A fear of worms
He thinks the middle of their relationship is soft and well-known.
He likes to think he has learnt everything about her. The way she sleeps (diagonally, one arm over him, the other folded into an elbow-pillow), her little ‘break the ice’ joke, her specific dislikes (men in vests, long birthday dedications on social media, mayo, towel swans, moans in porn, mason jars for drinks) and the way she talks when she’s nervous –– saying too much, too fast.
And yet, a face he knows from raised eyebrow to tight-lipped mouth, surprises him one day, when he spots it in the supermarket. He looks at his wife, a stranger for just two seconds, even as his brain asks him, “who is she?” But recognition dawns and what he actually says is, “why aren’t you at work?”
The same thing happens when he hears her sing in the shower one Sunday and a voice he can identify with just by the timbre of its ‘hmms’, sounds suddenly unfamiliar to him. It makes him feel empty, and he can’t understand why.
One day she answers his unspoken question in a rush when she says she wants to leave- “becauseIdon’tknowwhatI’mdoinganymore.”
And decades of carefully collected information ––the meanings behind each of her tired sighs, three cubes of ice, the way she answers her phone, chilli powder on pink guava flesh, three significant childhood mishaps, a fear of worms, a landline number –– become redundant.
He has learnt everything and somehow he didn’t know a thing.