Art Pact 3
She was not sure at what point the change had come over him - unlike the rigid, routine-centred personalities of her own family, his natural tendency to variability masked a slow process of change behind more pronounced but temporary swings in his mood. When he was one day raging furiously about a colleague, the next completely sanguine, she found herself unable to gauge whether or not he was truly happy. But perhaps without realising it consciously she came to dread breakfasts - the time of day when he was arguably most himself, free from the turbulent influences of the real world and reacting only to those unknown dreams which he pretended ignorance of. Then her questions would become nervous and tentative, and his answers cold.
The morning of the fourth of September, with a field of grey clouds low in the sky outside, found the kitchen dull and colourless. Two of the three light bulbs on the track had blown, and Clare (too short to reach the sockets even when standing on the island) ate her cereal in the one pool of light. She was just shepherding the last few cornflakes around the of the bowl, trying to persuade them into her spoon, when Vincent clumped downstairs, entered the room, and sat down heavily in his chair.
"You sleep okay, hun?" Clare caught the last rebel mouthful and shovelled it into her mouth. Vincent ignored her, spreading his paper out so that it covered half of the island's marble top and rested on the cruet set in the centre. "Tea?"
She didn't wait for an answer, busying herself with the various necessary pourings and clinkings. When it was done she set his mug down, her own clutched in both hands as a hot talisman. Vincent glanced at the tea, but continued poring over the various minute numbers on the financial pages. He had produced a red ballpoint pen from somewhere in his dressing gown, with which he occasionally darted a quick ellipse around a cryptic ticker symbol or number. When Clare leant closer to try to see what he was marking, he shifted in his seat - a subtle motion, almost no movement at all, but it was as though he had turned his back on her.
"I'm meeting some venture capitalists today," he muttered.
"Oh, that's..." Clare realised that she had no idea what the meeting might be about. She'd met a couple of VC groups a few years ago, when dealing with the computer vision startup, and she'd complained bitterly at the time to Vincent about their intransigence regarding co-ops. "This is for the-"
"It's a new thing," he said quickly, cutting her off.
"Right. Well, uh, good luck!"
He returned his focus to the paper. Clare stood for a second, watching the steam waft off the top of her cup of tea, then padded out of the kitchen and into the living room. Vincent's laptop was where he had left it last night, its pulse still throbbing white light into the bookcase behind it.
"I'm just going to check my email!" she called. When there was no answer, she sat down quickly, popping up the lid of the machine. The backlight was blinding after the dark of the kitchen, and it took her a moment to recover her eyesight. Instead of the normal drab picture of hedgerows and fields that was Vincent's desktop image, she saw the login screen. There was only one option, and for a second she thought that she might have got somebody else's laptop, but then she realised - he had logged out. He never logged out. Not only that, but he had deleted her account on the machine.
Quietly closing it again, she began to rifle through the mess on the coffee table. Most of it was hers, papers from the failed startup and administration from her day job that she'd brought home, but here and there were a few of Vincent's bills and assorted paperwork. She scanned them intently, but it all seemed perfectly normal. The most promising thing was his mobile phone bill, but reading through that she could see that almost all of his calls were either to home, to her mobile, or to his office.
As she put it down, she noticed the quality of light in the room change. She looked up. Vincent was framed in the doorway, blocking out the bulb in the corridor. His paper hung at his side, and his face was shadowed.
"What are you doing?" he asked. His eyes flicked up to hers, then back to the bill in her hand. "Why are you reading that?"