‘Happiness lies only in a divine unrest; and if you are lapped in comfort you stagnate and miss it.’ – John Buchan, A lodge in the wilderness
Was he happy? He felt sure that when she enquired about that, it must have been from a state of hope rather than expectation.
He wasn’t sure he wanted to be happy, in the contented sense. He wanted something so far beyond happiness that it might never be attained. The important thing was that he still believed there was a chance, however slim, if certain planets aligned, the right butterfly flapped its wings in the right place at the right moment, and life opened the right doors, or they were forced open. In the meantime, though it sounded odd or contradictory or bloody-minded to say it, he didn’t mind being unhappy. He would rather be unhappy and able to look back upon the undulations of their love – and all that they had been to each other while they rode them – than content and have forgotten her, or never known her at all.
He supposed that the reason he hadn’t answered her hoping – above and beyond all the myriad reasons both emotional and rational not to – was that he couldn’t reassure her that he was happy. Or was it that the answer was too complicated, that it would vary from hour to hour – moment to moment, even. Sometimes he was not unhappy. Sometimes he forgot all that had happened sufficiently to have moments of joy independent of the memory of her and when she came back into his head, it wasn’t that she dislodged the joy, but that he had once again to set it in the context of the loss of her. He still felt that loss as strongly as he had in the days and weeks following the severance, and that wasn’t too strong a word, because that’s what it had felt like to him. Yes, it had had that butcher’s slab brutality about it, though he knew she felt she had no choice. The memory of it still hurt, though of course the pain was ebbing. But the love and the overwhelming sense of loss were not. As he had been when she was there, he remained constant, whatever he tried to do, however much he had tried to shift himself onwards. So strangely it seemed to him that whether they with each other or without, life would to some extent carry on much the same as ever. His love burned like the sun – the one that came out from behind a cloud for her – while hers waned and waxed like the moon. But how could it not warm and touch him to know that in phases she was still longing for his light, feeling it, reflecting it.
He realised that it was not what she wanted to hear, because she only wished him well as he did her, but the bottom line was that without her he could not be the beyond-happy he wanted to be. And because she could not confound the bottom line, he had not replied at all.