Deadfall, a short romance story written under the pseudonym Lillian White, was first published in the New Fiction Anthology 'A Chance to Dream' in 2001.
Pat sat, staring out of the grime-streaked windows Even if the rain hadn’t been obscuring her vision, she wouldn’t have seen anything. She was staring, not looking, lost in her own thoughts. She didn’t seem able to bring any order to them, to follow them through to a conclusion. Like the steam from the coffee she held in her hands, her thoughts twisted and entwined, held promise for a moment, and then trailed away to nothing. She sighed and looked down into her cup, as if she would find inspiration there.
The café was busy; full of passengers from the bus terminal outside, fed up with waiting in the cold, damp air. Pat broke away from her thoughts for a moment, noting how people always looked for an empty table; not sharing one with a stranger if they could help it. Keeping their distance. As if seeking company was a weakness. Afraid to give anything away of themselves.
A bitter smile played on her lips at that thought. The irony made her want to cry. It was both what she had needed and what she should never have done. To give of herself, and be given something, some feeling, in return. And she had given – for a long, long time. To the same man for over twenty years now. And in all that time getting very little back. No real affection; no tender moments. No support. Nothing that was expected of her. Nothing to keep her strong.
And so, after twenty years of fighting and struggling and hanging on in there, she had finally become weak.
It hadn’t even been an affair. Not even that. Just one sordid, miserable night. She had thought it would make her feel real; like a woman once more. She had been wrong; very wrong. She had hated herself. Had discovered a side to her that she herself had never known before. She had felt dirty and cheap, and worst of all, worse that she had ever felt it before, she had felt so alone.
Of course, John knew. How could she have hidden it from him? He would have heard it in every word she spoke, felt it in every move she made. But he hadn’t needed to. She had told him herself. One final, desperate attempt to make him see her again. She had expected indifference, or more of the awful distant coldness. He had instead surprised her with his anger; rage even. Surprised her that he still had such passion in him. And the terrible, hurtful things he had called her! The wounding things he had said!
Her grip tightened on the coffee cup. The tears welled in her eyes and threatened to spill over again. Had she deserved it? Was she to blame? She just didn’t know anymore. She had been innocent once – was she guilty now? Why couldn’t he see how much she still loved him, despite it all?
Pat finally let go of the still unsipped coffee and stood to put on her damp coat. She stooped to pick up the faded grey suitcase. As she straightened, her hear fluttered for a moment as she thought she caught sight of a familiar blue jacket. The moment quickly passed as she realised that he would never do such a thing – come running for her now. That was the stuff of romance. That was not her husband.
She pushed her way out into the cold, rapidly darkening day, and made towards her bus stop. Or at least, she meant to; a hand on her shoulder stopped her. Her face was full of hope and fear as she turned to look straight into her husband’s eyes. He looked as uncertain as she did. He took his hand from her shoulder and shoved it into his coat pocket, looking boyish suddenly, despite his forty-four years.
“In the rainforest,” he began, “in the rainforest, there’s a danger that the broken limbs of trees, way up high, can come crashing down at any moment. They can be up there, balancing, precarious, for a long time. And then suddenly they fall. If you are in the way, if you’re under it, you’re going to get hurt,” He gave a sad smile; “They call it deadfall.”
He looked down at his feet, shifted uncertainly, looked up at her again.
“I know you’ve been unhappy,” he sighed, “Do you understand?” His voice broke slightly.
Pat couldn’t speak; her mouth had gone dry. She wasn’t sure; did she understand?
“I don’t want you to leave! I want you to come home, Pat,” His voice was more urgent now.
It wasn’t enough. She looked down at the suitcase in her hand and made to turn away again.
“I love you,” He sounded hopeless, defeated.
She turned back to him in disbelief. When had he last said those words? She couldn’t remember.
“Will you come home?”
She found that she couldn’t speak. There were no words to fit the way she felt at that moment. John took his hands from his pockets. With one, he took the suitcase from Pat’s unresisting grasp and with the other, he took her hand and pulled her gently to him.
“Let’s go home,”
In the noise of the bus station and the falling rain, those softly murmured words were all Pat heard. She smiled her acceptance and tightened her grip on her husband’s hand as they turned to go home; together.
She found her vision was blurred again; but this time it wasn’t the rain.