After so long, and so much effort, they decided, without discussing the matter, to give up trying. This made life easier, if a little more empty. Margaret took up sewing; James became more serious about his reading, with vague intentions of perhaps writing something himself at some distant point in the future. Their apartment was small but cosy, consisting of a box bedroom, a windowless bathroom and a living/dining room-cum-kitchenette area with a rather pleasant balcony feature that offered a view out west over a staggering of lower rooftops towards the ribbon of common beyond. Initially, the place had worked for them as a love nest, a little safety deposit box against the world where they could snuggle up together and feel safe, feel as though they actually mattered a damn. Now, it was simply home, though in the smaller definition of the word, an agreeable enough living space that fit their needs well enough without really fulfilling any cravings. They had a floor above them and three below, and on winter evenings they liked to sit by the fireside, facing one another but only rarely speaking, and when summer came they threw open the doors and let the air in.

Initially, because he’d been rather lax in his reading habits and had lost some muscle in that department, James favored plot. His tastes were broad but, by and large, hardboiled. He enjoyed stories with guns, and with a lot of running. But later, perhaps by the end of the first year or the middle of the second, he found himself turning increasingly to less hectic and more character-driven work. A natural progression, he decided, not worrying too much about it. And this new devotion to reading replaced many things, for both of them. It encouraged a kind of silent comfort that would otherwise have been pretty difficult to achieve. She sewed, he read. No longer kids, each dreamed their own private dreams.

They had just entered their fourteenth year of marriage when Margaret discovered that she was pregnant. A Sunday morning in early April, with rain pecking at the glass and the light the color of day-old fireplace ash. The news came as a shock, and then a good shock. They stood for a long time in the kitchenette, holding hands and trying to smile a great deal. James kept one hip pressed against the counter’s edge, so that he could hold himself ever so slightly off balance. Sundays were his lazy days, days when he didn’t have to feel guilty about doing nothing. They stood, smiling and holding hands, and each fancied or imagined that they could see a blush of absurd happiness in the other’s face and so tried hard to match it with a similar blush of their own.

[Continued in Confrontation 109]