you be a man of twenty-one in a high chair with a bib and a spoon? Or going always east and forward, would you find yourself stooped and white-haired and still ten years old? It couldn’t be so, of course, but he had concluded then that the secret was to keep moving. Forget about direction and destination, just keep moving, and surely your life would never be able to catch you up with restrictions and obstacles and all its weighty boredom.

Now, amused by a childish hope that was, if foolish, at least familiar, he took again to the road, sleeping most nights in the Land Rover, parking at the end of the day within reach of a pub and whenever possible near a fast- running stream or a river, whose sound in the night was perhaps a lulling echo of the flow of the daytime traffic. Occasionally he stayed in cheap places when he needed to shave and shower and wash clothes in a hand basin, and sometimes he halted for a week or two here or there and took casual jobs: kitchen portering, laboring, hauling timber, loading and moving, anything physical; it was surprising how often he got a few days’ work just by asking. But mainly he drove. As the first year passed, that was the task that kept him becalmed, though he had to get used to the absence of passengers. There could never be any more passengers.

There we were at breakfast in the Invermuir Lodge Hotel, on the last day when our distress was of a containable and ordinary kind. Colin was eating sausages at a table in the bay window, and I had gone to the sideboard for orange juice. The dining room was quiet, just us and a retired couple in hiking clothes, and a flat- footed teenage waitress going to and fro. I started to pour the juice, and suddenly the sugary scent of my shampoo as my hair fell over my face and the hot smell of the fried eggs the waitress was carrying past combined and attacked me, and I thought I was going to be sick. I had to put down the jug and steady myself with both hands and look away, and as I tried to swallow some air and breathe without drawing in more of the smell, I found myself concentrating on my reflection in the broad mirror fixed along the back of the sideboard. My face was not a good color, but it did not reveal any disturbance, never mind dread. The hiking couple were squabbling about distances over a map unfolded across their table and did not look up. The waitress was waiting to set down their plates. So much is invisible.

My focus in the mirror lengthened across the empty tables to the window and the moving silhouette of my husband feeding himself, his head as solid and bony as a calf’s, swaying down to the fork, his mouth opening and closing, working, emptying. I switched my gaze back to myself and saw all I expected to see: a nondescript woman over forty, her makeup slightly too determined and even a little clownish on a face sallow from sleep and perhaps also from some other cause, some new, active trouble. Then my attention flicked back as Col’s knife tipped off his plate, clattered on the table, and hit the floor. He picked it up, scrubbed at the cloth with his napkin, and then he licked his index finger and scrubbed some more, sighing and wincing as if it were all the fault of a vague, absent someone who had failed to materialize in time to prevent this latest blunder by an overgrown, undersupervised child. I looked at myself in the mirror in time to see the expression in my eyes turn thin and resigned. I was used to the idea that the someone was me.

I returned to my place as if nothing had happened, and maybe nothing had. We beamed at each other. Not even the briefest of dubious marriages foundered ultimately on a matter of dropped cutlery, did it? We smeared our toast from tiny unfolded packs of butter and miniature pots of jam, our faces puckered by the strain of being together on holiday at all, as well as in a worn-out hotel in mid-February. I’m sure we looked unremarkable, perhaps slightly formal, sitting up a little straighter than other couples about to enter a slow-moving middle age in a way that suggested they had never felt young, or led rapid, excited lives. The hiking pair folded their maps and got up to leave, wishing us a good day as they went.

As their boots creaked across the floor, I thought well, maybe it could still be a good day or at least, like other days in the past five months, a good enough one, a day whose course would offer up to us any number of chances to overlook the disenchantment of our late and incongruous marriage. I poured my husband more coffee. We had already learned to fill the place of love with an obscuring politeness; we observed the etiquette of keeping our disappointment quiet with upbeat conversations over practicalities, like optimistic gardeners keeping an unpromising surface raked and hoed in the hope that love might be growing underground. Above all, we extended to each other self-serving magnanimity in the granting of opportunities to spend time apart. On this off-season, budget break in Scotland (which we were not calling a honeymoon, it being as near as we would ever come to one yet nowhere near enough), we were keeping our voices bright, trading all the usual euphemisms to excuse ourselves from each other’s company: not wanting to “get in each other’s hair,” we were each “doing our own thing.” Col was doing “guys’ stuff,” I was “chilling out at my own pace.” On this particular day Col was going kayaking and I was driving myself in our rental car up to Inverness to window-shop and visit the museum. We were, in fact, on two quite different holidays.

