When I See Your Face, Part 25
Cutting onions into thin rings, halving baby tomatoes, slicing a green bell pepper and washing huge salad leaves as well as dark olives felt like a surprisingly attractive pastime. Michael was in the upstairs bathroom, having a shower. The TV was on in the living-room. She wasn’t listening. Rather, her thoughts were on today’s happenings.
Infected by his energy, she had let him take over. They had gone to Aunt Grindle’s place, telling her frankly about her situation and plans. The old lady had at first protested vehemently against her moving out, saying the guest apartment was empty anyway and she didn’t want any rent for it. Together, they had persuaded her that his idea was better for all, going up to pack. In the few minutes that it had taken her to stuff her meagre belongings into the suitcase, Aunt Grindle and Michael had been murmuring to each other downstairs. Her landlady hadn’t let them go before serving them two huge helpings of lunch and making Cathy promise that she would visit and share some of her cakes.
Their next stop had been the shop where he had loaded a basket full of provisions on his expense, swatting her hand away when she had wanted to pay. They had used the opportunity to check with Bertha whether they could put up some posters. He had also persuaded her to tell everybody she knew that Cathy would soon present her cake creations to them.
The rest of the afternoon had been spent with both of them cleaning the smaller of the two downstairs bedrooms, dusting and mopping and dressing the ornately carved four-poster bed that she loved from first sight. For the better part of the day, Michael had been whistling cheerfully and she had been filled with more energy than she had thought it possible after the bad financial news some days ago. Forgotten were the personal items she had had to sell, forgotten her gloom of giving up her business idea.
After showering, she had taken over the kitchen and shooed him away. He had clearly looked pleased to be excused from preparing dinner, saying that all he was good for was heating up ready-made food or making a vegetable soup, scrambled eggs and sandwiches.
With astonishing energy, she tossed the ingredients of the salad in olive oil and vinegar, added some salt and pepper and checked on the two steaks that were frying in a pan, sizzling away quietly. She had already boiled some potatoes and now surveyed their dinner critically. It would do. Pity they didn’t have anything for dessert. She made a mental note to herself to grab some ice-cream, jelly and fruits from the shop the next time, standing on her tip-toes to search the overhead cupboards for a salad bowl.
A warm hand touched the small of her back, making her squeal and wheel around, balancing herself against the counter at the last moment.
“Jeez, did you have to scare me so?”
She laughed despite herself, her spine still tingling from where he had touched her. He grinned sheepishly, sniffing the air.
“Dinner smells promising.”
“It’s nothing special.”
“It is for me. It’s been ages since I last had somebody over for dinner, or any meal for that matter. I wouldn’t care if we had burned sausages and stale bread for dinner.”
She smacked his arm playfully.
“Is that how highly you think of my cooking skills?”
“Sorry, sorry. Didn’t mean to offend you.”
He leaned against the counter next to her, watching her stretch for the salad bowl again, wash it and fill it. She was aware of his eyes on her, but didn’t feel nervous or shy. Strangely enough, being in his kitchen and sharing banters with him like this felt like the most normal thing in the world. It was as though they had known each other for a long time, as though they were a happily married couple in their home, hatching out future plans together.
When she caught herself thinking this, she actually blushed, hoping the hair falling into her face would hide it from him. She busied herself with searching for two bowls from which they could eat the salad.
Michael’s eyes were still on her every move.
“Are you happy, love?”
His question hit her out of the blue. She actually froze with one glass bowl in her hand, arm in mid-air. Collecting her courage and looking him straight in the eye, she answered, “Happier than I have been in months.”
He practically glowed at that response before, totally unexpected, his face darkened and there was a frown etched into his high forehead.
“Didn’t your husband ever make you happy?”
She put the bowl down hard. She bit her lip, reluctant to chase the cloud of happiness and ease away.
“I don’t know. No, I guess not. Maybe I was happy in the beginning, or at least I thought I was happy. Finally I woke up and realized that I was living a life not meant for me.”
The hurt on his face mirrored the hurt inside her, as though he could feel her pain.
“Isn’t there anything good to say about him?”
“Oh, you know, I refuse to see him as a bad person in general. Granted, he’s abusive. But don’t we all have a bad or dark side to us? Apart from that, Mark’s a charming man. Full of confidence and intelligence. He’s an incredibly successful businessman, one of the stars in his field and admired by many, ladies and gents alike. He knew what a woman expects when being courted, though I dare say he had no idea what she expects after marriage.”
He was staring at her as if she had grown a second head.
“Why in the hell would you defend him like that?! How could you mention his abusiveness in a passing sentence as though it were nothing?”
“Just because he didn’t treat me nicely doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person in general, you know. He…”
Now he clearly looked angry.
“Didn’t treat you nicely? Why are you so keen on polishing his image if he obviously ruined your life? Admit his wrongs! Admit the injustice done to you! Did he shout at you? Make you do things you didn’t want to? Hit you?”
She felt herself growing smaller under his heated gaze and furious face. Why did she have the feeling that he was taking this much too personally? Was it because he loved her?
“Actually, all of that,” she answered in a soft voice.
His fist hit the counter, startling her. For a second, his angry face resembled her husband more than ever before, causing an uneasy feeling inside her, something not unlike foreboding.
“How can you try to find good sides to such a…a creature? This is not a man, it’s a monster! Not only has he abused you physically and mentally, he has also stolen your chance at being who you are and is hindering you at becoming who you want to be. And don’t mention his professional success or so-called intelligence to me! Those are not redeeming features to somebody who has to hit women in order to feel superior. And all that success comes from cheating anyway. I should know. I…”
(To be continued tomorrow.)
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