This is my happy ever after. My husband and I own a farm between fir trees at the edge of an evergreen forest. The forest grows in straight lines which span three hills. The top layer of fir trees on the far hill have recently been cut – there is a square of ripped branches, torn roots and shorn earth.
The land looks blackened.
There is a cold wind from the north and it has been pulling at me for a while. It always brings the smell of logs burning. Outside our whitewashed farmhouse, there is a wide barn and a field where grass spikes through ripples of snow.
Beside the metal gate to the field, my husband and I are arguing.
Our clothes match in colours of green and brown, but mine don’t fit me anymore. I’ve lost weight since we married. I back away from him. He keeps grabbing for me. But there is so little left of me, I don’t know what he intends to hold onto.
Our voices are spikes and we’ve already been arguing for a while.
I’m not really here. Happy ever after what, exactly? Some time before, which I can no longer remember?
He shouts, ‘You don’t love me!’
I shout, ‘But I do!’
He steps towards me again.
I step back. ‘Of course I love you! I married you, didn’t I?’
He hollers, ‘You’ve never time for me – you’re obsessed by them!’ He jerks his head at the barn.
‘But I’ve got to have something that’s mine, or I’m no use!’
He yells, ‘You’re having an affair! I’ve hunted through your things, can’t find anything, no letters, nothing. So where’ve you hid them?’
I hold out my palms as if weighing the ice in the air. ‘When’ve I had time for an affair!’
‘You’re always with them!’ He jabs a finger towards the barn.
Twice now, he’s shown me the direction his anger is flowing.
But I don’t clearly see it. I’m not protecting anything that’s mine.
Still focussed on my retaliations, I yell, ‘I’ve been trying to give more time to you. Us. You’ve not noticed, as you’ve had things of your own… Love, I’ve got to have-‘ I stop shouting because I’m crying.
Glaring at the barn, my husband shouts, ‘Give them up, or give me up!’
‘It’s not love to ask this of me!’ I clutch my hands over my mouth as I realise he stopped loving me a long time ago.
Overhead the clouds deepen to grey. Snow falls.
He steps towards me. I run from him, slipping a little at the edge of the field, I right myself, and run up the hill towards the other side of the forest.
I turn and look at him from this distance. A tall man, a shouting shadow. He roars, ‘If you run, I’ll choose. I’ll kill what you love!’ He goes into the farmhouse. Comes out with a rifle. He opens the gate to the field. Loads the rifle. Leans it against the fence.
He goes into the barn.
Snow covers my footprints.
He leads my dappled white stallion out into the field. Picks up the rifle and shoots him in the head. The shot echoes. The horse falls.
Fifteen years I’ve loved my husband but love explodes out of me in the duration of a gunshot.
I cry out the dead horse’s name. It is called Psyche.
From the barn, the sound of my other horses, screaming.
He goes back into the barn. Leads another horse out into the field. It is limping. He shoots it in the head. The shot echoes. The horse falls.
He reaches into his pocket and extracts bullets. He re-loads the rifle. In the distance, a dog barks.
My husband goes back into the barn. Leads another horse out into the field. Shoots it through the head. And another horse. And another.
Twelve horses lie dead in a circle.
He pauses in the snow beside the last dead horse. My chestnut coloured colt.
Blood stains the snow pink.
He goes inside the farmhouse and closes the grey door.
I scream and the forest screams with me. The screams last for a whole night. And so do the smells. Fresh blood. Rotting blood. Dried blood. When my screams run out and the forest is silent, the pocketwatch I wear around my neck stops ticking. I clench it, trying to warm its ticks back to life in my palm.
My husband doesn’t leave the farmhouse. He is waiting for me to go away.
At first I only think I can’t.
After a while I know I can’t.
After a while longer I know I have to.
When the light goes out in the bedroom, I sneak into the hallway and get my purse. My mobile’s charging in the living room. The hallway is a mile long and I have to pass the bottom of the stairs to get it.
But I can hear his footsteps overhead and the gun isn’t in the cabinet. He’s probably taken it upstairs. He’s up there, pacing. Carrying the gun. Caressing it like a bone?
Leaving my mobile behind, I go outside alone, no numbers, no texts, no emails, no lists of unseen friends.
I walk north towards the motorway fingering the broken pocketwatch around my neck. I hold it to my ear as I walk and listen and walk. I want to hear the ticks but they don’t come back.
Leaving a happy ever after is a step into icy salt fog. It will scour off the hurt and I’ll seek out my old ghosts in it. See which ones are still lingering, loyal to me even though I’ve not let them speak in my heart for years.
I’ll need some kind of cold kindness, because staying gone will be the hardest part.