Tiwa Adekunle is a writer who occasionally writes for brittle paper. Her recent short story,’Light’ [about the thoughts of a pregnant housewife walking home at night], is almost thought provoking as the end of the story itself is not satisfying.
Read and enjoy below;
She has a morbid thought while she sits under the tree, will death take me now? Her mind travels down this path often, she knows. It is not that she’s suicidal, as some people think or even that she would rather be dead as Laura, her best friend seems to be convinced. In fact, it is probably because Isabelle is afraid of dying, and the logic is so: what better way to avoid death than to think about it, and often?
Isabelle rests her hand on her swollen belly. She enjoys this motion because her belly is warmer than the rest of her body and it helps her imagine that she only put her lips to a glass one day and accidentally swallowed something warm. Maybe a small light the size of a grape. She likes this better because other days it is a fire instead, a fire that will grow and scorch her and burn things.
When it is a fire, Isabelle wonders whether or not it is hers to put out. She sees Bill’s face, the anxious vein twitching under his left eye, the way he holds his hands together to keep her from seeing them tremble; the shame, the way his eyes run away from hers. If the light is hers at all, then it’s not just hers.
So what if she did not ask for this? Isabelle will not allow her body to become that room from so long ago, with silken threads of ash suspended from its corners. Her light would be a light or a fire but, she will not be choked by smoke. It didn’t really matter, did it, that she had made it clear from the beginning that she did not want this; that she had even made the bad joke as early as their second date, about ladies, babies and rabies. It didn’t matter that before deciding to get married, they had agreed that it would be both of them, together and alone, forever. All of that was gone, made irrelevant by this irrefutable fact beating within her. Isabelle’s palm moves across the smooth fabric of her shirt. You did not light yourself, you did not light yourself.
These thoughts move like a wave inside of Isabelle. Her heart knocks urgently on the walls of her chest. The wind is chilly so Isabelle wraps the pashmina once, twice, around herself. She wants her thoughts too, to be carried in the wind.
A man is walking on the sidewalk in front of her. She sees his cane first and hopes, for his sake, that he is old and not ill. There is a dog behind him, trailing obediently. The dog’s tongue, a pale pink, hangs jubilantly outside its mouth. It slows as it approaches Isabelle, and contemplates briefly before quickly following its aging owner.
Isabelle is wary of dogs. When she was eight years old her aunt had sent her to buy salt at the corner store and on the way back, she found a stray dog with nine, ten tiny puppies. Isabelle had always wanted a dog. Jane and Peter, the main characters in her favorite books had one, and they went everywhere with it. They had had many other things she didn’t—most painfully, a mother and father—but this at least was something she could fix. She knew she shouldn’t, but she was almost home so she reached for the smallest one and started to run. The dog was barking furiously, chasing after Isabelle and as she reached the gate to the house and pounded her small fist against the hot metal, it leapt at her, digging its teeth into her flesh even after she threw the little puppy unto the ground. Isabelle still has the scar, an ugly marring of flesh, on the side of her leg.
Can humans own anything? Isabelle isn’t sure, but if she had to choose, she’d say they can’t. Her thoughts are incessant, paths that lead nowhere. Bill says she cannot relax. Not in the way most people say it too. Like “Honey/baby/love/dear you really should/need to/might want to/ relax (more)” quickly followed by, as they rub their partner’s shoulders “you work too hard..” No, when Bill told her she was incapable of relaxing, his eyes were wide, he was staring at his hands, the vein under his left eye was twitching. He said it like he had happened upon some grand, terrible discovery, an undoable conclusion that terrified him. Isabelle had felt a little sorry, but mostly relieved. At least, he knew.
Isabelle’s mind doesn’t stop often. At the wedding, after considering the anatomy of their vows, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, for better for worse, Isabelle clung to the final words.
If I left this hall and something happened, and I lost my memory, would that be death enough to do us part? she’d whispered into Bill’s ear at the reception. He looked wounded, his lips parted in a contrived smile to reveal teeth tinged red with punch. Anyone would have thought as she had just leaned over and whispered “I’ll love you forever and ever and ever and ever..” but Isabelle knew him well, was familiar with the hurt in the depth of his eyes, and so quickly, she moved closer to him and laughed a little, added I’ll love you forever and ever and ever and ever…
Bill had shaken his head, he knew her too, and yet the appendage, an afterthought, was a balm. At least, this time, she had realized and tried. Not that it mattered, Bill had no choice but leave room in himself for her excesses. Isabelle had already gone against her second greatest conviction by promising herself to someone else, to him, and he had no choice but to endure her gentle atrocities. This is probably the worst thing, Bill thinks, about the violence of changing her mind: the fact that now and forever he had conceded his natural right to be hurt or angered by her, that he could never hold anything against Isabelle. Isabelle, his wife, the object of his fiercest affections, the one who had the biggest potential to hurt him.
