Lester had grown morose. He’d always been uncommunicative, expressing his feelings through the things he did. He’d spend weeks landscaping around the house and at the end of it all, if I was lucky, he’d say something like, ‘I hope you like it.’ And of course I would. His projects always made our lives better in some way.

But lately the silences were just that. There was no project beneath them. Nothing to demonstrate his affection. I wondered if he was planning to leave, though he formed relationships so laboriously, another woman seemed unlikely.

I began loosing sleep. I’d wake in the dark, conscious of him awake as well, as if he never slept.

I confronted him.

At first he said nothing. No surprise in that. A week passed before he came to me, almost in tears. The courage it took him to ask me seemed about to overwhelm him. ‘Please, Zara,’ he said, ‘I want to brush your hair.’

As he dragged his mother’s hairbrush through my unruly curls he began telling me about her. For nearly an hour he brushed and he talked; her strict rules, her hardness, the struggle of their lives together and of the best of times when she’d finally relax, the brush stripping her hardness away.

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