Should this be the day that he returns, she is ready with the brightest red lipstick. The table has been set. She makes their evening meal. A week has passed since he was due, with no word. Yesterday, she saw the rails of the harbour wall washed out to sea. That evening she watched the windows bow and bend. The walls ticked, sighed and groaned as they bore each icy blast sent from the sea.
Dreaming, she carelessly misses the pot and salt hisses in the flame. An omen? She collects a sprinkle from the stovetop and flicks the little grains over her left shoulder to ward off what might travel in on this ill wind. Or for her sins, perhaps? She licks the salt from her fingers. Eyes closed, she leans into their kitchen table and feels herself burn. She can taste his tongue and the sea on his lips. She pictures her husband, thinking of her waiting by the window. How will she learn to be a good fisherman’s woman, when he is gone months at a time?
Sometimes, she would study the other wives. There was Mabyn, whose grace never grew thin in all her many years, waiting, praying. She carried her loneliness like a cross and taught her that all the women had a duty. In her loneliness, Mabyn found purpose and resolve.
She slices and chops the vegetables for the pot. She works with force, with her shoulders, her entire body. The blade scores the cutting block, and the blunt edge of the blade presses into the flesh of her palm. She remembers the way they were, her back pressed against the boards, his hands cracked from the cold and the rope, running the length of her body. She waits. How will she learn?
It is dark now. Heavy boots stamp out the black earth from the path that leads to her door. She knows the gait that carries those boots. Upon hearing knocking at her door, she is calmer than she imagines she ought to be. Each rap is timid, a question suspended in air. When she opens the door, he brings the sting of winter with him as he enters. There is no need for talk, and he knows the way to her bed. When she takes her lover’s face and brings his mouth to hers, she dare not switch off the light. For there, in the darkness, she cannot bear to picture her husband thinking of her waiting by the window.
“The Fisherman’s Wife” was originally published in Furious Fiction, 2020.
It won First Place in the Australian Writers’ Centre Flash Fiction Competition, September 2020
FEATURED IMAGE: Rein (Roy) Peters – “Ice Floes” 36x36in, acrylic on canvas, 2019
Group of Seven 100th Anniversary Exhibition and National Competition Winner – 2nd Place Prize
Held by Private Collector