Lies Between Us
Mara and Emilie shared the flat, and they shared the bed. Mara would bring home French films and they would curl up on the couch and watch them over dinner on the little square plates Emilie had bought, and Emilie would bring home little apparat novels in Russian and English and line them up on a shelf for Mara to borrow. Sometimes in the night the attacks would come, wheezing and gasping for breath, and they would hold each other until the morning light broke across the frozen river out of the east window. Then Emilie would make tea for them both, and it would be all right.
They never asked each other their real names.
Emilie would leave in the mornings, after making tea, and be away most of the day. Mara’s schedule was more erratic; a life lived on the end of a cellphone, gone sometimes for days and lonely nights, coming back bedraggled and tired, letting Emily strip her out of her clothes and draw her into the bath to wash the scents of airports and foreign places off of her. Sometimes even the nights would be stolen from them, and Mara would return and set her overnight bag down next to the empty spot where Emilie’s should be in the closet, where it always was when they were together. Side by side.
They never asked each other about their past.
Once, Mara had come home to find Emilie in the bathroom with the door open, naked to the waist and picking splinters of bone out of her arm with a pair of tweezers in her left hand and making a bit of a mess of it. Neither said anything when Mara came and took over; Emilie just sat with her breasts naked to the air as Mara’s knowing hands washed away the blood, applied the antiseptic, dug out the bits of bone and other shrapnel and laid them in the sea shell on the sink which Emilie had brought home from the beach to hold their soap, and applied a field dressing. When all was done they kissed, and Mara put Emilie to bed.
They never asked each other who they worked for.
Once, Emilie walked in as Mara was cleaning her handguns on the kitchen table—small things that might fit in a pocket or a purse, each of which could fit in a three inch square. Mara didn’t look up as Emilie went into their bedroom, didn’t look up until Em laid her own weapon down and began to dissemble it. Then Mara raised an eyebrow, and Emilie beamed her slight, tight-lipped smile, and they had something else they could do in front of each other, something else to talk and discuss and laugh about at afternoons and after midnight when neither one could sleep.
They never spoke about what they did.
The week of the embassy bombings was hectic for both of them. The apartment was empty most of the time, both overnight bags gone from the closet. Emilie came home first, when the curfews were over and the alert downgraded, and spent the nights and days watching the news, the manhunts, and hugging Mara’s pillow, smelling her. She didn’t pray, because Emilie had ceased to pray a long time ago, but she hoped. When Mara finally staggered in, haggard and rough, Em cried silly tears and held her on the couch until they both fell asleep. There were sirens in the city that night, and gunshots, but it never broke the peace of the flat.
They never spoke about the future.
Emilie had brought a man home. His scent was in their bed, the condom floating in the toilet. Mara took in the mussed sheets on the unmade bed, the wet spot, the mocking emptiness where Emilie’s overnight bag should have been, in the closet. Mara sat on the bed and did not cry, and did not know if she should wait, or for how long. It was night when Em returned, and she sat down next to Mara on the bed. Emilie took Mara’s hand in hers, and Mara let her. Mara set her head on Emilie’s shoulder, and Em let her. They stayed like that for a long time.
“I can’t.” Em said.
“I know.” Mara said.
“It wasn’t…” Em scrunched up her face. “I should have found a hotel.”
“No.” Mara said. “You needed a place. Somewhere lived in.”
“There was nowhere else.”
Mara squeezed her hand. “I’m glad.”
In the spring the winter thawed and ran fluid again, and they took a long vacation at a cold, pebbly beach away from it all, and laughed at movies and shared their books and cleaned their guns. Then they came home, and Mara’s cellphone rang.
“You better answer it.”
Emilie packed Mara’s going away bag, and gave it to her with a kiss as she left.