It’s Saturday morning, and the sun is rising over the hills around our home. The light sneaks in through the second floor window of our cottage, perched on the hillside overlooking the deeply forested valley below and you murmur, waking gently. I turn your face from the window, pull you into my arms and turn your head towards mine. I stroke my fingers through your hair and whisper soothing words to you, and you drop right back off to sleep. It’s a Saturday, and the kids stayed with their friends last night and aren’t due back until lunchtime, so we can afford to sleep in. It’s a rare morning and ones like this that I treasure, the house is still and quiet and the world outside this room seems willing to wait for us a little longer. I savour the moment, drink in the feel of you beside me and even after all these years together is still feels like home to have some part of your body touching mine.
I close my eyes and fall asleep with you nestled in the crook of my arm, trying to memorise the curves of your body pressed into me. We wake when our bodies call for us to rise, then take a breakfast of scrambled eggs and hash browns and some vegetables from the garden on the patio in the crisp morning air. It gets cold here at night in the mountains, the fire burning in the loungeroom warms the house and cutting logs is still one of your favourite things to watch me do. The heavy axe rising and falling with confident precision, the sound of the wood popping, forming piles on either side of the block. I always chop wood shirtless, to feel the flex and pull on the muscles across my back, and a little to show off. I’ve spent years working on my body, putting in the hours and the sweat, and it shows. I enjoy the effect that it has on you as you often take a moment to watch through the window of your kitchen while a tray of cakes cools on the bench, or in between trips to the chicken pens to toss scraps and collect eggs.
We have five children. Three girls for you, and two boys for me. We’ll have more, we live simply and we can afford it. I’ll go down to a friend’s house in the town, and build a set of bunk beds to surprise you with, and you’ll cry when you realise that it means I want another child. With you.
Today is a quiet morning. There’s no phones between us, no newspaper, simply the quiet silence of two people who know exactly what the other is thinking about. A thought drifts in as you look at me across the table. Conversation rises, becomes passionate, after all these years together you haven’t lost any of that fire, and how I love you for it. After more than a decade together, we still talk as easily as we did when we first met. History, Philosophy, Culture, Movies, Art, Music, Books, Ideas, we share freely of our thoughts on a dozen different subjects. I’m giving a lecture at the local University later this month, and I run through my outline, with you sharpening my presentation, offering points and counterpoints. Doing this, sharing this, it means the world to me.
That afternoon, you take the electric car down to the village to pick up a few things. My therapy practice has been turning over clients for years, and I’m much sought after in the cities nearby. But with an iron focus, I keep my weekends for Family. My children can always reach me, though they rarely need to – you and I have raised them to be strong, compassionate, kind and to look out for each other. I remember the time one of them did something silly, an honest mistake and they all banded together and refused to tell us who it was. Outwardly, I had to punish all of them fairly, but inwardly I was proud of them all for standing by each other.
Dinner is you and the girls helping in the kitchen, the youngest can walk now and is sitting on the bench holding tools for you. Her dark hair and beautiful brown eyes are so wide, she’s learning so fast.
Once a week, you and I will leave the eldest boy in charge and drive into the village. I fell in love with you when I first danced with you, the very first time, and it’s always had a special place in my heart. Once a week we’ll drive into the village to dance together in a class. You’re thinking about helping teach the classes sometimes, now that the children are a little grown up. Some nights we tell the kids we’re going into town, then we drive out somewhere quiet where the moonlight shines over the fjords and we make out like teenagers in the back seat of my car, feeling the frisson and all the years between melt away with joy and innocence.
Most afternoons the house is warmed with music from the piano, you’re teaching all of our children to play, gently, lovingly. With warmth, not harshness. Not how your father pushed it on you, but with an eye towards their self-expression, teaching them the language of music, how to feel and let it flow, and to give themselves over to it as you do. They look up to you, admire you, and the littlest sits on your lap while you play.
Over dinner, the eldest is talking about how once he graduates from high school he wants to work for six months, then travel, and the next few hours are spent telling stories about how mummy and daddy travelled the world before they were born and where he should go and the things he should see.
I like to read to the children all together before bed, tales of knights and fairies and wishes coming true, Damsels in distress and Princesses in Castles and the strong heroes who rescue them. The girls are enthralled, and the boy’s sometimes take up soft foam swords or pillows and start hitting each other as they chase around the living room. Then a word brings them back to your side and you curl your arms around them protectively. No matter how tall or strong they grow, they’ll always be your sons. Some nights it’s history, philosophy, music. There’s a TV somewhere in the house but it’s never used. Nights are for eating together at the table and for board games, we have plenty of players. Sometimes I read to you all, and sometimes I send the kids to bed a little earlier so we can have a few stolen moments alone together. You sit at my feet, and I soothe your shoulders, open up my heart and let our energies mix and flow together, the warmth and deep contentment spilling over you, swirling and mixing before I take your hand, turn out the lights and lead you upstairs to bed.
We make love, utterly lost in each other’s embrace. The world recedes for a while and becomes quiet.
Every few months, I’ll go camping with a few men from the village, and in those nights you’ll curl up in the place in our bed where I would normally be and dream of my arms, and my touch.
We are happy. As you fall asleep beside me, listening to the sound of the house settle at night, the warm timbers cooling in the night air, the soft voices of the children as they talk after lights out, and gentle rocking of the youngest in her crib at the end of our bed, you are happy.
Your hair is grey now, the grey of age and experience. We’re sitting on our front porch, watching over our grandchildren as they play on the lawn, kicking a ball back and forth, playing children’s games and chasing each other. It’s early afternoon and the kids are inside in the kitchen chatting away over a bottle of wine. They’re not really kids anymore, they’re fully grown now, with partners and lives and kids of their own, but I see that when you look at them you still remember the day that you brought them home from the hospital cradled in your arms, and all of the years of dressing their cuts and bruises from playing outside, all the long nights helping them with their homework, they’ll always be our proudest creations.
Later tonight we’ll have dinner and all of us will sit around the long table. There will be a separate kids table, in the adjoining room. Our children will talk about work, and about family and life, and we’ll see ourselves in them, when we were young. We’ll offer advice and counsel where needed, and lead them to figure it out on their own mostly, helping them to avoid the biggest pitfalls. Our youngest is still single, and looking for a girl, so I tell the story of how you and I met again for the ten thousandth time and they all groan. I never tire of telling it, under the table you reach for my hand and I take mine in yours, and tell the story anyway. How I knew it would be you, when our eyes met. The tension, the release, the fall into inevitability, how we began, travelled the world, built a future together, our excitement at finding out that you were pregnant, my joy at being a father. I see myself in my son, and I build for him a future he can dream of, a future he can win, for himself and whoever is lucky enough to be by his side. Our other children smile, lost in the story as they always are, and pull their partners close and tight, and smile some more.
That night, the house is full to bursting with children and adults, laughter and love, light and joy. Our eldest grandchild seats herself at the piano and begins to play, hauntingly, pouring herself into the music just as you’ve taught her, the children and grandchildren all gather around to listen, then they begin clapping and shouting suggestions and she switches into something lighter, something we can all dance to.
So I do, I stand on timeworn bones and am suddenly just the nervous young man who met you across that table a lifetime ago, and I offer you my hand and we dance together, bodies moving the way they always do, and we dance, and dance, until the world fades away and it’s just you and me, Just you and me, forever.
Years later, I pass away, and you outlive me several more years. They bury us together down at the foot of the hill, on the land where we raised our children and our grandchildren, overlooking the lake that gleams with silver in the moonlight and shimmers like the stars when it rains.