|Es ist genug
Author: Salvatore Paradise PM
A 19th century housewife is forced to acquire her individuality and must partake of everyday affairs with forced positivity in the wake of unexplained murder, dreading that her husband's self-imposed exile will leave her feeble and alone.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama - Words: 6,588 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 03-20-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2900870
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Es ist genug.
For a week now, Mrs Dominic had left a bottle of sherry and a quart of water outside the door of her husband, Mr Howard, because she was a good and faithful wife and always did as her husband said. She had done this often while reflecting on the early years of their marriage, and recalled how once when she had entered the room to bring him Stroganoff he had slammed his chisel into a partially sculpted Japanese Maple and broken off two marble branches. He had apologized some months later, of course, and though she was startled, Mrs Dominic was much more dutiful and even more stubborn, bringing, for three weeks, his breakfast kippers with eggs and Yorkshire pudding until she found the uneaten food scattered across the floor. After that there were just several slices of roast beef which ended up plastered against the wall, and finally just tea and a kettle which he smashed against the door and followed with a string of obscenities.
Within the week, Mrs Dominic had learned to avoid her husband's room when he was working. She would eat her kippers with thick slices of ham and toast with marmalade in silence, and pour over the Times with several cups of black coffee, and remark to herself that she was a right saucy little wretch to be barging in on her husband in his work, and that she would never be so inconsiderate again.
She had learned after a year of marriage that Mr Howard would imprison himself for no more than three or four weeks at a time, during which he gave himself up entirely to his sculpting, functioning only on the sherry and water he had requested her bring him. There was really no reason for her to worry the way she did, Mrs Dominic thought, and when he was finished, he would emerge satisfied and she would greet him with the charm and delight that was expected of any good wife.
'Hullo,' he would say, covered with marble paste.
'And hullo to you, darling,' she would return.
'Been a good day? The Thames looks lovely.'
'Oh the week's been brilliant. Everyone's been out. I went to the river just yesterday to feed soda bread to the ducks with Mrs Riordan and even she was wearing a yellow frock instead of that ghastly thing that Matthew bought her because the weather was so fair.'
'I'll have your meat out in minutes, darling.'
'They say anything about that man Jonathan Nichols turning up?'
'Oh darling, but that was back in August.'
'Oh. And what month is this?'
'It is October, darling.'
'Will you walk with me tonight?'
'Of course, darling.'
When they walked they would walk along the banks of the Thames, Mr Howard in a black redingote with cravat and bowler and Mrs Dominic in a low-backed crimson frock with a bust and hat adorned with merle feathers that Mr Howard had given her for her birthday some years ago. Mrs Dominic had been delighted because she was one of few terribly afflicted persons who loved to dress but were possessed of already ravishing qualities that required no making up. Her hair was deep auburn and fell in natural ringlets and her eyes were the finest plucked Spanish Emeralds the North side of Varden Street had ever seen. They matched Mr Howard's own aquamarine like land matched sky. She embodied the word regality in every sense of the word, and indeed, her supreme confidence that had grown from such intimate self-awareness had bolstered her with a noblewoman's vanity.
It was this vanity that had led her to, on numerous occasions, beg Mr Howard to wear a different redingote, or a frock cape, or to trim his bristling mustache before accompanying their on her rare strolls.
'Darling,' she would say, 'a bit of silver on the cuffs and you'd be the sportiest chap from Sutton to Enfield!' or 'The bowler again? Oh darling, with a few combs you'll look absolutely sprightly,' or 'Always black, always black! Coats and colour my dearest; you should have plenty of both!' Mr Howard had once grunted in response, the same redingote made an appearance on the next walk, and the matter had been concluded.
They never said anything to each other on their walks. Mrs Dominic had once nourished the hope that the prolonged silence would eventually cause Mr Howard discomfort enough to make conversation, yet she soon realized that it was this silence that he felt comfortable in. She soon abandoned her plan and began to ask him about his art, about the pieces in the museum where Mr Milo commissioned the sculptures, about Swinburne, Kropotkin, and Bradlaugh or any of the dratted writers whom she knew nothing of but knew that he read because she had once espied the stacks of books in his studio. His silence on these subjects only fueled her dogmatism.
