Joyce paused, listening to the silence with her hand on the door frame. She had thought that she was tired of this, years ago. Now she felt so exhausted that even opening the door was a struggle. She glanced at her hand. It looked skeletal, almost translucent. When did I get so thin?
A maid scuttled across the hall below, beetle-like. The present snatched her back. She turned the handle firmly and pushed herself inside.
The drapes were all still tightly closed. The room was lit only by a few guttering candles, making leering shadows in the draught from the door. Gold sparks in the mirror. The fire was out again, of course. She shuddered as the cold hit the back of her throat, leaving behind a tarnished taste like blood. Going behind the easel, she heaved open the chest and took out a blanket. She moved towards the snuffling figure sprawled, deeply asleep, on the daybed. With grim relief, Joyce slipped the bottle from his loose fingers. An impulse of loneliness made her brush his hand, but its sticky clamminess repelled her. She blew out the candles.
Outside, she sank into a wicker chair. The cheerful mosaics that patterned the garden wall mocked her. How long ago it was that she had made them. Bright days, full of laughter. She scolded herself for sentimentality. The early years of their marriage had been at least as full of dramatic shows of temper. When Peter first began drinking heavily, she had raged at him; as if the power of her anger could keep him with her. To find him passed out somewhere in the house would have had her screaming, dragging him up. Now, she was numbly grateful for these hours of peace – more for Peter than herself.
Often she watched him waking in the late afternoon; saw the dull horror in his eyes. She would soothe him, pretend to believe his apologies. All that remained of the passion that she had once felt was a fathomless fear of losing him for ever. Joyce’s throat tightened. Immediately, she stood up. If once you gave way… There was a powerful wind crossing the fen, and she let it whip the thoughts out of her head before she had to turn back.