Great stories, beautifully told
by Theodor Bernard Küng
I keep my suitcase by the back door. It doesn’t quite fit; the space is too narrow. Sian always complains that it gets in her way, although she hardly ever goes into the garden anymore. On the rare occasions, like today, when we entertain outdoors she’ll shove it aside. It’s not heavy but she avoids lifting things because of her tendonitis, so it ends up blocking the corridor where someone invariably trips over it. It’s become a sort of ritual. Everyone laughs and shouts ‘Ahoy, suitcase!’ Sian rolls her eyes and asks when I’m going to throw the damn thing away. I mumble something about storage space. The conversation moves on.
It was already used when you gave it to me. I remember seeing it for the first time, lying on the bed all faded and scuffed.
‘They don’t make good suitcases anymore,’ you said. ‘The new ones fall apart after a couple of trips. If you want quality, you’ve got to go old school’.
I knew you didn’t really care if I liked it. You just wanted to get me something. But I did like it. It was from you.
I remember your smile, the look in your eyes as you drew closer, the sound of the sea outside our little Sicilian hotel, the softness of your skin, the smell of camomile in your hair.
Sian asked me once what I kept in the suitcase.
‘Memories and broken dreams,’ I joked.
* * * *
She handed me a plate to dry. ‘Sandra invited us over for drinks next weekend.’ She turned away, leaving the bulk of the party dishes still in the sink. Sian doesn’t like sharp knives so I usually do those, along with anything too heavy for her to lift comfortably.
‘Actually, I thought maybe we could do something next weekend. You know, just the two of us. Haven’t gone anywhere in a while.’
Sian lay down on the sofa. ‘Whereabouts did you have in mind?’
I hadn’t expected her to seriously consider it. I abandoned the washing and wandered over. ‘Well, there’s that nice little pub in Devon, the one we visited once. Remember? It was the year we were married. I promised to show you Saturn, so we took the telescope off into the countryside, but the weather was so foul our tent was swamped.’
I chuckled and took Sian’s hand. My fingers were slippery from the soap and she made a face, but didn’t pull away. ‘We were utterly soaked and completely lost, but then we stumbled across that pub in the middle of nowhere, with the roaring fire and the man with the dog . . .’
Sian snorted. ‘I remember him. He was well creepy.’
I squeezed onto the sofa, perching on the bit not reserved for Sian’s feet. ‘And remember the next morning? Sunrise over the sea, a hot breakfast just for us, our ramble along the coast, and afterwards dinner in our cosy room with the wooden beams and the embarrassingly squeaky bed—’
Sian removed her hand. ‘I’d rather not, dear. That was always more your thing. Besides, I promised Sandra.’
My disappointment must have shown. ‘You don’t mind, do you?’ said Sian. ‘I mean, if you really want to I suppose we could look at some options, maybe book a hotel . . .’
I shrugged it off. Just an idea.
Sian leaned back and closed her eyes again. I returned to the sink.
The last few years have been a chorus of I’d Rather Nots. I used to remember the early days, when Sian was as game as I was. Now I wonder if I made them up.
You were always game. I’d never met someone so enthused, so full of life, who insisted on doing all the nerdy things I enjoyed; the camping, the stargazing, visiting every last mouldy castle in Wales, even the afternoons painting model aeroplanes. You loved it all, and I loved you for loving it and for telling me so. It didn’t matter if you were telling the truth or not. When I was with you, the constellations danced.
‘Are you listening to me?’
I started, realizing I’d been scrubbing the same plate for several minutes.
‘I said, what do you keep in that suitcase that’s so important?’
It amazes me that she’s never bothered to look for herself. Then again, maybe she has. Maybe she wants to check if I know myself.
‘Just some old clothes, maybe a couple of pictures.’
‘I’d be surprised if they still fit you,’ she retorts. ‘I wish you’d throw the ratty old thing away.’
My feet ached but I kept it to myself. Sian turned in early.
After finishing the washing up I went into the garden to fold away the table and chairs, then returned to the house to lock up. My suitcase was in the hallway where Sian left it. I return it to its spot by the door.
It was lighter than I remembered. But then, there’s not much in it. Just some old clothes. A few photographs taken long ago on some beach in Sicily. My life.
One day I’ll use it again. One day I’ll hear the creak of a light-hearted tread on the stair and I’ll know who it is before I even turn around.
As if you needed to ask. I won’t even have to pack.
On that day, I’ll stand up straight. I’ll take your hand in mine and I’ll feel strong again. As I step through the garden door my feet will stop aching, I’ll hear the crash of waves and for the first time in a lifetime I’ll be the man whose clothes are in that suitcase.
I sighed and went to close the door. As I did the breeze ushered in the scent of the garden. For the briefest moment I fancied I’d caught the trace of a familiar smell. But then I remembered it’s too early in the year for camomile.
Copyright © 2019 Theodor Bernard Küng