She pursued him with renewed tenacity, but she played the soubrette with such skill that her dainty laughs sounded as real as anything and her fawning slaps and smiles irresistibly adorable. Still, with all her efforts, Mrs Dominic never once saw any more than a grunt or a nod of acknowledgement and she soon gave up the pursuit of answers, learning to content herself by simply looking splendid. She learned, too, to ignore the arm that she clutched, which sagged like a water log, draped in the same coat as it had been for the past four years.
What Mrs Dominic considered her most lovely feature was a near-complete disregard of life's negativities. She took great pride this and would intentionally put herself in perilous situations by leaving the kippers at the shop, or dropping a bit of jewelry onto the street, or keeping her hair unwashed before a walk, to enjoy the worry that never arose. She deliberately chose the Persons Missing and Deceased section in the Times to prepare for a doleful read which, inevitably, never came.
Andrew Chapman she would read, Aged 46 years, proprietor and owner of Chapman Lodging with wife Anna (aged 44), seen last the eighth of September in the year eighteen hundred and eighty-eight.
It was reports such as these that she chuckled over. 'Oh, but the bugger has found himself a mistress,' she would say, and read the next report with the remark: 'fourteen-stone and wearing a ghastly thing like that, why if I were the poor girl, I'd just as sure sink myself to the bottom of the Thames!' It was not that she was cruel-minded; she could account for numerous attestations that rendered her an 'admirable,' 'charming,' and 'positively grand woman with a heart like an ostrich egg.' She was simply childish.
Mrs Dominic did at least have the intelligence to sense that her actions were not always appropriate, but she disregarded the need for a change in her character. 'Oh, but the world really is a merrier place when one can laugh at anything, isn't it?' she would say. And whether or not she possessed the finality of her husband or whether the unspecified interlocutor of the interview would simply give up trying, the matter would be ended.
The matter, however, really was something beyond just the world being a merrier place, and Mrs Dominic knew this. However she was afraid to bring up her reasoning to anyone, particularly her friends, whom she had few of. She talked of it even less to Mr Howard and not only because he was so often confined to his room that they did not converse in serious matters. It was because Mr Howard was very much the problem. Mrs Dominic believed her coquettish naiveté the reason that Mr Howard had even fallen in love with her in the first place. She knew of too many women whose incessant squabbling and negativity drove their husbands to insanity. They plagued the streets of London like cobble-rats, spewing vaporous words in nasally cockney. She gossiped of them when Mr Howard was eating his breakfast after a project.
'And that dratted Mrs Finnegan, but have you even seen the gray frock that she wears? Oh but the poor gown could have lived under a tombstone for the last one hundred years and never a soul would know the difference, and Mrs Finnegan will display that wretched thing for all the world to see nevertheless. And that poor James, you can see it in his eyes, Geoff. He just knows that she loves that pathetic frock because it's as miserable as anything in this world. And he knows how splendidly it matches her; one fat doom-and-gloomer and a dress as old and dilapidated as the sixteenth century, the both of them frowning themselves to the grave. God help the man if ever the children turn out to be like her.'
In truth, this was mere woman's gossip and the kind that most husbands couldn't give a shilling about. And because she was the good wife that she was, Mrs Dominic knew this and didn't pry Mr Howard for any response other than his grunt or slurp of coffee. She indulged a fantasy regardless, when Mr Howard would set down his mug and take her delicate hands (freshly and painstakingly perfumed with rose and lavender and jasmine) in his and tell her that she was his lily, his blooming hyacinth, his wonderful spot of colour in a world made drear and grey by the Mrs Finnegans who inhabited it. And then he would kiss her, the ways she always dreamed she would be kissed, and she would feel delicate and weightless and beautiful as a petal in his arms. Hyacinth-girl hyacinth-girl, she dreamed he would call her.
