IT takes me a long time to get her out of the house.
I arrive after lunch and let myself in through the back door. If I’d knocked at the front she wouldn’t have answered anyway.
She is sitting on the lounge, elbows on knees and head hanging limply. She stares at the tired floral carpet.
‘‘Sweetie, how are you feeling?’’
She doesn’t respond.
‘‘The shaved head really suits you,’’ I lie. ‘‘Your head’s a good shape for it.’’
She turns and glares daggers at me. But at least it made her look.
The room is dark and musty. I sit beside her and my body sinks deep into the old lounge. Cushions are strewn all over the room in shaggy reds, geometric greys, and soft silky blues.
Heavy curtains are drawn across the window.
‘‘It’s a beautiful day outside,’’ I try.
We sit in silence. I pick up a cushion and run my fingers through the shaggy plush. I plait some strands together, then plait the plaits. I turn the cushion over, unzip it then zip it all the way up again. I drum my hands on the flat surface and build up to a fast rhythm reminiscent of the times the two of us danced at music festivals until the sweat poured down our backs and the sky grew dark.
A pale hand with cracked nails reaches across to stop me from drumming. I take her hand in mine. It is cold and fragile. I feel that if I gave it a squeeze it would shatter like an egg dropped on the kitchen floor.
I breathe in deeply and say the words I’d practiced on the way over.
‘‘Sweetie, I know you’re hurting. I know you feel like your world is ending. And I know you don’t want to do anything.’’
Her face tightens. She’s heard this a hundred times before.
‘‘I’m going to get you out of the house today. It’s happening. I’m not leaving unless you’re with me.’’
She shakes her head slowly from side to side. A croaky voice speaks: ‘‘I can’t.’’
‘‘You can. I’m giving you an option: beach or ocean baths?’’
We sit in silence for a bit longer. I count the rings on the curtain rod. I lean back and stare at the cracked white ceiling. There’s a dent from a champagne cork popped long ago. The dusty lampshade is filled with dead bugs.
I pick up the shaggy cushion. The pale hand returns.
I help her to her feet. Her legs are shaking. She puts on a big floppy hat and sunglasses that cover half her face.
At the front door she hesitates. She puts a hand on either side of the doorframe and shakes her head. I gently lift her fingers off the wood and link my arm through hers.
‘‘It’s OK, I’m here for you.’’
It’s a slow walk to the baths. We have travelled this path so many times before, usually running the whole way to get more time in the water before sunset. Usually with a big group of friends and their dogs. Usually with smiles on our faces.
From under the brim of the hat her eyes scan the baths. In the water closest to us, teenagers splash each other playfully. At the southern end an old man in a yellow cap swims long slow laps. I know she wants to avoid other people, so we walk along the concrete edge to the wall that meets the sea. Here, gentle waves flow over the rocks and trickle into the baths.
I strip off my outer clothes and jump in. Part of me forgets and expects her to follow, like she has every time before. Instead she stands on the edge staring into the water, shoulders hunched and head hanging low.
I swim down deep and run my hands along the bottom. The concrete feels solid and smooth and long strands of seaweed grow up from the cracks. The water is murky and salty and silent. I stay on the bottom until my lungs ache.
When I swim to the surface she’s still on the edge. The sunglasses and hat cover her face.
Behind her I see the familiar rise of a set coming in. A wave lifts over the wall and flows over her feet. She stands still and stubborn, not wanting to move and not wanting to hold on.
The second wave is bigger. It swirls around her knees and pushes her thin frame into the water towards me. I duck dive under the foam and enjoy the sensation of water twisting my body about.
I surface and look for her. I can’t see her. I tread water and wait, but still there is nothing. All I see is the white foam aftermath of the wave.
And then she comes up, coughing and spluttering and the wave has removed her glasses and hat. She has a big piece of seaweed piled on top of her bald head. I can’t help but laugh. The green shiny locks fall down either side of her face and gather at her shoulders.
She doesn’t smile. She doesn’t have to. Her eyes lock on mine and I know we’ve made progress. She pushes the green wig off her head and leans back to face the sky.
I swim over to her side and together we float in silence.