Smoke In Her Eyes
By Anna Belfrage
Six months ago, Helle Madsen would have described herself as normal. Now she no longer knows if that terms applies, not after her entire life has been turned upside down by the reappearance of not one, but two, men from her very, very distant past.
(This is at a low point in Jason’s and Helle’s relationship, very much due to the fact that he totally closes Helle out when he is attempting to handle the guilt and grief caused by Juliet’s accident. Poor Juliet has been reduced to a bedridden husk, and Jason spends his entire time dancing attendance on her – a self-imposed penance)
When Jason came home he was always tired. Sometimes they would go for a walk or a run, she would chatter away, he would remain silent. He would make an effort to smile at her jokes, but the smile didn’t reach his haunted eyes. He never asked about her day, and answered her questions in monosyllables. So she stopped asking. Instead, she conjured up pictures of how he sat in Juliet’s room, her hand clasped in his as he smiled and talked and sang. Things he no longer did with her.
He didn’t cook, muttering that he was too tired, and it wouldn’t kill her to take over the kitchen, would it? Helle acidly pointed out that she wasn’t exactly twiddling her thumbs, which at least made him apologise. He spent hours at the laptop, saying he had to keep up with his work, but now and then she caught him surfing the web, brow furrowed in deep lines of concentration as he read about the latest development in burns treatment. And then there were the hushed conversations with Nigel. She hated that he shared far more of his anguish with Nigel than he did with her. It made her feel very inconsequential in his life.
“You can talk to me, you know,” she told him after one such hushed conversation, studying him over the rim of her tea mug. He swivelled in his chair to look at her.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m here, Jason. I want to help you.”
He raised an eyebrow quizzically. “With what?”
Helle sighed. He was being purposefully obtuse. “With Juliet of course. I can listen if you want to share.”
“I don’t,” he said a bit too curtly. “You wouldn’t understand. You don’t know her.”
“Oh, so Nigel does?” she bit back, terribly wounded. Jason swivelled back to his laptop and muttered something under his breath. She heard him, though: “At least he isn’t pathetically jealous,” he said. She rose, rinsed out her mug, and went to bed, hoping he’d follow. He didn’t.
It had never been like this between them before. He walled himself off in silence and she was stuck outside. It all became very dreary, very fast. He never seemed to notice Helle. Instead his life revolved around Juliet and her needs. Even when he was home, he was with Juliet, his eyes dark and brooding. He seemed to resent the time away from her bedside, eager to leave in the morning, grumpy and hollow when he came back at night. He had shifted pivots: in just over a fortnight he had gone from orbiting round Helle to rotating around Juliet, and Helle didn’t know what to do—she continued to gyrate stupidly around him.
She tried to ask interested questions, only to be rebuffed. He would sigh and look away, telling her she had no idea just how terrible things were.
“You haven’t seen her.”
No, because he wouldn’t let her come with him. Juliet would be disturbed by her presence, he repeated mulishly.
“I can’t make this more difficult for her than it already is,” he said, sounding as if he was talking to a petulant child. Boy, had he missed his vocation—Mr Florence Nightingale personified. Helle made a face behind his back; maybe she should buy him a black Victorian dress and an apron to go with it.
She would hug him, hoping for more, and he’d disengage himself.
“Really, Helle, I’m not in the mood. Besides, I have to sort my way through this e-mail correspondence tonight.” Yeah, right. And she was Mickey Mouse…
In bed, she’d snuggle up to him or run her hand down his back and he would move away, grunting in irritation. That made her feel like a sex fiend, and if she persisted he would sigh and tell her he was tired.
“Not now,” became his most common words to her and she ached at his rejection.
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Smoke In Her Eyes
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with three absorbing interests: history and writing.