But you can’t own things, can you? Isabelle thinks as she rises from the lawn chair. The sun is growing timid and the night is beginning to emerge. She looks up to see the sky and the birds flying effortlessly below it. Isabelle still remembers being a child and believing all types of silly things about birds. But Isabelle’s childhood was a different time, a separate entity locked completely apart from her current identity. Isabelle was glad that events, people, her childhood couldn’t swim across the vast, stormy sea of time to reach her now. She remembers when she turned six and her aunt told her that she came into the world a month early. That was why, her aunt had said, her father had to drive at midnight to the hospital in a car with faulty brakes. That was why, her aunt had continued, the accident happened, the accident that Isabelle alone survived.
Can humans own things? she thinks afresh. The tinge of the sky makes her remember a red flower from when she was young. Hours after school, waiting for her aunt to pick her up, she would pluck the flower, pull out the center and bring the sweet nectar to her tongue.
Our bodies, at least we must own. The wind violently pushes against Isabelle. Her frame is lean. She stumbles on a stray toy that must have belonged to someone’s pet. She knows better. She has trod this path before. The concrete is tough under her sandaled feet but Isabelle walks like maybe she shouldn’t be here. There is a small rock pressing into her heel. The bushes hide things that may spring into her path. The way home is dimly lit. The sidewalk is so thin that Isabelle imagines it pierces through something that bleeds.
She thinks again about the body. Isabelle cannot hear a dog barking for the sound of her own heart pounding. The body rises up against us so quickly, doesn’t it? The heart stops when it’s done with us. Who owns the body? Bad things happen when humans think they own things.
Isabelle regrets thinking about the body. She can feel the sharp turn in this path, her conclusion, coming. She tries to steer her mind away from it but it rages against her like a flood. It pushes against her walls and finally it gushes in. Even if my body is not mine but the earth’s, no one has a right to take it from me! Isabelle’s breath shallows, her arms ache at her sides, she thinks she can still feel his palms like hot steel, the wall against her back, his voice crashing upon her.
“Not everything is about you, Isabelle!”, then softer, closer, “It’s my baby too.” His palm resting, softly, against her bruised arm, “I know we agreed, but that was just.. that before it was real. Do you feel nothing? It’s ours, Isabelle, ours. Please… don’t do this”.
Isabelle couldn’t say no, couldn’t make someone glow—half with love and half with fear—and like they never had before, only put it out the light as they begged her to keep it on. That was a texture of cruelty Isabelle wasn’t willing, wouldn’t allow herself to know.
He will be at home now, awaiting her arrival, hoping she will not begin to reveal the journeys her mind had been on. But Isabelle is rotting with unsaid things. She wants to ask: who would ruin a ruined thing, Bill? She wants to tell him the story of how she killed her parents coming into the world. She wants to say I can’t do this Bill. I don’t deserve a child, a life, Bill, Bill—
Isabelle can hear a sound from somewhere distant, but she doesn’t know what it is. It is urgent, like a cry, or a warning, something mechanical but real. Her body is ready to move but her mind is far away. Move! She finally jolts herself and jumps out of the way as the vehicle screeches to a halt. She is breathless. So close, she thinks.
Isabelle notices that her light is shifting. Her entire belly contracts with the force of it. Her light is growing, searing her flesh with every turn. It is not a light now but a knot in her lower belly. She can hear people, footsteps beside her ears, a teenage boy crying. She tries to decipher his words. ”I swear I didn’t mean to!”. Didn’t mean to what?
Get a doctor. Isabelle is trying to speak the words, but they stop at her throat. She tries to move her limbs, but they rebel. The knot in her stomach is growing tighter. A light blinds her eyes. Headlights, or something else? Isabelle doesn’t know.
Will death take me now?
For once her mind does not travel because Isabelle knows, as surely as she can feel the growing slickness between her legs, that again, again, again it has.