It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon in early October. The leaves have just begun to fall. There is a young girl with big blue eyes and a mess of black hair, wearing a pink sweater and jeans. She sits on her front porch watching the leaves fall. Suddenly she gets up and runs through the leaves, prancing around with a huge smile spread across her face. Unknown to her, someone has snapped a picture. A picture is all Miranda has left now.
A woman named Miranda stands on her front porch. It is a dreary Sunday afternoon in October. The clouds roll in over the small seaside cottage. The woman has bluish gray eyes that look much like the sea before a storm. She is holding a picture of herself as a little girl dancing in the leaves. A slight sigh releases from her mouth. She casts her eyes heavenward. He’s not coming home tonight. Is he? She continues staring, waiting for an answer. Again she sighs. She takes her picture inside the cottage, and does not reemerge.
The inside of the cottage is warm and inviting. A dinner for two sits on the table, prepared but uneaten. There is a fire roaring. Two glasses and some chilled wine sit next to the couch facing the fire, just waiting to be consumed. The bedroom has many candles lit, and the sweet smell of roses comes wafting out. Miranda stands, back to the front door surveying the whole scene with a sense of dread and sorrow, her life is not what it used to be. She looks longingly at her picture. She was happy, before her parents died, before she met him.
Something caught Miranda’s eye, her wedding picture. That was a truly happy day. She was standing in this very house that day, looking out on the yard. There were folding chairs along a red carpet covered in flowers. It was all for her. What went wrong? They were supposed to last forever. Ha. Forever is not what it used to be. Where is he now?! She throws the picture aside, not wishing to be reminded of the happy days. The shattered glass remains on the floos as the rain pounds on her windows, while she cries herself to sleep.
The sun peeks in through the slight crack in the curtains. The warmth caresses her face, just like he always used to. The sun is her standard wakeup call now. She sits up, brushing her long black hair out of her face. She looks at the empty bed next to her and knows he will have a half baked excuse she will have to endure this morning. She has work to do, which He expects to be done.
She pushes the white comforter off her and heads to the bathroom. She repeats the same process every day. Bathe, blow-dry, style, primp, pluck, dress, make breakfast. He usually stumbles in around the time she starts making breakfast. His brown hair messy, his clothes stained, his face red, and his breath smelling strongly of rum. He mumbles some excuse about the ship coming in late which he knows neither of them believes and haphazardly walks to the bathroom. By the time she sets the table, he is showered, groomed, and hungry. They eat together, not saying anything important. The time of intimate in depth conversations is over. Now it is barely small talk, as if they do not even know each other. Their conversations are the same everyday.
“How was work?” she asks.
“Couple big ones and a lot of small ones.”
“How was the weather?”
“Gloomy as always.”
Eventually they fade into silence. After breakfast, she washes the dishes as he reads the paper. Usually he sleeps for a few hours as she tidies up the place. Lunch and dinner are the same thing. The only difference, after lunch, he goes into town to various stores but after dinner he heads to the docks or the bar. Either way she is left at home. He used to stay home some days, when he didn’t work. She used to walk him to the docks. Now she just waits and he just leaves.
On the days he is away, Miranda has her friend over. Tayla is a true friend. She is short and plump, with bright green eyes that resemble pears. She also has short curly brown hair. She has a ruddy complexion, and loves to laugh; this made her seem full of life. She is the opposite of Miranda, who is tall and frail with long black hair, pale skin, and bluish gray eyes. Miranda is almost always upset about something. Somehow these two get along. Tayla just tries to help. “Miranda, why don’t you leave him?” Tayla asks.
“Because I love him, Tal.” Miranda always answers the same way.
“But he is a drunk.” Tayla places her hands on her hips, frowning.
“He is not that bad.” Miranda raises her hands in a pleading manner.
“He is never at home.” Tayla points accusingly at the empty place at the table.
“He’s getting better about that.” Miranda quietly sinks into a chair, not looking at Tayla.
“He is not, and you know it. He is probably cheating on you with some pretty young whore right now.” Tayla places her arms over her chest.
“But I still love him. It doesn’t matter what he does or what you say. Nothing can change that fact. For better or for worse, Tal.” Miranda stands up and crosses the room. She towers over Tayla. “For better or for worse.”
Tayla seems unphased and always finishes with, “But is that worth your happiness?”
