― Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus
She awoke to pitch darkness.
‘Jesus Christ! Let there be light’, she muttered.
She groped and grabbed a fistful of hair. She yanked it. Everywhere was stonily silent. She pulled harder, and she got a moan. She was exasperated. She nudged him but he merely grunted. She sighed. All she wanted was to go home. There was something about this place that suffocated her. She tried to find the ground with her feet, but she stubbed her toe against the bedpost. She let out a loud yelp. This woke him up.
‘You have slept in this bed every Friday for six months and you still can’t find your way in the dark?’ He sounded slightly amused.
At first, the pain erased every possible retort from her mind. On second thought, she grabbed a pillow and threw it in the direction of his voice. She smiled gleefully when she heard his muffled cry. It had hit him squarely in the face. He muttered something in the dark.
‘You had better speak up. What is on your mind?’ She asked. ‘Nothing’, he replied, ‘thank you very much.’
She bit her tongue. She didn’t think she was ready for this. She tried to take back her pillow. Her fingers landed in his mouth. He moved his tongue over them with slow strokes. She swung her free fist at him. She barely touched him, but he released her fingers.
‘Your mouth stinks! Can you stop this disgusting behaviour?’ she cleaned her fingers on the sheets.
They remained like this for about thirty minutes, both lost in thought. He thought about how he met her. She was young, too young even. But, he was surprised and pleased when she returned his affections. She, on the other hand, was thinking about how she would introduce him to her father. She thought what they had was real, but how would she explain that she could not find a young unmarried man to fall in love with? Things were spiraling out of control, and her heart died a little, each time she tried to put an end to it. He overwhelmed her, he knew that, but he was happy that she had not been resolute about breaking things off. He was about to get up from the bed when power came back on. She buried her face in the pillow to escape the harsh glare of the lights. He turned to face her just as she raised her head. She closed her eyes immediately.
‘Won’t you put on your clothes, Your Majesty?’ she bit out. His body shook with laughter. She never ceased to amaze him. A few hours ago, she had pressed against the same body she couldn’t seem to stand the sight of. He cocked his head to the other side. She swallowed and took in the whole sight of him – his slight paunch and his knock knees. His skin was beginning to sag. She liked what she saw. Was she shameless? He smiled and held her gaze. She patted the bed.
‘Come and sit down with me’, she pleaded. He sat down at the edge of the bed. For a moment, he looked his age.
‘Are you ashamed of what we have?’ His voice sounded small and tired. She averted her gaze. His face fell. ‘I have asked you to marry me, repeatedly. You keep refusing. Am I not treating you right?’
She shook her head. ‘You don’t understand’. She buried her face in her palms as she tried to stem the flow of her tears. She bit her lower lip, and held it between her teeth. She wanted to howl. She blinked back the tears. ‘I want to be happily married but I don’t want to destroy whatever you have with your wife. Karma is real, Chief. Let us just end it now.’
He held her close to his chest. ‘Shhh… It is okay. You know what? Let me give you time to think about it. Let us meet again after one month. I promise you that I will abide by your decision. You know how I feel about this. Do not forget that.’ She nodded and snuggled closer to him. He stroked her chin. ‘I am still naked, you know’. He laughed as she fled from his arms.
There is a small knock at the door, followed by rapidly approaching footsteps. ‘Quick! Hide! That’s the signal. My wife is on her way.’ With surprising agility, he left the bed to bolt the door. ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ she asked, indignant. ‘I am not hiding. You wanted to marry me. How did you intend to tell your wife?’ ‘Telling her that I have received your parents blessing is one thing, letting her see you like this is another. Please, I beg you, just this once.’ She stood watching him. He was nervous. His right eye twitched and he was beginning to sweat. She shrugged into her clothes and crammed all her belongings into her bag. She grabbed her sandals and began to approach the wardrobe.
His wife knocked softly at the door. She called out. ‘Honey, are you okay? Chief? Do you need anything? Why is the door locked? I came by earlier, you were sound asleep. Come and open the door. I brought you something to eat’.
She stopped in her tracks. Chief’s worried expression mirrored hers. ‘Your wife had entered the room before?’ She mouthed. He shook his head. He couldn’t decipher what she had said. He motioned for her to hurry.
‘My dear, give me a few minutes to gather enough strength’. He affected a frail voice and even coughed for effect. ‘I don’t understand why I always feel tired these days. She shook her head as if she couldn’t go into the wardrobe. His eyes pleaded with her. She got in and huddled at the bottom, she pushed against his boxes of shoes. He locked the door of the wardrobe, and put the keys in the pocket of his boxers. He walked to the door, unlocked it and swung the door wide open. His heart nearly stopped, when his wife thrust a gun in his face. He looked at his wife’s face. His wife didn’t look crazy. She looked perfectly sane and beautiful. He held his chest and leaned on the door for support.
He gathered his voice. ‘What sort of joke is this? Are you trying to kill me? You know my heart can’t take a lot of stress anymore. I suggest you put the gun down, and we will talk about what is bothering you.’ ‘Too late’, The Wife whispered as she pulled the trigger and released three shots in quick succession. His wife would never know that the man died before she shot him. His heart had stopped when his brain reasoned out that his wife was going to shoot anyway. The Wife walked out of the room without looking back.
Fear gripped her in the wardrobe. She started crying. What, in God’s name, had she gotten herself into? She paused as The Wife came back in. The Wife kicked Chief’s corpse before she dragged him away. She heard The Wife promise that she would find the whore that made her husband die by her own hands before his appointed time. She buried her face in her palms. ‘Oh My God! I killed him’. One other thing was clear though, the least of her problems was getting out of the wardrobe. The main thing was staying alive because she knew that the Wife would not rest until the Wife knew she was dead.