When my husband came home, there was something different about him.
His long service was over at last, and I had spread the kitchen table with all his favourite foods, and set the incense burning, and beaten the rug until the dust rose from it like magic smoke. And sure enough, on the thirteenth hour of the thirteenth day of the thirteenth year he’d been away, a little brass lamp appeared beside the thali plate. The lamp was scuffed and dented and ordinary. I held it between my legs and rubbed, and he slipped into my lap like butter.
‘Hullo, wife,’ he said, and kissed me.
He ate ravenously. He was smaller than I remembered, but perhaps he’d just got larger in my mind, my memories grown fat with time. His hair, which had been short, snaked down his spine in a long, dark plait. He had changed so much that I might not have known him if it hadn’t been for the birthmark, just visible above the collar of his shirt.
He helped me clear away the dishes, and he held my hands beneath the surface of the water. I felt the bones of his fingers against mine, light as little fish. His skin was smooth where it had once been calloused. I remembered the old roughness of his touch with a sudden flush of heat, like the rush of hot air into a cool house when you open the door to the street outside. We lay in bed that night like strangers, and watched the lamplight dance on the ceiling through the net above us, my own skin tingling.
We found a gentle way of life together. His newness troubled me, and at night I dreamed of chasing him through crowds of people, calling his name, the back of his head bobbing in and out of sight. But he brought home tulips, and planted vegetables in the garden that he cooked for me himself. He had been gone so long that I had to tell him stories of our old life together. And, in return, he told me of his travels, and of the people whose hands his little lamp had passed through.
‘What did they wish for?’ I asked him.
‘The wrong things. Wealth. Power. Sex.’
‘Did it make them happy?’
‘Sometimes,’ he told me, his black eyes sparkling. ‘But only by accident.’
‘And what did you wish for, when they set you free?’
He smiled, and wouldn’t tell me.
One day, he came home with a long, thin instrument. He pressed the reed against the swell of his lips, and out from the bell of it came tumbling sounds I never thought a man could make. It sounded a note in me, somewhere deep behind my stomach. A long, low note that murmured through me like I were a singing bowl; like he had struck me, here, just so.
That night, we lay where we fell. His birthmark rubbed away under my kisses and stained my lips; a deep, secret red. We matched the rhythm of our breathing, slow and musical, as I lay against the softness of his breasts. I let my fingertips follow the silver spider-lines on the curves of his hips and thighs, thinking many things that I might have asked him about the strangeness of his body. But we had come this far; it would have been awkward to bring it up.
Don’t get me wrong. I still loved my first husband. I hoped that he was happy somewhere, and if it was with another woman, I wouldn’t have begrudged it. We can’t always help whose laps we fall into.
I sealed the lamp, and now I keep it on my windowsill. Sometimes I think it rattles, but I’m sure it’s just the wind.
Abi Hynes is a drama, fiction and poetry writer based in Manchester, UK. She runs theatre and film company Faro Productions and cabaret collective First Draft. Her work has been featured in a range of print and online publications, including Litro, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, The Fable Online, Spelk Fiction and Foxhole Magazine, and she regularly performs at live literature nights around Manchester and beyond. @AbiFaro