Sarah was exhausted. Two heavy bags of grocery shopping pulled on her elbow sockets, the plastic threatening to rip and spill their contents all over the grey streets of Rathmines. Living on the city outskirts was convenient and even picturesque when the sun shone and the canal was relatively free of debris. But pushing her way home through the rush-hour pedestrians made her sad in the pit of her stomach. In a few months’ time it would be pitch dark on her way home, but in the autumn months like this it was usually all just grey – grey buildings, grey streets, grey sky.
On evenings like this, Sarah’s life began to seem ridiculous, consisting as it did of a strange hamster-wheel 9 to 5, the uncomfortable boring clothes, and the tired non-conversation that usually ensued when she and her husband collapsed onto the couch together in the evenings.
Once a week, she would make a detour to a supermarket on her way home, elbowing past hoards of flustered-looking professionals searching freezers for frozen petit pois and angrily examining packets of lean beef. She once saw two women fighting over the last free-range whole chicken.
Today, she had not had the energy to do a full week’s shopping, and instead bought some half-hearted fruit, a few microwave meals and two bottles of red wine. The ten-minute walk home still seemed to take twice as long as usual, and she stopped twice, readjusting the plastic bags and wishing she had remembered to bring a shopping bag.
Come the weekend, they would try to get out of the flat and do what couples were supposed to do – go for walks, buy coffee or lunch, sit by the canal contemplating the floating crisp packets and naan breads, the anchored shopping trolleys and traffic cones, and the fish that darted between them. And Sarah knew that she would enjoy those weekends, would revel in the bottle of wine shared or the pints of lager consumed in the pub, and would forget this empty feeling.
She arrived at the apartment just as Mark was slamming the car door shut and locking it with a blip and a flash of orange light in the falling dusk. ‘Hi sweetheart, let me take those,’ he said warmly, kissing her on the lips and peeling the chafing plastic handles from her sore fingers. And all in a rush, she felt the sad emptiness well up with something. For a moment, there was a sort of tender poignancy to the delicate skin of the forehead emerging from beneath Mark’s receding hairline, the slight soft bulge of his stomach under his navy jumper. She thought inexplicably of the surprising softness of his flaccid penis in her hand. Tears began to well up inside her.
‘Yes, please. Thank you.’ They were tears of relief. Sarah followed her husband inside and shut the door.