The week before his latest project, Mr Howard had belched and said nothing on the topic of Mrs Finnegan, and the matter was concluded. Of course, on this particular occasion, Mrs Dominic had not wanted to constrain her husband and his brilliant mind by womanish matters of pettiness a he had been talking for the last two days of his latest project. He had been talking very excitedly about it and Mrs Dominic had only been too happy to share with him his state of boyish exuberance because she always thought there was a bit too much somberness in her husband. She refused to dwell on this, however, and told herself that it was wrong to accuse her husband of such. She told herself that her husband was a youthful man and a brilliant and talented one at that, and that he loved her deeply because she was like a child to him and a flower and a wondrous beauty. And when Mr Howard would talk about his projects with this kind of excitement, all doubts of her husband's cheerlessness would melt away like fog in the sun and she would be left musing to herself about what a silly and frightful old creature she was, and how lucky she was to have a man as passionate and loving as Mr Howard to take care of her.
Friends were a commodity. They were wonderful and pleasing and grand fun, although one did not need friends when one was happily married, Mrs Dominic believed, and naturally thought that her husband believed as well. She could remember when she was a schoolgirl and had many friends, and had many boys who would trip her with sticks because they wanted to see her knickers, and had many teachers who fawned over what an extraordinary student she was and what an excellent reader she was at that. The girls at school looked up to her because she was so pretty and they knew that they would never be able to compete with her but she always complemented them regardless, on their hair or on their skin or on their dress. When she met Mr Howard she had become so infatuated that she had never thought to maintain her friendly connections, nor did she really much care to. Mr Howard was taking care of her now, and she owed him all the love and friendship that she possessed. She was surprised therefore when the following day, after Mr Howard had talked so passionately to her, she had found her husband and four other men sitting at the dining table.
This surprised her because she did not know that Mr Howard had any friends because he hardly existed beyond the household. She could understand how he might have connections such as Mr Milo and the rest of the commissioners, yet these four men who sat at her table she had never before seen. Mr Howard was drinking a gin and tonic and had disheveled hair and wore no coat and had deep bags underneath his eyes. Mrs Dominic noted all of this irksomely. Because he was her husband, Mr Howard was the most handsome man Mrs Dominic had ever seen, and she was bothered when he did not take the time to take care of himself.
She soon dismissed the mystery men and gave Mr Howard a warm kiss on the cheek and was introduced in turn to the four guests, whose names were Mr Crowley, Mr Liddell, Mr Reuss, and Mr Hillier. They were all of them as shabbily and poorly taken care of as her husband, though none of them were as well dressed as him. Mr Howard was very eager to talk to them and Mrs Dominic got the feeling that she was a very unwanted visitor, not only from her husband but from all the men at the table, which was all well and good for her because she did not much care for any of her husband's friends and she suddenly realized just how tired and in need of rest she was.
It was several hours later until Mr Howard was in bed next to Mrs Dominic, who had been unable to sleep through the converse of men even though they spoke in soft voices. She made no attempt to talk to her husband because she could see that he was tired and thoroughly talked out. She would ask him about his friends in the morning and tell him that she thought it was wonderful that he had found other brilliant men to converse with and that they looked like splendid and good fellows to her, and that that she would be delighted to be hostess to any of his soirees in the future, and that next time she would be sure to make them supper and drinks.
But in the morning Mr Howard had already gone to his room and was fresh at work on a new piece. A flash of jealousy passed over Mrs Dominic's eyes; that for the two months she had spent talking to her husband he had been as lugubrious and uninterested and out-of-touch as ever, and in a single evening with his friends he had become inspired to construct his next masterpiece before eight o'clock in the morning.
But jealousy was a foul thing, Mrs Dominic reminded herself sharply, and as if suddenly realizing her breach in wifely conduct, she gave a little cry and pinched her skin. 'Oh it's simply grand that Geoffrey has friends to talk to who can inspire him so. Simply grand.' In reality, she knew that she did not feel positively grand about the situation, but she refused to let these thoughts take hold and even threatened herself with further chastising if she began to dwell upon such nonsense.
So she went downstairs and prepared her coffee and collected the Times and sought the Persons Missing and Deceased section because she felt she was in need of a chuckle. But the paper mocked her with reports of murder and suspected foul play and seeing the poor photographs of the mangled bits of young men and women, Mrs Dominic could find nothing to laugh over. 'Fogle it all,' she said, an expression she had constructed herself which came as close as possible to bordering a curse. She folded and tossed down the paper and dwelt over her black coffee.
Presently, she noticed on the far side of her table a small book which was weathered and battered. She had noticed the same book that several of Mr Howard's friends had last night, and she assumed that this copy belonged to her husband. She took it and read on the title page: Lemegeton, Clavicula Salomonis. The title confused her, which was something that deeply bothered Mrs Dominic because she so loved to read and rarely came into contact with a book she had not either heard of or could not decipher from the title what the book was about. So this is what my husband and his friends were discussing last night, she thought to herself, and a great curiosity came over her as to what could have invigorated her husband the way it did.
Forgetting her stern self-imposed mannerisms which would have otherwise prevented her from flipping through a stranger's possession, even if that stranger was her husband, she took the book and scanned a randomly chosen page but she could find nothing save pictures and scrawling in what Mrs Dominic assumed to be Hebrew, not that she knew what Hebrew looked like.
Disgusted and even more frustrated, she set the book back down none-too-gently and pouted. It was positively ghastly outside and particularly unwalkable weather, especially when the clouds were brooding with rain the way they did. They wavered low and thick in the sky and were the kinds of clouds that Mrs Dominic loved when she could stay in bed all morning and read one of her favourite novels. But she didn't feel much like reading and she regarded her half-eaten breakfast and half-drunk coffee and realized that there was in fact little that she did feel like doing.
She wanted to talk to Mr Howard. She knew that much. She wanted to talk to him and she wanted him to talk to her the way he had talked to his friends the night previous, or even the way he had used to talk to her when he had completed a project. She realized at this point just how little he had spoken to her in the past month and a half, and how they had never once walked outside together, and for the first time in their marriage, Mrs Dominic began to miss the black redingote and the bowler or deerstalker cap that her husband wore. She missed the sullen log-like arm that she clung to like a safety-perch that she had once regarded as such a dratted thing. Suddenly, Mrs Dominic realized that she missed her husband terribly. But she also knew that she was a good and faithful wife who had vowed that she would never again imbibe upon her husband when he was working, and even less now, when she knew how passionate he was.
For a week, she was able to retain her same schedule that she often undertook in times of Mr Howard's absence. She had found a note on his door, hastily scrawled in his loopy penmanship, that dictated his orders for breakfast and luncheon and supper. Two bottles of sherry.
Mrs Dominic knew nothing of diet or nutrition but even she thought this to be terribly unhealthy and she was unaware if they even had enough sherry to last him to the end of his endeavor. She thought about cooking him something, or at least providing him with a bit of meat, when she remembered how her earlier attempts at pressing food had failed. Still, the matter of that much liquor and nothing else in a single day for days at a time bothered her. She decided to bring him one bottle of sherry and a few drops of water, and when Mr Howard arose no complaint the first day, she was happy that the matter had been resolved in her favour.
Much of the first week saw the streets paved slick as toad tummies, with a fog as thick as water blotting out the sun. Mrs Dominic, who was quite used to this weather and could usually entertain herself with a good read or with a drop of wine, found herself unbearably restless and soon bored. There was no book that she wanted to read save Mr Howard's mystery volume, which she had not touched since the first day, but had thought long over every night since.
As for the wine, she soon discovered that the initial stock of sherry had been largely depleted by Mr Howard and his friends, and only five bottles now remained. She did not think that after she had ignored the initial request of her husband for two bottles of sherry a day, he would much care if the sherry became watered down, yet she figured she had already dodged the potentiality of her husband's wrath, and that to breach his instruction twice would be inviting already overdue anger. So the sherry came fresh and uncorked a bottle a day, until the bottles ran dry, when Mrs Dominic reluctantly delivered her husband a bottle of port that she had been fondly sipping with a slice of cheese.
'Oh, but he is such an excellent provider. And what's some old wine to you, silly girl? You wouldn't know how to provide for a family like dear Geoffrey. You don't know a dratted thing about art or what it's like to be brilliant. He needs it much more than you, and you've got yourself loaves of bread and cheese to last a winter.'
Even Mrs Dominic began to recognize when her excuses, like the bread, had become stale. Two weeks ago she had had three loaves of soda bread, a half of one that she had taken down to the river to feed the ducks. She had figured that a loaf and a half of bread plus a half bottle of jam and a bit of cheese and some dried meat was more than enough for a week. But Mr Howard had run through the other loaf of bread, and worms had gotten into the jam which Mrs Dominic had found opened, and the bit of cheese that she had been nibbling had since scurried off, and the carefully wrapped other half of soda bread had gone hard and crusty. She should have expected the rain sooner rather than later, she told herself. She should not have let herself become so distracted by the nice weather that she forgot her duties.
