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Authors: A S A Harrison

The Silent Wife

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PENGUIN

THE SILENT WIFE

A.S.A. HARRISON
is the author of four non-fiction books.
The Silent Wife
is her debut novel, and she was at work on a new psychological thriller when she died in 2013. Harrison was married to the visual artist John Massey and lived in Toronto.

THE SILENT WIFE

A Novel

A.S.A. Harrison

PENGUIN

an imprint of Penguin Canada

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.SA.

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Published in Canada by Penguin Canada, 2013

Simultaneously published in the United States by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (RRD)

Copyright © A.S.A. Harrison, 2013

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Manufactured in the U.S.A.

LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION

Harrison, A. S. A.

The silent wife / A.S.A. Harrison.

ISBN 978-0-14-318704-2 (pbk.)

I. Title.

PS8615.A7484S56    2013        C813'.6        C2013-902057-8

Visit the Penguin Canada website at
www.penguin.ca

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or call 1-800-810-3104, ext. 2477.

To Jonathan

Contents

Part One: Her and Him

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fiften

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighten

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty One

Twenty Two

Twenty Three

Twenty Four

Twenty Five

Twenty Six

Twenty Seven

Twenty Eight

Part Two: Her

Acknowledgments

THE SILENT WIFE

PART ONE

HER AND HIM

1

HER

It's early September. Jodi Brett is in her kitchen, making dinner. Thanks to the open plan of the condo, she has an unobstructed view through the living room to its east-facing windows and beyond to a vista of lake and sky, cast by the evening light in a uniform blue. A thinly drawn line of a darker hue, the horizon, appears very near at hand, almost touchable. She likes this delineating arc, the feeling it gives her of being encircled. The sense of containment is what she loves most about living here, in her aerie on the twenty-seventh floor.

At forty-five, Jodi still sees herself as a young woman. She does not have her eye on the future but lives very much in the moment, keeping her focus on the everyday. She assumes, without having thought about it, that things will go on indefinitely
in their imperfect yet entirely acceptable way. In other words, she is deeply unaware that her life is now peaking, that her youthful resilience—which her twenty-year marriage to Todd Gilbert has been slowly eroding—is approaching a final stage of disintegration, that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.

If you told her this she would not believe you. Murder is barely a word in her vocabulary, a concept without meaning, the subject of stories in the news having to do with people she doesn't know and will never meet. Domestic violence she finds especially implausible, that everyday friction in a family setting could escalate to such a degree. There are reasons for this incomprehension, even aside from her own habit of self-control: She is no idealist, believes in taking the bad with the good, does not pick fights, and is not easily baited.

The dog, a golden retriever with a silky blond coat, sits at her feet as she works at the cutting board. Every now and then she throws him a slice of raw carrot, which he catches in his mouth and joyfully grinds up with his molars. This vegetable toss is a long-standing predinner ritual, one that she and the dog have enjoyed from the time she brought him home as a roly-poly pup to take Todd's mind off his yearning for progeny, which sprang up, seemingly overnight, around the time he turned forty. She named the dog Freud in anticipation of the fun she could poke at his namesake, the misogynist whom she was
forced to take seriously at university. Freud passing gas, Freud eating garbage, Freud chasing his tail. The dog is endlessly good-natured and doesn't mind in the least being an object of fun.

Trimming vegetables and chopping herbs, she throws herself bodily into the work. She likes the intensity of cooking—the readiness of the gas flame, the timer marking off the minutes, the immediacy of the result. She's aware of the silence beyond the kitchen, everything rushing to the point in time when she'll hear his key in the lock, an event that she anticipates with pleasure. She can still feel that making dinner for Todd is an occasion, can still marvel at the stroke of fate that brought him into her life, a matter of rank chance that did not seem to favour a further acquaintance, much less a future of appetizing meals, lovingly prepared.

It came to pass on a rainy morning in spring. Busy with her graduate studies in psychology, waiting tables at night, overworked, exhausted, she was moving house, driving north on State Street in a rental van loaded with her household goods. As she prepared to change lanes from right to left she might have looked over her shoulder or maybe not. She found the van awkward, didn't have a feel for it, and on top of this her windows were fogged and she'd missed her turn at the last set of lights. Given these conditions she might have been distracted—a question that later came to be much discussed between them. When he clipped her driver's-side door and spun her into oncoming traffic, there was a general honking of horns and squealing of brakes, and before she could pull herself together—before she
fully realized that her van had come to a standstill and she was perfectly all right—he was screaming at her through her closed window.

“You crazy bitch. What in God's name do you think you're doing? Are you some kind of maniac? Where did you learn to drive? People like you should stay off the road. Are you going to get out of your car or are you just going to sit there like an imbecile?”

His tirade that day in the rain did not give a favourable impression, but a man who's been in a car crash is going to be irate even if it's his own fault, which in this instance it was not, so when he called a few days later to ask her to dinner, she graciously accepted.

He took her to Greektown, where they ate lamb souvlaki washed down with cold retsina. The restaurant was crowded, the tables close together, the lights bright. They found themselves shouting over the din and laughing at their failure to be heard. What conversation they could manage was pared down to succinct phrases like, “The food is good … I like it here … my windows were fogged … if it hadn't happened I would never have met you.”

She didn't go out on many bona fide dates. The men she knew from university took her for pizza and beer and counted out their money. They'd meet her at the restaurant scruffy and unshaven, still in the clothes they'd worn to class. Whereas Todd had put on a clean shirt, and he'd picked her up, and they'd driven to the restaurant together—and now he was looking after her, refilling her glass and checking on her comfort
level. Sitting across from him, she was pleased with what she saw—the way he casually took up space and his air of being in charge. She liked the homey habit he had of wiping his knife on his bread and that he put down his credit card without looking at the bill.

When they were back in his truck he drove her to his building site in Bucktown, a nineteenth-century mansion that he was reconverting—from rooming house back into single-family dwelling. Guiding her up the crumbling walk he lightly held her elbow.

“Careful now. Watch your step.”

It was a Gothic Revival eyesore of decaying brick, flaking paint, and narrow windows, with spiky gables that gave it a menacing upward thrust—a vulgar aberration on a street lined with square-built structures that were fully restored. In place of the front porch there was a ladder to be climbed, and in the entrance hall a massive chandelier lay on its side. The front room, a vaultlike space with an implausibly high ceiling, featured heaps of rubble and dangling wires.

“There used to be a wall here,” he said, gesturing. “You can see the footprint.”

She looked at the floor with its missing planks.

“When they turned it into a boardinghouse they built a lot of partitions. The way it is now, this is back to the original layout. You can really see how it's going to shape up.”

She found it hard to picture any sort of end result. It didn't help that there was no electricity, the only light a pale wash coming from the streetlamps outside. He lit a candle, dripped some
of the melting wax into a saucer, and fixed it upright. He was keen to show her around, and they carried the candle through the empty rooms—the would-be kitchen, the long-lost parlour, provisional spaces defined by walls that were down to the lath-work. Upstairs, the rooming house it used to be was more in evidence, the bedroom doors fixed with latches and the walls painted in unlikely colours. The musty smell was strong up here and the atmosphere was eerie with the old wood creaking underfoot and the candle creating ripples of light that cast the two of them as spectres on the walls and ceiling.

BOOK: The Silent Wife
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