What Time Is It, Darling?

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07.57. I can see the lights from the street through the closed louver shutters. Outside it is freezing cold this morning. In the cosy, dark and silent bedroom, Émilie is sleeping by my side, peacefully, like a baby. From where I am, I can only see her brown hair sticking out of the cream-colored quilt. I love watching her sleep.

07.58. I remember the day we first met. We caught sight of each other as soon as she came into the store. It was one of those bric-à-brac stores where you could find more or less anything. She wandered about the aisles for a few minutes. Then she looked straight at me, very intently. She left the store. Then she came back, looking very decisive, and came up to me. Ten minutes later we left the store, together.

07.59. We have been living together for twelve years. I have never looked at anyone else since then. I think about this relationship I have with Émilie, which is so special. We hardly speak to each other; I can spend hours doing nothing but watch her work or watch television, regularly giving me sideways glances. That look she always gives me, which is so characteristic of her, is etched forever on my memory.

08.00. It is time for her to get up. I start to sing a song to her, softly, her favourite one. She waits a few seconds, then taps me tenderly with the ends of her fingers, as she always does. She half opens her blurred eyes and looks at me. Then she turns over and goes back to sleep, disappearing under the quilt.
It is still dark outside and I know she finds it hard to get up. I leave her a little longer, ten minutes at the most.

08.10. The ten minutes are up. I sing Émilie’s favourite song again, very softly at first then a little louder to make sure she hears me, but all I get is another push and a sleepy stare before she turns over and goes back to sleep again.
Once again, I let her have ten minutes more. I am not surprised; the same thing happens every day, Monday to Friday. It is a sort of ritual we perform every morning at 08.00, accurate to the second. We have been playing this little game for years and there is no reason for it to change.

08.20. I know I can expect nothing more than another shove and another dark look but I have to do it, otherwise she would be annoyed with me. This time, she doesn’t even let me finish the first line of the song. A push, then a look, but this time she jumps out of bed and runs into the bathroom.
A few minutes later she comes back out and quickly gets dressed.

08.32. As she grabs her keys and her bag, she gives me a look of irritation. She is late. She always looks at me like that when she is late. She blames me completely, although she is also fully aware that I can do nothing about it, but I love her, just as she is.
Without a word, she runs out as if the apartment was on fire. The door slams. I hear the sound of her stiletto heels on the pavement fading as she hurries away. Suddenly the apartment is plunged into a lifeless silence.
I spend all that dreary day in the bedroom, lost in my thoughts. I am in a rotten mood. It rains all day long. I have noticed over recent weeks that Émilie has changed. I can feel it. She comes home later and later and seems preoccupied. Perhaps she is seeing someone.

21.00. Émilie did not come home for dinner, but I am beginning to get used to that. The fact that she might be seeing someone has been bothering me for several days.

Midnight. Still not back. Perhaps something has happened to her. I start to get worried. She might have had an accident; she might have been attacked on her way home. Or maybe she did not intend to come home tonight.

01.42. Suddenly I hear the sound of keys in the lock, her keys. I have heard that sound so often that I think I could recognise it among a thousand others. I was so worried. What a relief! Now, I know she is going to get undressed, as usual, and slip into bed just beside me.

But this time, she is not alone. I am almost sure I can hear a man’s voice. They are joking together and I can hear their stifled giggles. I feel as if I have been punched in the face. Suddenly I realize that I have never seen her so happy. Perhaps she doesn’t like the life she is leading. But what can I do, after all? I am already doing as much as I can.

They come into the room, without putting the light on. It is so dark that I cannot see them. They don’t notice me either. They undress each other, gently, their breath growing shorter and noisier. I stare at the scene, immobile and horrified.

“Can you do something for me, darling?” she says in a low voice. “Turn the alarm off. It’s Saturday tomorrow.”

I just have time to see a hand reach towards me... and turn me to “off”.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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Image of Herker_hermelin
Herker_hermelin · ago
It wasn't. you can't turn the cat off.
Image of Short
Short · ago
Until the last line I guessed it was a cat