# 4 / The Painter

If you would walk up on a sunny day to the pathway that leads towards the high stairs that villagers here still call the ‘Sky’s Stairs’, and if you then look to your right, you might see, if there are no grey clouds that day, the roof of my house and you might wonder who could live there in such a wealthy manner. You might notice the very straight roof tiles, the polished windows with the red curtains behind it, the smoke rising from the black chimney and the russet bricks surrounding the large, wooden front door. I am aware of its grandeur and it is true that once there lived a very rich man. But if I were to inform you that its occupants these days are merely the descendants of a simple goat farmer and that these descendants praise themselves lucky that they were able to purchase this house in a time of recession you might be surprised. If I were to tell you instead that the previous owner of this majestic house was none other than Theodore Van De Moor, you would understand its magnitude. 

It is possible that you are new to this town, that used to be a large city, and have never heard of him, although he’s well known by the villagers in town and by the people in the surrounding areas. I could tell you that he was a painter and a very great one too. In his time, he created many paintings which were desired and very often asked for by those who could afford them. Naturally, those paintings no longer adorn the walls in this house; they were auctioned off after the previous owner passed away. But I do remember that I’ve heard that those paintings were something out of this world, extra-terrestrial and that the people, those who have seen them and others who haven’t but had heard of their brilliance from others, whisper only praise about them. You might wonder what kind of painting could be of such splendour that it seems extra-terrestrial. I’ll explain. If you were to walk a bit further down the street and if the sun would shine on the left corner of the pointy roof, you might see a statue. It is not a large statue and it is not in the same size as the well-known painter when he was alive, but you might be able to distinguish some of its features. 

I have to confess that when I first laid eyes on the house, I didn’t notice the statue. It is hidden from the main entrance of the house, and I was taken aback by the magnificent copper-coloured bricks and chestnut front door, and I imagined then what the windows would look like if my family were to hang red curtains behind them. The property was for sale for only a trifling price, probably not even worth half its value that it would have been before the recession. You might think me foolish, and, with the knowledge I now have, I would too, but the only excuse I can find now is that I was ignorant. I had never heard of Van de Moor and in my innocence, I merely saw a beautifully preserved house in which my family could grow old. Besides, the bakery in this town is known to have the best croissants in the province and I have a terrible weakness for buttery pastries.  

If you were to have a better look and you might need to squint your eyes, you would see that the statue doesn’t depict a grand painter, but instead, a more distorted figure that I fancy resembles a gargoyle, with its sharp wings and dark, weathered stone and malicious claws, and the face that is deformed into an unnatural looking kind. I am aware that it is an unpleasant statue to behold and to be quite frank with you, it makes me uneasy that it is attached to my splendorous house. But I can’t take it down. That I know for certain because I once attempted to do so. I had bought all the equipment: ropes, a pickaxe, and a hammer paid for with the funds we saved so we could hire a professional to repair the leakage in the third bathroom. My dear wife could no longer stand the sight of it. I admit that at first, I didn’t see the harm of it since it was on the roof and not visible from the entrance of the house, so I didn’t set about the matter very quickly. But my wife grew more uneasy every time she heard it mentioned in the market where she buys fish and lavender soap, I so went out to buy the tools. 

I remember that it was a clear day, mercurial hot, I was sweltering on top of the roof, and I could think of many other things I would have preferred to do that moment. The ladder I had used to climb up was firmly planted against the wall with the ceramic pots as support. I imagined that I first would secure the ends of the ropes around the legs, body and the arms so I could give the statue a good pull after I had struck the base with my pickaxe, a tool that wasn’t of very high quality but seemed sharp enough to cleave the weathered stone. I gave it a few test swings. But as you would have it, after I had made sure I had a good grip on the roof ridge and that my left foot was secure in the gutter, and I then heaved my first strike, the tip of the pickaxe bounced back after it touched the stone as if it were made of rubber. Can you believe it? I made another attempt, this time confirming that I was making for the statue – maybe I had accidentally hit something else than the statue. But even when I had put all my weight and force into the swing, the pickaxe bounced back and the counterforce made me lose my balance. Only a bit further down the roof was I able to grab the roof vent and pull myself up. Was this wretched statue indestructible? After I crawled back and laid my hands on the statue so I could inspect it, I noticed the dark clouds on the horizon making fast towards the house. The sun had disappeared, and I was overcome by a feeling that someone was watching me. I hurried back, down the ladder and into the house. 

