‘A woman committed suicide by setting herself on fire in the Louvre.’
‘A woman committed suicide by drowning herself in the loo,’ she said.
He could never understand her when she talked, especially these days. She had always had a soft voice, demure, meek, like a kitten. Now, to him, it just sounded like a drone, a ball, of something, like yarn, spider silk, or burr weed. Floating, and borne by air into his ear canals, creating a subtle unscratchable itch inside him, somewhere, and setting roots. Each time she spoke, his mind became a bit more overgrown, a bit more forlorn.
She was reading the papers, not looking at him, holding up a black-and-white page covering part of the profile of her face. It was as if she weren’t even speaking to him, but only talking to herself. Of course that was never the case. As soon as the word came out of his mouth, he regretted asking it. But it was too late. It was a reflex. He became angry at himself, as if he were helpless in controlling even his own body and mind.
She always did this. And it was always something trifling, gossipy and irrelevant that she was relating. Women, he thought. He refused to get a hearing aid, refused to have her think he cared what she was saying. She didn’t insist. It’s as if it didn’t concern her, what he did, or didn’t do.
She repeated her statement in an even, indifferent, almost mechanical tone, without raising the volume, or even adjusting the pace of the words. Still not looking at him. He suspected she spoke softly, nowadays, on purpose. Making him listen, but unable to hear. Making him look, but unable to see. Like some sort of game.
A scene from long ago suddenly resurfaced in his mind: after they first got married, he had an affair. He thought she never found out, until late one night, when he came home drunk from the hotel, and the phone rang. It was the other woman. Without thinking, he picked up the phone, and began talking. The living room was dark; he thought she had already gone to bed. It was only after he hung up, that he saw she was lying on the sofa, facing him. Her eyes were closed. Afterwards she never brought it up. And over the years, he had almost forgotten it himself.
He looked at his wife of fifty years. She flipped another page, without casting him a glance.
All of a sudden, he felt completely deflated.
HC Hsu was born in Taipei. His short story collection Love Is Sweeter is forthcoming from Lethe Press in May 2013. His writings and translations have appeared in PRISM International, Two Lines, Words Without Borders, Renditions, Cha, Far Enough East, Big Bridge, Pif, nthposition, Memoir, Liternational, Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette, 100 Word Story, Best of Dark Eclipse, Hello Horror, Flash Fiction World, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China reports, and others. He won Third Prize in the 2013 Memoir Contest and was Runner-Up for the Kristen Iversen and David Anthony Durham Award, a finalist for the Wendell Mayo Award, and a finalist in The Austin Chronicle 21st Annual Short Story Contest. A philosophy postdoctoral fellow at the Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien, Switzerland, he is currently completing a commissioned translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo’s authorized biography.