Calpurnia waits – a short story

It’s cold. The double doors are so old they’ve warped with the years and the wind whistles through the gap above the floor. The house is too small, but he says – said – it’s important to be living here in the heart of government, while he is in the city.

I shall wait just a little longer then go to bed. I assumed the important men would come, but they haven’t. The slaves say the city is deserted. I have sat here next to his body all day, and no one has visited – well, Anthony did, but he is too stupid to be important. He didn’t stop to pay his respects, just strode straight through saying he was going to the study. I let him. When he left with his two slaves carrying buckets of papers, I let him. He did not look at me.

Nobody has been to mourn my husband. She can’t, of course. Not even She would try that. I think of Her and The Bastard, sitting in his villa across the river. She’s been there months; I can’t think why. Nobody here wants Her. There is nothing left now for either of us. I will go to the country villa and She will go back to Egypt. She will never visit Rome again.

I’ve been so tired today, even before it happened. This morning, he said I dreamed all night, waking him with my muttering. I said, “What about the thunder?” and he said, “What thunder?” All day, I’ve felt as though there should be storms – I’ve been waiting for the white light of a lightning bolt – but nobody has taken any notice of my forebodings.

I’m normally so sensible. It’s what he liked in me. I don’t fuss, I don’t nag, I’m always calm. His mother approved of me too, which was an achievement. She was so clever at handling him. He always asked her opinion, and she never tried to change him. I miss her. I wonder what she would think of Her across the river. Nothing, probably. She wouldn’t fuss about something like that and she would tell me I mustn’t either. “You are his only chance of getting a legitimate heir,” she would say. No chance of that now. There never has been – not after fifteen years, not unless he had settled down and given me a chance. He was supposed to set off again in three days, more travelling, more fighting.

Just this morning, I had been thinking that once he had gone I could go back to the country villa. Over and over I had chanted it in my head: “I just need to get today over. He will spend tonight with Her and The Bastard. He will be busy organising things tomorrow. But as soon as he’s gone, She will leave Rome and I can go to the countryside.”

I am a widow, but I still must wait a few more days. And then I can go.

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