, Ben.
I was watching the curtain and you above me, your beautiful, serious face in shadow, and how your touch felt just as light on my skin. I need you to know something you said as you moved inside me, and I closed my eyes, squeezed them tight, listening to your breath and the advance-retreat of the waves outside. My eyes were still shut when you said, so simply, I love you Anna and I kept them closed to hold onto the moment, to take in your body and your words. Cells and words absorbed, dissolved, inside me.
And I cried Ben. I cried that first time you said I love you, lying there with my eyes squeezed shut. That’s why it took so long to say it back, that was the pause you must have felt, the silence that led you to roll off me and turn away. I returned the words against your back, remember. I love you too, Ben.
I’m in that same bed tonight. Eyes still closed, searching out that memory, embellishing it with ideas of moonlight and dancing curtains. Perhaps all I really remember is the way you said I love you, and how it took too long for me to respond. It turned out we were only ever going to be able to make light of such declarations. Quickly taking out the I from the sentence, learning to hand out love you breezily, this compressed version that would become far easier to say, and to receive. Moving somehow from declaration to assertion. But that first I love you was magic, Ben. I just never told you, never had the language to tell you about champagne fizzing, about phosphorus under my skin. What else did we forget to say across the years?
I am not surprised to find myself melancholic tonight. I have come to Whitehaven for the first time since your death, come alone for the first time, ever. We have three weeks until our little girl makes her entrance, and despite protestations from all concerned – with your mother the loudest – I wanted to take this weekend out from the new life I’ve been living. I wanted the ocean sounds and the grit of sand beneath my swollen toes before this new baby comes. Something to calm me, something to centre me because the truth is I don’t know if I can do it. I’m terrified, and the only place I am not so scared is here. Swimming out into the deep, remember. I am hoping the weekend will remind me of what I used to love.
When I open the front door with the half rusted key, I know I am stepping into my past. There are ghosts everywhere, memories rustling from room to room as I switch on lights and open windows. The smell of salt and seaweed mingles with the musty scent of a house that has been locked up for months. It must feel nice, I say out loud as I listen to the whistle of air rushing through the lounge after I leverage open her doors. It must feel nice to be revived. The ghosts concur.
I have brought you with me, Ben. Packed in my suitcase with my cotton dress and Havaianas. Or perhaps part of you was waiting here already, little flame-flicker memories of you that I have not been able to sit down with in the city. I feel you everywhere in this house, I feel us here, and Ollie. We’re untouched here, Ben. Pristine. How can I even explain it, when our real home baulks and strains against us. Were we only ever truly a family for those three weeks a year, is that it? The ghosts rise up and mix with the dust, and refuse to give me an answer.