“It’s over,” Fiona said, staring at herself in the dressing table mirror. “Nothing more to it … I ended it Friday.” She removed her garnet earrings, the ones Charles had given her, and stirred them in the palm of her hand with an index finger. Under the small table lamp, they looked like two drops of blood.
Charles sat in the shadows on the edge of the bed. “It doesn’t make much difference that it’s over,” he said to her back. “That’s not the point.”
She avoided his gaze in the mirror. “I know.”
“You never lied to me before.”
Fiona gave him a quick glance. Her face dropped. “There were other times. You made it easy. You always believed me.”
“I didn’t know deception existed in relationships like ours.”
“I hate that I did it, Charles. Even while it was going on, I kept telling myself it wasn’t really me. The last few weeks felt like madness.” She shook her head. “Sometimes love needs a little madness.”
“Is that the reason?” he murmured. “You were in love with Derek?”
“No … I just needed some time away from myself. It was something I needed to do, something I had to experience. I would have told you eventually, in time.” She flashed a wan smile. “Now I’m back where I belong.”
“I never noticed you were gone.”
“I love you, Charles. I ended it with Derek. Besides, it really wasn’t much.”
After long silence, he said, “I loved you more than I ever loved anyone, more than I loved our children.” He sighed. “I suppose I’m largely to blame. I’m pretty dull compared to Derek … old and dull. I let it happen.”
“No, that’s not it, Charles,” Fiona said. “I never thought those things. Never.”
“You’ve watched me turn gray, slow down in middle age. I thought I was living a normal life. That’s what I wanted. There is more to me, you know, more I could have shown you.”
“That might have helped,” Fiona said, rocking her head, “a little madness.”
“I suppose your bridge club knows.” When she didn’t respond he continued, “The garden club, too?”
Fiona winced. “Christine gave me a key to the greenhouse, so Derek and I would have a place to be alone.”
Charles threw his head back. “Where can I go? No one respects a cuckold. There’s no reason for me to be here anymore.” With that, he rose and walked out to the front room.
“What does that mean?” Fiona shouted after him. “I told you it’s over. It was something I needed to do and now it’s over. Wait … you telling me you want a divorce? Alright then … now you’re upsetting me. Let me tell you a thing or two. Derek paid me attention. It’s been a long time since…”
Charles took off his watch and emptied his pockets on the coffee table: wallet, keys, glasses, pocketknife, loose change, a bill from the wine and cheese shop he’d visited that afternoon. Then he unbuttoned his shirt, folded it neatly, and left it on the arm of the faux leather recliner.
He stepped out into the cool night and felt the air on his bare chest. It was quiet except for a party still going on up the street. No traffic. Charles unlaced his shoes and left them with his socks on the porch. The asphalt felt warm crossing Jessup Street. When he stepped out from the streetlamp to enter the park, his shadow leaped ahead, stretching until it blended with the night. He shed his trousers and shorts on the dewy grass and walked until he found his favorite bench. The metal chilled his backside.
“Greetings, Lord Karl,” a strong voice said.
“Greetings, Svendar,” Charles responded, and with a resigned sigh he asked, “Is my post still open?”
“The Valkyries keep your armor polished and your sword sharp. They replenish the mead in your horn each evening anticipating your return. Our warriors have never toasted your departure.”
“The Sky Lord has forgiven me then?”
“Forgiveness is freely given to the faithful, and you are a favorite.”
“Very well. I wish to return.”
“You said you wanted to live a normal human life, to love, have a family, grow old. It’s been fifty years. Have you accomplished those things?”
Fiona’s words came to him. “It was something I needed to do, something I had to experience. Now I’m ready to be back where I belong.”
Ah-O-O-O-O, a distant horn sounded, and with it came a growing chorus of beautiful voices.
The body of a naked man was found in Jessup Park the next morning. Fiona Haley said it looked like her husband Charles who had gone missing. But it couldn’t be him. The man in the park was too young, about the age of her husband when they first met, fifty years ago.