Colleen Higgs

Getting off lightly

Henry sips his beer, he’s sitting too close to me. We’re both married, but not to each other. It’s his brother’s house and we’re there for different reasons. Sitting there in the dark Joburg night, the air still wet from the earlier rain, I feel as though I’ve stepped back twenty years to a place that still tugs at me.

My pregnant body tingles at his proximity. I can’t drink beer or whisky. I would love to, but I’m disciplined. The bench is hard and my lower back aches. My arms are bare and even though the air is cool I’m overheating. There is an engine inside me building my baby.

He tells me about his father in the hospital and how worried he is. Behind us we can see the lights from the house and the flickering TV – the boys are watching. We talk quietly, comfortable with the silences. It gets later and later. I should go to bed. I’ve been very tired. His presence enlivens me, his familiar eyes and laugh lines, the angle of his jaw, his body. I long to sit even closer, to touch him. I resist the overwhelming urge. I am able to resist.

“We’d better go in. I must go to bed, I’ll be shattered tomorrow.” We stand up and without saying anymore, we embrace each other. I feel his hand, hot and firm on my back, his chest hard against my belly which pushes into him. I might catch fire. He puts a hand to my head, holding me close and feeling the texture of my hair. I want to pull away, I want to pull in closer. I want to scream, I want to weep. He holds me a little longer and then as if we had both agreed, he lets me go and we walk towards the light. Our bodies are thrumming with life.

The embrace released me from the years of missing him, yearning for him. We go to our separate beds. He is out in the garden cottage. I’m sleeping inside in Ernie’s bed, on the bottom bunk. The room is dark, I don’t switch on the lights. I can see his collection of bears in the gloom. One by one I put them on the armchair in the corner, take off my clothes and naked climb into bed. I manoeuvre myself, pillow between my knees, and cradle my large belly. We could have gone to bed together. We could have been naked together, slept with each other. No-one would have known. I could still go. But I don’t and later I’m both sorry and relieved.

I don’t ask him the next day if he would have welcomed me into his bed. I don’t want to know. I want to believe he was disappointed.

The next day he takes me to Tempest Car Hire at the Rosebank Hotel. We drive the back way through the leafy streets of Saxonwold, so quiet, so like a forest, except for the high walls. After that night we weren’t alone again in the same way, but it was okay. I’d gotten off lightly.

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