The Wind, The Wanderer And His Wife
The Wanderer had always listened to the wind and would more often than not wind up exactly where he should be. Because of this, he had learned to trust the wind more than he trusted himself, and he would rarely let his roots dig into a place when he arrived. He was always ready to say goodbye as soon as he had said hello.
People and places were morose and magical and moreish and he only had one life and he planned on seeing and smelling it all while he was here.
He found himself the perfect trade as a farm hand and he would season places with his presence. He picked berries, he sheared sheep, he built fences, he planted seeds, but mostly…most of his time was spent falling in love with women.
He couldn’t help himself. He found them intoxicating — what they said, the way they said it, the way their brains worked, the way their heads tilted, the way their hair fell, the way their bodies bent.
Women were works of art and he felt alive and important being close to them. He was of the firm belief that if you studied women long and hard enough, then you could find the truth of the world.
At his last job, he had fallen in love with the Farmer’s wife and he would watch her all day — cooking, cleaning, reading, doing her hair, smiling, frowning, thinking, fumbling. He loved looking from the outside in. He searched for that simmering suffering of desire, daily; he looked to live in that beautiful distant pain behind the window pane.
He would watch her and ache and pine and burn for her, quietly at the other side of the kitchen table, in front of her husband’s thick ignorance. He would silently seduce her with a quiet compliment about her food or her hair or her politics. What most men would forget to feed women, he wined and dined them on.
And the women fell over themselves to get close to him and his dimples and his red hair and his blue eyes and his mystery and his acute and accurate observations about their existence.
Out of all of the things in his life, breath was by far the best. He would notice that at the beginning of the day, his breath would be calm and quiet and patient, preparing. And after a day of hard work his breath would be long, filling and satisfying. And on days when a beautiful woman came close, his breath would shorten and steam. He would watch the woman’s breath do the same and he wondered how mad it was that his breath could burn his body and set him on fire. Once his breath was shallow and stoked, he would stop at nothing until he had the woman right next to him, inhaling his exhales, and so on.
However, once he had known a woman and felt her breathe with him, there was no way he could stay. He had tried to before, but the wind had told him to leave and so he did. There were thousands of other breaths to bear witness to. So he decided it best to always have his bags prepared and packed, to make it easier on everyone.
One summer, he arrived to an apple orchard just in time for picking season. The farmer showed him to his quarters and he dumped down his small bag and cleaned up for supper.
At the dinner table, he explained his story to the farmer and his wife and his two sons, and just as they had said grace, a young indigenous servant girl with short curly hair, big chocolate eyes and even bigger lips, placed a large plate of roast vegetables on the table, quickly smiled, and then left.
And that was it. That was by far enough to remind him that he was breathing. “Who was this girl?” He wondered, what is her story, how does she breathe when she thinks, when she dreams?”
The rest of the dinner conversation became a blur and would only clear itself every time she entered the room. She was tiny, yet somehow manage to inhale all of the oxygen around, and The Wanderer was left breathless by her presence and could not understand how everyone else could remain so calm. He could not understand how this woman was invisible to everyone else but him.
As the woman began packing up the plates, he offered to help. Everyone, including the servant girl looked at him in amazement.
Don’t be silly,” said the farmer’s wife. “We all have our jobs, and yours starts tomorrow. You will need all of your strength.” She said sternly.
“All the same, I think I will help, if you don’t mind. It relaxes me. Done it since I was a kid. Habit.”
“As you please,” said the farmer’s wife, worriedly.
Once in the kitchen, he got to work and washed the dishes as the girl dried.
“My name is Tom,” said The Wanderer warmly, and without looking up, the girl replied, “Maggie.”
The girl was hard to get to know and all of the ways he used to speak to women wouldn’t work. But he went on and he didn’t stop until the girl grabbed his arm and said, “Listen, I know what I look like…and I know what you want. And I can tell you this now…you ain’t never getting it. So, you can put on all the charm and smiles and whatever you like, little one.”
And she walked out of the kitchen.
