She did not cry anymore, and walked out of the kitchen to plonk down on the sofa in the living room, as if the sudden burst of speech had exhausted her. Jeff watched her as she sat there, then turned back to look at the body. He squatted down to feel for his pulse. The body had such thick arms wrapped in stark, protruding veins. There was no pulse. He was not breathing. He stood back up again. Serene’s voice returned behind him, “When I woke up, I went to the kitchen. And I thought I had dreamt the whole thing, until I saw the cloth under the door, and realised what I had done. I opened the door and there he was, on the floor, and all that gas. I opened the windows and I did not know gas could smell like that, could fill up a whole room like that. And I kept asking him to wake up, wake up. When he didn’t, I had to get out, I wanted to go to the police-post downstairs. Do you know the police-post is only downstairs?”
At this point she laughed suddenly. He turned around, startled. It was discomfiting watching someone laugh like that, then cry again, then do both simultaneously. Soon, she stopped and became terribly calm, her eyes red now and her cheeks gleaming wet. He left the body behind and walked to the sofa where she was. Several thoughts collided with each other in his brain at once: he could become implicated if this leaked out, he could go to jail; she looked so vulnerable sitting there, trying to numb herself from what she had done; she must have suffered from a moment of insanity, she was regretting it now.
“How long were you two married?” he asked, sitting down on the sofa beside her. What kind of question was that? But Jeff did not know what else to say at this point. But maybe, in some way, it was also because he wanted to compare her marriage to his own, to indulge in the fact that both marriages looked like they were not working out. And in Serene’s case, brought finally to a halt.
She looked up at Jeff with a dazed look mixed in with a little puzzlement at the question. But she answered anyway. “Three. Three years.” Jeff merely nodded. Then he saw her breathing pick up speed. She was going to bawl again, and enter another stage of panic. He had to do something. “We can clear up this mess, and you won’t get into any trouble at all.”
She looked gratefully at him. “I didn’t mean to kill him you know. I don’t know why I did it. It just felt so good closing the window, stuffing the cloth under the door. It’s like I wanted to get back at him for something. And that need was so strong. I was so tired that night. So tired of him, so tired of his fucking insults, how he never really cared about me, only about how I made him look, made him look to his friends, his parents.”
“So you were seeing other men.”
“Technically, I did not do anything. I just went out with them on dates. I didn’t fuck them or anything.”
“But didn’t you two love each other?” This felt lame. But Jeff asked it anyway. He would ask anything to keep her talking.
“Yah. Wait, no. I don’t think we really did.”
“Then why did you two get married? And for three years?” He walked over to her and sat down on the couch beside her. Part of him stood outside this whole situation and surveyed the scene: a woman talking to a man about her marriage, her husband dead in the kitchen, a whiff of gas like the dead man’s ghost still hovering in the room.
Jeff considered his own marriage to his wife. He remembered how they met at the university they went to, when they even attended the same courses; how they could not stop holding hands, or stealing kisses in the corridors where the seminar rooms were. He had been so stunned when she said she liked him at first. No one had ever done that for him before. No one had liked him like that before. That was the main reason why he reciprocated, and returned her feelings. What happened to all that? Was it her job that changed everything? Did she change because she was tired of being bored by him, of being married to him? Was she perhaps even seeing somebody else? Somebody attractive like Serene’s husband on the floor?
Serene went on, “He was so romantic before. I don’t know what happened. He kept saying how pretty I was, what a perfect couple we made. Then when we got married, we started hating each other. I don’t know how it started. But I think we realised our relationship was based a lot on physical attraction. But we stuck with it, thinking there was more to it than that, that we really really loved each other.” It was odd how she was becoming calm in the process of speaking. So matter of fact. She was no longer trembling or verging on a panic. Her hands closed and open on her lap.
“And then we just went on like that, stubbornly. He kept saying he loved me. And I let him kid himself. I let myself believe it. And we were so good together. Everyone said so, you know? Even his parents and my parents love each other. Then I met these few guys from my workplace. I dated them, and he found out. He caught me lying about working late, when I was out with this colleague. He was at the same restaurant with his own friends when he saw me. He knew who he was and how intimate I acted with him in the restaurant and called him a fat shit. Then we couldn’t stop arguing.” She fell silent. She closed her eyes and leaned on Jeff’s shoulder. Jeff was surprised, but started stroking her back slowly and gently. “It’s okay,” he said, although she was not crying or anything. She was just lying on him, breathing evenly.
Suddenly, Jeff wanted everything to stop. He thought about his wife, who always woke up before him and who was probably now busying herself at home with paperwork she had brought back from her office; not worrying at all about why he was spending so much time at the supermarket, and caring only if he had bought the shampoo she had told him to buy. He remembered how she had been when asking him about the shampoo; how she had looked and sounded as if she was near the edge of impatience, yet still staying within the bounds of token, marital cordiality.
After this, he would still have to return to their three room flat, their separate and equally banal jobs. An earlier state of monotony before this moment, before now, was beginning to reopen up like a hole under his feet, ready to suck him back in. When would something like this ever happen again? He reached for Serene’s hand.
“What now?” she asked, in a low, quiet voice, as if she had attained a kind of acceptance about something.
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QLRS Vol. 1 No. 3 Apr 2002