Eventually they fall into silence. Miranda contemplating Tayla’s words and Tayla watching her. Tayla comes by less and less. Miranda worries she had scared away her only friend. Miranda looks to reading, so she will no longer trouble Tayla with her relationship with George. When she reads, she is not the middle aged house wife with a drunk of a husband and a dead end marriage; she is anything she wants to be. She is once again happy, even if it is only for a few hours in between monotonous meals.
One day she makes the mistake of trying to share this feeling with her husband. “Umm… George,” she says cautiously over dinner.
“I just wanted to tell you about this new book I have been reading.” She is hopeful that this will revive their conversation.
George puts down his fork, and says, “You know I don’t want to hear about it. You know what I think about your books. You don’t need them as an escape. You need to get your nose out of those books and your head out of the clouds,” he started lecturing her. Miranda is not there for the rest of his rant. She is dreaming of the hero of her latest novel, an angel with black wings, fighting to find his place in the world. She fazes back in at the end of the lecture, “So no more spending good money on books.” She nods her head, and he leaves.
Tayla comes to visit Miranda soon after he leaves. Miranda is sitting at the table in tears. Tayla rushes over to her, “What’s wrong, darling?”
“It is just…” Miranda hides her face from Tayla.
Tayla pulls Miranda into a hug, “It’s alright. You can tell me.”
Miranda’s tears lessen as she holds Tayla close. “It is just that I want there to be something to share between me and George. I thought reading would give us something to talk about. That’s part of the reason I read so much. Also, I wanted to have something else to talk to you about.”
Tayla holds her even tighter. “Darling, you know you can talk to me about anything. I never minded talking about you and George. I never minded talking about anything.”
Tears stream down Miranda’s face once more. “Oh Tal! I hate it! I hate being somewhere else while George is talking. Maybe you were right all along. Maybe I just need to leave him. But I just can’t! I don’t have the strength or courage to leave George.” Tayla holds Miranda, at a loss of what to say.”I’ll just run away.”
Tayla places her hand on Miranda’s head, “Is that what you really want to do? Will that really make you happy?”
Miranda looks up at Tayla, confused. “Aren’t you always telling me I should leave him?”
“Yes.” Tayla looks into Miranda’s eyes, “But aren’t you the one that always insists that you love him. I just want to make sure you will be happy. Try everything to fix this first, because at one point, nothing except George made you happy.”
Miranda stops crying. “Thank you, Tal.”
Miranda walks out to her front porch, with Tayla beside her. The friends bid each other goodbye, and Miranda looks up at the sky. It is getting cloudy. The wind is howling. It will be dark soon. She has to tell him how she feels. She will tell him in the morning.
Miranda summons up all her courage during breakfast. “George, we really need to talk.”
It must be something in her voice that makes George look up and set his newspaper down. “What’s the matter?”
“Do you still love me?”
George sat staring at his wife across the table. “Of course I do! What kind of a question is that?”
Miranda looks down, afraid to carry on. “Well… it’s just that… it doesn’t seem like it.”
George stands up and walks around the table. He kneels in front of Miranda. “Where is all this coming from? Are you not happy?”
Miranda cannot look him in the eyes. “No. I am not happy. I have not been happy for awhile.”
George places his hand on her cheek. “What aren’t you happy about? I will fix it. You just have to tell me.”
Miranda turns her tear filled eyes toward him. She takes in a deep breath and starts, “I want us to be able to talk like we used to, to have meaningful conversations, to talk about the future, to do something romantic. I want us to fall back in love!”
George looks concerned and confused, “But how am I supposed to do that?”
Miranda is taken aback. She doesn’t know the answer. Well she knows one thing she wants, “I want you to stop drinking.”
George bows his head. “If it will help, I will give it my best.”
Miranda throws her arms around George, “Thank you so much.”
George put his strong arms around her. “I love you.” The warmth from his body warmed her heart. This was where she belonged.
“I love you too.”
He spends more time at home now. He helps out with the dishes, cooking, cleaning, and shopping. He stays home on his night off, and she walks him to the docks on the days he works. He is clean and she is happy. She has put those dark days in the past. They are talking again and not just the meaningless small talk, actual conversation. They are saving up some money to fix up the house. Miranda has never been happier.
She comes home one day, after walking him to the docks, and notices that he left his jacket. She decides to wash it for him. In the pocket she finds a letter. At first she disregards it, but then notices the smell of lilacs coming from the letter. She studies the letter, her heart pounding, she is barely breathing. The writing is curvy and written with a fine hand. Her heart stops for a moment when she reads it; it is a love letter from another woman. She feels a rushing in her head as the realization dawns on her; he is cheating on her. Everything he said is a lie. Her hands clench and tears run down her face. How can he say he loves her with a straight face knowing that he has this other woman? What happened to her George? Her world is shattered in an instant. She wants to rip up the letter, but restrains herself. If the letter is gone there is no proof.
