"Tell me the truth," she says. She is sitting on the wooden chair by the table, her boots still on from her walk. She pulls them off, then her socks, thick woollen ones, and wriggles her bare feet. The candles around the bowl of water on the floor are flickering too high, black smoke peeling up from two of them. She kneels down and trims the wicks with a little pair of scissors she finds by the sink, then returns to her seat. He watches her, but doesn't speak until she's sitting down again.
"It is a moonless night. The sky is black, a soft, endless black, and the stars don't give any light or cast any shadows. It is cold outside, the sharp bitterness of the end of autumn, but it's warm in here by the stove."
"Not a truth," she interrupts. "Not a list of truths. Not facts. I want the truth."
"This morning—" His voice peters out, and he crosses the room and turns on the radio as if to cover that up. It's guitar music. It sounds like Rodrigo, but she doesn't know enough about composers to be sure. It reminds her of the river, the way it's almost the same from moment to moment, yet not the same, changing in ways so subtle she has to concentrate to notice. It's definitely Spanish. It makes her want to dance, barefoot around the room. So she does. It would feel better if she were wearing a dress, silk stroking her bare legs, or if he would dance with her.
"Yes," she prompts, giving up on her dance and sitting back down. They'd made love this morning, as soon as they got here. He'd stripped her in this room, one garment at a time, leaving them in a pool around her feet next to her overnight bag, and then she'd jumped on him, legs around his waist, his coat still on, the zip scratchy against her naked breasts, and he'd carried her into the next room. He'd fucked her so gently she thought for a while that she'd never come, but when she did it was incredible. He'd kissed her afterwards, once he was spent, pressed up against her so she could feel the whole of him, the strength of his shoulders, the hint of softness around his belly, his flaccid penis against her thigh, cold feet against her warm feet. He'd kissed her until she felt giddy, glad she was lying down. That's when he'd said it. She heard him clearly, not so giddy she could mistake the words. They'd fallen asleep then, even though it was nearly noon, his head resting on her breast. The cold woke them up eventually, and he'd jumped out of bed cursing and lit the stove while she put on every layer she could find until the cabin warmed up.
"I told you something," he says. His left hand is clenching and unclenching.
"I haven't forgotten. Being honest," she says, because honesty is important and she feels the need to state that she is being honest, just in case it isn't obvious, "I'd like to forget, but I can't."
"I meant it," he says. A beat. "You wanted to forget?"
She ignores his question and the hint of disappointment in his expression. "No. You didn't." She isn't sure how she knows. He sounded so serious when he'd said it, so genuine. She'd believed him at the time, even though it had felt too much, too soon, and she was glad to fall asleep so she didn't feel obliged to think about it. It wasn't something she could say in return. But her belief has faded, gone by the time the sun set, and left her with a vague sense of foolishness that she actually believed him for a while. Funny how that happens.
"I didn't say it lightly." He sits down where he is, cross-legged on the floor, back against the cupboard. She can see the underneath of his socks. There's a leaf stuck to one, part of a leaf. Dried up. It's almost the same brown as his socks.
"I'm sure you didn't," she agrees. "There was real gravitas in your tone. And it wasn't immediately post-orgasm. Men say a lot of things they don't mean when they've just fucked."
"And yet you don't believe me?"
"No, I don't."
"Can't you feel the ghosts?" she says. It doesn't sound like an answer, but it is.
He doesn't answer.
"When I was out walking earlier, it was pitch dark. That's a good description, you know, pitch dark. Pitch is so thick you feel it could swallow you up whole, so you'd be lost forever in its blackness. Of course, once I'd been outside for a while, my eyes got used to the dark and I could see hints of shapes, but at first I just let the sounds guide me, the stream to my left, the rustling of the oak trees. The direction of the wind on my cheek. I was utterly alone with the water and the wind and the trees. And yet I kept hearing laughter, flashes of it. Different voices. Women's laughter. They're silent now, in here, but I can still feel the ghosts." She shivers. "I can feel them. Right here. There's a ghost in this chair. Can't you feel it?"
He's looking at her, sitting in the chair, and at her reflection in the bowl of water on the floor, but she isn't sure who he sees.
"All these ghosts. Who are they?" she asks, leaning forward, elbows on her knees, so that she can see her reflection. Her hair looks golden in the candle-light, unreal. "Do you remember their names?"
He looks away from her, across at the stove, then gets up slowly. He opens the oven and pulls out the fish. It smells wonderful, leek and fennel and sea trout. He places it on the table, but catches his finger on the edge of the tray. "Fuck," he says, sucking his finger.
"Put it under the tap," she says, but instead he kneels in front of her and holds it in the bowl of water.
Her reflection disappears into the ripples.