Some of the best pieces of fiction stem from writers’ reactions to other pieces. For Anashua Madhubanti—first year geography major—inspiration struck after reading Edwidge Danticat’s short story, “Night Women.” Anashua mirrors the dark, romantic tone of “Night Women,” while offering her own spin on the original. Read the provocative short story, “Emmanuel’s Evening,” below.
It is Saturday and Emmanuel feels within him a familiar restlessness. He is waiting for the night, but mostly, he is waiting for the woman the night brings. He paces the long verandah, sits down for supper, talks over the things that need to be talked about swiftly, the milkman’s dues for the month, car repairs, Jacques having trouble at school. He tells Lucille their son’s growing, that might be all there is to his moodiness. Lucille worries he is in love. “Have you ever heard of a twelve year old in love,” he laughs it off. “You’re the only woman he knows of,” he tells her. You’re the only woman I know of, he thinks.
Come 7 o’clock, he kisses Lucille goodbye, and is on his way to ‘a dinner’. On the way, he stops at the flower shop. What flowers should I get for her tonight, should I get her the synthetic blue roses that shine like eyes in the dark, or the pink dahlias that glow like lips, he thinks. He does not know why he bothers, really. Sometimes he feels that the flowers are a token for sympathy. I’m sorry about being unable to do anything about your life, I’m sorry for the streetlights that go out one by one on your street, I’m sorry for the man who hurt you last week, I’m sorry for the unfixable hole in your roof and I’m sorry for the sleeping shape of your son behind the curtain, he tries to condense into the flowers. Flowers carry a lot of meaning, they say.
She never reacts to his flowers, accepts them wordlessly as one of his quirks, waits for them on Saturdays and Tuesdays just as she anticipates his movements in bed. Maybe the flowers ease the discomfort in the room when he first walks in. In the silence of her room, he feels out of place. He can hear the crickets outside, but the loudest sound is the audible breathing of her son. That son, the damn son, he thinks. The presence that takes over him sometimes when he is with her, fills his head with one unpleasant thought, and then, like a barrage, he is taken over by another, and yet another, until he thinks of everything he tries hard not to feel. He feels the reality of her threadbare existence in the touch of the rough sheets beneath his legs, he stares into the copper of her eyes and feels a sudden hatred.
He hates the blackness of the body beneath him, the poverty of her pelvic bones jutting out, the chapped skin of her elbow. He hates the flimsy veil behind which lies the son. He thinks about Jacques, sweet, innocent Jacques, probably asleep, far away from this world of wrongs and wrongdoers. And this boy bridges his two worlds together, brings Jacques into the room, so that as he loses himself into the darkness of the nightwoman, he feels a pair of eyes watching witness over his deeds. The two boys are far apart, but he brings them closer, links their fates together in a way that makes him uncomfortable. He feels embarrassed, guilty. He imagines his son coming in, the expression on his face change from shock to disgust as he realizes that the woman in the room is not Lucille, that the woman in the room is different, poor, dark, ugly.
He thinks of the woman and the stupid stories he sometimes heard her tell her son while she lulled him to sleep. Stories about ghost women, stars, angels at night. Him, an angel, a fat, naked angel hovering over the room like a joke. He was no saint, his existence was thoroughly ungodly and unpoetic. At the end of the night he always ran out of stories to tell Jacques. But then again, Jacques had no need for fairytales in his life. Fantasy is for the pitiful, he believes.
All his thoughts come together like a suffocating duvet and the air becomes thick with humidity. Emmanuel feels the sheets stick to his body, his skin slides over skin. A single drop of sweat clings from his eyelashes so that the woman’s face in front of him blurs. He wants to block her out completely, send his mind off somewhere else, block out the son and Jacques and the stars peeking through the hole on her roof all coming together to watch him.
He realizes he knows almost nothing about her, the number of her years, the kind of songs she listens to in the evening, her favorite color. She knows nothing about him either, to her, he is Emmanuel, the doctor. To her son, the angel. And what does he call himself, the adulterer, the culpable?
Stop thinking, he tells himself. He puts his mind to the sheer physicality of bodies, bones, sinew, her dark matted hair spreading over the pillow like roots of an ancient tree. With his mind shut off, he feels reduced, less than human. He lets himself go, feels like he is drowned by a deluge. Afterwards, he lies spread out like a fallen angel, too tired to feel disgusted. The dark shape beside him stirs, bringing him down into the mundane of the room from the heavens. He’s been out too long for a dinner, he thinks. He decides to bring her flowers on the way back. White roses, for betrayal, for cowardice.
He turns to the woman and calls her a waterfall, an avalanche.
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