The Painter
The painter

After I had told the story to my wife she laughed. ‘There could be no such thing as an indestructible statue,’ she said. I knew that it sounded ridiculous, after all, it didn’t even look stable, but very frail. But I couldn’t deny what had happened there on the roof. ‘I know my dear, and it sounds unbelievable, but what if it’s made of some sort of strong material from before the recession? Maybe it was even made of a type of rubber.’ I immediately regretted the last suggestion, because I saw her face change and regard me oddly, maybe wondering why she married this fool. ‘No, you’re going back up there as soon as the clouds have disappeared. I will not stand those people on the market making fun of it – of us!’ I tried to think of other things we could try, maybe hiring someone to take it down or hoping that lightning would strike it someday, but I saw the tremor in my wife’s chin and I knew that it would be even more foolish if I’d go against her. ‘Yes, my dear, I’ll go back up as soon as I’m able.’

It took about a few hours for the clouds to dissolve and to greet back the insatiable heat that characterises countryside France in the peak of summer, and I smelled the drying ivy and lavender that grew outside our house, and frankly, populated the whole town, where the speckled leaves and purple merged into the crème coloured sand-brick houses. The notion of lightning striking the statue seemed to grow more believable with every step I took up the ladder. But the chances of the clouds returning were slim. 

Now, I’d like to have a little intermission before I tell you what is about to happen on top of the roof, as I climbed up for the second time. At that moment, I had no idea why the famous painter was so poorly represented in the statue. Of course, some suggestions had crossed my mind like, maybe he once painted a gargoyle and it had become something of a tribute to his admirers, or he identified himself with a metaphorical, distorted-looking creature. But I didn’t know the truth, while I later learned that so many in our village did. They knew that he was known as authentic, unbalanced, sometimes erratic even. That Van de Moor often didn’t leave his house for weeks. That he was referred to as the Cursed Painter. And even the villagers didn’t know exactly why he was cursed, because I suppose that even if someone is acting strange, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re cursed. All of this, I learned a few weeks later after the incident, from an elderly man who could’ve well been of the painter’s age if he were still alive. What I’m about to tell you has never crossed my lips before and I intended to have it stay that way, but the urge to share my sorrows with someone, a stranger like you who I’m sure will not pass this tale on to others, is too great. I suppose it’s only human to feel the need to be understood or at least to be listened to. Why would you ask? Well, revealing the truth and consequently laying this burden on my family would be too harmful, for they are so content living in this house and I’m quite certain that I could never afford a better, larger house than the current one. And if that means that I have to live with this dark secret to keep my family save, so be it.

