‘Close the window, darling.’
‘I don’t want to. I like the sounds coming from the frozen lake. What’s your problem?’
‘Calm down! I don’t want to start a fight. It’s freezing, that’s all.’
‘The thing is you never want to start a fight, but every second with you stings like a mosquito bite. You’ve been terrible for weeks. I know what you’ve been doing. You are sick. You make me laugh!
I turned around, taking a moment to tame my anger, then turned back and looked into his eyes—they were black as tar. That was grief, and grief, like a wild animal, feeds on fear and sorrow.
‘Look at me!’ he said. ‘This house smells rotten. You want what I have, dead woman! Nobody talks out of that body of yours. I have been a patient man, showing you sufficient mercy and care, and still, when I’m off to bed, you sneak into my bedroom and feed your snakes on life. On my life! You disgust me!’ He leaned closer and spat at my face. I slapped him and left the house for a walk in the quiet winter. When I returned, he was waiting for me, marked with regret, on his old brown leather armchair.
‘You must be careful about going out there at such a late hour!’ he said. ‘People nowadays are capable of terrible things, things like this and that.’
‘Well, I suppose that’s true, but I’m not afraid, I said, and kissed his forehead. ‘You are right about the things you said earlier. Well, about some of those things, not all of them’
‘I know. I still want you to stay, snake after snake. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to love another woman. I won’t, thought. Love another one. I want you to know that. Now go and get ready for bed.’
‘Thank you for this,’ I said, and went upstairs. He joined me a half an hour later.
In the morning I couldn’t find him anywhere. I searched for hours, and even asked my snakes if they’d seen my man, but my snakes hissed at me and slithered inside the walls. I cried and scratched my face until it bled and hid under the covers to cry a bit more. I must have fallen asleep because I dreamt that I was dead. In my dream, all my senses had quit me. I didn’t know where I was, and I couldn’t hear a sound. My eyes were shut, and I was unable able to move. I wanted to breathe the desperate breath of numb lungs, but there was no air coming in and out of my nostrils. Inside my mouth, there was a big cotton pad, filling my cheeks. Was I truly dead? It was hard to tell, between the awareness of my situation and the lack of movement in my body. I woke up eventually, covered in sweat, and it was dark outside. I felt grateful for the use of my body, my ears, my eyes.
Taking a longer look around, I realised my man hadn’t left. All his clothes were neatly arranged in the oak wardrobe. On the dressing table, exposed as an offering, there was his collection of cigars. Hanging on the mirror, his hat. And that’s when I saw him. I was wearing his body, tall and proud. Parts of my old skin were still visible on my arms, but I knew it would look smooth by the next day.
I opened the wardrobe and chose to wear his dark blue polka dot suit. I returned to the living room, to smoke on his old brown leather armchair, and my snakes came out of their hiding places to congratulate me on my outfit choice.