The car wades through the treacle of unending time. They are driving to the log cabin for an extended celebration. Alan and Joanne celebrated 25 years together yesterday. He gave her a sapphire ring. She gave him Paul, 18 and Sarah, 14. The children gave them a silver frame with a photoshopped copy of their 25-year-old wedding photo inserted; she hardly recognises herself. It was a simple celebration, like the many celebrations in their life; even their regrets are simple affairs.
Lately, Joanne’s feeling unsure; she doesn’t know why. She convinces herself that she loves Alan. Her womb aches for her missing baby; it’s been seven years since they’ve lost Maya at 21 weeks; her body spat the baby out in vengeance; that cavity yearns to be filled again. Her aching body desires to hold another soul but her aging corpse may not cope with housing another body. The throbbing, persistent, low level aching will not give in. Chewing on a clove will numb toothache, she was told; someone give me a shovel of cloves, she screams silently. It takes seven years to rid the cycle of bad luck; for her, it’s seven years too late. Her heart squeezes at the unretrievable opportunity.
Silver top mountains in the distance take her back to their first night in the cabin. Those were happy times. Recently, their trips there have started to become like a scene in Groundhog Day; she can’t seem to wake up to an alternate reality.
The air is spiky, it sticks to her lungs like dry ice. A little cough enables her to breathe again; babies cough to take in their first breath, is that even accurate? She doesn’t seem to know now. It was a winter’s day when they buried Maya. She threw a fistful of dirty snow at the tiny coffin. Freeze her body so it doesn’t rot away were Joanne’s thoughts as the fist-sized snowballs descended onto the metal lid. Plop, plop, plop until the coffin was all covered and she can no longer see her baby. She leant on Alan as he supported her back to the car. Later, everyone gathered at their home for panini and drinks. Nobody mentioned the baby in the tiny box covered in snow. The next day, they all drove to the log cabin to get away from the world.
Alan stretches, takes a deep breath and batters his broad chest with clenched fists. Routine. Lets the good air in, his father says. Beat the life into you, she thinks silently. Silence is powerful, her mother confesses. When she died, that silence became deafening. Joanne knows why her father left: it was her mother’s quiet.
The log cabin remains the same even after 50 years; designed by Alan’s father, it was made to last. She unloads the boot and brings the luggages up one by one. Joanne is breathless. Routine. The kids have their ski boots on, ready to take to the slopes. Alan goes for a jog in the hills. Routine. She warms up the cabin, prepares the dinner. Groundhog Day. She batters her chest in the lukewarm kitchen.
Russian salad, a family recipe. Cubes of bell-peppers, carrots, dots of peas and kernels of sweetcorn smothered in mayonnaise. Sin wrapped in goodness. Opposites attract. Alan’s favourite. Her mother-in-law’s pride. Joanne’s repulsion. Their marriage. The prosciutto crudo and cotto are laid out on a silver platter; cold cuts on metal. Meat plated for royalty. The crystal fruit bowl is adorned with winter grapes, Williams and Fujis, she managed to get the last of the tangerines too; the fruit bowl, a still life ready to to be consumed; a picture of health making up for the calorific intake. Catholic ostentation curbed by Protestant asceticism. No need for guilt; indulgences can be bartered away. The table is laid out with precision; silver cutlery on an embroidered tablecloth: inheritance and labour of love like babies, made out of love inheriting their parents’ genes, the two things are happy coincidences when luck smiles down; her father-in-law nods with approval at the back of her mind. The glasses are pristine, they ping when tapped, an expensive Barolo is left opened to breathe sitting in its crystal decanter, a wedding gift from the extended family. The bread all prepared; everyone’s favourite type presented in a doily-lined basket. Extravagant routine. Love is many things, bread is love. She pinches herself and takes a deep gulping breath. She’s paid for her indulgence; the box in the ground a reminder.
Laughter. The kids are home, exhilarated from the fresh mountain air. Alan, back from his jog, shuts the door, shuts out the cold. The three of them had arranged to rendezvous at exactly the same time. Routine. Alan’s world.
“Mama, I’m hungry,” Paul shouts out. Blessed boy. Man-child. The apple of her eye. His animated teal eyes glow with joy at the spread. She will lose him soon; her place filled in by another: that’s the cycle of life.
“Mama, is it Russian Salad… with prosciutto?” Sweet Sarah. Angel. Her blonde tresses, damp from skiing, glisten in the dim light. Save energy; use candles: her mantra. So ready to save the world. Can she save herself?
The fire crackles. Alan throws in another log. Routine.
The silver top mountains glow in the light of the moon; the last dregs of daylight are fading, but the air is still clear with premonitions of the future.
A light snow trickles. The kids are skiing. Alan is jogging in the hills. Routine. They will rendezvous same time, same place. Routine.
The fire engines speed into the drive. Against the din of the firemen shouting and the swish of the water spraying, she batters her tormented soul silently. The log cabin hasn’t changed in 50 years; routine. Love is a myriad things; love is also routine. The beams come thudding down as Paul and Sarah shout ‘Mama’.