We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. I was having to concentrate hard on the curves, black tarmac weaving a path through a formless white edging, pockets of trees becoming patches of woodland, and then parting to reveal the snow cloaked meadow, and ahead, the steeply pitched timber roof and narrow porch of our home for the weekend. Golden light glowed behind what I hoped were modern double glazed windows, like beacons calling us home, and I felt my shoulders begin to drop. Nearly there, and no kids in the car. Just one small bag each, and the bag full of food we had stopped and picked out together 30 miles back, at the last sizeable town. There had been something exciting about choosing that food – two breakfast, one lunch, two dinners, just for us. We could have whatever we wanted. A tingling remnant of the early days of making a home with one another had lent the aisles a jolliness I had not felt in a supermarket for at least a decade, though three jars of our daughter’s favourite pasta sauce, hard to find near home, had made their way into our trolley, and I had wondered aloud how they were getting on without us as I put them in.
The car journey had been longer than expected, but I had looked forward to it, time to be together, to talk, or listen to the radio. To connect. Wasn’t that the purpose of this weekend? Early into the drive I opened the conversation.
“So, no kids, we can talk about adult things!” I said. The tone was joking, but I wanted to talk about why we never had sex anymore.
“Oh yes! How’s your pension plan then?” said Paul. He was picking up the joking tone, but it closed the opening, and we ended up talking about pensions. Mine could probably be better. After the supermarket, as dusk started to fall, I thought about putting the radio on the ease the silence, but when I looked round, Paul was asleep, and I didn’t want to disturb him.
Inside, the cabin was bright and warm, the lamplight bouncing off varnished wood walls, floor and sloping ceiling. A deep cushioned couch faced a fire place laid with a ready stack of wood, and behind the couch, a bottle of wine and a welcome note sat on a crumb and paint free dining table. Deeper into the cabin, a small kitchen nook and a sparkling clean bathroom were topped by a mezzanine sleeping platform, a narrow ladder-like staircase providing access. Sometimes, the reality proves better than the pictures. I carried the bag of food to the kitchen, and left it on the floor for Paul to put away, while I took my bag up to the bedroom to unpack.
The bed, covered in a luxuriantly soft fleece throw and three pillows deep at the head, took most of the space up there, and you had to bend unless you were stood at its centre. The cabin almost forced you to get in and snuggle up. I stripped to my underwear and arranged myself on top of the bed covers. There was a delicate balance to strike. On the one hand, my hope was that coming up the ladder, Paul would be seduced by the voluptuous scene before him. On the other, it had to look like I was just hanging out, and any allure was entirely accidental. Or any lack of allure of course. Not to be wanted hurts more when you had hoped to be. So guide book in hand, I lay on my side, the soft throw caressing my skin, and waited.
Five minutes later, Paul’s head, then shoulders, then chest, appeared from below. I was already stiff and a little cold.
“Shall I do the chilli tonight?” he asked, looking me in the eye.
“Is that what you want?” I asked.
“I don’t mind, its up to you.”
“Have you felt this throw, it’s gorgeous.” I stroked the grey pile just in front of my carefully arranged breasts. The rest of Paul’s body rose up into the space and he ruffled the fleece at the edge of the bed. “Doesn’t it just make you want to lie on it?” I invited. He sat down, keeping his jeans on.
“I’ll do the chilli then if that’s alright with you.”
“Ok. Shall I help?” I asked.
“Its fine, relax. Work out what you want to do tomorrow” he said, nodding at the guide book still in my hand.
“What do you think we should do tomorrow?”
“I don’t mind, whatever really.” He said, and went back down. I listened to the familiar sounds of him starting the dinner below me, and put my pyjamas on.
Dinner was delicious. Ignoring the table, we sat on the couch, plates in hands, and talked about how our son was getting on at school. Afterwards, he lit the fire while I washed up, though we weren’t cold then, and we sat together, my bare feet pressed against his denim clad thigh, and watched it burn.
