I masturbated mindlessly to the violence on the screen. It was a report of some tragic bombings somewhere far away from here.
My wife was depressed upstairs while I pumped to the reporter’s emotionless voice reporting factual deaths, in a factual reality.
My wife hadn’t fucked me since she went on the tablets the doctors had prescribed for her.
She slept in the spare room and often muttered only a handful of words to me in a day.
I carried on with my life somewhat sickened by her refusal to accept the reality.
I cummed to the female newsreader, with her perky tits and contoured face. She was talking about the football results.
I couldn’t care less about the mess I made in my hands.
Artistic really. If I was an artist I’d write about shagging.
The dirty kind.
The reality was I also felt fucking shitty. Like someone had inserted a straw into my flesh and sucked away the motivation to do anything of use with my life. Though I was always told I’d never do anything of much use in my life. Had to make those important life changing decisions before my balls dropped.
So here I was.
A house which was falling to bits.
A wife which was falling to bits.
A sex life which was falling to bits.
I couldn’t even go to the damn pub anymore. The gossips would only wind me up. No one knew shit, and everyone talked shit. My sad wife who claimed that she was dying in her skin was the fresh new meat. They devoured her sadness like hyenas chewing on the bones of a dead animal.
I washed my hands in the sink and stirred the curry which was simmering on the hob. It was a botched-up job out of one of those jars. It didn’t taste so bad though.
We ate together at the table. It was something I insisted, to try and salvage some normality in our otherwise estranged life.
“How are you feeling?”
She played with the food on the plate and gave me a very small smile. “Today hasn’t been so terrible,” she said distantly.
I nodded. I had a response today. This was a small achievement.
“And you?” she asked.
“Good. Yeah good. I went to work. Came home. Watched the news, cooked the curry. Good. Yeah good.”
She smiled. “The curry is tasty.”
“Yes, yes. It’s alright isn’t it? It’s just from a jar, but it’s okay right?”
“Yeah. Tasty.” She swallowed a mouthful. “Adam messaged me today, he’s had another first in one of his papers.”
“Has he now? Clever kid our son.”
“Yes, he said that he met up with that girl that used to come around here. What was her name? … Oh yes that’s it, Regina. Regina, he saw Regina today.”
“That kid that used to eat us out of house and home?”
“Yes, Regina. That’s what Adam did today, he said he met up with Regina.”
“What did you do today?”
“Yeah, you?” She was still in her pyjamas, so my wild guess is, not a lot.
“I lay in bed with the curtains drawn and starred at the walls. No matter how much I sleep I’m just tired as fuck.”
“How can you still be tired if you lay in bed all day?” I didn’t mean to say it out loud, but it poured from my lips before I could even think.
Her eyebrows tightened and her spoon squealed as it pressed against the plate.
“Sleep problems. Drowsiness. Headaches. Problems with memory or concentration. Eye pain. Swelling. Confusion. Agitation. Dry mouth. Changes in weight.”
“Trouble having an orgasm, lack of sexual arousal.”
“How long has it been?” I asked her, and put some food into my mouth.
“How long since we had sex?”
“Probably since I went on the tablets Liam. I’m not entirely sure how long that’s been.”
“They’re not doing a fucking lot are they?”
“These fucking tablets, what the hell are they doing?”
She drank some of the orange juice I’d poured for her. “At least I’m not having mood swings or fits of crying.”
“At least then you fucking felt something! Now it’s like you just don’t feel anything at all.”
She reached for my hand and held it across the table, looked dead into my eyes.
“I’m sorry. I just…”
“No it’s okay. Fuck it. It’s not your fault. I just hate being the one that’s supposed to, I don’t know, be the fucking perfect husband. I’m not.”
“No honey, you are!”
“Mandy honestly don’t, I don’t need you pitying me.” And I laughed.
The dinner finished without much more conversation. She offered to wash up, and she did it in silence. Then without uttering another word she retreated to the spare room.
I let her go, opened a can of some cheap nasty beer I had bought with my money from the back pocket of my jeans. Change from the bus. I swallowed it whilst sitting in my spot on the sofa. The space she used to take up was empty. I turned on the telly.