Mrs Dominic determined, the day after the cheese had disappeared when she began delivering the stout to her husband, that if the rain did not abate the next day, it would be her duty just the same to go to the grocer's and collect what needed to be collected. Mr Howard had not made so much as a peep for a whole week, trapped up in his room, and Mrs Dominic knew that that meant that he was too hard at work to be interrupted for something as minor as household duties.
She scanned the house for her husband's discarded trousers coats and collected what had accrued alongside the books on her bedside table in addition because she was unaware where Mr Howard kept the money. The amount equaled just under twenty shillings.
It was still plenty for a good loaf of bread and a bit of cheese, but more importantly, it would keep the household stocked on Mr Howard's supplies, thought Mrs Dominic. Eager in her resourcefulness, she was quite ready to leave at that instant when she remembered the promise that she had made herself. This caused her to remember the wicked weather that had landed her in her dilemma in the first place, and she was suddenly not so ready to muster a parasol with which to brave a downpour.
Thankfully, the weather did not reach a downpour, but maintained a lucid and smoky neutrality as Mrs Dominic was preparing herself and gathering a grocer's bag and a parasol and a short frock coat because she remembered that rainstorms often brought in quite uncomfortable chills.
Walking steadily so as to not slip on the slick cobblestones, it took her just under an hour to reach the grocer's, which she had visited before on several occasions. The grocer wore a smock and had dark eyes and a thick mustache and who eyed her closely as she presented her money for the sherry and the port and the bread and the cheese. She did not think she was supposed to remember who the man was because she was quite positive that shopping etiquette did not demand such perfunctoriness. Regardless she felt regardless under his scrutinizing stare. It was at this point that she realized that she was alone in the grocer's, which she found rather odd, until she remembered that the crowds she so often saw in the city had thinned noticeably since her last outing.
'Pigeons ne'er knew,' the man grumbled as he charged her.
'Pardon?' said Mrs Dominic, off-put. The grocer continued on as if she had said nothing.
'Poor pigeons ne'er knew. Poor pigeons ne'er knew. An' Dollys can't flip a bloody paper 'cause they 'ave too much push an' ne'er a noggin'. Ne'er see a poor pigeon a'know of. Poor pigeons. Poor poor pigeons.'
Mrs Dominic was really very frightened of the man and the way he was speaking to her; she was used to polite, or at least, more polite company than the grocer and his language was upsetting. She dropped ten shillings on the countertop and gathered her purchases into her bag and scrambled away from the man, who was still talking.
It took Mrs Dominic an hour and a half to get back to her home and by the time she did she was shaking and soggy and cold and miserable and nursing a bottle of broken port. Her parasol was nowhere to be found. In her haste to escape the grocer, she had forgotten the wet stones and had fallen forward, catching herself painfully on a knee but scraping a bottle in her left hand against the stones where it had cracked and had begun to leak. She was unaware when she got back that the bottle had already emptied itself over her hand because her hand had become so drenched it was numb and quivering.
Mrs Dominic wanted to see her husband. She didn't feel triumphant that she had provided the house with groceries, or that she had made the trek all by herself, or that she had braved the cold and the rain without a moment's hesitation because she knew that her husband depended on her support of him because he could not afford to spend his time on things like groceries or port because his time was far too valuable.
Instead, she felt weak. She felt weaker than she had felt in many years. She knew her hair was a mess, and that the ringlets she was so proud of were plastered like soggy rats' tails on her face that was cold and white as ivory. She knew that the dress that she wore, a deep emerald that she had bought a year ago because emerald was Mr Howard's favourite colour, was stained with rainwater and dirt and God only knows what else was on those streets. She knew that she probably looked like the most pathetic wife this side of the Thames had ever seen, and that if Mrs Finnegan could see her in that moment, all the gossiping and laughter would be directed at her, and that she would be called ugly, and they would say that she was the kind of wife who let her husband starve and who read silly novels all day and went around in public in dirty frocks, and she would deserve it all because she had told Mr Howard that she thought that Mrs Finnegan's dress was frumpy.
