On the wall, there is a picture of a duck and a goose. The picture lives in a frame; dust collects on the outside of the frame. It is not dusted away. The picture is so old; it might have been a children's drawing once, but the colours have faded over time and turned dull, colourless; they are dead.
He leaves the duck and the goose inside the house, inside their own world, in their frame, and goes outside. It is dark. He doesn't take a light. It is better this way; he can't connect with the night when he has a light. He walks in the dark. He feels like a person alone in the world, but not alone, at last, at one with the other creatures of the world, the other beings; the plants, the animals.
Leaving the yard, he passes the chopping block where he chops wood in the day. He steps around a piece of wood and remembers the children's eyes as they watched him chopping wood for a fire that would keep them warm at night and cook their food. They wanted him to chop faster. Why was he so slow? they had asked. Of course, they could do it much faster! It was because he was an old man, his daughter had suggested; but she was smiling, and then they were all laughing. It was true, he was older than the children, but by no means elderly.
His son had offered: Here, father, give me a try!
But the boy had hardly taken the axe when he'd almost dropped it to the ground. His father hadn't let go of it, of course, so it didn't drop; instead it just dangled there at an awkward angle as he tried not to drop it; the angle of it now hurt his wrist.
Again, the children had laughed. Maybe it was harder work than they'd thought. Now, their laughter echoed through the forest and melted into the dark. Beside him, walked the duck and the goose; invisible companions to the night walkers.
He remembers the girl had wanted a little dog. He'd been driving into town to get her that little dog, he remembers. He was sure he'd be able to find the street where the store was; he'd passed by it in the truck many times before.
In the distance, he hears a dog yap. He can smell wood burning, as though from a chimney, and he imagines the plume of smoke against the setting sun, though the sun has long since sunk below the horizon. Beside him, he imagines he can hear the duck and the goose arguing about the source of the fire; he tries not to step on them as they weave to and fro.
It is a little windy, and the trees whisper to the grasses; the duck pretends he knows what they are saying, but the goose argues, No, that isn't it at all.
He lets their voices fade away; he's not interested in an argument tonight. The sweater he is wearing is warm enough, but now, as he walks over twigs and fallen, broken-off things, he starts to feel hot, and realises that he has changed direction and is walking toward the lake.
He wants to turn around and walk back, back to the house, perhaps, and the duck and the goose snoozing safely in their picture, but he can't make his legs agree with him. They want to go to the lake! they protest.
He closes his eyes tight for a moment, but he ends up nearly falling headlong over a log, so he is forced to open them again, to see the dark, glistening water; to hear its whispers as it caresses the land.
There is no wind by the lakeside, he can hear this; he can feel it on his burning cheeks; just the dark and the sky.
The rocks sound awful underneath his shoes as he walks, like nails or something more sinister, bullets. The night sits around him like a shroud, a cloak that makes him hot, that makes it hard to breathe. He hates this time of the day, now. He hates living. He just wants to go back; if he… if he died… would he go back, would it be like it was before, would he be with them again?
His eyes tear up, and now they're soggy. He feels stupid and hot, and cold. It's freezing, he realises. The dog that was yapping has stopped, he has only just realised, though it must have been some time ago. The duck and the goose are silent, even their feet are silent; he thinks they have gone home, back to their cosy picture frame.
He wants to run after them, he wants to go home, too – it is the only thing he wants anymore – but it isn't a home anymore; a house, but not a home.
He stands at the edge of the shore and listens to the dark water whispering. She must have been in a lot of pain to have done what she did, to have taken death like that, when she'd known the children could not live without her; he could not live without her.
She had drowned herself, the police report went. In the lake he now stood at the foot of, the water lapping inches in front of his shoes, slapping noisily over there, by the roots of some trees. What ruckus, what commotion they were stirring.
And then the children had been taken away.
She must have known that, that he couldn't keep it going on his own. He was just one person, and, really, he thought, he wasn't even that, not really, not without her; she'd made him more real.
Then she was gone.
He had the little puppy; it was there, in his arms, and he put it down, and away it ran, like a shot. He could still hear the sound of the truck's engine in his ears, deafeningly loud over the sound of the trees creaking, the breeze winding through the trees, a small bird's song.
The puppy had run straight for the lake. His heart leapt to his throat as he raced after it; silly dog, he'd thought. But it had run to her, or to the men, the officers, and then he'd stopped seeing the puppy, he'd just seen the men, and the way they'd turned suddenly to look at him.
He doesn't know what happened to that puppy, not even to this day.
He'd seen the red hair, and then he'd known. He'd known it all before they'd even began to speak. Why hadn't she told him, he agonised now. Can't she have said something? Why hadn't he asked?
He tells himself he must stop thinking about it; he can't think about it this hard, there was nothing he could have done. His family are coming visiting tomorrow, some time in the morning: his father, his father's wife, his half siblings, or, at least, a few of them; the better half.
But now he has fallen down at the edge of the water and is crying in earnest. He doesn't care about the water lapping at his ankles, or the cold, or anything. He thinks he really did love her and the children – even though he'd thought he'd never be able to love anyone like other people did; the people in those books and films – but he did. And he still does.
Only the night hears his whispers, the whispers of his tears and sorrows. Soon, the sun will come up and the day will not know; but the night will remember.
Nīpā: Dark water whispering by planet p
Disclaimer I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters.
I think I was intending this to be different… I don't really know what I was intending. It's kind of… strange. Icky lame. Thanks for reading, anyway. Probably won't make a whole lot of sense.