They decided to rent out the farmhouse to the daughter of their best friends. The young woman had been a charming, mischievous child always twisted around her mother’s legs, and had studied agriculture before moving away to Jordan to work on irrigation projects. She and her Jordanian husband were now expecting their first child.
As best as they could, they removed mementos and personal artefacts from the rooms, using their son’s upstairs study to store crates that were sealed just in case. Photo albums, treasured books, favourite kitchenware and artwork, along with both of their slim wardrobes, went into these wooden boxes. At first, the husband had wanted to put these in a disused shed on the property, but they decided their effects might more likely be prone to fire, damp or theft.
They handed over the keys to the slight young woman with her swollen belly just beginning the show under her dress, and the handsome man with thick waves of black hair and erudite glasses. They felt reassured in the face of such purity, that their house would be looked after and loved.
They moved back to Paris where they had begun their lives together many years ago, feeling denuded and carefree as students. They had always kept this tiny apartment, and it was a good thing too. When their own son was at university he had stayed here, and it had served through the periods when their marriage had been strained, when either had gone there to breathe and revive, sometimes taking lovers there to fuck and discard, for they were bound to one another.
Free of decor, with its squeaky herringbone wooden floors and small rooms, the apartment showed no record of their lives, so they were as guests. They resumed heady, unsophisticated lovemaking on the mattress their son had left there, especially through the long mornings when the city revolved and banged and wailed around them. The man found that his erections were sturdy and ongoing; the woman’s parts were bathed and her breasts heaved in burning peaks.
They were so grateful for this, crooning into necks and crevasses. They had not expected this rising.
In the afternoons the man wrote his articles and the woman strolled in the park, or all the way to the river, from where she would call him, describing people or birds.
Halfway through the summer the young Jordanian husband called the mobile phone that the older man had left on the kitchen counter. He and his wife were in bed together and the call was ignored. That afternoon the young man called again.
He said that his wife had lost the baby – the tiny girl had died inside of her – and they wished to leave the farmhouse. He said that his wife was broken and they could stay in that place no longer. She was coming home from the hospital tomorrow and they would return to the city. He was presently sleeping in a hotel.
He said they wanted no refund for the rent they had paid, just to be away from there. If there was a place they could leave the keys?
Of course, said the older man. I am so sorry –
The call ended and the man resumed his work. When it was complete, he walked through the rooms of the small apartment with its blank walls and on one of the walls he placed his open palms and leaned his body weight and dropped his head. There were piles of clothing on chairs and cleaning implements grouped in a corner. He thought of the empty farmhouse with its verdant summer growth, the cries that rang out after dark and his wife’s slumbering beside him, how there were nights when there was a quickened tampering in his heart and he would go downstairs onto the terrace, feel the warm drifts from the woods like the hands that would take him.
My collection The Cartography of Others is coming out with Unbound UK in 2018 and my book Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize. My short stories and flash fiction have been published in reviews including The Collagist, Lunch Ticket, Flash Fiction Magazine, Literary Orphans, Vestal Review, Wigleaf (forthcoming), Jellyfish and Connotation Press. I had two stories in this year’s Wigleaf Top 50 and have received a Pushcart nomination. I am Flash Fiction Editor for Litro Magazine UK.
Image: Andreas Selter