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The City

by Kate Thompson

    I’m beginning to think he does it on purpose, as a punishment. He’d never admit that, of course, not even to himself, but I can’t account for it otherwise. I’ve asked him not to do it enough times. Exactly enough times. I ask him again, I’ll be nagging.
It’s because I go out on my own. He doesn’t complain when I do, indeed he can’t, because if he did then I might, too. I might ask him what he does until three o’clock in the morning with his business acquaintances. And that would be breaking the unspoken code. Neither of us asks. But this business with the lights is really pushing it. Something’s going to give.
If I ever thought about it before I came home I might be able to take action. Like not coming home. That would be justifiable at this stage. Tell him it was his fault, I just couldn’t face walking into the house, so I stayed away. But I always forget about it once I’ve had a couple of drinks, and I don’t think of it again until I come round the corner of the drive and see all the lights blazing away.
Then I feel sick. I want to turn the car and drive away, but it’s too late by then. The night’s associations have broken down. Everyone has gone home.
I sit for a while, trying to calm myself, build up courage. Then I begin to imagine they’re in the car with me, and I have to get out. I go through the house as quickly as I can, turning out the lights, ducking, covering my head with my hands and stumbling across the darkened rooms. It’s too late to close the windows now. I leave them open so that they can find their way out. The bathroom is the worst, because I have to keep still, and I lash out stiffly as the whirring wings pass close to my head in the dark. I don’t wash or brush my teeth, just feel my way up the stairs as quickly as I can.
Why did we have to come here at all? It was never like this in the city.
Outside the bedroom door I can hear them. Their wings clatter against the Japanese light-shade. I open the door and slide in my hand to turn off the light, and the noise stops almost immediately. My back is tingling and my nerves play wriggly tricks with my skin as I slip out of my clothes. I can hear them in the air and knocking against the paler dark of the window panes.
He pretends to be asleep, but I know he has heard me come in. His body is hot in the warm bed. I pull the blankets up around my ears, dreading the flutter of wings between my skin and the sheets. He turns towards me with a satisfied sigh, and pulls me close.


Taken from ‘Roughly Speaking’ (1991), page 9.

Kate Thompson

Nanda Devi