“I’m not who I used to be.”
“What does that even mean?”
“I need to find myself.”
“You never used to talk bullshit.”
The couple were talking in a restaurant on the edge of a rocky bay. It was a dry summer day, the waves neither foaming nor rolling. They were drinking digestifs after a seafood lunch and since it was a late lunch they were the only customers in the restaurant.
Therese had just cut her hair that day. She cut it shorter than ever before and dyed her fringe a light sea-green. In the bright sunlight she looked radiant.
Thomas hated how new and radiant she looked. Why now, after all these years?
“Ever since I’ve been taking those classes I’ve been thinking.”
“God-damn those classes.”
“God-damn you, let me talk. Somewhere along the line, I lost myself.”
“And to find yourself you need to leave me?”
She didn’t reply. She took a sip of her digestif – why does she never down it, he thought? – and despite the strength of the liqueur, she didn’t make a face.
Thomas caught a sigh from the waves. In his mind, the waves weren’t Maltese. The waves made him think of a boat sailing down an unnamed river.
The river wasn’t somewhere lost in the mystical mist of some forest or mountain. It was a river that belonged to a city. Maybe the Seine, the Danube or the canals of Amsterdam.
All those places felt more real than his wife.
And now, here she was, talking about leaving him.
“What will you do?” He asked with his head bowed.
“I’m going to live with my mother. Then I’m going to start a course and start giving classes.”
“And that’s your idea of freedom – living with your mother and giving classes?”
Living with your mother and giving classes, he repeated the sentence in his head.
“It’s me being who I am. Being with you, I don’t feel empowered.”
“For god’s sake.”
“I’m sorry it’s so hard for you to understand. My idea of being me doesn’t involve travelling and drinking.”
“No, no I don’t understand.”
Your idea of being ‘you’ is everyone’s idea of being ‘you’, he thought.
“I know you don’t. And that’s what hurts.”
“We’re a couple only in name, aren’t we?”
“Aren’t you relieved?”
“No, Therese. Well, maybe a little. It’s just.”
“I’ve been thinking about doing it for a long time. And you beat me to it. Your classes and your empowerments gave you more balls than I ever had.”
“I’m sorry if it stings.”
He crossed his hands in the middle of the table. But she didn’t reach out. She finally necked the last of her digestif and the waitress came to take their glasses.
As soon as the table was clear, Thomas thought, the next Fernet Branca I drink I’ll be drinking it whilst listening to the sound of a flowing river.
I’m free, he thought. But I never thought it would be like this.
I’m not empowered, I’m just frighteningly free.
“What happens now?” He asked with a sigh.
Therese stood up and walked over to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he could smell her familiar perfume. She whispered something in his ears and as she spoke he could feel her tears warming the tip of his ears.
“Ok?” She said as she pulled away, leaving a small kiss on the nape of his neck.
She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and walked away. He watched her leave hoping she would turn around, but she never did. An empowered woman would never get herself turned to salt, he thought to himself. And then he caught himself laughing.