The cold from the bare boards is numbing, and my spine is rigid against the door frame. I reach up and rattle the handle. Locked. On my knees in the dark I press my ear against the keyhole, straining for the sound of breathing.
“Are you there?”
“Yes.” At last.
“Will you open the door?” I’ve never begged for anything in my life.
“Why not?” A pause. Shuffling.
“It isn’t up to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“It isn’t up to me to let you in.”
“But I want to see you.”
“You’ll have to wait. You wouldn’t like it in here, anyway.”
“How do you know? I might. You’re in there, so why wouldn’t I?”
“You’re just better off out there.”
I put my eye to the keyhole, but the darkness is total. My body could use some sleep, but I pray the cold and the lonely hardness of the floor will keep me awake.
“I just want to talk to you. I miss you.”
“You’re talking to me now.”
“But not properly. You’re in there and I’m out here. I want to lie down on the bed and wrap my arms around you.”
Another long pause. Can I hear snuffling?
“Are you still there?” I ask.
“How are you?”
“I’m not sure. I didn’t expect it to be like this.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you won’t leave me alone, for starters. Can’t you give me any peace?”
There sharpness in his voice hurts even more than my frozen knees.
“And you’re late. Where were you, before?” he demands.
“You know where. At the hospital. They kept me waiting. Paperwork.”
“No, I know that. Not then, before. Before before.”
“Oh. My mother’s.”
“Yes, really. Why? Where did you think I was?”
For the longest moment, I wait. Then, “Where did you think I was?”
“I don’t know. With him, maybe.”
“Him? Him, who?” Frozen realisation stabs at my heart. “Oh my god, is that why?
Another silence. Then, “Yes.”
The cold holds me firmly in its grip as I rattle the handle and pound the door with my fists.
“Let me in, you idiot! How can you think that? Let me through that door right now! There’s only you. Always. I love you.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t. It’s too soon.” Misery and love bind us together on either side of the locked door as I press, sobbing, against it.
As a pale stain of light seeps around the windows, and November draws its first, tentative breath, I clamber stiffly to my feet and try the door handle again. It turns with a quiet click and the door swings silently open into the empty room.
The bedroom curtains are open, and thin sunlight falls on a smooth quilt. I lie down, fully-clothed, on a bed scarcely warmer than the floor. The heavy platinum ring on the chain around my neck is bulky and uncomfortable, so with reluctance I take it off. I go to place it carefully on the marble-topped washstand beside the bed, but at the kiss of stone on my hand I drop it, and it rattles like old bones. Cold stone. Cold metal. Cold bones. I lie on my back, staring at the cracks in the ceiling, the silence from the empty space beside me drowning out all possibility of sleep.