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Capture, Then Release

by Shaye Easton 9 months ago in marriage

“The things we love are not ours forever,” her mother said. “It’s lovely to find them, but they’re never ours to keep.”

There is something in the water.

Mara only knows this because sunlight coruscates on its surface as it bobs, flashing the bank and surrounding trees like a makeshift strobe light. She spots the pattern this light makes on the bark of a silver gum and stands still for a moment, transfixed, while curiosity builds like an expanding balloon in her chest.

Then she turns to Paul, stopped a few paces back with their towels slung over his shoulder. “How’s here for a swim?”

...

When she was a child, Mara’s parents would take her and her brother to Jervis Bay. They had a holiday home there, not ten minutes’ walk from Hyams beach. One time her brother found a clam shell in the sand. It had an underside so pearlescent, it glowed like the moon. “For you,” he said to her.

...

“You shouldn't leave that in the sun, you know,” Paul says when they’re back on the road. The black notebook, sealed by persons unknown in a zip-lock bag and discarded in a lake, swelters on their Volvo’s dashboard. Her husband advised against opening it until they were back at the house.

“It's a notebook,” Mara says now. “Not the Gutenberg bible.” And it was floating in the summer sun for god knows how long before they found it.

But Paul treats paper like it’s gold. Mara supposes it’s an historian thing. She moves the notebook out of the light and into her lap.

...

On their first anniversary as a couple, Paul took her to history museum in Sydney city, and then to a fancy French restaurant called P’tit Soleil where he paid for dinner. They served chicken liver pâté and escargot and coq au vin, and after a dessert of mousse au chocolat, the couple went for a walk down by the harbour, the city lights glittering on the water.

“Do you know what my favourite thing about history is?” Paul asked her, an arm around her shoulders. It was mid-autumn, and the night air was beginning to bite.

“No, what is it?”

“History can't change. Once an event, or an action, or a moment has passed, it stays the same forever. The memories can remain with us always.” He turned to face her. “I’m so grateful for that.”

Mara met his gaze with something like scepticism. “Why?”

“Because I love you. I love every memory I've ever had with you.”

It was the first time he had said it. Mara kissed him. She didn’t know what to say.

...

They stand looking down at the notebook, barely bending the bedspread upon which it rests. The setting sun shines through the blinds, painting gold stripes across the off-white cotton, but stopping an inch shy of the zip-lock bag. “Shall I or shall you?” Paul asks.

A minute passes in silent contemplation. “Oh, for God’s sake,” Mara says, reaching for the bag.

The notebook is blank.

...

Two nights after their engagement, Mara and Paul went out to lunch with his close family—a term which encompassed his mother and father, his sister and her girlfriend, his aunt and uncle, and his fourteen year-old cousin.

All afternoon, through multiple courses of food and several rounds of cocktails, the topic of discussion was their relationship. Paul’s aunt Suzanne asked when they’d first known they loved each other. Mara shouldn’t have been caught off-guard, but she was.

“The first time we went away together,” Paul said, “we went to Byron Bay. We spent a lot of time at the beach but if I ever left her alone for a minute, when I’d return she’d be cradling a little pile of shells. By the end of the trip we had so many shells I had to go out and buy this massive jar for them.” He laughed a little, looked at Mara, smiled. “That's when I knew.”

After some awwing, the table turned to her. She let her gaze quickly skip across their expectant faces. “It was love at first sight,” she said.

...

A week following the discovery of the notebook, Mara is in the lounge room enjoying a glass of iced tea when her husband walks in, envelope in hand. He’s frowning down at it like he’s never seen a letter before and is unsure how to operate it.

“Who's it from?”

“My aunt.”

Mara feels as though her reality has just glitched. “Your aunt?”

Paul nods. “She's addressed it to you,” he says, and begins to open it. Mara holds her breath while he does so, the rustling of paper loud in her ears.

It contains a cheque for twenty grand. There is no note.

...

At lunch with Paul’s family, Mara excused herself to go to the bathroom. She’d had two mimosas but knew this wasn’t the only reason she was feeling dizzy. When she emerged from one of the stalls, Suzanne was touching up her lipstick in the mirror.

“Oh,” Mara said.

The woman smiled. She had a gorgeous wide mouth, accentuated by the tight, glossy ponytail she always wore. Mara, with her loose brown waves and soft, rounded features, felt ruffled and unkempt beside her, like an unmade bed.

“Enjoying lunch?” Suzanne asked.

“Yes,” Mara replied, “thank you.”

She stared at Mara while she clicked the cap back on her lipstick and deposited it in her handbag. “You be good to that boy,” she said. The smile was no longer on her face.

...

“Why is my aunt sending you money, Mara?” Paul asks her over dinner. He seems to have spent the whole afternoon working up to the question.

Mara pauses, a forked piece of cauliflower halfway to her mouth. “Maybe it’s a late wedding present,” she says, and continues eating.

...

