Caledonia Review - Scotland's international journal of new fiction Caledonia Review - Scotland's international journal of new fiction.....  












Catherine Woodward
A Story About John


John was sat with his wife Alison on a Wednesday night, just as they tended to sit in the front room on Wednesday, he with a pile of fat weekly papers and she knitting. He believed that she had started knitting because she’d stopped reading, knitting didn’t require her to think. When John had married her she’d read a lot of books, although you couldn’t tell, and over the years she had read less and less, until it appeared to John that she hadn’t actually read anything at all. Perhaps she had just been staring blankly at the pages, the way she stared blankly at her knitting. Going up, going down, knit one, pearl two. By contrast he had also read a lot of books by the time they had married, and as the years progressed he had read even more. Unlike Alison it was always clear that he had read a lot, and as he got older it only became clearer.
He looked over his paper at Alison who hadn’t brushed her thin hair. It was too long, she would get split ends but she wouldn’t have thought of that. “Darling,” he said, drawing it out in a usual sing song over the clicking of the needles “What do you think of America’s new security policy?” He watched her, waiting for an answer.
“I hadn’t given it any thought.” she said, and appeared to be staring harder at her knitting.
“But look,” he pressed, becoming annoyed “They’re clearly pissing off Russia and the president’s only doing it to keep the Republicans happy, they seemed to have forgotten him flip flopping over Libya.”
“That’s not good then.” John felt as though he was talking to a very morose brick.
Then the temperature dipped behind his back and he knew that the monster had come home; it liked to curl up behind his chair and you’d never hear it come in. It couldn’t stand being in a room with Alison, it was constantly talking about how she didn’t understand anything, even up to a point where the monster got just as irritating as Alison herself. The presence of the monster only stressed John further, with the three of them together it felt like sitting alone in a freezer with the lights off.
He decided to ask her about opera, knowing that she knew nothing about the opera, and yes, it turned out that he was still alone, just him and the monster and her. He was talking to himself ‘Yes John’ ‘That’s something I wouldn’t know anything about dear’ ‘I’ve never really considered that’ – she never really considered anything, never thought about anything, she was ignorant.
John sat a while behind his paper wondering why he had ever married her, and all the while there was the click click clicking of Alison’s knitting and the low growl growl growling of the monster behind his arm chair. He couldn’t even hear his own breathing. John considered bending down and giving the monster a kick but instead he turned to Alison.
“You just don’t give the arts a second thought do you?” There was a brief pause and then Alison’s squashed little voice.
“Not a second one, no.” she said.
“The closest you get is admiring a sunset or something, but I can’t see you writing a poem about it.” There was a gentle shaking at his back, the monster was laughing. He beat the floor once with his heel and it stopped. After that there was a long silence, no come back, no flash of anger. That was Alison, she would never question him; she would take anything he threw at her like a wall or a tree stump. For years she had stuck constantly by his side no matter what and John hated her for it, he couldn’t see how any woman could be so stupid.
“Would you?”
“What?” She had been repeating it for a while, but John had only just heard her.
“Would you write a poem.”
“That’s not the point,” he shook his paper roughly “It’s been years since you understood anything about art, I swear it’s like you were fading away into the back ground or something, it’s bloody frustrating!”
“I’m sorry.” and she left the room to retreat upstairs, leaving her knitting behind.
John couldn’t say he was glad that she was gone, there seemed to be no difference between her being somewhere and her not being somewhere. She was just like that was Alison, in fact most of the people John had ever met were like that, but her especially. It was as if he only ever met people who were half there, everything they said was plucked from a bank of stock responses and social etiquette. Small talk all. And no one really seemed to be…awake. He was talking to people who could never quite strain mentally high enough to look him in the face, and Alison was an everyday reminder of that fact - that he was all alone in this world. He considered for a moment carrying on their conversation by berating her armchair, but then the monster pushed its great ugly head out from behind him and spoke up.
“That’s some catch of a wife you’ve got there.” it sniggered.
“Shut up.”
“No I mean it, you really can pick ‘em.”
“It’s not funny, what do you think it’s like having the human equivalent of a lamp shade for a soul mate.”
“I think you’ll find I know exactly what it’s like.” The monster replied and curled itself up around his slippers. He kicked it away, it was a cold, beastly thing, and when it smiled the sight of its teeth made him wince.
“Oh?” he was trying to look away, disinterested. How could that thing possibly know what it was like? It wasn’t even human.
“So much gets by that wife of yours that I bet she wouldn’t even notice the difference between us.”
“Don’t be so ridiculous! She’s far gone but not that far gone.” The monster yawned and John looked away, its mouth looked as though someone has spilled a box of pins into an uncooked chicken.
“Oh really? If I sit in this armchair and she comes down, I bet we could have a perfectly civil conversation and she wouldn’t even bat a speculative eyelid.”
John looked down at the monster under his glasses, the end of its tail was beating periodically against the floor and it was looking back at him with eyes the size of dinner plates. The room had become freezing and even the sound of Alison wandering about upstairs had been muffled into silence. He couldn’t stand being in a room all alone with the monster, so he decided to take it up on the wager.
“Fine, you sit here and I’ll wait in the kitchen, I’ll listen from there.” The monster nodded once and John sat down at the kitchen table and poured himself a beer.
There was nothing, no sound from the living room. He hunched over the table and sipped at the beer. He could even hear the fluorescent lighting buzzing in its tube. Looking around everything was ordered on the bright Formica counters and in the black window was a double duplication of the big empty kitchen and him in it, wearing a thin shirt and with a beer in his hand. He began to wonder about Alison and then he heard footsteps above his head, his wife coming down the stairs into the living room where the monster was waiting. John held his breath and squeezed the glass tight.
From the next room he could make out the hum of quiet voices; the monster’s constant and insisting, and Alison’s short and toneless. Then they were very quiet for a long while. John’s beer was getting warm in his hand, only one quarter drank. He had heard nothing for five minutes. All of a sudden he decided to brace himself for resolve, to confront the monster and whatever funny business he was up to with his wife. So John stood up and barged through into the living room.
He found the monster settled comfortably into his armchair, in the room all alone. His smile was like the dark slit in a half open tin of food “I was perfectly right,” he said “She didn’t notice the difference at all.”
“Not a thing?” John choked, he found that the blood had drained away from his face quite suddenly.
“Nope.” And the monster’s tail was once again thumping on the floor.
“So, so, where is she?”
“Alison?” the monster asked, leaning forward “I ate her of course. I am a monster.”
John could no longer stand and promptly collapsed down into Alison’s vacant chair, alone.




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