Her anger and hatred festers and builds over the day. Eventually it turns to loathing and despair. She makes him dinner and waits for him to come home, so she can confront him. He is late because it is storming. The winds almost blows the tees from their roots, but he makes it home. She half hoped he was dead. He tries to have a civil conversation, but she gives short, cold answers to all his questions. He knows something is wrong.
“What is the matter with you?”
She whirls around. “I know what you have been up to! How could you?!”
George puts the newspaper down, and looks at her. His face is contorted, as if he is barely containing his rage. Her jet black hair is pulled back into a neat bun. Her face is red and her eyes are alight with passion. She stands, staring at him, hands crossed over her chest, foot tapping impatiently. He barely opens his mouth when he answers calmly, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
She is taken aback. “Wwhat? I found this.” He cannot deny it now. she pulls the letter out of her pocket.
He glances at her clenched fist. There is a piece of paper with delicate curvy lines crinkled in her hand. She watches him, searching for the truth in his eyes. He lifts his head up, and stares directly into her eyes. His face remains immobile, unreadable. “That is from years ago.”
“Then why do you still have it?” She knows he is lying. It is recent.
“It was from my first love.” George crosses the room to her and places his arms around her. “But you are my true love.” The anger melts from her face. She knows he is lying, she knows it is some cheesy line, but she does not care. Right now all that matters is being in his arms. In his arms she is safe. She truly wants to believe him, because he is her only love. The letter falls to the floor as she returns his embrace. Tears flow freely down her face.
“What’s wrong?” He holds her at arm’s length to better examine her face.
“Nothing,” she shakes her head. “I love you.” She loves him even though he is lying. She knows it, but feels powerless to do anything.
He pulls her into an embrace. “I know. I have to leave.”
“I know, you have work. Be back soon.” She holds him tighter; she does not want him to leave.
“I will.” He walks out the door, leaving her cold, alone, and wanting more. He didn’t even say he loves her. Why does he always do this to her? Why does she let him?! Why does she love him? Miranda cries softly to herself. She returns to washing the dishes. She stares out her window and notices that the storm has quieted down. It is now only a light drizzle. She can barely make out the shadow of her husband heading to the beach. She dries her hands and then her face. She walks over to the letter, bends down and picks it up. She reads it once more, and is overwhelmed with sorrow. She walks out to her front porch, searching for a glance of her husband. Or perhaps she just needs some air. Either way, what she gets is Tayla. She always seems to show up when Miranda needs her most.
Tayla notices Miranda’s tear streaked, mascara stained cheeks. “What did he do this time?”
“Tal, you were right. He is no good. He is cheating on me.” She can no longer hold back her tears, which are once more flowing.
Tayla puts her arms around Miranda. “Believe me; I did not want to be right. I just want you to be happy. Tayla reaches into the pocket of her apron and pulls out a very worn, folded up, wrinkled piece of paper, which she hands to Miranda. “This always helps me, when I am sad. I hope it will help you.” With these words Miranda watches Tayla disappear into the oppressive gloom. Tayla knows Miranda needs to do this on her own. Slowly Miranda unfolds the page and examines it. It is a poem. It has been awhile since she read anything. Miranda’s dark gray eyes slowly start reading the poem. Then she rereads it again and again. With each reading she seems to gain more strength. Her eyes grow brighter, back to their shining blue. This poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, is the lighthouse cutting through the fog of Miranda’s soul. She repeats it aloud, committing it to memory.
Once she commits it to memory, she folds up the paper, and smiles. The smile reaches all the way to her eyes. This is the first time she has truly smiled in months. Miranda looks up into the sky; closes her eyes, and lets the sun, which has just emerged from the clouds, wash over her. The light invigorates her. She realizes that she is not stuck with him. She is free to do as she pleases. She deserves better, and can get it. ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’ She marches into the living room, and walks over to the fire, and throws the letter from his lover in. The flames eagerly consume it. The firelight casts an odd shadow across Miranda’s face. Her smiling face seems almost sadistic; there is something evil in her eyes. She is not going to take it anymore. She walks to her room. Tomorrow will be a new day, one way or another.