The next day, he got up before me, and I lay cocooned in cotton and feathers, as the amber sun crept across the snow outside, and seeped into the cabin, lighting first just the floor, the table legs, the base of the stairs, then quickly, the walls, the counter tops and at last flooding the mezzanine with a burnished glow. Paul, carrying a steaming cup and a plate of toast, arrived with the sun, and we sat side by side in bed, talking about an article we had both read in the news yesterday. We had gone to bed tired the night before, and though he lay a hand on my body, it was as he shut his eyes and wished me good night. Still. We had the whole day ahead of us. I was keen to do something he would enjoy, that we would enjoy together, but I had found I didn’t know what that was. I’m not sure Paul did either, because he couldn’t tell me. In the end, we drove to a town nearly an hour away, which was supposed to have a pretty high street. It was pretty, though the snow was turning to slush on the pavements, and the museum, fabled to hold a traditional textile collection worthy of a far bigger establishment, was closed due to staff shortages. Paul drove back, and we laughed about the lack lustre day, though I was disappointed we hadn’t found something better to do.
Back at the cabin, I chopped vegetables and imagined that he might come up behind me and hold me, that I might feel him grow aroused, and put down my knife, and we might make love right there, bathed in the radiance of this island of warmth in a sea of moon-silvered snow, and afterwards, at the table, we would hold each other’s gaze across the flames of the candles, and we would remember who we were. But we ate on the couch again, a blanket over our knees, watching the fire crackle and talking about what we would watch on TV, if there was one.
In bed that night, I asked him. “You don’t seem very interested in me any more.” Not asked, I suppose. Told.
“It’s not that,” he said, “it’s just always so busy. I’m just always so busy”.
On the way home, the next day, I watched the snow thin and then vanish out the window and thought about our plans for Christmas.
We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. I had worked late again the previous night, and I dozed along the way, lulled by the hum of the engine. The journey took longer than I hoped, and it was late when we arrived. The cabin was beautiful, standing towards the western edge of a large clearing, facing across an acre of undulating snow, and into the evergreens, shrouded in white. I was groggy after my nap, and felt more like going straight to bed than cooking a meal, but I came round as I got on with it, and felt better for the rest. I cooked my chilli, which I know Sylvia always enjoys, but my mind wasn’t on it. I hadn’t really thought about how it would feel to leave the kids for the first time, and it had taken me by surprise, the pang I felt as we drove away. I worried about how they were doing with Sylvia’s mum and dad. Were they being kind when my daughter refused to eat food she wasn’t used to? Was my son stressed about his homework this weekend? I had promised to help him on Thursday, and I still hadn’t done it by the time it was too late.
When we got into bed, I wondered if we should have sex. A night alone together, you’d think that would be all we would do, after all this time. But I wasn’t sure she wanted to. She seemed tired, and if I’m honest, I think it would have been nice, but she lay so stiff beside me I wasn’t even sure she would welcome a cuddle. It can be so hard, knowing, you know, when I’m wanted. And it used to sting when I wasn’t. I could never tell if it was me she didn’t want, or the sex.
We had a nice day the next day. There wasn’t much to do in the area with that kind of snowfall, unless we were going to get into cross country skiing, but the roads were pretty clear, so we drove to this village that was meant to be nice. It was supposed to have this museum, like the biggest draw for miles around was a museum of rugs, but it wasn’t even open. It was ok, we found it funny. It’s always the days that go a bit wrong that make the memories I think. As long as you can find the humour. I miss that, we used to be better at it, but these days we’re stressed all the time and it’s hard to laugh off those small disasters when you feel forever one mishap away from losing control of the whole damn situation.
It was lovely to have her cook for a change. I know she doesn’t like to do it. To just sit, and chat, and not have to worry about who is not eating what, or put anyone else to bed, or stare at all the jobs that need doing, it was really nice. Good to get home, and I feel there are chores I neglected as a consequence, but it was good to get away. I’d like to bring some of that stuff back home though. Laugh about stuff. Keep the TV off, have a chat together once in a while. If she wanted to.