Fiction

Husband and Wife During the Nightly News

Idra Novey
An older photo of two people sitting together
Consuelo Kanaga, Untitled. Courtesy Brooklyn Museum.

They listened to the news in the front room, their bodies as still as the mounted deer on the wall behind them. The wife kept her hands in her lap, bracing for the husband to state his opinion, after which he would expect her murmur of agreement. They stuck to this sequence as if the very beams of their house depended on it, until one evening a newscaster on the radio mocked the gasp of a woman he’d startled on the street. The husband laughed and said the wife gasped just like that. He said this newscaster was one of the funniest on the air.

Too fast for her to restrain it, a sound escaped the wife—a sound so low and guttural the husband hunched over, his hand sliding along the back of her chair.

“What was that?” he asked. The wife assured him it was just crumbs that hadn’t gone down right—crumbs from the shepherd’s pie they’d finished at supper.

The next morning, after the husband left, the wife released the guttural sound again. She bent her knees at the kitchen sink to force it from her system. If she got the sound out now, she thought perhaps her murmur of agreement would come more easily that evening.

She checked the clock. Three hours until supper began again. Four hours until they assumed their positions once more in the front room for the evening news. Her husband would give his verdict on which people were at fault for what, and then would come the pause she had long filled with a murmur of agreement.

The wife told herself it was just a matter of will, adhering to this sequence until she died.

Only she could feel it now, how withholding that guttural sound constricted her breathing. To contain the sound but not release it required more physical effort the longer she maintained her stillness in the chair. As the news continued, the effort felt as strenuous as if she’d bitten into the deer on the wall behind them, had ripped off the doe’s furred skin with her teeth.

The newscaster’s closing remarks coincided with the last strip of sunlight across the floor of the front room. Even upstairs, as she prepared for bed, the blockage remained. Beneath the weight of her blankets, she still felt it—the clot of the deer’s torn hair restricting the passage of air through her throat.

Idra Novey is the award-winning author of the novels Those Who Knew and Ways to Disappear. Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages. She teaches at Princeton University.
Originally published:
January 1, 2020

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