It is not unusual for couples to spend time apart. Some would say it is even healthy for a relationship. A statement with which Marika completely agreed.
Marika and Robert had been married for almost ten years. They met in college. She an aspiring artist, he a soon-to-be sophisticated accountant. They did not immediately fall in love, but eventually in senior year they started dating, and only two years after they got married.
Fundamentally, Marika and Robert were complete opposites. He liked the quiet, nature and outdoors. He was a skilled hunter, something one would not expect from an accountant. Marika, on the other hand, was loud. She loved the crowd – especially if she was the center of attention – as well as her buzzing city life. Except for pretty flowers, she did not appreciate nature much and loathed having to spend time outdoors, especially in the woods.
Robert knew this distaste of his wife. He did not mind. In fact, he enjoyed spending time alone up in the mountains at the small cabin they owned. Marika had only been there once, and quickly decided right then that she would never return to it. However, once a month, Robert would spend a weekend there to hunt, and Marika did not mind.
It was a gloomy spring morning. It was Friday. Marika stood in the kitchen sipping on her coffee as Robert entered the room. She turned around to face him. In his hand he carried his old duffle bag. The brown leather was worn and scraped. She detested how ugly it looked, but Robert would not let her replace it. Begrudged she complied to his wishes. She would only have to see it once a month anyway.
“Good morning, honey,” he said as he stepped closer and pressed a quick kiss on her cheek.
“Good morning,” she replied smiling. “I’ll see you on Sunday for dinner?”
He nodded and smiled. With another swift kiss he said his goodbyes and wished her a fun weekend before he walked out the door. Marika remained standing in the kitchen alone. She knew the procedure. At this point, it was like an old ritual. He would go off to work and drive straight to the cabin high up in the mountains. On Sunday he would return greeted by her with stories of what she did and did not do that weekend, and a roast waiting.
It was another weekend of silence. He would not call her, and neither would she him. The phone reception was weak at best at the cabin if there even was one to be had at all. She did not mind. After all these years she was used to this silence, and even cherished it a little.
As always Marika enjoyed her time being free of her husband. Not that she hated him, of course. In fact, she loved him very dearly, but she could not deny enjoying the monthly weekend going out to brunches with her girlfriends and endless shopping sprees at the mall or city center.
On Sunday at 7pm, like clockwork, Robert returned home from his trip, dirty, tired, and sometimes with a few scratches and bruises. After greeting his wife with a kiss and enduring the usual complaint that he smelled, he would dispose of his dirty things in the laundry room. Then after a shower and shave, he would join Marika for dinner, and shortly after, go to bed.
It would transpire like this every month, like an old ritual.
On Monday Marika awoke late and alone. Robert had already gone to work. Her head was aching. With a glance outside she could see the treetops bent and droplets running down the windowpane. She let out a sigh. Weather like this always caused her to have headaches. With a grunt she forced herself out of bed and shuffled to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. An Ibuprofen would ease her pain. After a quick shower the pill had finally taken effect and she went about her day as usual.
First thing on the agenda was the cleanup of Robert’s mess. Of course, he had not literally left behind a mess, but Marika liked to refer to her husband’s dirty hunting clothes as such. In the laundry room she dumped the contains of the old and battered duffle bag on the shiny white tiled floor. It was not a big heap of clothes and would hardly fill the washing machine, but she liked to get over with this chore. As she shoved the pieces of clothing into the machine dried earth and dirty crumbled to the floor, as well as a small piece of paper. With a thud she closed the lid an started the circle. Then she turned her attention to the little piece of paper on the floor.
Confused she picked it up. Her husband never left anything behind in his clothes. With curiosity she inspected it. It was folded in half and showed spots of dirt and discoloration. The paper was of cheap quality.
Probably a receipt from the gas station, she thought as she unfolded it. Then her eyes widened in disbelief.
It had been a receipt, she was right about that, but not from a gas station. It was from a motel, The Pine Inn. She knew that place. It was an old and shabby place located on the road up to the mountains. She had been there once. It was on the one weekend she had spent at the cabin with her husband.
Carefully she inspected the receipt more closely. It was for one room with a king-size for one night: Friday to Saturday, for two people.
With a gasp she let herself sink to the floor. Beside her the washing machine was humming. Tears filled her eyes. Thought ran wild in her mind. Who was the other person? Was it a friend? No, it could not be, with only one bed. Was Robert having an affair? For how long? How did she not notice? Then again, how could she have known?
Marika’s imagination ran wild and eventually she worked herself up into a frenzy. With the receipt crumbled in her hand she ran outside. Beside her tiny Toyota Prius a huge green truck was parked. It was Robert’s. He used it only to go to the cabin.
With force Marika swung the door on the passenger side open. Adrenaline was rushing through her veins and erratic thought clouded her mind. Frantically she began to search the car, for what exactly, she did not know.
There must be something else, she kept telling herself as she searched every nook and cranny of the truck. She looked everywhere, not only once, but twice. However, after thirty minutes of checking every item, compartment, and surface, she let out a deep sigh and fell onto the passenger seat. She had not found anything. Nothing. Nothing to either confirm or deny her suspicion. With a feeling of defeat and sudden tiredness Marika pulled herself out of the truck and walked back into the house.
What should I do? Marika was thinking to herself. Nervously she was pacing up and down in the living room. She tried to calm her nerves with a cup of tea, which now stood abandoned on the couch table. After the first sip she remembered that she despised tea.
She thought about confronting Robert with her find at dinner. A plan she quickly abandoned again, just like her tea. He would only deny it, and she had no proof except the receipt.
Outside the window the drizzling had stopped a while ago, but the treetops were still swaying in the dim sunlight, which beamed through the clouds. Almost as if the trees were dancing to an unknown melody. Inside, Marika was still pacing, seemingly mimicking the trees outside, nervously floating to the same silent tune.
After what seemed like an hour of pacing, Marika sat down on the sofa, determination glinting in her eyes.
I would wait, she thought to herself, not daring to speak the words out loud, although there was no one else who could have heard them. I need to see for myself.
And so, she waited patiently, acting like she had never found the motel receipt, for a whole month. Until it was time again for her husband to leave and spend a weekend at the cabin. However, this time, he would not go alone.