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Before the Fact of Gravity

Before the Fact of Gravity

A man tries to come tot terms with the realisation that his life, as it is,

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Literary fiction


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Chris Connolly (Ireland)


Before the Fact of Gravity


The man is fairly certain that he no longer loves his wife – though he did in the beginning, and he thinks about that an awful lot: about just how much he did when he really did.
The man thinks an awful lot about genetics, too. Wonders about the ethereal, abstract nature of it – of DNA, the stuff that makes and shapes and mutates us all.
*
Jim is almost ten and Janey will be eight next week.
The man loves his children so much that there’s no way of describing it, no metaphor that could even come close to being close to coming close – that’s how much he loves them.
But despite this he finds it hard sometimes to believe in the reality of his situation. To believe that THIS is simply what happens to people sometimes; that THIS is simply what lives, when lived, can become.
*
Jim and Janey are both developmentally disabled, as the community likes to put it. Not as severely as they might be – not as badly as some of the others – but bad enough for the man to wonder ceaselessly about things like existential fairness and universal equilibrium and the invisible debility interned within his own genetic structure, encoded there, and the lineal price paid for it.
*
The man is fairly certain that his wife is sleeping with a colleague, one of the accountants where she works. An accountant, of all things. An accountant whose name – of all things – is Aloysius. The man wonders if Aloysius thinks about spreadsheets when he climaxes.
He wonders where they find the time, too.
The man wonders about a lot of things, a lot of the time. This wondering never quite seems to quit. It never quite fucks off, this intense rumination and dissection, never seems to give him even a moment or two of vacant, contented peace, of absence from himself.
*
While the man and his wife are at work the kids go to a special school, a wonderful place, a godsend–– though that’s perhaps not quite the right word to use. His belief in such things – in god, in some kind of benevolent design – is not as robust as it once was.
Aside from schooldays, the man and his wife alone care jointly for the children, with occasional respite from relatives and friends. Respite which becomes more and more occasional as the years go by. Time by themselves, together or alone, is by now so rare as to be anomalous.
There are worse things, of course, he reminds himself often. He tries his best at optimism, and most of the time he manages to at least come close. Our own calamities, he tells himself, are no badder or better than anyone else’s, relatively speaking.
Not that, when it comes right down to it, this relativity reassures or makes even a mote of difference.
*
The man wonders sometimes – usually lying sleepless in bed, insomniac, usually deathly still – about age and the process of ageing. Trying to figure it out. Trying to figure out at what point it becomes a thing we don’t want, and not one we do.
When does age become a bad thing, the man fiercely considers while he lies there lifeless in bed beside the lightly-snoring woman he used to love so much. When did it?
He wonders it for his children, as well as for himself.
*
The man is fairly certain that, affair or not, his wife doesn’t love him either. Not the way she used to. He’s not exactly sure how it makes him feel, this knowledge, but whatever the feeling is it’s not as strong as he might have expected: some wistful gloom maybe, a definite regret, but the sad truth is he doesn’t really have a problem with it, this affair or tryst or whatever it is his wife is engaged in – he doesn’t hold it against her, not even a little.
He would do the same, possibly, if the opportunity arose (though it hasn’t) and at least one of them, he supposes, is finding some sort of relief or respite or diversion from it all.
Still, he tries to pinpoint when their relationship became this thing that it’s become. When that initially insane love turned inertly platonic. There’s a point out there somewhere in history that it happened – there must be: an exact point of final loss of true love – but his mind is yet to find it. And probably, he knows, it doesn’t really matter anyway.
*
There was a drift between them after the early, childless years together: a marital, emotional, conjugal continental drift, barely discernible beneath the crust of sheer stress and fatigue and disbelief. The pressure of everything.
It was clear from birth with each of them, Jimmy and Janey, and each time, with each birth, there was both a terrible joy and a terrible grief surrounding it. A feeling that remains: a lightness and a darkness that inhabits the deepest parts of the man.
Over time the drift between the man and his wife left an empty and gasping gap, bridged only by their shared love and caring for the children. A brittle isthmus between them, a slim linking cord.
The man loved his wife in the beginning almost as much as he loves the kids now. The two were like vines intermingling, like magnets, like Adam and Eve… At least that’s how it’s remembered, when he remembers it, which he does often. Though he’s aware that memory is not the most reliable trait of human evolution.
But they were in love, and deeply – every part of each of them.
Before.
*
Sometimes, on the drives he likes to take whenever there’s a rarely spare multitude of minutes to avail of, the man wonders what will happen – to the kids, to his wife, to himself; to all of them together – while at the same time he sees a strict vision of the path their lives will take that seems to hold an inevitability as certain as the fact of gravity or the orbiting of the sun. The life they all will have; the life they already do.
It’s not something openly discussed anymore, in any case – their life, or their relationship. They don’t lounge around together these days, talking deep and meaningful like they used to, or take long walks holding hands, leaning into each other, entwined, combined, a single entity.
And there is no change coming, no revolution on the way. The children come first, the children are all that matter, and it’s never needed to be said for the man and his wife to understand this and to accept it fully.

But sometimes – usually those times spent lying sleepless in bed, lifeless, thinking madly, when the thoughts are like splinters and his mind feels like it’s bleeding – he imagines waking her up.
He imagines shaking his wife awake and letting an unedited, unadulterated honesty pour out. He imagines it tumbling out of the two of them, these feelings that well up gradually inside, year-spanning, hidden, seeping like sap from a tree or creeping like a crack in a wall. Growing like vigorous, malignant vines.
But he doesn’t.
It all goes unsaid, of course, and the silence of that – of the things left unspoken – is almost loud enough, sometimes, to register as sound itself.
Though never quite.
So he thought he would write it all down instead, the man. As there’s not much else to be done about it.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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