The hotel was built at the top of an incline, and the bay window looked down over the beer garden, still dank under dawn shadows, for the sun was not fully risen. Rain and melting frost dripped from a black monkey puzzle tree onto the twiggy roof of a gazebo filled with stacks of empty bottle crates and drifts of dead leaves. Banks of chilly-looking cloud weighted the sky above the main road going north past the garden railings; beyond the road, the river flowed over rocks into glossy brown pools that bubbled and spun with curls of froth.

“I’m afraid it’ll rain on and off all day,” I said. “I hope the weather won’t spoil it for you.”

“A bit more rain won’t hurt,” he said. “If it rains, it rains.” He cleared his throat. “It might dry up in Inverness.”

“It might. I won’t mind,” I said, my eyes still on the river. “That current’s very fast. You wouldn’t want to capsize in that.”

“Well, if it’s raining, I’ll be wet anyway, won’t I?” he said. “That would be quite funny.”

I cast him too bright and grateful a smile, as if capsizing into rivers was some huge amusement I’d forgotten about. We went quiet again. Our table was crowded with white china and overlarge spoons and knives that made too much noise, beneath which our silence seemed delicate and even meaningful, which it was not. But nor was it desolate, I thought. Incongruous it certainly was, after a year of Internet romance via an online chat room for housebound caregivers, finally to meet and within six weeks get married, all in a rush. But was it such a mistake to be in a hurry to ignore the undertow of something missing, to prove ourselves still marriageable before the notion of being in love, fast receding, could vanish utterly? After all, no marriage was ever spontaneous and most between people over forty were arranged, somehow or other and for any number of fragile reasons, among them a fear of loneliness. That was by no means a small thing. Col’s parents had been dead for three years (he had kept up his membership in the caregivers’ chat room, out of familiarity) and he stayed on alone in their house in Huddersfield; my father had just died, leaving me with no reason to stay in Portsmouth. These seemed good reasons, not bad ones, to chain ourselves to the mediocre but likable real forms of each other that we encountered face-to-face, and put aside our hankering for the early, impossible, younger-seeming versions of ourselves we had come to know at our computer-aided distance.

His mobile phone burbled, and he took it out to read the message. “That’s them telling us to bring waterproofs,” he said. “We’re in for a soaking. Time I was going.”

“There’s something I should tell you,” I said, quickly. “I’m pregnant.”

“What?” He flinched, then looked away.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Oh, God,” he said, blowing out his cheeks. He pushed himself back as far as he could get without moving out of his chair, and then, of course, the first thing that would spring to anyone’s mind sprang to his.

“God. I mean, but aren’t you-”

“I thought I was too old, too! It is a surprise. A mum at forty-two!”

“But you’re supposed to be getting a job in Huddersfield.”

“Well, and I will, when I can. Is that all you’re going to say?”

He looked at me hard, as if searching for something to admire. “You know we both need to work. It’s not my fault I don’t bring in enough.”

“Col, I know, but I can’t help it. It’s happened.”

“I don’t make enough for two, never mind three. You’re supposed to be looking for a job.” He gulped from his coffee cup and crossed his arms. “Anyway, I don’t want kids. I told you from the start. I told you, for God’s sake.”

“Yes,” I said, “but that was before. Ages ago, online. Before we’d even met.”

He tipped his head and gazed at the ceiling for a while. His face was just as it had been when he was rubbing at the tablecloth. Was this the same to him as a dropped, greasy knife: an accidental mess, not much to do with

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