WHEN LEAH WOKE up that morning, her husband’s side of the bed was still untouched. Mark had spent several sleepless nights lately, nervously roaming up and down the sitting room, smoking cigarettes in the corner, and staring seriously out of the window for hours, lost in thought. Yet despite the long nights and the mysterious preoccupations, at eight o’clock he was always perfectly shaved, impeccably dressed in his suit, and ready to go out. However, that day something was different. It was already half past eight, and his suit was still hanging in the wardrobe, his shoes were scattered around the bedroom, and his mobile was switched off on the bedside table. Even Leah, who by now was already quite used to her husband’s eccentricities, thought something out of the ordinary was going on. Worried, she quickly put on her dressing gown and rushed out of the room.
Everywhere was dark and quiet. The first rays of the morning sun, struggling to get in through the heavy living room curtains, were casting sharp shadows on the furniture, already disfigured by the haze of what seemed like a hundred cigarettes smoked. A cold chill went down Leah’s spine. She could sense trouble approaching. Anxious to air out the dense atmosphere and let the morning light dissipate her fears, she drew back the curtains and realised her husband was still there, sitting in the couch, smoking in silence, apparently relaxed.
Momentarily relieved from her worries, she moved silently towards him and softly caressed his neck. After all, maybe he was just feeling a bit sick and had decided to rest at home for the day. Mark unwound slightly at her touch, held her hand gently, and, with eyes fixed on the ground, finished his cigarette. He seemed exhausted, more exhausted than she had ever seen him before. Concerned, Leah gripped his chin and made him look at her. He had deep grey shadows beneath his eyes, his lips were dry and cracked from all the smoking, his hair was messy, and his stubble completed an exasperatingly rough look. Still, even though his gentle blue eyes shivered with tiredness and exhaustion, somehow Leah realised that the anxious look that had been marring his expression those last days had finally vanished. In its place was the calm and reassured face of a man who had taken a decision.
She didn’t know what had been tormenting her husband lately. He had always been very reserved, and over the years she had learnt how to leave him space whenever he needed it. However, this time his struggle seemed to be of a dimension she had not seen before, and it had lasted more than any other crisis he had ever been through. That’s why she couldn’t be happier it was over. So, smiling, Leah tried to liven up the situation.
“You look awful, baby!”
Mark breathed deeply and hopelessly tried to smile back, but his weary features didn’t seem able to follow his intentions. Instead, he squeezed her hand firmly and stared at her with distress. He didn’t say a word or make a sound, but with that frightening look he seemed to want to tell her something of extreme importance. Their eyes talked frantically for a moment, radiating endless thoughts and unspoken emotions, but Leah failed to understand what her husband was trying to tell her. She could see he was worried; she could see the unusual distraught intensity in his eyes, but she just couldn’t grasp its concealed meaning.
“What is it, Mark? Why don’t you just tell me what’s happening?”
Mark frowned, twisted his lips in pain, and then looked away. A few minutes passed. The morning sky had already filled the room with light, but nothing seemed to be any brighter. Leah was frightened. She was afraid of the meaning of her husband’s look, afraid of the lack of words, afraid of that excruciating hush. She wanted to ask a million questions, but none seemed significant enough. Still, someone had to speak again, ask a question, say something, anything to break that nerve-racking silence that was keeping them apart.
“Honey, you can speak to me.” Leah paused and held both his hands warmly. “I’m here for you.”
Mark gulped. His features turned graver, and he tightened his grip on her. Leah was waiting for an explanation, but Mark didn’t even seem to be looking for words to tell her what was happening. She opened her lips to question him again, but Mark swiftly stopped her from uttering a word. He gently put his hand on her mouth, tightened his grasp, and fixed his eyes on hers intensely. Leah was at a complete loss, petrified. What was Mark trying to do? Why wasn’t he talking to her? Why wasn’t he speaking?
Suddenly, as if she’d been struck by lightning, an uncontrollable storm of thoughts and feelings started to fill Leah’s mind. They were all without matter, all unspoken and assumed, but they were all more real than ever. Real, and yet too bold to face, too wild to accept, and too unreasonable to believe! Incredulous, Leah stood up with a sigh. It couldn’t be. He couldn’t just have decided something like that! It was crazy! Absurd! Desperately, she kept looking for a sign of denial in Mark’s expression, but, knowing that she had at last understood, his face remained still, resolute, and more confident than ever. Finally, realizing the truth of the situation and overwhelmed by the power and absurdity of his decision, by its worthiness and its meaninglessness, by its problems and by all its implications, Leah muttered the forbidden reality in a desperate attempt to make it believable to herself.
“Jesus, Mark … silence?”
So that night it was Leah who could not sleep. For two whole hours she had been turning side to side on their bed, without closing her eyes for a single second. Silence … was that really an option? Why would anyone want to stop talking? Why would Mark want to stop talking? He, out of all people! Leah turned and looked at her husband’s back. He was fast asleep, breathing slowly, recovering from the previous restless nights. Despite the strength of his body, that night he appeared to her as vulnerable and weak as a little child. When she married him she knew he wasn’t an ordinary man; she knew he was capable of the most bizarre things, and still she had married him. So she should have been prepared. She should have expected him to react uncommonly to any circumstance. The problem was that she hadn’t even realised there was such a circumstance to face. Despite all the sleepless nights and all the thinking Mark seemed to have been doing lately, she had failed to see the gravity of the situation he was going through. He didn’t openly speak about his worries, and since he was going to work and living his usual life undisturbed, Leah had naively assumed the problem wouldn’t have such dramatic consequences.
Nervously, Leah turned and covered herself with the sheet. She should have tried to speak to him before, because now … what was she supposed to do now? How was she supposed to help him if she didn’t even know what was causing his silence? Bizarre as it looked, nonsensical as it seemed, she knew that if she really loved him, she had no other option than to accept his decision, overcome the absurd, and make an effort to understand the incomprehensible.
But for how long? How long was this vow of silence going to last? And how was she supposed to live like that, next to someone who wouldn’t say a word and wasn’t telling her why he wouldn’t? Leah was confused and scared. She was uncertain of the future that awaited them. But worse than anything, she was unsure of her ability to face it. Probably she would just need to take it easy, try to grasp her husband’s thoughts again, and go on living her own life, accepting that for some strange reason, in this weird world, Mark had decided it wasn’t worth speaking anymore.