On the large screen was one of those obnoxious game shows where a man in a suit asked questions with answers I didn’t know, and people who did won money.
“Load of shite,” I said, only to myself, as my wife was already locked away in her goddamn tower upstairs. She used to hate these things too.
When we were downstairs and none of us could be arsed choosing a film, we watched the rubbish on the telly and commented on its rubbishness. Moaned about the adverts. Sat together with hands clasped moaning about the telly, the weather, the new Indian we went to.
Those were the good days, when after our moaning we might fuck on the sofa. We’d cuddle and stuff before we slept, talk about what might happen tomorrow or the holiday we’d both been saving for.
Now I spent all these minutes and hours on my own and it sucked. She used to smile like every day was the fucking weekend, even when she moaned.
“What was the profession of Louis Henry Sullivan?” the telly drawled.
She could instantly make me feel better, my wife. I’d have lost a game of pool at the pub and she’d come in all fancy like with that bloody smile of hers. Wham. I felt like I was the luckiest man in the universe.
She hated yellow peppers.
Loved autumn, because the leaves got crispy on the side of the roads. (I on the other hand hated autumn, meant I had to brush up the little bastards from the yard. But my wife thought that the sound when she stepped on a fallen leaf was a duet from La bohème.)
Her favourite film was Fight Club.
She listened to country music when she used to cook.
She’d hiss to herself when she was trying to find something, probably her keys, which were normally in her bag.
She had these brown cowboy boots which she wore most days.
She used to sing One Fine Day in the shower.
She was friends with all the neighbours, that was until of course they enjoyed her misery and the mystery of her sudden depression.
She used to teach in primary schools, and she loved her job.
She was always so attentive with children, always knew exactly what to say to make them smile. Even our son, who was the grumpiest two-year-old I knew, when he saw his mum he was grinning.
“Freddie Mercury died in which year?”
Mandy used to make love to me like I was the fucking stars in the sky, like I was the most precious thing in her entire world. She’d brush her beautiful hands along my body and afterwards my own hands would trace the fingerprints she may have left on my skin and I’d smile.
We hadn’t had sex since she started taking those damn tablets.
“What year was Giacomo Puccini born?”
“1858,” I mumbled.
I swear I could hear her muffled cries from upstairs. If I was kinder maybe I would have gone upstairs to check on her. Ask her if she wanted me to make her a coffee, a hot water bottle, I’d have run my fingers through her hair. If I was kinder.
But I had grown used to the noises she’d make behind closed doors. I was also used to the rumours that were shared like gum between the darts team and the shop assistants. This had somehow become my reality and it felt lonely.
I had a woman that I loved more than anything, together we brought up a child that was now in university and without her I didn’t quite know who I was anymore. She was making me question myself as a man every night I went to bed on my own and masturbated underneath the sheets.
Who needed fucking lube when you had tears? I would turn to that godforsaken space next to me, and it was like I was living on my own.
“You know most of the good heroines die at the end.”
I looked up at the screen in that black box and saw the presenter of that obnoxious show in a fancy suit looking at me.
“The heroines. All the good ones die.”
“Snuff it, yeah. Even those female sidekicks, unless their love interests, they die so the male protagonist can advance.”
“Are you telling this to me?”
“Yeah, you sitting on the chair in your own cum-stained underpants.” He pointed at me with a grin that must have been worth a lot of money. No real people had teeth that white.
“You’re talking about books, right?”
“That’s right books, the good ones, the ones that sell. The women die.”
“How is that useful information, why should I care about fake woman’s deaths.”
“This one’s slow,” he said, and those ordinary contestants laughed. “Almost as slow as you Brian at least he got one question right.” A contestant called Brian looked sheepish and this time the audience laughed, belly gut laughter as if they were in on a private joke.
“Your girl, Mandy right? How long has she been like this?”
“What the fuck are you on about?”
“She must be really suffering,” he told me very softly almost sounded somewhat sincere.
“My wife has nothing to do with you, mind your own fucking business and get on with your pretentious show and leave me alone.”
He started smiling again, that strange charismatic smile.
“The world doesn’t need people like your wife, spunky heroines that think,” he said quietly.