I learned the story from a stranger much as yourself. I happened to meet the elderly man while I was sitting in front of my house. There was a raw, waning sun that shone yellow upon the wicker bench and with my eyes closed, my thoughts had wandered off to a peaceful memory I like to think back to on these occasions. I had heard his footsteps approaching but didn’t think much of it. It could also have been my wife shuffling around in the garden, tending to the purple rain and the Fragonard roses. But when he spoke, the voice was unmistakably not my wife’s. ‘I see you’re enjoying the splendour of this mansion, as you well should.’ I opened my eyes, disheartened that someone had come to tear me from my daydreaming. The man stood with an arched back and a long neck, white whiskers and thin hair but surprisingly voluminous. Friendly eyes, green, I think, but they also could’ve been hazel. I couldn’t recall then whether I had seen the man before, although it was likely – the town wasn’t that large anymore, and he seemed to have read my mind. ‘I live in a town nearby,’ he explained pointing to the south with his thick thumb, ‘but I’ve come to look at the house that used to be owned by the magnificent Van de Moor. I’m a great admirer, you see. His paintings are extraordinary, the colours seem to jump off the canvas, the strikes of his brush hit every accent so beautifully as if he was simply tracing the actual scene.’ The old man’s face had become flushed with excitement. I didn’t know what to respond. I couldn’t bring up the courage to say that the owner of the great painter’s house had never seen anything of Van de Moor’s work. ‘That sounds nice,’ I mumbled. It appeared to be enough; the old man smiled proudly. ‘Amazing, his paintings are. I’m a collector too, although I flatter myself in saying so; his paintings are quite expensive nowadays. That wasn’t the case when he was alive, unfortunately.’ Creases emerged between his white eyebrows as if the thought of the painter not earning enough money during his active years was of a personal matter. I asked him why. ‘It had nothing to do with his art, I’m sure of that. But over the years he became quite mad. Although you often see some type of eccentricity in great artists, Van de Moor crossed the line between a little quirky to absolutely bananas. He thought that he was cursed by a witch, you see, and not just some witch!’ He leaned closer and I smelled his eggy breath. ‘The witch from the legends.’ I had heard of this legend before but not in detail, for it normally didn’t interest me. But the old man had such a knack for storytelling that I suddenly wanted to hear all about it. ‘What legend?’ 

The old man smirked. ‘The Witch of Dauphiné. It is said that when she was born the first plague in France began; crops turned black, inedible, and it didn’t take long for the country to go hungry. No one knew that people were starving because of the birth of a child who seemed normal. But normal she was certainly not. You see, she was given the Mark of the Devil, a long scratch on her left thigh that was always burning hot red as if the Devil’s flames itself furnaced the scar. No one knows why she was chosen to do the Devil’s work though she accepted her role completely. Antoine Lilly was her name. It is said that she feasted on human flesh, bend minds and bones to her will, change into the shape of a werewolf and that she particularly relished in strangling little children. The world is lucky that her malicious work didn’t last long; she was captured before her 25th birthday in Dauphiné and tortured until she confessed. Then she was burned alive on the stake. They say that it took four days for the flames to take her and that the witnesses can still hear her wicked laugh in their sleep. And it happened right here, on this spot, where this mansion is now built.’ I blinked. He made a point of adding: ‘of course that happened a long time ago and it probably doesn’t affect you in any way’. 

Here I have to apologise to you, for I am sure that these gruesome details were not enjoyable to hear. You have to forgive me; I’m only telling you what the old man told me. After he had finished telling his terrible tale I have to admit I sensed an electric shock going through my body, but I kept my face straight.  

‘How could the burning of a witch affect the life of a painter? There should be a lot of places around France where many innocent women and men have met their agonising ending; there is no evidence that this Antione was any different.’ I regretted asking after further about the legend. It showed to have been a plain ghost story, told by a demented man who I now hoped would leave very soon. But he didn’t. ‘Antoine Lilly wasn’t just an ordinary witch. She was a direct descendent of the Devil, marked in the womb. After she was burned, her skeletal remains disappeared, and they say that worshippers tried to revive her.’ He nodded his head towards the roof. ‘That statue wasn’t sculpted to resemble the likeness of a gargoyle. It became this way after Theodore Van de Moor converted into a zealous devotee himself. Over the years, the painter’s madness trickled into the statue and now it exposes the blackness of his true nature; deformed, contorted, a madness caused by the wicked whispers of the Devil’s descendent.’ I could hardly believe the nonsense the man was saying. ‘Well, I’m sure this is a great, scary story, but –.’ ‘Have you not truly looked at the statue? Seen its ugliness?’ he interrupted. ‘Did you not think it was odd that this majestic house was for sale for such a nominal fee?’ I tried to get inside, but the old man followed me to the door. His face seemed to be burning as if he had a high fever. I yanked at the handle of the door. ‘I only came to warn you, to tell you the truth!’ he exclaimed as I tried to get rid of his hands on my arm. It seemed now impossible to end this conversation politely, and only after I had closed the door and found myself safely on the other side did I shout some sort of goodbye. 