She knew that Mr Howard could make her feel better. She knew that he would cure her with just a look and that with just his look she would feel beautiful again and that nothing any of those dratted women said would have any effect on her because she knew that if Mr Howard thought she was lovely than she had to be the most lovely girl in London and maybe even in all of Europe. And after he looked at her he would take her in his arms and stroke her and smell her hair, and he would call her his hyacinth-girl because he knew how much she loved hyacinths. And he would tell her to nevermind all that dratted nonsense that a hoary old grocer told her because all that talk of pigeons was rubbish, and that there was no reason to be frightened of anyone, particularly an old grocer, because her husband was there to look after and provide for and protect her. Now don't you cry, don't you cry, he would say, and he would brush away the tears that had gathered in her eyelids like dew drops on a petal. But she would not be crying because she was upset. It would be because she was happy that he was here for her and out of that dratted room, and that she could come to him again and take his arm and walk with him in blessed silence all along the Thames, and see him all handsome and sprightly in his redingote and cravat and bowler hat.
Two days went by, and Mrs Dominic really was happy. She was happy because the fog had abated temporarily and the sun had peaked through and burned away much of the slickness on the stones. She thought about Mr Howard and how lovely it would be to be walking with him on a day like today, particularly because there seemed to be so few people about on the banks that they could just enjoy one another in the silence that Mr Howard was most comfortable in.
Instead, she brought a chair next to her window and read a book. She no longer possessed the same sense of jealous fascination with her husband's cryptic book. She laughed to herself and said that whatever it is they had been reading, it was doubtless something that she would not understand and that would bore her. 'It must be extraordinary indeed, especially since Geoffrey was reading it,' she said. 'But it would certainly be beyond the limits of this silly girl.' With affectionate thoughts of her husband, Mrs Dominic drifted into sleep.
She awoke when a clap of thunder shook the house. She was startled and at once frightened. Thunderstorms had terrified her since she was a little girl, and she had been happy to move to London where she heard there were few thunderstorms. Mr Howard had thought that they were relaxing and that she was being silly whenever the rare storm passed over London. She found them too overwhelming to be relaxing. She found it quite imprudent and chaotic now that she was waking up uncomfortably in darkness with a quivering house and a sound like a giant's growl.
'Geoffrey!' she cried out before she could catch herself. The house groaned in response. A flash of lightning burst through the window before her and she squealed and clapped two hands over her mouth. 'No, no, no, no,' she repeated softy to herself through the cusp of her hands. 'It's alright, it's alright, it's alright, you silly girl,' she murmured to herself in a quavering voice. 'Light is nothing to be afraid of, you silly girl. We don't jump at light. No, no, no we don't.'
She spoke to herself as if she were a mother, and she found it soothing. It reminded her of her past desires to have children. Mr Howard had not wanted children despite all of Mrs Dominic's pleading. It was the only time she had ever found herself angry with Mr Howard. 'Why you get married if you don't want to have children?' she had said in an argument and had regretted it immediately. Mr Howard had taken a bottle of brandy and had spent two days in their room, until Mrs Dominic had fallen sobbing at the foot of the door begging her husband to forgive her for being so selfish. He had grunted and the matter of children had been concluded.
Mrs Dominic was thankful now that she had not pursued the matter further. She didn't believe that she could spare a shilling of her mothering on a child during a thunderstorm when she was doing all she could to maintain herself. 'Deep breaths, you silly girl. Deep breath' she said before a cackle of thunder caused her to scream again. The sound was much louder than she had intended. It reverberated louder than the thunder; a piercing shriek lost in the cavernous abode of a lonely home.
'Mustn't do that, mustn't do that,' said Mrs Dominic through the gap over her mouth. 'You mustn't bother him, you silly girl. You mustn't. You mustn't.' Her voice was breaking. Tears sprang to her eyes which she dared not wipe away. 'Too important. It's simply too important. Can't be bothered by you, silly girl. Silly girl.' Another explosion sounded and lighting leapt through the window like a hideous mouth, contorted into a haphazard grin. Mrs Dominic screamed and bit down on her hands until she tasted the warmth on her tongue combined with the rose and lavender and jasmine that she had dabbed on earlier in case Mr Howard appeared for a walk. Hyacinth-girl. Hyacinth-girl.
