TEXT prose


Amy T Matthews







He had been hers for four – almost five – years.  She knew every tightly curled wire of grey on his ruffled chestnut head; she knew the tiny crescent-shaped dent in his upper lip, and the way his wedding band shone dull gold in the late afternoon light.  His eyes were brown, with red lights like a sprinkling of paprika.  He had a mole under his left earlobe and his nails were bitten to the quick.

She had time to notice these things because he was a man of sudden silences.  Mid-sentence he would stop, the last word hanging like a cliff-edge between them, and she would unconsciously hold her breath, waiting for him to resume.  Sometimes he took so long that white spots would bloom before her eyes.  Once or twice, when her lizard-brain survival instinct kicked in, the silence was rent with her gulping at air, like someone drowning.
The worst silences happened when he was reading her work.  He’d stop suddenly, lift the pages he’d scrawled all over with his leaking fountain pen, and stare at them, as though (she often thought in fits of paranoia) they were written in ancient Macedonian, as though he couldn’t make heads or tails of them.  At those moments she couldn’t help herself, the babble burst out of her, rushing through the silence like floodwater, muddy and dangerous with debris.  Her brain was always a beat or two behind her tongue and she was wide-eyed with horror at what she was saying.
It’s a strategy, a female colleague had said, loose-tongued herself at an after-conference dinner.  It gives him power.  You’re always kept off-balance, wondering what he’s thinking, where he stands.  It’s our natural instinct to want to fill the silence.  It’s what we’re trained to do – socially.

Kate thought she was right, as she found herself beginning every meeting with a clumsy flurry of small talk, which he never answered.  For a while she toyed with the idea that he was shy – but she didn’t really think he was.  There was a confidence in his squarely-held shoulders, in his carelessly mismatched socks, and the low timbre of his voice, which belied shyness.  Ultimately, he just wasn’t a social animal – he was happiest alone with his books (his books which made her feel as panicked as his silences – how could she ever catch up?).

For four – almost five – years she grappled with her PhD and sweated through his sudden silences, wondered at who he was, and mapped his crescents and colours and moles.  Near the end they saw one another every day and the silences grew fewer, more clipped: staccato.  Now and then he gave her a look – surprise? admiration? wonder? – and she felt herself blaze, her heart a red coal in her chest, her palms sweating.  It was something akin to love.

And then it was over.  Finished in the thirty seconds it took him to hug her after the graduation ceremony.  It was the first time they’d ever touched.  She registered the warmth of his cheek against her forehead, the firmness of his hands on her back.  Their robes slid together; it was difficult to tell where his ended and hers began.

Everyone told her that she would cry.
It was just like my divorce, Jen said of her graduation.  All of a sudden I was alone.  There we were, traveling together, and then we weren’t.  I was just older, and all alone.  But it gets better, you know – you learn to live alone.

Kate didn’t cry.  Not until almost a year later, when she saw him at a conference full of Deleuzeians.  She went to his paper and felt the word desire curl around her like a scarlet ribbon.  For a moment she was sitting again in the shadow of his bookshelves, and he was talking only to her.  The feeling was so strong that she almost heard the creak of his old vinyl chair, saw the splatters of black ink on her thesis, and the little red lights in his eyes.

She went to speak to him afterwards but found him surrounded, and once again she was holding her breath, not because he was silent, but because his silence was no longer directed at her.  She heard the babble of his postgrads – the waters churning as their floodwater collided – and something broke.

She cried all night, lining up the empty bottles from the mini-bar – tallest to smallest, with the fat-bellied Baileys last.

And in the morning, when they found themselves alone in the elevator, they nodded at one another, genially, and in silence.




Amy T Matthews is an award-winning novelist and a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Flinders University. She is the Chair of Writers SA and also publishes under the name Tess LeSue.


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Vol 22 No 2 October 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence