He pushes the heavy iron gate open by the bars, flakes of peeling paint chafing his cold palms. The soles of his shoes scrunch against the grainy soil the pouring rain had carried this afternoon from the garden down the marble stairs, landing in small, grungy pools on the dirt road. He can feel the wet weather in his bones as he climbs up the steep, narrow steps, the night air heavy and cool on his cheeks.
The brown, wooden main door is locked. He fishes the keys out of his trouser pocket and with the help of the dim light coming from the lamppost by the street he unlocks the door. The house is dark but warm. He flicks the light on in the hall, goes into the sitting room, looks around, then slumps down in his armchair by the dead fireplace. He was hoping his wife was here. Her fluffy, black slippers are gaping at him from the carpet next to the sofa. Her woolen, black dressing gown is hanging from the coat hanger by the door, like a figure waiting for the arrival of guests. His picture with his wife at their daughter’s wedding, both with toothy smiles, is in a silver frame at the centre of the mantelpiece. He rubs his hands together to keep them warm. He craves to fetch kindling from the storeroom, bank it up and light the fire but he doesn’t want the neighbours to know he’s at home.
He wanted so much to see her tonight. It’s not easy for him to come and visit often. He should’ve known she was out when he saw her parking space by the street empty.
She’d be very happy if she saw him. She’d hug him and kiss him in the mouth and offer him a seat. She’d make him his usual mountain tea with a teaspoonful of thyme honey and some drops of lemon, just the way he likes it. She’d then take him to bed and cuddle him and tuck him in and lull him to sleep like a little baby and rub his cold feet warm against her own.
He hauls himself up and wends his way along the gloomy corridor and into their bedroom. Turns the light on and sees the bed neatly made, the heavy cherry red curtains drawn, a picture of his wife with their daughter in a gilded frame on the dressing table. A dark blue men’s robe – not his own – is hanging from the clothes hanger. Some black slippers are half-hidden under the bed. He takes off his shoes and tries them on. His feet swim in them. He slides them off and lies on his side of the bed. He wants to wait up for her, tell her it’s alright. He’d seen her cry and curse. She’d had her share of pain. That’s enough. He’d tell her it’s fine by him, he doesn’t mind.
The cold breeze makes his teeth chatter, invades his clothes, causes his eyes to water as he clambers down the stairs. He’d like to come another time, when she’s at home, warm his hands in the lit fireplace, ask for his robe and slippers to be dug up from the storeroom, his mountain tea steaming hot in his porcelain cup. But no. He won’t come again. He’s decided to let her be, let her live her new life. She’s been through so much all this time by his deathbed. He feels they both have to rest now.
He places the house keys on the side wall by her parking space and trudges down the deserted street under the foggy, starless sky.