#WomenWhoWrite: An excerpt from The Nine-Chambered Heart by Janice Pariat

One afternoon, you get very upset.

We are lying on the bed in the guest room. For some reason you’ve taken a fancy to this place; it’s like a cave you say. With the light falling through leaves, from the window. It’s a room I hardly use on my own, but with you here, I follow.

I hold my phone before me; we’re reading an article someone’s posted about an eccentric artist who built himself a museum on an island, when a message comes in.

You belong to me. I belong to you.

You are disconsolate.

I apologize; I do speak to her when you’re not around, but this is too blatant, I know.

You are so upset you leave.

I ask if you’re coming back later, and I get the cab door slammed in my face.

So in a few hours I follow.

I know the place you’ve rented. Not far from me. Set back from the ruins and the inside-outside bar where we like to drink. I wait at your door, and you let me in eventually, but don’t speak to me. In fact, you move around behaving as though I’m not there.

‘Sit, please sit,’ I plead.

And you do. Perched on a cushion away from me, like you can’t bear to be touched. Somewhere from the other room a song drifts in. ‘Setting fire to our insides for fun’.

When you look at me, I can only see anger and hurt, and once, briefly, hope. That I’ll tell you I’m leaving her for you, that there is no one else, only you.

But I’m not that person.

It’ll never happen.

Because I’ve made it clear from the beginning, haven’t I? That there was always somebody else in the picture. But I cannot bear to lose you even for a short time like this, because I cannot live with loss. It’s as though it was all used up when I lost my wife in that accident. A lifetime’s capacity for loss taken away overnight. Which is why I just let things be until they run their course, until they shrivel. Because I cannot take the decision to leave, the only choice is to stay.

So I sit there with you, and I do not apologize and I do not promise.

I simply wait until your anger transforms into sorrow.

I can feel it. The air changes in the room.

I suppose this is when I’m meant to ‘make up’, to offer some gesture towards reconciliation, to try at least to alleviate your sadness.

So I tell you that a friend gave me some opium.

‘Let’s drink it…’

And without a word, you heat up some water, arrange the glasses, make the tea. I dissolve the deep amber crystals into the steaming liquid. It turns the colour of dark honey. We stir; two prim, proper governesses. We drink at the table, silently. Sip after sip, waiting for the miraculous to wash over us like sleep. The woozy dipping feeling of being in this world and not. The slowing down and sharpening of time. The sense of happiness and nausea. Who says they’re not the same thing? After a minute, an hour, you slide into the chair, curling into the cushion. I sit with my insides hurting; my body feeling like it’s welded to the couch.

 

 

Somehow, I know that after this there won’t be much of us. That we will wrestle on a few more beds and part, and come together again. And once I will ask you to dinner, and you will accept, and you will cry into your sake, and when I drop you home I will kiss you, because for that instant I miss you like a universe. You will look at me with love and hate and something else that I will never be able to place, and then we will drift apart, colliding sometimes in this city’s mad bustle. At a café where I’m working on a new manuscript. At a party to celebrate someone else’s book launch. At some restaurant or the other, where you are with friends, and I’m with the one who belongs to me. At a winter picnic spread out in the park with ruins around us. And things will mellow. And all this love will turn to friendship tinged forever – no, let’s be starkly honest, only for a while – with ‘what if’. After that, there will be only accidental meetings, a stray email, a long-lost text. A phone call because you need some advice on a literary project. A quick beer in another city. A thought of each other when something that reminds us of the past catches our eye. Then those too, like everything else, will fade.

For now, though, we lift our glasses and drink.

And fall into delicious stupor, and dream of red bicycles that we ride into the sky.

We race, your dress sliding up your thighs, me in front, and then you. You move swift and strong and steady. And – I’m certain of it – you will leave me behind.

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