Hector pulls all the furniture in the house away from the walls by six inches. He wants to tease his wife, he wants to wind her up for no reason. When Niamh comes home, she plays along and makes no comment about the furniture. She reclines on the sofa and asks him if he’d mind rubbing her shoulders.
“I can only rub your shoulders with my left hand. I forgot to wear gloves in the garden this afternoon and nicked my other hand on several thorns.”
He rubs her shoulders with both hands anyway. She doesn’t tell him to stop.
This morning, they woke up with the torn-out pages of a Learn to Speak French in a Year calendar scattered around them. They threw the pages into the air and danced together in their underwear. Tomorrow they are flying out for their second shot at a honeymoon. First Paris, then a Scandinavian tour.
There are freshly cut roses in a vase on the dining table that Niamh didn’t spot when she came in. The petals are a dark, deep red, almost purple, and she has no intention of mentioning them.
On the plane, Niamh tells Hector that she used to be a casting director. She’s never told him this before. It was her way of turning her unintentional habit of judging people into an employable skill. She made them all stars in her day. He asks her what role she would cast him in, what kind of film, what kind of star she’d make of him.
“I’d cast us in a timeless classic,” she says and climbs into his lap. “A romance where nothing bad ever happens.” She then lowers her voice to a whisper. “We’d be the brightest of stars.”
Their noses are touching when an air stewardess reminds Niamh that the pilot has switched on the seatbelt light and she should please return to her seat while they prepare to land. Niamh does as she’s told, but not before she gets what she wants.
Hector wakes up on their second morning in Paris with a stye, his right eyelid puffy like a blood orange segment. Niamh pulls him on top of her and tells him to fuck her. He hovers above her, doesn’t speak. He tries not to look away but he’s shaking, he’s quivering all over. Lost, he kisses her forehead and pulls away. She slaps his arm – part playful, part pissed – brings him a soggy teabag, and presses it gently over his stye. “It’ll be gone in a week,” she says, “maybe sooner.”
Later they dance above the city skyline. Niamh’s white feather boa trails across the Eiffel Tower’s viewing platform, a pendulum of pearls draped around her neck. People watch them glide as if they’re in a movie, as if they’re woeless lovers sharing their first dance.
Scandinavia is colder than they thought. Doubtful they’ll ever see the Northern Lights, they quarrel as they wade through the snow. Niamh sifts through pine needles, unsure of what she’s searching for, while Hector traces his thoughts in fireplace ash.
In Helsinki, Niamh decides she wants to become a glassblower. When they return home, she’ll find the nearest course at a college and study part time.
“We need our own outlets, something we can focus on that isn’t each other,” Niamh tells him, “something that isn’t about what happened to us.”
Hector pulls her close. His landscaping business isn’t doing well enough for her to drop her hours down, but he agrees with her. They’ll find a way to make everything work.
Three years after the night they danced above Paris, Niamh is comparing iceberg lettuces at the farmer’s market when she swoons. Hector catches her while lettuces roll down the cobbled streets. After the doctor’s appointment, they unpack dusty boxes filled with cupboard locks and maternity clothes. They bubble-wrap each other, stick cotton wool on the walls, curve all the pointy edges. When their daughter is born, they give her a different name every week until a year passes: Hope, Prue, Libby, Faith, Florence, Joy… They settle on Evangeline, after Niamh’s grandmother who promised them that things always look worse than they are. They hold each other close so they can’t be snatched away.