I wish that I had had this knowledge before I climbed up the roof, for it could’ve saved me from my current predicament. But my dear wife had told me to go back onto the roof and so that’s what I did. 

I peered over the ridge of the roof and climbed up, hesitantly, so I could sit next to the statue. In the magnetic afternoon light, the pastures were blank and receptive, and I visualised myself running through the rough, tall, emerald grassland breathless, like a young child. For some reason, I couldn’t muster the courage to look at the statue, and I recall now that something stopped me from touching it too. It was as if I didn’t want to acknowledge its existence. I played with the rope, pulling strands of twine, folding and unfolding it, and weighing it in my hands. I might have sat there for a full hour because I remember the gold-crusted sun sinking so that it almost touched the earth. Something had to be done though, so I turned around. The coarse stone was gritty, and I wiped some of the fragments off of the wings, and then I felt that the statue was strangely warm, toasty even, which alarmed me at first but then I remembered that it had been a hot day. I wasn’t sure what type of stone this was – not that I knew much about minerals and rocks, but when I came closer, it seemed as if it was radiating, indeed, with my face so close to the stone I swear I could see veins; not black ones that one might see in marble, but crimson veins; oozing, smouldering, flaring veins as if lava was pushed through the stone with amazing force. And the statue felt hot, radiantly hot, scalding hot, so hot that I pulled my hands away for fear of burning them and as I leaned back, the blood sank into my feet. Its head had turned around and was looking at me. Blazing red eyes, smoking, fuming, and the jaws exposed a horrid, beastly set of teeth; my whole body shuddered, and I froze, and then the bloodcurdling creature moved forward, biting rhythmically, and then I was sliding down the roof on my back, waving my arms frantically, trying to grab something that would stop me from falling, but I was too late and my body smacked on the sandstone pathway, near the Fragonard roses. 

There you have it. I went up the roof to take a statue down, but instead, I believe to have seen a Devilish creature coming towards me and then I fell off the roof. I’m sure this must be the most preposterous story you’ve ever heard, but it’s true. I count myself blessed that I didn’t perish; another wrong turn or any odd obstacle in the way could’ve caused my neck to break. Instead, I live, though both my legs are broken, the fractures so complicated that I now have metal pins to strengthen them. I won’t ever be able to walk fast or run again. But at least I can be with my family and see them grow. The only thing that still bothers me, and I’m sure it is only a minor issue, is the red scar on my upper leg that doesn’t seem to heal as fast as the other wounds.

The intro is inspired by the book ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ by Kazuo Ishiguro

Pages: 6

Word count: 3,428

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# 3 / Myrtle

Myrtle – a short story

Rosemary’s hands rest on the ivory keys for just a second and then she starts playing nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor by Chopin. Fingers with nails dark red tap the keys delicately, the small living room zings with a melody that reminds me of zesty oranges, toasted almonds and the slight perfume of lilac. Her curly, thick hair that almost looks dark grey in the twilight sun waves as she moves her head up and forward and sideways to scan the paper, her right foot methodically tapping the pedal. As I sit next to her, I regard her slender body, her long legs, a body that always come when children are spurred into adolescence and I am envious. Although I’m still slender, the skin has started to crease, sink, as if gravity tried to untangle it and stretched it irreversibly in the process. 

 “I like your nail polish today,” I say after she finishes.

 Her smile is shy, a little childlike, endearing, with teeth freshly shaped after braces.

  I tell her that she’s improving and that we can try something different next week, a piece of Beethoven perhaps, and she pouts. I don’t understand why. Jane says that Rosemary has trouble at home. Maybe she doesn’t want to go home now. 

 “Or if you like you can stay and —,” 

 “No, it’s okay Myrtle, I need to go home for homework anyway.” 

 Those blue eyes look daring; perhaps she’s smarter than I give her.

 She tucks her hair behind her ear and swings the schoolbag over her shoulder and leaves through the backdoor, a flurry of warm air rushing through the room. It reminds me of someone who used to be her age. Her hair was curly too, but not as thick as Rosemary’s.  

