Eric Shattuck

Holding What Is Left

 

Every night, Saanvi’s husband came to the bedroom window and asked to be let inside, and every night it broke her heart to turn him away. The first time was after the tehravin. After she had finally surrendered any hope of him coming home. After he was declared dead, and his family drove in from Santa Clara, everyone in their white clothes, his brothers and nephews with shaved, tender-looking heads.

On the fourteenth night, when everyone else had gone, she found him at the windowsill, as if he’d only gone out for a walk. He was thinner than she remembered, and his eyes were jaundiced. Long fingers, a pianist’s fingers, drumming on the glass. Fingers that had once twined around hers.

Saanvi spoke his name, but there was nothing in his eyes. No flicker of recognition. He never looked away from her throat.

“Will you let me in?”

She sat on the edge of the mattress, watching him. Some obscure emotion welled up inside of her, and with a shudder she closed the curtains. She went to the kitchen for a glass of wine, then went back to bed and fell into a restless sleep.

***

He came back the next night, and each night after that, always asking to come inside. Sometimes Saanvi could hear him whistling after she pulled the curtains closed. He’d collected Son House albums on vinyl, and now he waited outside the window and hummed the blues like a Folsom lifer.

During the day, he stayed in the tool shed. Saanvi had visited him once and only once. When she opened the door, a butcher-shop stink rolled over her. Small bones littered the concrete. He sat in the corner, hunched over behind the riding mower on the balls of his feet. Sunlight slanted into the shed; her husband’s flesh hissed, and greasy smoke curled away from it.

He hunted at night. The number of stray cats in the neighborhood went down, and the number of missing dogs went up. But what could she do? Love was not a light switch.

***

After he went missing, Saanvi had pushed the bed closer to the window, so that in the morning, the sun made a warm patch in the place where he used to lay. Sometimes she would wake up and throw her arm across the covers, breathe in the fading scent of coconut oil on his pillowcase, and imagine that he’d woken up early for work.

***

He grew thinner, paler. His hair fell out in clumps, and the starlings that roosted in the backyard used tufts of it to decorate their nests. Saanvi left him dinner trimmings—raw strips of fatty lamb and chicken in a bowl outside the back door. She looked through the window at the shed, where she knew he was squatting in the dark, waiting for the sun to dip below the horizon.

He would come to her bedroom window, drawn by some instinct like a moth to flame, slender fingers batting against the glass. Such a pitiful sound.

He would peer up at her with those yellow eyes, like two pinches of turmeric, his lips cracked and peeled back. “Will you let me in,” he would say.

And Saanvi, for a moment, would consider it. She would imagine going to the front door, freeing the deadbolt. The sound of his footsteps in the hallway. She would imagine pushing the bed back against the wall, out of that deceitful patch of sunlight. Feeling his breath against the hollow of her throat, his teeth searching for the claret river that pumped inside. She would wrap her arms around him and hold him there. Hold whatever of him was left.

——

Eric Shattuck is a freelance writer living in Charleston, South Carolina. He studied at South Carolina State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and served as an editor for the Inkwell Student Literary Journal. His work has been published in Freeze Frame Fiction.

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