The boy was breathless and beaten. He went to bed and could not stop thinking about the girl. Every moment that he was about to drift off, her words would catch him. It was as though she had seen straight through his skin to his soul and shouted at it. He felt like a fake and fraud, and for the first time in his life he felt embarrassed about all of the things he had come to take pride in.
The next day he got to work and could not stop thinking about Maggie and her bitter bite.
Every day, he put some of the apples he had collected out the front of her door and every night he helped her clean the kitchen. And over time she began to talk to him. She spoke of the orphanage she grew up in. She spoke of how mistreated she had been by people she had trusted. She spoke of anything and everything, because finally someone wanted to listen, really listen, and his ears were like pillows to her bruised spirit.
And he forgot all about his firing breath, and could only ever focus on Maggie and her stories and her strength and her pain and her truth, and one time when they went out for a midnight walk, she wept on his shoulder and her breath was shallow and stamped on, and for the first time in his life he felt proper love. And after she had sobbed into him, she slowly raised her head and kissed his lips, and they made love in secret, silent breaths from that night on.
For a month, their spirits became inseparable, and when The Wanderer was working, he felt he wasn’t really there. He now felt that whenever he was without her, that he was missing something. In the beginning the feeling was fun and exciting, but after a few of weeks, the feeling didn’t fade and that began to worry him.
It was coming toward the end of the picking season, and The Wanderer and the woman met in their secret place. He was preparing to tell the woman that the wind had spoken to him and he would have to leave soon.
Usually, he didn’t feel bad about these inevitable conversations. They were a part of life, every story has a beginning and an ending, and hanging onto the ending was a waste of time and unwise. But for some reason, this time it twisted his stomach and trembled his body.
When the woman arrived, she was quiet and still and very different to her usual talkative self, and after a couple of kisses, The Wanderer cleared his throat and said, “I…I have something to tell you…”
“So do I,” she responded, softly with a sense of sickness. “I know who you are. And I know how you are. And I know what you are going to do before you do.
The Wanderer was taken a back.
“But I have something to say and it’s more important than who you are, or who I am, or what you want or what I want.
She stopped, and started again. “I’m going to have a baby.”
The Wanderer froze.
“Say something, “she said. But he couldn’t, so he didn’t.
“I’m scared,” she continued.
The Wanderer opened his mouth but nothing came out. After an awfully long moment, he took his arms and cradled the woman. But he knew his comfort was a lie and she did too, but she couldn’t let herself think of the truth all the time, reality was always so rough with her, it was too much. She couldn’t let herself think she had been foolish. She couldn’t let herself think that every single soul was sour. So she held him and she hoped like she had never hoped for anything before in her life. Even when she had been beaten and abused, she hadn’t hoped for anything. She had admitted herself to a form of acceptance. But now, she hoped that this boy would be a man and that this nightmare would become a dream.
They went to their respective rooms and lay awake until morning.
While it was still dark, The Wanderer picked up his bags and ran to the road. He ran until he reached the train station and he got a ticket to the next town.
And at breakfast, when Maggie realised that The Wanderer had left, she went out the back and was sick into the grey grass. And she stopped speaking. She completely forgot how to make sounds with her mouth. The sounds had been shocked right out of her by something she knew would almost definitely happen.
And for a year, The Wanderer wandered and worked and ate and met people… but nothing was the same. The cool breeze would no longer hit his face thankfully after a long, hot day. People were no longer interesting or kind or remarkable. Even the most beautiful women seemed ugly. Everything worthwhile had died and one day when he was walking home from work he felt his breath catch him, and shorten. He grabbed his throat, then his chest; the oxygen was thick and lifeless. He lay on the ground choking, paralysed begging for air, for minutes that seemed hours. Pure terror ran through his bones until blackness finally came.
He woke up at the neighbour’s house and they said he had had some kind of attack. He assured them that he was fine and he went home and showered and washed the dirt off himself.
He sat on his bed and thought about what he had done. He thought about how The Wanderer had now become The Deserter, and he thought about Maggie and her heart and her goodness and her magic. He thought about the nights he laid listening to her stories and stroking her hair. He thought about their fatherless child and he finally understood why the world tasted terrible. He had left his heart behind and he would now have to go back and find it and fight for it.