“Why the hell should we care what the damn world needs. It’s never cared what I need.”
“No no no no no no no no no. It gives you exactly what you need. It keeps you tired, it keeps you struggling for those pennies in your back pocket to pay the bills. Because the world needs you to do that.”
I started laughing heavily putting my beer down on the floor next to the sofa. “The world needs your wife to stay depressed or dead.”
“My wife doesn’t need the world.”
“No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t need time to get better, she needs you to go upstairs now while she’s crying and silence her with her dirty tear stained pillow, silence her until her wriggling stops underneath you, until her insides are begging for a release, for that feeling of air. And you’ll keep the pressure until that begging fades. Until her fingers stop clawing at the skin on your neck and she dies underneath the weight of your body. That will probably be closest you’ve been physically for months and months, right?” All the while he was talking, fat tears rolled down my face. “Do you understand me? This is what the world needs you to do.”
“The world needs me to do… the world needs… me… the world… needs me… to do… it needs me… the world… the needs… I need… to feel something again. Something. I need to feel… the world needs to feel…”
“Of course, you need to feel. Can you feel anything now?”
“Nothing. I feel nothing.”
“That’s good, good. Very good. Nothing is fine, nothing is like a superior state of emotion the one that everyone is looking for. Nothing. I think you could help your wife to feel it too. This nothing. This feeling. Nothing, no one, no job, no TV, no trains or queues in cafés, no swearing teenagers outside shops late at night smoking, no badly tasting sandwiches you shouldn’t have left in the fridge, no tablets or doctors. This could be all hers, all of this nothing could be your last gift to her, to show her how much you love her. And don’t you love her oh so much…”
At some point I had gotten off the chair and put my hands on my flat screen TV. My hands next to his face as he drawled on, all the while I cried.
“I love her.”
“Of course you do, you love her so much.”
“I do. I love her.”
“People do things for others because they love them. You don’t have to love the world, the world never loved you. But she loves you. She loves you. Isn’t that all that matters?”
“It is. It’s all that matters.”
“Do it for love.”
“I’ll do it for love.”
“That’s right, that’s good, good. You’ll go upstairs…”
“You don’t need to tell me again. I know how to smother someone.”
He smiled again.
“Of course you do, clever man. Shall I play you some Puccini. You like Puccini right? How about… some Madame Butterfly?” I didn’t answer, but he was already playing the love duet and I didn’t complain.
I went up the stairs. I always hated the carpet on the stairs. We both hated it but being lazy we never got around to changing it. I could hear the music follow me as I walked. She wasn’t crying anymore. At least from outside the room I couldn’t hear anything. I knocked on the door.
“Mmm?” I heard her from inside and I pushed the door ajar.
She was sitting up in the dark of the room, the quilt wrapped around her, a pillow behind her back to support her. Her eyes were inflamed, but when she saw me this time she smiled.
“I’m sorry you feel lonely.” She told me, “I just can’t bring myself too … if you like we can try tonight. If you want, we could…”
“Mandy, it’s okay. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable around me. I’m just getting a bit frustrated at the moment, no no, it’s not your fault. It’s just life, and I think I’ve had enough of us trying to do it on our own. Goddammit Mandy we have each other why are we both pretending like we’re so goddamn alone in this world. We’re not alone, right?”
She smiled, “No we’re not alone.” She paused, “Is that Madame Butterfly?”
“Yeah, apparently the TV isn’t always filled with shite.”
She smirked, “Mmm this is an exception, but if I were you I wouldn’t get your hopes up. All those processed words and white teeth, no normal people have teeth that white.” She gestured to the empty space next to her in the spare bed and without another word I crawled in and she instinctively but her arm around me.
“Sometimes I think about dying.” She told me quietly.
“Sometimes I do too.”
“This isn’t the end of us, we can get through this. I can get through this, it’s just bollocks that the world decides to throw at us. I won’t let it kill me.” She said.
I nodded. “I won’t let it kill you either.”
That must have been the first night in months that I spent in her arms.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ailish Annie James is an English literature graduate. Read her poem nothing on Typishly.
[ The photograph is in the public domain. ]