 I start to clean up and I strike my index finger over the top of the piano. I wipe the dust on my navy blue skirt that I bought a week ago. David said that it looked nice, a rare compliment, and I wear it now so he’ll notice when he comes back from work.

 Upstairs, I absorb the mess of our laundry; has he ever folded his clothes? I pick up a shirt, dark pink with pinstripes and there is a long, curled hair on the right sleeve. I have it short and straight, and I have let my hair become silvery. The hair feels thick between my fingers. It probably fell off my shoulder after playing with Rosemary. 

 He always comes home after 6 pm and I like to make sure that he has his beer cold, his slippers warmed near the heater that stands in the hearth, and that diner is ready. I find that it’s the best way to shake him out of his work slumber and it gives me a certain satisfaction that I can influence his mood. Sometimes, I get a kiss on my cheek and the warmth always flushes my face like a teenager. 

 To amplify the dark, beamed living room, I light long candles and short ones too and place them on the mango-wood side table, the glass desk and the dining table with the chequered table cloth. I pause when I hear the front door open. He often enters the house with certain respectability that changes the atmosphere, a decorum that stems from a dignified charm and a modest vanity that allows him to enchant almost everyone. 

 I watch him eat his sausage uncut, straight from the fork, and I look at mine, neatly cut in slices and then again halved so that it mixes better with the mashed potatoes. Has he always eaten so quickly, hurriedly, almost barbaric? What’s his rush? He pats his stomach. He’s in good shape still for is age. Although his hair is receding slightly and his beard has turned grey 10 years ago, I find he’s aged well. 

 I am about to get up to clean the dishes and turn on the TV for him so he can watch the news when he says that he has to go out. 

 “Why?” I ask.

 He slides the chair backwards over our creme carpet. It makes a hushed sound, like when stroking a hand over a woollen jumper.

 “Meeting with people from work.” 

 I want to ask him what meeting could be so late, but I bite my tongue and see him leave through the front door without knowing when he’ll be back. 

 No kiss on the cheek. 

 In the damp morning, the sun has fled behind a veil of milky clouds, I notice Sandra, bowing over her daffodils and I consider talking to her. She’s always friendly, but more often I sense she’s just being polite. Jane from two doors down told me a few days ago that she’d seen a man go into her house, pretty late in the evening, and he didn’t come out until at least 1:30 am. Jane has trouble sleeping and sometimes she lets out her dog, just for a quick round, across the street. 

 “Sandra is seeing someone we know,” Jane says, “and she doesn’t want us to know who.” Listening to Jane’s gossip is so exciting.

 As I pluck at the weeds underneath the young willow, I ponder over this mysterious man who goes into Sandra’s house and leaves late. It must be exciting to have a visitor in the night, a secret, that only you and this man share. The thrill when he touches you and whispers into space between you, laying in hot bedsheets where the night air puffs up the blankets; your hands cupping his clean jaw and cheeks, and you listen to his calm breathing that forms a melody -silk violin and ecstatic contrabass. Just him and I.

 It’s a thrill I haven’t had for a long time. 

 A lot changed after she left and it never became quite right again.

 Tonight it will be different though. I bought steak from the butcher where I used to go when Lawrence still owned the shop. Steak with garlic butter and peas, I know he’ll like that. Maybe we can watch a movie after. As I season the meat with pepper, salt and rosemary, I try to formulate how I can ask him about last night. The lock of the door clicks and I pop out of the kitchen to greet him.

 As we eat, he seems pleased. He’s in an unusually cheery mood, joking, his hands dancing up and down, talking, and he has a boyish smile on him. I smile too. When I stand up, I strike my hands over my new skirt, not the navy blue one, but the one with ombre and dark red autumn flowers, and I pause for a few seconds. I have read that men find women more attractive when they wear red; or was it the other way around? Confidence overflows me and I start to share with him the gossip about Sandra.

 “She’s an attractive woman,” he says, gulping his beer, “so what if she has a lover? She’s been alone for a long time, right?”

