THE ROOM WAS WARM and clean, the curtains drawn, the two table lamps alight – hers and the one by the empty chair opposite. On the sideboard behind her, two tall glasses, soda water, whiskey. Fresh ice cubes in the Thermos bucket.
Mary Maloney was waiting for her husband to come home from work. Now and again she would glance1
up at the clock, but without anxiety, merely2
to please herself with the thought that each minute gone by made it nearer the time when he would come. There was a slow smiling air about her, and about everything she did. [...]
‘Sit down,’ he said. ‘Just for a minute, sit down.’ It wasn’t till then that she began to get frightened.
‘Go on,’ he said. ‘Sit down.’ She lowered herself back slowly into the chair, watching him all the time with those large, bewildered3
eyes. He had finished the second drink and was staring4
down into the glass, frowning.
‘Listen, he said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’ ‘What is it, darling? What’s the matter?’. He had become absolutely motionless, and he kept his head down so that the light from the lamp beside him fell across the upper part of his face, leaving the chin and mouth in shadow. She noticed there was a little muscle moving near the corner of his left eye.
‘This is going to be a bit of a shock to you, I’m afraid’, he said. ‘But I’ve thought about it a good deal and I’ve decided the only thing to do is tell you right away. I hope you won’t blame me too much.’ And he told her. It didn’t take long, four or five minutes at most, and she sat very still through it all, watching him with a kind of
horror as he went further and further away from her with each word.
‘So there it is,’ he added. ‘ And I know it’s kind of a bad time to be telling you, but there simply wasn’t any other way. Of course I’ll give you money and see you’re looked after. But there needn’t really be any fuss6
. I hope not anyway. It wouldn’t be very good for my job.’ Her first instinct was not to believe any of it, to reject it all. It occurred to her that perhaps he hadn’t even spoken, that she herself had imagined the whole thing. Maybe, if she went about her business and acted as though7
she hadn’t been listening, then later, when she sort of woke up again, she might find none of it had ever happened.