This month’s advance extract from The Cure For Sleep (W&N: 20 Jan 2022) concerns promises: those moments in life when we pledge ourselves or strike a bargain. After reading, do share a short true tale of your own on this theme in the comments section (no more than 300 words).
I hope my journey to publication can encourage new and emerging writers to risk putting their own words out in the world: it is so exciting to see stories coming in from so many of you already.
‘WHEN ARE WE GOING TO HAVE CHILDREN?’
Nye’s question breaking the quiet of our New Year’s Day alone at home into sounds wild and discordant. A pigeon sobbed on our chimney top; outside, a child took a stick to the railings.
He’d put his book aside to look at me. Expectant.
I watched the light curdle and the small space between he and me separate, split. We were side by side in our ancient horsehair armchairs that disgusted everyone but us when I bought them in my old hometown just hours before we married at twenty-five. Like yesterday, I thought, while realising, all of a sudden, that for Nye it may seem otherwise. A very long time ago, and too too much with just me for company.
Very slowly, reluctant suitor, I got down on one knee and reached for his hand while my dry throat tried to make tongue work.
Is this how our marriage ends? I did not say.
‘When are we going to talk about it, Tan?’ Tears in his eyes, a catch in his voice. ‘I’ve always wanted this, since I was a boy myself. To be a father.’
You are that for me, who never had one. This, too, I did not say.
‘I’ve never wanted to have a small person in my power.’ I said instead. ‘What if I they felt trapped, like I did? I’ve got no model for family life, no feeling for it. It’s only something I wanted to escape. And what if we have a child and each stage of its life triggers memories of what I’m trying to forget in mine?’
‘But I’ve loved you ten years now. When will enough time have passed for you to be over all that?’
Never, I thought.
But instead of that terminal answer, I asked for just a little longer, please: If Nye and I could both cast off our inertia, our shyness — if we booked holidays and went abroad like normal people instead of spending our annual leaves parked by our childhood beaches reading books with our feet on the dashboard — if we began to use our money instead of only saving it for accidents and emergencies (his carefulness a legacy of growing up in that mining valley during the strikes; my caution got from the short rations of Mother and me alone) — if we lived more in our bodies and less in imagination — then we could try for one.
This time next year. Yes?
Like the Miller’s daughter who promises her firstborn child to a stranger if he will spin straw into gold, I did not think we would change very much, or that Nye would hold me to that moment.
Before we kissed on it in the white light that revealed his age and mine, I should have remembered the shadow side of bargains: their strange insistence on terms. Even when those who make them have no belief in fate or design themselves.