Snowcase #27 • 24 August 2007 • The SnowBlog
Dominic Pike started writing when he was a small fish, and has an MSc in Creative Writing from Edinburgh University. He is working on short stories and two novels.
In Her Wake
Fresh from burying his wife Juliette, Oscar is forced to confront his own craven inadequacies during a visit from her lover, Chris. In Her Wake
''He is not having sex with a dead woman,' the gendarme protests, coming back from the bushes, shaking a bony finger at the frightened mother and child. 'Non, non, non, non, non! She is not dead. . . she is En-glish!''
Juliette's punch-line had plunged half the guests round the table into porcine snorts of laughter, while the other half - the women - had sat smiling politely, nervously fiddling with the ill-fitting and unbecoming lines of last year's tops and blouses. Primary colours clashed angrily with their blushes. Other than him, only Juliette had sensed the collective discomfort at their own arid sex lives: the joke awakened the usually unspoken fears of how frigidness can beget the irreversible waning of marital desire.
And that was how Oscar chose to remember his dead wife on the day he buried her; that she could have every man eating nothing out of the palms of her hands and still not disappoint them, beguiled, wanting more.
Outside, the light was fading fast. He prowled the sitting room, drawing curtains and lighting lamps against the gloaming. After prodding the fire, he threw on another gnarled log and fetched two tumblers and a bottle from the corner cabinet. He poured himself a generous glass. Traffic slushed through the street outside. It made the bursting light and warmth of the fire more intrusively comforting as he twisted the neck of the whisky bottle. He always found it peculiarly cathartic to break the integrity of the new seal around a stopper, the noisy scrunch an introductory nod to long evenings of well trodden conversation and the honeyed expectation of what lay ahead. He toyed with it for a moment, lingering, before crumpling it decisively and consigning it to the fire.
In the aftermath of other deaths, a cast of friends and hangers-on had gathered to exchange cliches, publicly indulging the widow or widower or partner with handy off-the-shelf mantras - Oh, you know, everyone deals with grief in their own way - while raising a private eyebrow at whatever out-of-character behaviour they were supposed to be indulging. How the cliche-mongers reconciled those two positions with such ease never failed to rattle his faith in human nature.
Now, standing here on a wet Friday afternoon, applying the mantra to himself was at once liberating and oppressive: he could drink whisky at a time of day he'd usually be brewing a pot of tea and nobody would bat an eyelid, publicly at least. But the freedom to do whatever he wanted led him to scrutinise every one of his actions for signs of normal behaviour or otherwise, and it seemed to follow him around the house like a chronically indecisive old relative. Left unchecked, he thought, it threatened to induce complete paralysis. After all, it wasn't so unusual to be preparing the house for the arrival of a guest, even if that guest was his wife's lover. It was simply his way.
Author: Dominic Pike
Email: dominic [dot] pike [at] yahoo [dot] co [dot] uk