Wallpaper

“It’s cloudy,” Jane moaned.

“Keep going.” Alex tugged her hand, and Jane yipped as her toe caught the edge of a rock.

“I’m so done. We’re turning around and heading right back. I don’t want to be here. I did not ask for this. This is not how I wanted to spend today.”

“And how did you want to spend it, exactly?”

“I don’t know. At the movies. A dark restaurant. Anything but being out in nature.”

“But you love nature.”

“On a screen. I like the pictures. I don’t like actually being here. Why did you have to take me here?”

Jane groaned again, but she couldn’t exactly turn back now. She and her husband had been hiking for two hours, or as she preferred to put it, they had been tortured for two hours. She had married this man because he was much like her: a quiet, introverted, very non-adventurous type who would never dream of walking around in an oddly-colored forest and climbing up hills for hours on end. And on this day of all days, she did not want to be here.

A sense of coldness began to grow in her heart. Where there had earlier been intimacy and love, there was now a hollow, angry, cavern. All thoughts of being close to Alex and sharing this day with him went out of her head. She didn’t even like holding hands with him, and she had been avoiding it for the last forty minutes. He did seem to notice, and she could detect the faint hints of sorrow on his face at her aloofness, but that only made her fall deeper into it.

They came to the base of a large hill, but Jane would’ve preferred to call it a mountain. She glared at Alex, and he gave a half-hearted grin.

“You’re not in shape for this.” Neither was she, but she felt the need to say something that stung.

“We can do it.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Come on, sweetheart, I believe in you.”

She rolled her eyes. She didn’t want his sweet nothings. She wanted the couch, with hot chocolate in one hand and Alex’s face in the other, and some old movie playing on the TV. But of course neither of them ever really paid attention, because they would much rather be consumed in each other. Why couldn’t they be there?

Step by step they ascended the hill. Jane glowered the whole way, and eventually Alex’s smile fell and was replaced but a resolute expression. They pressed on, holding hands only when necessary to keep their partner from falling.

They reached the top of the hill to find genuine mountains rising on either side of them. The only way forward was through a small ravine—she thought that was the word—that was only wide enough for one of them at a time. Alex looked at her, and then he went ahead. He kept his hand outstretched for a moment, reaching out to her, but she didn’t take it. She heard his sigh as he dropped his hand back to his side. She followed after him through the ravine, wincing every time one of the jagged outcroppings scraped her upper arms or legs. A few dozen curse words sat on the tip of her tongue, ready to fire at her husband when the opportune moment arose.

How dare he. Today. Today of all days, how dare he do this. I don’t care if nature is pretty. I don’t care if it’s God’s glorious creation. I don’t want any of this. He knows what I like to do, and how dare he betray me like this.

Alex stopped, suddenly, and one of the curse words made its way out as Jane bumped into him.

“I know you’re upset about all this,” he said. “I know when you let me pick what we would do today that you wouldn’t think I would ever pick something like this. But I need to show this to you. My dear, trust me, I haven’t done this for nothing.”

Alex stepped out of the ravine and to the right, allowing Jane a full glimpse of what was in front of them. She froze for a minute, unable to comprehend. Her feet took some instinctive steps forward to get a closer view.

Mountains rose on either side of them, dotted with evergreen trees and capped with white-faced rocks. A lake took up most of the valley, and the grey water rippled and pulsed under the grey and dreary sky. Between them and the valley was a field of flowers, and their yellow, pink, and white hues added an unnatural coloring to the scene. Jane stood for a moment as the knee-high grass tickled and stung her legs. She gaped at the picture, unable to do or say anything for a few moments. Finally, without turning to face her husband, she whispered, “It’s real.”

A soft chuckle, only a few inches from her now. “Yes, darling, it is.”

Jane had seen this image a thousand times—or however many times she had opened her laptop. The picture was her wallpaper, a glorious image she had found three years ago and found too beautiful to let it go unseen again.

“But . . . but . . . it’s real?”

“Yes. I found out about it two months ago and knew I had to take you here to see it in person. And I thought today would be a good day to do that.”

Tears started flowing now. The image had always been a source of calm for Jane. It had kept her from going stir crazy on long nights trapped at home with work to do. It had given her peace when everything seemed disorderly and out of place. It quelled her rage like nothing besides Alex’s kisses could do. She had spent hours simply staring at it, immersed in its beauty, not desiring to think about or look at anything else. And here it was, real, down to the last detail. It was even an overcast day, just as it was in the picture. It looked identical, like she could snap a photo here and comparing them side-by-side would reveal no differences.

Alex stepped forward into the field. He threw his arms up and spun, his smile growing bigger. A few drops of rain fell on their heads, and that only made their smiles wider. Yes, Jane was smiling now. Perhaps, just perhaps, her husband had done a good thing. And on today, of all days.

Alex stood for a moment, viewing the picture, her picture. Then he turned to look at her. He walked forward, and her breath hitched in her throat. Reaching out gently, he took her face in his and kissed her forehead.

“Happy anniversary, darling.”

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