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Apologetics

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Maurice and I began sharing a bed a few weeks before Sarah died. I was overcome with pre-emptive grief, and I sat on the edge of the bed, so weak with weeping that tears no longer fell from my eyes; I only shook. He came into my room to tell me that Sarah's coughing had at last subsided, and that she'd drifted off for the night. He found me choking on my misery and put an arm around me as if to help me catch my breath. During the course of that night, he never let go. We fell asleep in our dressing gowns, holding one another.

In the ensuing days, this became habit. It was easier for both of us than sleeping alone: than feeling Sarah's absence in our respective beds. Maurice would bring warm milk and a small plate of biscuits, enough for the two of us, just before retiring. He spiked his own milk with brandy; I never drank my own. The maid would slip in at dawn and take away my full glass. She never woke me.

When Sarah died, it seemed only natural to collapse into Maurice's arms. It was the place I'd grown accustomed to going. He told me that he would help me learn to live without her, and I longed to believe him.

We came to live like a married couple, in the truest sense. We slept and woke together, ate together, mourned together. I supported him financially whilst he worked on his novel. We did none of the things that perverts are said to do, although there were times when I would sit watching him while he shaved and imagine coming up behind him to feel if he was hard between his legs. He was cruelly comfortable with me, wandering our ghostly house in a pair of dirty trousers, braces strapped across his bare, muscular shoulders, three days' beard growth sprouting from his jowls. Quite often, he'd be muttering some half-formed sentence meant for his novel, shifting the phrases around until they fit. The things that he was writing about were ambitious and vast: the nature of love, the presence of God. I wondered if I had anything to do with the seriousness of his thoughts. Some years ago, soon after Maurice and I met, Maurice claimed that he wished to base a character on me. It seemed self-flattery to permit myself the belief that he had not abandoned the idea.

Indeed, he had replaced his desire to romanticize my life with the compulsion to ritualize his involvement in it. He kissed me every morning whilst the alarm clock still rattled, and again, firmly on the lips, as I left for work and he began his daily combat with the typewriter. When I returned in the evenings, he would wrap his arms around my waist and pull me close to him for a kiss hello. We'd dine together, then relax in the sitting room to the gentle hum of the radio. We slept next to one another in thick checkered pajamas. He would kiss me just before turning out the light. In his sleep, he would clutch me to him like a little girl holding a doll. Like a replacement for the woman we had both, in our respective ways, once loved.

One night, he hesitated before saying good night. "Henry," he said, "don't you sometimes think that our situation is a sort of apology from God?"

It was the kind of profound and nonsensical notion that Maurice knew I would never have had. "I can't say that I have," I said. "I can't even say that I really believe in such things."

"In the existence of God?" he said, almost hopefully.

"In the existence of a God who apologizes."

"I see," he said.

"No, Maurice," I said, reaching for the lamp. "You don't see at all."

He placed his hand over the lamp switch so that I couldn't turn out the light. "Don't you think it the least bit strange-- the least bit elegant-- that we find such comfort in each other? Comfort, and without passion."

"Perhaps it is that I see this-- you-- not as a gift, but as a choice that we've made," I said.

"Most days, it feels more like you happened around me," he said. "Like you were left on my doorstep, and I'm supposed to figure out what in the world to do with you."

"Then that is the difference between your outlook and mine."

"I suppose so."

I reached for the light again, but Maurice wasn't finished. "It's a cruel joke, really," he said. "That I've come to love you in exactly the same way that you used to love Sarah."

"Not in exactly the same way," I muttered.

"You don't think?" he said. He brushed the back of his hand across my cheek. Then, he kissed me, not with his customary chastity and husbandly affection, but with great force, his tongue wet and fast in my mouth like he was trying to make love to me. He tasted sour, of milk and brandy. I wanted him to stop and I wanted him never to stop. And I realized that perhaps this gift-- this curse, this apology-- ran in both directions.

"Yes," he said when he'd given up kissing me. "Exactly the same."

He turned out the light and rolled over. I clenched my fists tightly, full of things to say and devoid of words.

I put my arms around him and tried to sleep. There was nothing else I could do.