She's trying to be quiet, baby in one arm, suitcase in the other, and she's sneaking down the stairs slowly and carefully and trying to be quiet. But he wakes up and he knows and he's out of bed and down those stairs and he's shouting.
"Renée!" he yells, leaping off the last three steps. She's by the door and her hand is on the doorknob and the baby hears her father and wakes up and starts to cry. Renee reaches out and twists the doorknob, heaving against the stiff door, hurrying now, and he's in the corridor behind her and his hand is suddenly on her shoulder. "Renee, what are you doing, where are you going?" His eyes are wide and it's pitch black, dead of night, but the moon shines through the window in the door and lights his face, makes him look dead. She stares up at him, silently cursing the screaming child. She tells him she is going, just going.
"Getting out." Her voice is cold and detached and her eyes meet his with a calm, unapologetic stare. He stares back at her, his breath gasping in and out of his lungs like a broken accordion, as he tries to select a few coherent words from the millions which buzz in his head.
"Look, Charlie," she begins, letting go of the doorhandle. But he has found the words and he breaks her off.
"You're leaving?" His voice is so deep and he's tall and young and strong but at that moment he looks like a little boy again, and his sad face is tugging at her heartstrings. She doesn't reply, letting the bag and the baby answer for her. He shakes his head. "No, Renee, you can't, you can't just take off with my kid like that, you can't."
"You can't just run off-"
"I hate it here!" She shouts at him, and the loud noise is so wrong in the silence, the stillness of night. It cuts through it like bared teeth. He can't see her face in the almost-dark but he can hear the truth in her voice, the angry, sharp breaths which snap out from her lips. The baby cries louder and she hushes it angrily. Tiny fat arms wave about in the warm blankets. Charlie's eyes fall on the little girl and his heart breaks at what his wife was going to do, still could do. He steps forward and tries to grab his daughter. Renee steps back against the door. "Charlie, she can't grow up here, I can't stay here, I hate it and she hates it and I can't even stand being around you anymore, with your small town thinking and your small town friends and I can't do it and I have to go," and her voice is loud and frantic and he can hear that she means it. And his heart breaks further because he still loves her, he loves her so much, more and more everyday and he had been so sure that they would be the perfect family, him her and their beautiful baby girl.
"Renee," he says, breathing deeply, in, out, in, out, "Renee listen to me, listen to me. I love you, you know I do, and I love Isabella and Isabella loves me and she'd be fine here, she'd love it, and you would too if only you'd try-"
She yells at him that she has tried, but everything here has a routine, everything is set in its ways and it's suffocating her and she can't breathe and she has to get out before she kills something or someone or herself, and he tries to interrupt her but she carries on screaming, and she won't stop and it's hurting his ears and head and heart. With every word she's grabbed a piece of him and ripped it out, she's ripped it out and thrown it on the floor, and then she's stamped on it. He stops listening to her screaming, although it carries on, and his eyes fall on his baby girl, half her face lit up in a slice of moonlight. She's got these huge big eyes, just like his, and all this short, curly brown hair. Chubby, round little face, small red lips which move around loosely and purposelessly, little wet gums and a little fat chin. And he loves her and he knows he can't lose her.
"She's my baby too," he tells his wife, and she stops screaming and glares at him.
"Hardly," she says, "She's only your evening baby, when you come back from work or when you're not fishing or when there isn't a game on. You don't wash her or feed her, you didn't carry her around in your stomach for nine months-" her voice rises from a tense piano to a thunderous forte, and he's shouting too. That's not fair, he says, someone has to work, someone has to earn money to look after her. And Renee tells him to stop making excuses, he's a crap father, utterly crap, and he knows it.
"I'm not the unreliable, unorganised, can't stick to anything one!" He shouts, his voice, low and loud and panicked, sounding clear below her twittery shrill one. "I'm not the one who's never stuck to anything in her life, whether it be a cheerleading squad or a marriage-"
"I could stick with a marriage to someone who wasn't a reflection of this dull, damp, depressing place-"
And she carries on, sending bullets through his heart again and again, until he finds it difficult to stand, difficult to breathe. It's too wet here, she tells him in her shrill, hysterical voice, so dark and gloomy and small and miserable, like being locked away, all the walls closing in and crushing her. She's desperate to get out, she has been for weeks and months and years and if she stays here she knew she'll become a small-town person too and she can't take that, she can't.