 I agree, my voice not as strong as I intended, and I jerk my hands apart when I notice that I’m pulling the lace of the table cover. 

 I think about the hair on his shirt. The thickness in my fingers, the soft bends in which it curled, and the dark colour. Sandra has dark curls. They’re about the same age. They know each other. My gaze scrutinises David’s expression, his pale eyes, his grey, round eyebrows, and in my mind’s eye, I see him, his quiet footsteps disturbing the grass, slipping into her house. 

 I startle when I see David walk across the living room towards the coat rack and he picks his dark leather jacket with lined fur. 

 “Where are you going?” I ask, trying to hide the panic in my voice. 

 “I have to get back to work,” I hear him say, “they’re at the bar and we have to go over some papers. Not very important.”

  He waves his hand, disappearing into the hallway, and then he strides back and leaves a fleeting kiss resting on my cheek.  

 My hands shake when I order the sheets and place them in front of Rosemary.

 “Let’s start with where we were last week.”

 She’s wearing a new perfume, some kind of thick, flowery fragrance that doesn’t suit her age. Her back is straight and she plays.  

Myrtle short story
Myrtle – Short Story

 My mind drifts. I wonder where David goes every night, the bar but a poor excuse. Does he see Sandra? Our marriage indeed changed after our daughter left but it doesn’t justify cheating. It’s greedy, conceited; but I see the appeal. As he said, Sandra is an attractive woman. I search my memory if I’ve missed something, if I’ve ever seen them together; a fleeting touch of the hands, a daring glance that conveyed that they knew and nobody else. The thought buzzes through my head. 

 The telephone rings. Rosemary’s eyes shoot up, the last tunes muffled by the high pitched ringing. For a moment I hope it’s our daughter, Lisa. 

 “Is this Mrs Greywater?” A weathered, female voice on the other side. Lisa has a different voice, or could it have changed over the years?

 “Your husband has been in an accident,” she says and I hear a gasp leave my throat. “He crashed his bike and has broken his leg.”

 I’m nauseous. My gaze wanders around the living room and I think about all the things that I have to adjust so David can be comfortable, laying on the couch and watch TV while he recovers. It’ll be good for us, him being home more.  

 “I have to go to the hospital”, I say and turn around to face Rosemary. 

 She looks aghast by the news. It’s kind of her to be so emphatic to my feelings. 

 “What for? Is David hurt?”

 It strikes me that I never knew that David and Rosemary might know each other. Rosemary always comes during the day when David is at work, and I don’t recall talking about him to her. Maybe she’s seen his name on the mail. Now I come to think of it, they may have seen each other that time when Rosemary had left her jumper and David found it. He drove over to her to give it back. That she still remembers his name. 

 She wants to come with me even though I tell her that it’s not necessary, it’s only his leg that got injured, but she insists and it’s probably because she doesn’t want to go back to her house where her parents always fight. 

 The drive to the hospital is quiet and I try to think of things to say to Rosemary. Her hands are folded tensely on her lap and I wonder about her age. She’s probably about 17, maybe a bit younger. I should’ve asked her, but now I don’t know how to start that conversation. There is a lot of things I don’t know about her, although I’ve been teaching her for almost a year.

 The doors of the hospital are heavy and as we enter, the pungent smell of cleaning detergent and sweat wave through my nostrils. Rosemary looks more nervous than I do – maybe she hasn’t been to a hospital before. 

 It crosses my mind that, if David is having an affair with Sandra, I could let it happen and pretend it doesn’t exist. It will probably end by itself. He won’t be able to visit her for at least 6 weeks and in that time I could try harder. I could buy a new skirt that would reveal a bit more leg, or buy new underwear. He might like that. 

 He sits on the bed and smiles apologetically when I come in. Rosemary follows me shyly. It’s a small room with one window; curtains, bed and side table all in that despicable off-white that hospital furniture keeps.

