The Paranoid Husband
Rebecca Harrison | Nevena Katalina
At the end of a narrow pathway, a husband and wife lived in a squat cottage. The husband sat through night hours watching his wife dream. He wished to keep her from the world outside their door. While she weaved tapestries in the village, he walked fields, snatching her reflection from puddles and coins. He hid shells in corners and gloom to capture the words she spoke in the streets. Every morning, she crept her hushed path to the village workshop. The walls trembled with gossip, but she only listened for her husband’s footsteps. Her fingers flurried bright scenes, but her eyes only watched windows for her husband’s shadow. She weaved until lamplight. Then she trudged home. Every dusk, her husband met her on the narrow path.
As a child, the wife had sewed fast and neat. She had watched her mother thread and embroider and had given the stitches new names. She had stuffed her pockets with blooms and sewed petals into her mother’s scenes. She had said that when she was grown, she would weave a castle of tapestries. As a young woman, she had roamed waterfalls and hilltops, and told stories to winds. Her village days had been a hurry of cobblestones and chatter. She had weaved into late hours until the night clattered with her stitches. The villagers had gawped and sighed at her tapestries. They had said, one day she would sew for cathedrals and queens.
One spring, the husband had been journeying through the village night, when he saw the workshop light. He had lingered from his travels, and they had sat together in woodland tangles. He had no longer wished to seek faraway views. They had wed below bells and swallows. When she had said she wanted to weave for kings, he had wished her tapestries would only hang in their home for him.
The years had sunk under his stares. She had shushed and slowed. She saw him hoard her snatched reflections. When she found shells, she listened to her old words.
One night, while the wife slept, the husband looked at the narrow path. He thought of his wife trekking streets and roads away from his home. He stepped onto the stone path and walked to the moonlit village. At the village edge, in the shadows of steeples and bats, he bent down and began to roll up the path. All night, he rolled. When he reached the cottage, he rolled the path into the shed and bolted the door. Then, he stared over the bare fields.
At dawn, the wife stepped from the cottage. She gasped at the pathless view. All day, she drifted field shallows seeking her way to the village, while her husband watched from the cottage windows. At dusk, she stumbled back into the cottage. She saw her husband and wondered. She looked under the table and up the chimney, but found only crumbs and soot. He glared as she shook pockets and cobwebs. He startled as she took a candle and rushed from the cottage. He hurried behind her as she peered in the shed and saw the rolled-up pathway. He roared as she gave it a kick and watched it roll to the distant village. That night, she lingered on the path edge until his snores tangled with bats’ wings.
The next day, while the wife weaved in the village, the husband paced shadows and rains. He thought of kings hanging her tapestries and murmuring her name. He peered into a deep well and heaved up the pail. All day, he dragged the darkness from the bottom of the well and hauled it into the cottage. He crammed the rooms with darkness until the cobwebs drooped and the floorboards sagged. Then he lit a candle and tested the dinge. No glow glimpsed, he waited on the narrow path for his wife. He led her into black rooms and they supped in the gloom.
At dawn, the wife pulled back the curtains, but the room stayed black. She thought that night still wrapped their home. She lingered by the window, watching for flocks and sun. Hours stretched. She heard birdsong and church bells, but still the darkness stayed. The husband sat in his chair, pleased she was with him between the black walls. But then he peered at the darkness, trying to spy her shape. He listened to spiders crawl, trying to hear her steps. He stumbled through the cottage, fearing she wasn’t there. Then he threw the front door open and shoved handfuls of darkness out until sun seeped into the room. He saw she stood in his shadow. She saw the daylight and stepped outside, glancing back at her husband’s glare before hurrying away.
The next day, the husband trekked below mountains and clouds. He pictured his wife in castle halls whispering stories to lords. He spied an avalanche. All day, he folded it until it fit in his sack. Then he heaved it to the cottage and baked it into a pie. His wife trudged home and beamed at her dinner. As she plucked the last crumbs from the table, he told her what she had gobbled. He said, if she spoke to anyone they would be crushed by the ice. She clasped her hands to her lips and felt the avalanche in her hushed voice. That night, he slept soundly while she wept silent tears.
At dawn, the wife traipsed the narrow pathway. She stayed hushed when dairy maids and shepherds called out greetings. As she shuffled the village streets she kept her gaze on cobblestones and puddles. In the workshop, she sank into a corner. At dusk, her husband met her on the path. Had she stayed silent, he asked. She nodded. He frowned and nagged. Had she spoken to anyone, he insisted. She shook her head. But he bellowed and fumed, stomped and glared. He never even heard his wife’s answer: ‘no’. When she opened her lips, the avalanche trampled him flat with snow.