The cycle

It was her teeth that really scared him. Those sharp teeth set against the backdrop of her fat face. The teeth that lived inside the small, vicious mouth that wouldn’t stop talking and demanding.

He woke from his nightmare with her thick arm slung possessively across his chest. The arm crushed his ribs and he gasped for breath. It was time to get up for work. If he could get out from under his wife.

Thomas shoved his elbow into Vivienne’s side. Her red eyes opened and she glared at him.

“Why are you still in bed? Shouldn’t you be on your way to the station already?”

“I wasn’t feeling so well, so I thought about staying at home, but I suppose I can go.”

Vivienne sat up in bed and yawned. Her stringy black hair hung in her eyes. Thomas briefly wondered when last she had washed it.

“Yeah Tommy, that’s no excuse for not going to work. We’ve talked about this before. Make my breakfast before you go.”

Thomas grunted and went into the bathroom to get dressed.

 

The train shuddered out of the station ten minutes late. It was a grey, misty morning and the inside of the carriage smelled like old sweat and sour feet. The passengers leaning against the windows seemed half-dead. One was lying in his seat with his neck twisted at an odd angle and his mouth open. A fly buzzed around his head and entered his open mouth. The part of the man’s face that he could see looked grey.

As the train stumbled through Kalk Bay, it seemed to Thomas that he hadn’t seen a sunny day in a very long time. His days and nights were always the same. A bad night’s sleep next to his grotesque wife and then the dreary journey to work.

He worked in an uninspiring building in Cape Town, not too far from the station. For a moment he struggled to remember what he did there. He only knew Vivienne wanted him to go so that she could get his money at the end of the month.

His life was becoming a vague dream. He gave and Vivienne took. These days he had to give more and more to satisfy her. Vivienne was becoming grotesque while he became gaunt.

He remembered more about his job when he got off at Cape Town station. Computer programmer –codes danced in his mind. How strange that he did the work every day, but it seemed so unreal. The other train passengers jostled him and he thought they were going to walk through him. Suddenly he felt paper light and unimportant.

At work he took out a laptop from his bag and connected it to several cables. He went to get coffee and a woman started talking to him. He smiled and nodded as she spoke. She appeared to be under the impression that she knew him quite well.

His other colleagues left him alone and he drifted through the day, not doing much of anything. In the late afternoon he packed up his laptop and undertook his second grey journey of the day, home to Vivienne.

This time the train was packed and he had to stand. The train got fuller and he gasped as people pressed in on him from both sides.

The train was still going at full speed when the doors opened and the crowd started pushing a man towards the door. His screams echoed as he was flung from the train.

Thomas screamed and pushed against the crowd, but nobody seemed to hear or see him. Their journey continued without further interruptions.
He fell on his knees on the platform when he got out at Fish Hoek station, vomiting on the tracks. Vivienne was there, waving at him. She didn’t seem to notice his condition or probably just didn’t care. He groaned inwardly, wondering what she wanted. Usually she made him walk all the way back to Sun Valley, even if it was raining and storming.

She hugged him and he squirmed in her firm grasp. “I’m so happy to see you darling. I’ve been looking forward to sushi all day.”

Then he remembered. Pay day. Vivienne was going to be unhappy when she found out that he forgot to transfer his salary to her account immediately. Best to pacify her with a bottle of white wine with her sushi.

 

They only got home late that night, after having spent probably half of his salary to sate Vivienne’s lust for platefuls of sushi and wine.

He fervently hoped that she didn’t want anything else from him, but she fell on her back and started snoring immediately, leaving very little space for him on the bed. Thomas took a blanket and stumbled to the couch, thankful that she had consumed two bottles of wine.

After rolling around, he fell into a kind of murky dream state. Vivienne was there, standing over him with a knife. Only it wasn’t exactly Vivienne, but a much younger, more beautiful woman.

The young Vivienne pressed the knife against his fat belly and started pulling money from his bulging pockets. In the dream he was a fat old man who had a lot to give financially.

After she emptied his pockets, the young woman slipped the knife into his stomach and there was a sudden, sharp pain.

He died and then he found himself in another dream. This time he was a woman, thin and haggard looking. Vivienne was a man, strong and hairy, that demanded sexual favours and never ending housework. He had to constantly pick up after the man Vivienne; otherwise she would hit him with the back of her heavy hand.

It was still her teeth that really scared him. Those sharp little teeth against the backdrop of her fat face. Those teeth that lived in the small, vicious mouth that wouldn’t stop talking and demanding.

Thomas awoke with a start to find Vivienne’s fat arm slung possessively across his chest. How did he get here? He could swear he fell asleep on the couch last night, leaving Vivienne to snore alone in their bed. Why did the dream seem so familiar?