The eve of their wedding, Mara held a hand to the knife as they cut the cake, but it was Paul who did all the work. The crowd cheered, and she was blinded by a dozen camera flashes. She was reminded, in that moment, of a memory from childhood when her parents had her portrait taken. It was two years after her brother had died. They dressed her in a stiff lemon-yellow dress and told her to smile for the camera. Mara had liked the idea of being captured on film, but ultimately came to hate the photo that hung in the hallway like some kind of prize. Her brother had been the prize.

Her newly-wedded husband leaned down and whispered that he loved her. Suzanne stared at her from the crowd. By the time the cake was ready to eat, she couldn’t stomach a single bite.

...

Mara sits down, pen in hand, the notebook resting open before her. She’s never kept a journal in her life and isn’t quite sure where to begin. The empty pages seem to demand something she either doesn’t have or can’t give.

The same feeling of queasiness as the night of her wedding comes over her now. She runs a hand over the paper, slightly warped with moisture. She holds her pen to the blank page. She doesn’t write a word.

...

One afternoon while Paul was working, Suzanne came by the house with a box of history books. “They're my husband's,” she explained, “but we promised Paul he could have them once he had a proper place of his own.”

Mara helped her move them up to the third room, where Paul had lined three of four walls with bookshelves. “How does he organise them?” his aunt asked.

After a moment, Mara admitted she didn't know.

“I suppose we’ll have to leave them as is then.”

Mara put on a pot of tea afterwards and they drank it together at the coffee table. “That’s lovely,” Suzanne said.

“What is?”

“That shell there.” Mara looked over at where the clam shell from Jervis Bay sat above a pile of bills on the counter, a de facto paperweight. “What is it you liked more: finding the shell, or having it afterwards?”

Mara sensed a hidden meaning. “I’m afraid I don't know what you mean.”

Suzanne leaned forward, her tea cradled in her hands. “It's simple. You liked obtaining my nephew, but you don’t much care for having him, do you? You run from one shiny thing to the next.”

It took Mara a moment to recover from the shock. “I married Paul. I don't see how you can call that running.”

“Yes, and every day I wonder why you did it—why you tied yourself to a person you don’t care for. Admit it, Mara. You don’t love him. You never have.”

...

“You don't suppose it’s connected do you?” Mara asks in bed that night. They’ve just turned out the lights. “The notebook, and now a cheque?”

Paul’s voice is faint in the darkness. “Why would you think that?”

“I—never mind. I don't know.”

There’s silence for a long time. Mara nearly falls asleep.

“Why has my aunt sent you a cheque for twenty thousand dollars?”

Mara isn’t sure if it’s the dark or the drowsiness, or if maybe something inside her has finally cracked open like a clam, but quietly, she admits, “She's paying me to leave you.”

“What? Why would she do that?”

“Because she cares about you.”

Paul doesn’t immediately reply, and when he does, he feels infinitely more distant. “Mara,” he says softly, “what aren’t you telling me?”

“I'm sorry, Paul. I'm so sorry.”

...

Mara cried all through her brother’s funeral, and for days afterwards. She slept with the clam shell clenched so tight in her hand that it sliced her palm and she had to go to hospital for stitches.

“The things we love are not ours forever,” her mother said after the doctor left the room. “It’s lovely to find them, but they’re never ours to keep.”

“Why?” she whimpered.

“It's just the way things are.” Mara began crying a little louder, and her mother drew her in for a hug, her own tears wetting her daughter’s hair. “Oh, honey. You have to let him go, baby. We know it’s hard, but you have to let him go.”

...

The day Mara met Paul, the sky was a dimpled grey and white, and an obscured gap in the cloud bank was allowing stray spikes of sunlight to prod at the pallid earth. The rays, floating disembodied from their source, took on the mysterious and slightly disquieting air of a miracle. She felt she could pluck one straight out of the sky and take it home in her back pocket.

She headed down the road, occasionally gazing into shop windows. It was her mother’s birthday in a couple weeks and she was hoping to find a present. Eventually she came across a bookstore and on a whim decided to enter. The store was small and under lit, and a rainbow of spines lined the walls and shelve rows, each as striking as the next. She browsed the books in the first aisle, then rounded the corner.

And there he was, flipping through a title in the history section, the rays of sunlight striking at his feet like they were pointing her to him. He was dressed in a white shirt and jeans, and the chestnut hair he now keeps trim was falling into his eyes. There was a silver watch on wrist which repeatedly caught the light, splaying it across the shelves in dizzying patterns. He was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

Was it a miracle, discovering Paul, or an ill-fated encounter? Mara still doesn't know. But she does know one thing: Suzanne is wrong. She had loved him once. She captured him in her heart. And then she made herself let him go.

...

The next morning, Mara wakes alone. She makes herself tea and enters the study. Paul didn’t say anything when he left for work, so she calls him and talks to his answering machine until it cuts her off.

Only then does she sit down, pull up the notebook, and begin to write.

marriage

Shaye Easton

22 y/o writer, bibliophile and English major based in Sydney, Australia.

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