 “My poor David, how could this have happened?” I reach down to kiss him, but his eyes are fixed on something behind me. It’s a curious gaze, and for I moment it strikes me that he might be in some sort of shock. It must’ve been frightening to have been in an accident. Softly I stroke his shoulder. 

 “I hope you’re not in too much pain,” Rosemary says. 

 Something in her voice, the easiness with which she speaks those words, the familiarity and warmth with which she addresses him, reveals a level of intimacy that makes me swerve around. In that split second, I see her blushing, her demeanour giving away an infatuation for the man sitting on that hospital bed, and then she recoils, her features mystify into a fabricated concern and I know. It’s not Sandra. 

 I shiver. My heart is bruising my ribcage, my head is a whirl of which I cannot make sense. I resist the urge to collapse, right there on the off-white floor. Instead, I regard the husband that I’ve had for 22 years, that has influenced my life so greatly that I cannot begin to fathom who I would’ve been without him. 

 He averts my gaze, denying that something significant just happened. I need him to look at me. I find my voice; my feet finding the ground. 

 “Don’t you dare to look away from me,” I hear my voice say with such imminent malice it frightens me.   

 He tries to stand up and grab my arm, but his plaster leg prevents him to do so.   

  “SHUT UP YOUR CRYING”, he screams at Rosemary and she scampers.

 How could he treat her like this? Poor girl.

 “Myrtle, please —,” he begs. Are those tears on his cheek?

 Their affair wasn’t as great as mine. I did love him; he doesn’t love Rosemary.  

 “It was nothing. She was just passing time.” He sobs, quietly, his hands cupping his face like a child, his shoulders jerking up and down. It strikes me that he’s not who I thought he was. He is not a price husband to be placed on a pedestal. Our bond was lost long ago. The love I had felt had become unquestioning loyalty, for I felt guilt. Guilt for what I had done. I had made a decision then, to stick with him at all costs. 

 Look what it has resulted into.

  The fury changes into something powerful, an encouraging strength, resignation, and I hear the coldness in my voice. 

 “That’s a shame.”

 David’s eyes look pitiful, his body is pitiful, and I can taste the disgust in my mouth like bitter, cold coffee. 

 “A shame? Is that what you think this is?”

 As if he wants me to acknowledge that it was a worthy affair. I feel my lips curl. 

 “Yes, a shame. You’re a pitiful man, sleeping with a girl that’s almost 35 years younger than you. It’s a shame that it was not worth your while.”

 The words reverberate through the room. The tears seem to evaporate from his eyes the moment he looks up at me, his posture changing, enlarging as if ready for a brawl. 

 “Don’t you think I knew about you and Lawerence?” The words slither through his clenched teeth. 

 To hear him say his name is as if he grasps my neck and tightens his fingers. He’ll never take the memories I have of Lawerence, sweet Lawrence. 

 “I let you stay with me and tried to accept what you had done, for the sake of Lisa. And then, when he left, I had to endure your sulking. Don’t you think I fought, for us?”

 “And then you sleep with my teenage piano pupil?”

 He looks away, his fingers pressing against his closed eyelids.

 “She’s still so young!” I say.

 “She’s almost 18.”

 I pause for a moment. Suddenly, I want to sit on the bed next to him and be hugged. 

 “She’s Lisa’s age.” The tremor in my voice surprises me.

 I thought it would have made everything worse, but instead, he starts to cry again, long, heaving wails and I look around to see if anyone is seeing us. Two ridiculous adults, who are incapable of continuing to live and finally crumble under the unforgiving weight love carries.  

 “She was Lisa’s age.”

 I sit down on the bed next to him. 

 “It’s my fault she left, stormed out the house that evening. She found out about me and Lawrence, and I always knew she already hated me but stayed for your sake. She found this little note, Lawrence and I used to write on, little things that made our days a bit better. I suppose I’d become careless, the note fell on the floor from my pocket and, I can’t quite remember what it said, but next thing, I see her eyes filling with so much anger and then she left. I couldn’t say anything and it would not have mattered.”

 “Our little girl,” David says in one breath as if the words disappear from him as she had done. 

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