Vivienne opened her red eyes and glared at him.

“Why are you still in bed? Shouldn’t you be on your way to the station already?”

He couldn’t believe he was about to challenge Vivienne. He would pay dearly for this.

“Viv, why am I in bed? I fell asleep on the couch last night. ”

Vivienne sat up and yawned. She smiled her ominous smile.

“You were drunk lover boy. You’ve been in bed with me the entire night. You’ve been muttering in your sleep. Don’t let me find out you’ve been screwing around on me. ”

Thomas grunted and went into the bathroom to get dressed. He was surprised that Vivienne didn’t come after him.

 

The train shuddered out of the station fifteen minutes late. It was a dark, rainy morning and the carriage smelled like vomit. The train was very full and the standing passengers seemed like zombies, swaying mindlessly in the icy breeze that came in through the broken windows.

One man in particular caught his eye. He was sitting at an odd angle with his head hanging out the window. Thomas thought he might be nauseous, but after fifteen minutes he started wondering if the man in fact still had a head. He admonished himself for the thought. He’d become so gloomy and ghoulish these days.

As the train crawled through Muizenberg, it occurred to him that he hadn’t seen a sunny day for some time. His mind whispered to him that his days and nights were always the same. A bad night’s sleep next to his grotesque wife and then the dreary journey to work.

It was as if a small animal had started gnawing at the darkness in his mind, exposing some dark, stinking secret. Thomas left the town-bound train at False Bay and waited for the next train back to Fish Hoek.
It was clear that Vivienne hadn’t expected him back at nine in the morning. From her hasty scurrying about, Thomas saw that she had thought him to be at work, drinking his tasteless fix of morning coffee.

He threw his backpack on the floor at her feet, not caring that his laptop made a crunching sound.

“Vivienne, what have you done to me?” His voice was high-pitched, nervous. He hated himself for it. For too long she had been taking from him, until only a dry husk with no self-respect remained.

Vivienne smiled her sly smile. “What do you mean, love? Why aren’t you at work?”

This made him so angry that he screamed at her, all nervousness gone from his voice.

“I’ve started to remember things, strange things.”

She laughed at him, maybe knowing at last that her game was up. “You’ve always been weak and so easy to control.”

He stepped forward and grabbed her by her shoulders. She didn’t resist. Tears were streaming down his face.

“Fuck, Vivienne. What have you done?”

She placed her hand against his head and made him see. At last the picture of his miserable existence was becoming clear to him.

He was dead and had been for a very long time. Vivienne only kept him anchored to the mortal coil so that he could provide for her.

He gasped and shivered under her hand as she showed him how she had harassed him through many incarnations. She had wanted someone she could squeeze dry and had gotten her claws into him hundreds of years ago when they had first met as a young farm boy and a wild country witch.

Finally Thomas fell away from her, clutching his throat.

Vivienne grinned. “See I’ve been protecting you all this time. You died fifteen years ago in a horrible accident, flung from the train by your fellow passengers. After the funeral you hung around the house, very sad and unwilling to move on. So I harnessed your spirit and put you to work. Made you forget everything. You could only go to work and back home. It would take too much of my power to let you do anything else.”

He felt anger gripping the back of his neck and he saw red. “You lying bitch. You just wanted me to give, give and give, like I always do.”

Vivienne laughed. “Settle down, Thomas. You’ll never get away from me. At least this way you still have some semblance of a life.”

Thomas moved too fast for her to react. She had become old and slow from relying on him. There had been no reason for her to stay alert.

The heavy laptop slammed down on her forehead and shattered her skull. She fell backwards and hit the floor like a bag of cement.

Thomas shivered. Who would have thought that a ghost could still be so strong? What would happen to him now? Would he simply disappear, like grains of sand blown away by the wind? Overwhelmed and tired, he went to the bed and fell asleep immediately, not looking back at Vivienne’s corpse.
It was his teeth that really scared her. Those long, sharp teeth set against the backdrop of his gaunt, grey face. Those teeth lived inside the mouth with the loose lips that wouldn’t stop flapping and demanding.

Vivienne awoke from her nightmare with his skinny arm wrapped around her. The arm was surprisingly strong and she gasped for breath. It was time to get up for work, if she could get her husband to release her.

As she got up to go to the bathroom, Vivienne thought that her days and nights were always the same. A bad night’s sleep next to her horrid husband and then the dreary train journey to work.

She sighed as Thomas stirred and coughed behind her.

http://www.sawriterscollege.co.za/SAWC+2014+Short+Story+Competition.html