It was true that, at first, he had hated having Rigby on the bed with him. Really hated it. Not because she farted, or snored – she did both these things – but because, in the middle of the night, he would wake and think that it was Val there, sleeping beside him. The warm body, the gentle rise and fall of her breathing. Rigby’s breathing. A dog! But it could have been her – his wife. And he would roll over and really squint at it – the dark form, sleeping beside him. Thinking, have I dreamt it all? The leaving?
Had he dreamt it, right down to the detail of her Disneyland keyring left on the very edge of the kitchen island?
And he would sometimes – when the sleep-fog was really heavy – reach out and touch the sleeping form with the tips of his fingers.
Hoping his fingers would find silken pyjamas.
Not silken fur.
On this day – as good a day as any – he woke to find Rigby on the floor. Curled up tight like a cat. He always loved her when she slept like that – she looked so pathetic, somehow. ‘Come on then, old girl,’ he said, as he climbed out of bed and lumbered along the hall toward the kitchen, pausing on the way to open the front door, step out, and retrieve his morning newspaper from where it lay, damp, among the weeds.
In the kitchen he unwrapped the newspaper and laid it out, being careful not to knock Val’s keys.
One day he would swipe those Disneyland keys off the bench and drop them somewhere, he thought. In the bin, perhaps, or into a drawer.
But not today. Not this Saturday.
On this Saturday he skirted them.
(Daniel, it turned out, was as capable as Val was of holding two strands in his head at one time. For example, he could think that this Saturday might just be his last, and at the same time he could think, One day I will deal with those keys.)
After his muesli he sat for a long time, staring at nothing. This was the problem lately with days – they contained all these hidden potholes, these ditches you could slip into without warning. You could be sitting at the bench eating your muesli, feeling okay, scanning the newspaper for interesting headlines, thinking about the mulching you might do later in the day, your brain whirring productively along, your foot tapping, and then the very next minute you could find yourself derailed; gone. Newspaper becoming a blur. Muesli turning lumpen on your tongue. Arms leaden. Feet growing numb.
Once you were in a ditch like that, it took all of your strength to scramble back out again.
His doctor said he was likely suffering from a mild form of depression. Daniel had missed a prostate exam – just missed it, let it slip by completely. When the doctor had asked why he’d missed his exam, Daniel had replied, ‘Oh, I was in one of my lapses, I guess.’ And the doctor had sat up, frowning, reaching for his keyboard.
‘Tell me more about that,’ he’d said.
‘Even a relatively small thing, a thing that seems positive, like your daughter going off to university, can in fact trigger a tidal wave of negative emotion,’ the doctor said. ‘The more unexpected the emotions are, the harder they can be to deal with. For example,’ he said, sitting back in his chair, folding his hands across his stomach, tugging briefly at the pointed end of his purple tie, ‘when my wife and I finally swapped our house in Kelburn for a lifestyle block out in Ohariu Valley …’
Daniel listened, nodding politely. He hadn’t told the doctor about Val, or about what had happened lately with his career.
Hadn’t told him about any of that stuff.
The doctor said to give the pills a couple of weeks to kick in. He said that after that, Daniel should notice a general improvement in his mood, his ability to cope.
‘Did you take them, doc?’
‘Yes, after you moved to Ohariu Valley. Did you take these pills?’
The doctor chuckled, as if Daniel had made a little joke. ‘No, no indeed I did not. I took up trail-running. Good for the body and the soul. Plus I got a puppy.’
‘Yes. Two actually. Sisters. Wait, I have a photo here, if I can figure out how to make my screen …’
Daniel looked at the prescription in his hand. When he thought of anti-depressants he thought of women. Young women with babies clinging damply to their chests. Or teenagers, maybe. Teenagers with bad posture and acne.
‘Just give them a chance,’ the doctor said, walking him out to reception. ‘I really think you’ll find they help with these brief mental lapses you keep having.’
Daniel took the prescription to the pharmacy because he thought that if he didn’t, an alert might come up on the doctor’s system.
But he had no intention of taking the pills.
The lapses were not inside Daniel, he thought, as he drove away. They were external – hidden in various locations around the house – the kitchen was a danger area, as was the bathroom. Or, the lapses were hidden somehow in time. Nine-thirty in the morning seemed particularly riddled with potholes, as did four-thirty. Shoulder-zones, was how Daniel came to think of them. The shoulder between early morning and late morning, the shoulder between afternoon and evening.
And another thing – the lapses were not brief. Once you slipped into them, once they had you.
Brief lapses? No. Daniel had lost whole days like this.