That night, he packed his things and caught the next train to the apple orchard.
He arrived in the early hours and he crept to Maggie’s quarters, out the back, and slipped a note under door and went to their secret meeting place and waited…and waited…. and waited all day until finally he heard rustling in the bushes, and a woman that looked like a broken version of his mistress made her way through the darkness.
She stood and stared at him blankly.
They stood in silence for a good long while; words are weak and worthless when hearts have been hurt.
“Maggie, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
She didn’t flinch.
“Please forgive me. I’m back and I want to take you with me away from this place and we can…”
But before he could finish he felt a hard fist against his face and he fell to the ground. Then he felt a kick to his stomach and two punches against his shoulders and Maggie sat down next to him, shaking. She drew long, silent, serious, strong breaths.
He was deeply winded, but once it had begun to go away, he whimpered.
“Where is the baby?”
She turned to him and looked at him straight through his skin.
“My baby? Well, the took him away, didn’t they.”
And the Wanderer sobbed for the first time in his life. He sobbed and bled and lay broken, while Maggie sat strong next to him. She had cried every night since The Wanderer had left and she no longer had tears. She could never cry again. Nothing worse than stealing someone’s tears entirely and she hated The Wanderer for this.
“I need you to forgive me, Maggie.” He said,” I will die if you don’t. I know it.”
But she sat silent.
“ I can’t breathe.”
She started to walk away, but stopped and after some thinking she said…
“I will come with you, not because I forgive you, not because I love you, not because you can’t breathe and not because I care. I want to find my son. In this world I have nothing, I am a slave, and in this world you are free — to be thoughtless and careless and heartless and forgiven. I have nothing. I will come with you to find my son and you will not touch me. If you try to touch me, I will kill you. I have nothing to lose and nothing to love anymore, so I will kill you if you do not do as I say. You will help me and you will take my orders.”
The Wanderer agreed with sad relief and the following dark morning the two not-lovers left to look for their life and for their son.
After years of trains and farms and fights and cuddleless nights and wordless communication, The Wanderer found the address of the couple that now had their son and he and the woman rented a car drove ten hours to the town and sat outside the house.
It was an ordinary suburban house, cream with a green tin roof, and at 7.45am a young dark boy with a shock of red hair wandered out the front door with his school bag.
The Wanderer and the woman looked on, as if seeing the ghost of the son they never knew. The Wanderer undid his seatbelt and motioned to move, but the woman stopped him.
“I just wanted to see him. To make sure that he was okay. I want to go now.”
The Wanderer, “We have looked for years and years. That’s our son. We have to…”
“No! I want to leave. You do as I say remember. That was the deal. I want to go. NOW!”
And The Wanderer and the woman drove off. And the woman never told him that she was too embarrassed by her place in the world and the colour of her skin to begin to tell the little boy who she was, but The Wanderer knew and he knew he had made the woman ashamed of herself and her story and he drove to the end of the town and stopped the car and sat her outside.
“Maggie, I know you are broken and I know who broke you. I have carried your pain, as well as my own, for 5 years and I will continue to carry it. I know you don’t love me. But everyday, I love you more. I keep hoping it will pass, like some sickness, but it doesn’t. I have always wanted to be free to find the truth, but I have found it now, in you. I want you to be my wife. And I want us to start a proper life and I want to kiss you and hold you and I want you to want that, too. And if you don’t, please, tell me to go…and I will give you all the money I have left and let you be.”
The woman stared out into the distance in another world, and after several replays of this speech in her mind, she took his hand.
She wanted to age in her anger, but she couldn’t let him leave. She had loved The Wanderer more than she had ever loved anything and she knew it was time to free her poor mangled heart from its hardened hateful armour. She turned to him and for the first time in forever, she fully forgave him, and she kissed him and they cuddled and caressed their pain away, and the wind blew a warm breeze across their sorrowful story and they prepared to start from the beginning again, from the truth this time, from a fresh breath.