Her words burn his ears. He is desperate not to lose her, not to lose his baby, not to lose everything he has worked for. "This isn't fair!" He yells, his voice breaking, "You aren't being fair, Renee, I've done everything I could, I love you and I love our home and I love Isabella, I love her and you can't take her from me, I'm her dad, I'm supposed to bring her up as well, she has to know me and I can't lose her, I can't!" The crying baby's eyes are wide and streaming and she screams and screams and screams, she doesn't understand and she screams and screams.
"You're being pathetic, Charlie!"
"You're the one running off!" He roars. "What, was I supposed to wake up in the morning to find that you'd gone, gone with my daughter without a word or a sign-"
"There were signs!" She bellows, "You've seen me crying in the kitchen, I've told you I hate it, I've asked if we could move, I've told you I don't want Isabella here-"
"So I'm supposed to know that means "leave or lose me"? I'm not a mind reader, Renee-"
"No, you're a fucking idiot-"
"Shut up!" He yells, "Shut up and stop it, Renee, stop it and give me Isabella, give me her now-"
"NO!" She shrieks, and there is a sudden silence. The kitchen clock ticks, tocks, ticks again. Charlie's heart is hammering somewhere in his ear, and he can feel tears building up in his eyes. Renee sees them, and she bites her lip. Guilt rushes through her, eating away at her resolve like a fierce acid.
"I don't want to hear it," he says. "I don't care. Just don't take Isabella away from me. Don't." A heavy tear trickles across his cheekbone, down his cheek, drops off his nose, and because he's a man and because Renee has never seen a man cry before, except on TV, it makes her words difficult to say.
"Charlie, I have to go," she says, quietly. "I have to."
"You don't," he says, and then, "You can't."
"I love you," he says. She stares at him, and she feels the words building up in her throat, and she knows they are going to burst out but she suddenly doesn't want to say them.
"I don't love you, Charlie," she says, hurriedly, struggling to get it out before his eyes stop her. "Not anymore."
He stares at her. The baby stops crying and looks curiously up at her father, huge eyes staring at his, and a strange, garbled sound comes out of her mouth. A baby noise. He can't look at her. He can't bear to see the face of someone he loves so much but must lose so soon. He merely closes his eyes and listens to the baby girl as she pops her mouth open and shut, and says something indecipherable, indecipherable but better and sweeter and more lovely than any other sound in his whole life, and it rips through him and tears him apart.
"Just stay," he begs, eyes still closed. "Stay till morning."
"I'll lose my nerve."
Renee looks at Charlie, then at the floor, and then her fingers close around the doorknob. "No," he says, "No, Renee, please no." She twists it, slowly, clamping her own eyes shut. The door is so stiff, and she slams her hip against it to open it. Charlie is begging her, and he has her arm and he's tugging it, shouting at her, screaming at her, tears landing on her forehead. Isabella is wriggling in her arms and sniffing slightly.
The door opens and night air rushes past all three of them, and the moonlight breathes silver on their faces. "No, Renee, no, come back, let's talk, let's just talk, please Renee, don't take my daughter, it'll kill me if you do, please don't, please."
He grabs the baby's arm and kisses her tiny face. "Hey beautiful," he says, frantically, tears streaming, "tell your mom not to take you from me, tell her, Isabella." Renee stands still as stone, and it hurts her to see the man she once loved broken like this, but she has to do it, she has to. She turns her face up to the crying man, and says, slowly;
"Let me go, Charlie."
And something in her eyes, something in her voice, the way she isn't shouting, she's telling, it gets to him. The baby wraps her tiny hand around his forefinger, and Charlie looks down at her. He knows what comes next, but he can't pull away.
He can't do it.
Renee sighs, and reaches out, unfurling the baby's fingers and stepping away. The big brown eyes are still locked on Charlie's.
He can't say it. He can't look away from those eyes. A little tiny mouth opens and whimpers something. Then she starts to cry.
Renee looks up at her husband, and promises to call him, but he doesn't hear. Big, brown eyes with long, sweeping lashes. Blinking and wet.
He only moves when the car rumbles away, and then panic bangs through him like a lightning bolt and he shouts after them and starts to run up the road. Puddles line the ground and splash up his legs, and he sees Renee's face in the wing mirror, and she isn't looking at him, she's staring forward. A cloud passes over the moon and they've gone and he's alone. The wind whistles through his hair and he can't breathe, can't think, can't move. The world around him crumples into a ball, like screwed up paper, and he's trapped inside it and creased and ripped and trapped and alone. He screams after the empty road.
The moon comes out again and lights up a world which holds nothing for him now.