by GM Wilson
When Henry realised his eyes were open and he was no longer dreaming it was half-past two in the morning. He eased himself up, not to disturb his sleeping wife. Her face was turned away and he leant over her, placing his cheek near her lips to feel the light puff of her breath. Satisfied with the presence of life, he got out of bed and crept from the room.
The stairs creaked.
‘Just me, Chrissie, go back to sleep.’ He paused.
When he got to the sitting room he dressed, put his shoes on without tying them, and stepped outside for a smoke. The air was cold and the stars were out. From the back of the house the streetlamps along the avenue were blocked and, looking straight up, Henry could just see the lightest trace of the Milky Way. He thought of the painting he once saw of a goddess squirting milk from her breasts while attendant cherubs hovered amidst the spray. He lit a cigarette, blinded momentarily by the sudden flash of the match. He was trying to remember the name of the goddess… Where had he seen the picture?
A dog barked.
Across the garden, framed by the branches of a sycamore tree, a light went on in the house opposite. A woman drew water from the tap at the kitchen sink and drank. Henry took a drag on his cigarette, wondered if she’d seen him, then decided he didn’t care. He looked up at the smear of white – hazy and fugitive, a rare sight – and tried again to remember the goddess’s name, and where he’d seen the picture. It may have been the Louvre. Or the National Gallery. Or was it in Madrid, the summer he met Christina?
The woman disappeared from her window and the light went out.
‘Are you stalking our neighbour?’ Christina stood next to him, blanket over her shoulders, shadows for eyes.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Good. I thought maybe you were smoking.’
She took the cigarette from him, drew deeply, then passed it back. ‘People who have never smoked can’t possibly know how connected a cigarette makes you feel.’
Henry took another hit, then stubbed it out in the gravel with the heel of his shoe. He looked at Chrissie standing next to him in the dark, his gaze lingering.
‘What? Can you see the moonlight bouncing off the top of my head or something?’ she asked.
‘I’m sure if there was a moon the answer to that question would almost certainly be yes; have you polished?’ He reached for a feel but she batted his hand away.
‘But look, you can see the Milky Way.’
A breath in, a breath out.
A meteor flashed and disappeared, leaving a pale streak in the sky.
‘Remember the Tintoretto?’ Christina asked.
‘Aha,’ Henry said, ‘that was it – I was trying to remember that painting – can you remember the name of the goddess?’
‘Hera. Zeus wants Hercules to become immortal so he tries to get the infant to suckle from Hera’s breast while she sleeps. She wakes up, and when Zeus pulls his son off a spray of milk shoots out into the heavens.’
‘Did it work?’
‘Hera wouldn’t have it. Hercules was Zeus’s bastard son and she didn’t approve of his dalliances with mortal women. No chance of immortality there. What’s her name, by the way?’
‘The woman you’re stalking?’
Henry took his wife’s hand. ‘You’re cold,’ he said.
‘You shouldn’t have come out without your hat.’
Christina covered her head with the blanket and walked to the back door. ‘Are you coming?’
‘Soon,’ Henry said, and pulled another cigarette from the pack.
GM Wilson was born and raised in Los Angeles and is now based in rural North West England. A writer of fiction and poetry, his work has appeared in The Frogmore Papers and The Interpreter’s House. In 2015 he was shortlisted for The Interpreter’s House Open House poetry competition. Find him on Twitter @GMacD37.