Seven minutes. Longer when he put it on before. If there was anything to worry about he would have kept it secret. But either way, even if he did put it on himself in the first place, he allowed himself the time to do it. Made the time to do it. Put the time aside to do it. He wanted those initials, that inscription, that memory, against his skin. I am going to ask him what the "S.L" stands for. If I know her name maybe I'll feel less upset. I will ask him later. I'll seduce him and then ask him: he is always more open after sex.
The smell is faint but it is there. The smell of gas.
I want to tell Ivan about the gas but I know what he'll do. He'll give me a soft sympathetic smile and take me by the shoulders and walk me to the place where the gas meter used to be by the front door; its shape still a dust shadow showing through the white paint. He'll guide me down the passageway and lead me in turn to the bedroom, the treatment room, the bathroom, the living room, the kitchen; there are no gas appliances in any of them. Hell tap the toe of his foot against the floor at the points where once gas pipes were hidden beneath.
I will be made to remember. I watched him remove all the gas pipes. I watched him roll back carpets, rugs and layers of lino. I watched him lift the floorboards. The copper gas pipes were there, oxidized and bright green against the hollow dark and the dust. He cut them out in sections with a small bright saw. He was methodical, laying the cut sections neatly in a blue canvas bag ready to take out. They made clean religious ceremonial-like sounds as they knocked against each other. I wanted to kneel down and line the pipes up so that at least one end of them would be flush. I wanted to ask him if he wouldn't mind cutting the sections to equal length.
Other men had come and taken out the radiators, the boiler, the gas cooker; other men had come and installed the new electric boiler, cooker and storage heaters. Ivan had come to remove the pipes. I followed him from room to room and leant in the doorways watching him. He pushed up an imaginary sleeve before any new exertion. I liked watching the muscles working in his arms and back as he sawed. I made him cups of tea. He said he never drank coffee. "Neither do I," I said. That was our first shared smile. I liked the fact that he took no sugar in his tea.
The last room he did was the bedroom. As he put the cut pipes into the bag I knelt down and straightened them so one set of ends would be flush. He carried on without saying a word. He passed no puzzled look. He didn't even give me a sarcastic smile. After he had finished cutting all the pipes and I had finished straightening them he asked me my name. "Stella," he repeated after me. He stayed that night.
Ivan saw me sniffing the air; the give-away little bobs of my head. George follows us from room to room, weaving between our legs. If I had worn the red shoes maybe I wouldn't have smelt the gas.
He is late for work. I watch him as he puts on his jacket. The jacket is blue, municipal-looking, the logo of the company he works for in blue and red stitching on the front pocket, with a larger version emblazoned across the back. The synthetic material makes crinkling and rustling sounds as he puts his arms into the sleeves.
From Yellow by Janni Visman, pages 3-15. Copyright Janni Visman 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Viking USA.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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