he’ll be back in a few hours, she says. He doesn’t even turn around. He just stays hunched on the stool, the rhythmic sound of the milk splashing into the pail. She repeats herself, as she always must now.
There’s a long pause, his rough hands frozen around Abby’s teat, more intimate than anything they’ve shared in the last ten years. He grunts. As you wish. And returns to his task. He still doesn’t turn around.
She walks out of the barn and heads down the hill through the pasture. Overgrown now, strangled with weed. Those three words, the same three words. Words that had been romantic when they were young. More than the typical I love yous most young lovers toss at each other. As you wish. It had meant, whatever you desire. Now the words were a bad caricature, like the scarecrow she passes at the edge of their field, dancing in the wind. Inconceivable. As you wish. I don’t care what you do.
She gathers her skirts as she hops the old cow fence, broken here where rustlers made off with most of the herd last fall. When they’d first returned to the farm it had seemed like some magical game. The swashbuckler and the princess, playing farmboy and maid again. But games always end. They were good at impressions, but never at the real thing.
She pushes through the old orchard. Fat dead apples litter the ground like small bodies. Babies. There’d been three miscarriages. She finds the trail and climbs the hill to the woodcutter’s cabin. She goes around back first and fills a bucket from the pump.
She doesn’t knock. Knowing he’ll be there. Where else would he go. When his friend, the giant, died, he showed up and they’d taken him in. Given him work to do. Which he never did.
It’s dark inside. The smell of bad cider and urine. She feels her way over to the shutter and bangs it open.
He groans. Curled up naked on the floor like an autumn leaf after the colour had passed out of it. His long beautiful hair was mostly gone now. He wasn’t ugly. But at one time, he’d been beautiful. Weren’t they all. At one time he’d had a passion, a fire inside him. More fever than fire. One that could burn you if you stood too close. But then he killed the man that killed his father and now he was prepared to die.
Weren’t they all.
She lets her skirts drop to the floor. It hardly makes a noise, and he doesn’t open his eyes.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.