Anne Woodborne

Struck by lightning

Dusk settles like the wings of a moth. His face is taut in the blue glare of the TV. I sit a cup down on the side table and say in placatory, soothing tones, ‘I made a nice cup of tea for you.’ He turns towards me, eyes alight with anger. ‘Why don’t you have a nice cup of arsenic?’

For a minute I think this is a joke. A joke of the vulgar, music-hall variety – give her arse-a-nick. But then I see the relentless stare, he is on the rampage tonight. He has another song-and-dance routine in mind.
As if on cue, a jagged forked tongue of lightning flashes into the sea. I feel the destructive intent behind his words; he sucks on his cigarette, the tip glows red, acrid smoke pours from his nostrils. The message is clear; annihilate yourself.

‘What have I done?’ my voice shakes, I stammer, my lungs hold my breath prisoner.
‘You know what you did.’  I think frantically. I wasn’t here when he got home from work? I can’t pay all the bills, money is short? Just my presence irritates him? His anger is corrosive, it burns into my brain, sears my nerves. My heart begins its nervous pumping.

‘You,’ he leans closer, jabbing a forefinger in my face, ‘tried to get off with poes face – whatsisname? You tried to seduce him.’

What? I blanch. I did what? Now my brain is jelly. His eyes leer at me with cunning smug satisfaction. They promise hours of goading.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’  Thunder drowns my words.
‘What? Don’t mumble,’ he shouts. ‘I can’t hear you.’
‘I haven’t done anything.’ I raise my voice a decibel.
‘You wrote a poem,’ he says savagely. ‘I read it in your diary.’

The penny drops. Poes face is the kind neighbour who helped me when my car broke down. I curse my compulsive need to write, to record things.
‘You have no right to read my diary.’  He bats my feeble protest away as if it were a gnat. ‘You have no right to write a poem to another man. ‘Undone by kindness’– stupid fucking title, by the way.’

‘You’re being ridiculous,’ I say. ‘The man was kind, he helped me get my car started. He patted my arm and told me not to worry.’ Not like you, I think, you would have blown a gasket.
‘I wrote a poem, that’s all. Hardly seduction. He never saw it. Just a kind man.’
‘And I’m not kind? Never the helpful husband?’ His lips tighten into a hatchet line.
‘Not always.’ I manage to say the words.
I can’t tell him the stranger’s kindness was like a sudden beam of sunshine in an otherwise stormy existence. A reassuring antidote to permanent anxiety. I always feel jittery, act guilty under his suspicious scrutiny.

‘Ungrateful bitch. Next time you want to write a ‘poem’, he spits out the word as if it has the taste of poison, ‘to a kind man, be sure to drink a cup of arsenic first.’
I swallow bile as it rises in my throat. His words strike lightning fear into my heart. Thunder rumbles, echoes against the mountain above the sea.

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