We threw ourselves into work with great intensity and vigour. I didn’t see much of Carl as we both kept odd hours. My focus became my business, which grew in assignments. It generated a comfortable income, sustaining a not-too-overly ambitious lifestyle, with wine, cigarettes and dining out as our only foibles. I recruited my first assistant and later on my first fulltime researcher to support my workload. At this point we were still small enough to work out of my house, the souterrain level appointed as our workspace. I worked diligently, often waking up before eight o’clock to the sound of my husband’s departure, upon which I would pull out my laptop from underneath the bed and go through my emails. After a small break for a shower and breakfast I would descend the exactly forty-four steps and greet my staff, who had arrived in the last hour. I suppose they became my extended family, accompanying me to afternoon gym sessions and Thursday dinners. I would often stay late in the office, and only very rarely would my husband visit me. More often that not, we would meet in bed, only to find one of us sleeping. As we lived our lives in parallel, our weekends became our only time for marital bliss. But bliss and felicity soon turned into affliction and woe as we drifted further and further apart as husband and wife, and perhaps more so as man and woman. Soon even our weekends were spent independently, pursuing our diverse interests that never seemed to coincide.
One morning, I woke up later that usual. I realised I hadn’t heard the door slam, a sound that had become louder and louder with time. I walked downstairs to find my husband regarding a cup of coffee with great intensity.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, after taking a seat across from him. He remained utterly silent for what seemed like minutes and continued to observe the cup of coffee, which had by now been emptied of its contents.
“Are you going to talk to me?” I tried again. This time he looked up, his eyes red and sunken, as if he’d spent his night in unrest or just been crying. I was afraid both were true.
“I want a divorce,” he said in a quiet almost inaudible voice.
“I’m sorry?” I responded, not knowing if I heard him right.
“I want a divorce,” he repeated, this time with more strength and resolve. My heart started to pound and, if I hadn’t been sitting down, I am sure I would have fainted, because I could feel the blood leaving my head and, for a moment, my focus blurred. As much as I tried I couldn’t come up with a response, eventually conjuring up a lame, “But why?”
“This is not what I want,” he replied.
“What is not what you want?” I retorted.
“This, us, how we live our lives.”
“Do you still love me?” My heart was beating even faster now in anticipation of the final death knell. He waited for a long time before answering, but his answer only bewildered me more.
“Yes.” He waited before adding, “But it’s not going to work. Not like this, anyways.” I wanted to take his hands from his cup, circle them with mine, but decided against it. Instead we sat in silence until our housekeeper walked in.
“I’ve got to go,” he concluded. Moments later I heard the door. This time it was a mere click.
I couldn’t leave what had just happened behind me, but I forced myself to get on with my day, which included an all-important meeting with a potential client. I cancelled my later appointments and entered our living quarters before the workday was over, anticipating my husband’s arrival at any moment. But he never came home and my calls were rejected. It was only hours later, as I rummaged through his personal belongings, that I noticed his suitcase was gone along with some clothes, aftershave and his toothbrush. There was no letter or note, just an empty feeling of loss.
I continued to leave numerous messages on his voicemail, and when I called his work I was told he was off on personal leave. No further explanation was given, and I realised I was in for a waiting game until he decided to contact me.
He came back on the Sunday, four days after his departure. Instead of using his key he knocked on the door. It was raining and his hair was curly from the drizzle.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
“Sure,” I replied, opening the door enough to allow him to pass through. His bag brushed by my leg and I stretched my hand out to take it, but it remained in my husband’s firm grip.
“Are you hungry?”
“Yes,” he admitted, allowing a brief smile to escape his lips.
We walked into the kitchen and I fried up some deep-frozen pyttipanna, which we’d bough en masse on an earlier IKEA visit. We ate in silence, occasionally stopping for a sip of wine.
Upon finishing, I pushed my plate to the side and reached out my hands towards my husband’s. He hesitated for a moment before responding. I rested my hands in his, squeezing my fingertips into his palms. Not knowing what to say, I said just that. A faint smile passed his lips.
“I don’t know either.”
“I still love you,” I countered.
“I still love you too.”
“I want to make this work,” I pleaded. “Spend more time together, re-evaluate our priorities, our future.”
“Yes. But it’s not going to be easy, though. We both need to change.”
“I know,” I agreed, yet not fully knowing what he meant.
Change did come, although not exactly in the way I had anticipated. We turned a new leaf, cut down on our work hours, and spent more time in each other’s company. The love that had once been so evident returned, and as spring turned into summer, l’amour was in full bloom. Carl would surprise me with improvised dinners, and I would take him on excursions beyond Paris’ typical tourist attractions. I would tell him of history less known, recounting Marie-Antoinette’s last days in the Conciergerie, the so-called antechamber to the guillotine, or the murder of Marat forever epitomized by the hands of David. Or the story of the vanishing hotel room during the Paris 1889 exhibition. It welded our worlds and interests once more to something unique and unparalleled and only shared by the two of us.
I can’t recall the exact moment of our decision, but during one of our intimate talks that had by now supplanted the void once there, we decided to try for a baby. We were both ready to take on the commitment that parenting required, and perhaps for more self-serving reasons, create a legacy beyond ourselves. I set out with great enthusiasm, measuring hormone levels whilst being extra vigilant to that familiar pang of pain that would announce an imminent ovulation. I would call my husband, requiring his prompt attendance, and any planned engagements would be subsequently cancelled. Although I could work up arousal on demand, Carl could not, and I knew I was treading a thin line, balancing the act of requirements with buoyance. But four months later, we had seemingly done the impossible, and yet again I was staring down at two stripes of blue.