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London, 1973, by J.E. Reich

From the Diaries of Emil Oster
West Hampstead, London, Britain, October 1973



Here is what my wife does not do when she sleeps: cry, breathe loudly to reassure me, whimper words in susurrus breezes, grit her teeth, let her feet touch mine, linger. The window is an unabashed eye.

Here is what my wife does when she sleeps: let her fingers tremble in silent, small waltzes, with a knife under her pillow.

I have accustomed myself to these things, including the knife. The knowing is always present, a secret fever: the missing kitchen blade in our set, held by a block of wood with sheathing slits. Morning, twilight, midnight, I am reminded. Leaving for work at the shoe repair, coming home with of the smell of merciless turpentine in the interstices of my shirt and trousers, padding around the dinner table in slippers or socks.  Her small fears spring up in these kinds of places in our home. The way she collects thimbles; the way she stows tins of pilchard and peeled tomatoes in the bathroom cupboard, behind the unused piano, in the drawer for her undergarments; the way she might let her mouth tense with a scream batting against her teeth if our children don’t eat their bread crusts. If so, she spurns us at the table and retreats to our bedroom, where she furls into a hard ball, knees tucked underneath her quivering neck, yearning for infanthood. She falls asleep, quelled by the day, the most unyielding of victors. It was, years ago, better not to explain to the children, who bit their lips with questions of how they were loved, or why they were loved like they are. Instead, I told them stories to distract them and appease them, for the desserts we could not afford after supper, and the leaks in the parlor ceiling.

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