'Calm, calm, calm, breathe, breathe, breathe,' she sobbed into her hand like a broken whisper. 'He'll hear you and he'll get angry and he'll never come down again,' she said. 'Never, never, never, never again, you silly girl. Never, never again. Breathe. Breathe.'
The storm was intensifying. Lightning flashed irregularly through the windows. The white mouth raced across the wall. Two eyes dangled above it from the windows that surmounted the doorframe. Mrs Dominic had huddled herself by the staircase and was facing away from the wall because she knew she would see the face if she turned. She whispered to herself in a broken sob: 'Geoffrey, Geoffrey. Breathe, breathe, Dominic. Breathe, you stupid girl.'
The thunder rumbled forebodingly. Mrs Dominic wondered if Mr Howard could even sculpt when the house shook. She wondered how well the candles lit his piece when the lightning illuminated everything so starkly. She wondered if Mr Howard used curtains, but then she thought that she had been in the room several times before and had never seen curtains. He had most likely put up curtains in four years, she determined. She had at one point given him newspapers with his meal and he never returned them, so she figured he must have plastered them over the windows in the room. That would be more comfortable than having a horrible maw come through the windows every time lightning struck, she thought.
She found it odd now; her husband thinking that thunderstorms were relaxing. He was probably hard at work this very instant and enjoying the storm too while she cowered by the staircase with her hands in her mouth. He probably thought she was a silly little girl for all the screaming she had done. As she thought about this, her hands slipped down to her sides instinctively.
Thunder exploded like broken glass. The face sprang forward, livid as ever, maw opened to devour her entirely, soul and body. Mrs Dominic screamed.
A thump resounded from upstairs. She stopped dead.
It had not been the hard thump of granite being dropped, nor was it light enough to be a tipped chair.
Mrs Dominic suddenly forgot her cries and her tears. 'Oh God,' she said, and raced upstairs.
When she came to Mr Howard's room, she noticed a rank smell. 'That foul sherry. I must tell Geoff he shan't drink it for a month, said Mrs Dominic. And despite her tears she smiled. Her face broke in mirth and the mist in her eyes abated and she laughed, a truly pleasant laugh, for the first time in months. She felt the waves of fear pass over her, she felt like a truly silly girl for being so frightened of a little thunderstorm. She knew that Mr Howard would understand her concern. She wasn't barging in on his work this time either; she was checking on him as any good and faithful wife would who had been put in the same situation. He slipped, undoubtedly. From all his drinking, and he was so startled at the thunder and at the screaming he had simply lost balance and slipped.
'And it's all well and good for him if he wants to say anything to me about me seeing him,' she said. 'It would do this silly girl some good to learn to not be frightened by such trifles. He'll tell you that you're rightly foggy in the head to be frightened by something like lightning and he'll laugh at you for screaming the way you did. But this silly girl can still show him a piece of her mind for frightening her so! especially with all that business about locking oneself in a room for days at a time without even a morsel! Yes this silly girl will have something to say yet!' She laughed again and pushed open the door.
The windows had been covered in newspapers. The dark silhouette of Mr Howard crouched in the corner of the room, unmoving, but with two open and slanting eyes. The room stank of days old sherry and something like fish guts and spoiled meat. When the lightning flashed again the room seemed to swim in a lucid, sanguine glow. The ground was slick.
The Garden of Life glimmered before her. It was sculpted in brain and bone and blood. A fleshy pile of lewd corpse trunks were stacked neatly atop one another to form an oval hillock. The tree that bore the Forbidden Fruit stood square on top, rooted with human legs with sprouting arms intricately bespeckled with arranged small intestine that hung like moss. The apple dangled low from a braid of hair; a circular mesh of globby pink. Weeds were scalps; grass were toes. A group of tibia grew aside the tree, each affixed with a slender finger like a marsh fern. Two forearm radiuses flourished in a sea of grass, each thrust through with delicately shorn-away brain. The bones were slender and shaven away so they looked soft and slender and effeminate. Hyacinths.
Mr Howard peered at her through the darkness. The light of the window opened on him like a grin.