Spaces of Silence | Lydia Trethewey

Honeymoon, sour broth.

Spaces Of Slience

By Lydia Trethewey

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


‘It’s got ginger, good for the altitude sickness,’ said the hotel attendant, handing Susie and Nathan each a cup of steaming tea.

‘Xie xie,’ Susie replied, inclining her head in an awkward bow.

The attendant flashed an unreadable smile and returned to the front desk.

‘It’s xie xie,’ said Nathan, inhaling deeply from his cup ‘you have to really lean into the “y” sound.’

Susie bristled. She pulled uncomfortably at the ‘Wife since 2015’ shirt she’d been wearing the last twenty-seven hours and searched her bag for a bottle of water. Sweat pooled under her arms, and her hair seemed to have absorbed the chemical smells of kerosene and cleaning product from the airplane.

‘Anyway,’ Nathan continued ‘not everyone in Shangri-La speaks Mandarin. Many of them speak Tibetan.’

His gaze swept admiringly over the old prints that adorned the walls and the vast pots of water in which flowers and candles floated. Susie popped a Panadol in her mouth and washed it down with a gulp of ginger tea.

Up in the room the newlyweds faced each other over the gulf of an enormous bed. The silence was taut with expectation. Eventually Nathan admitted to tiredness, pecked her on the lips and pulled the blanket over his shoulders. He rolled on his side, throwing up a new wall of silence through which Susie’s worries and misgivings wormed themselves.

The monastery halls all looked alike as Susie wandered aimlessly through. Vast vermillion beams held up the ceiling, and the walls were covered in gaudily painted scenes she assumed were from Buddhist mythology. She studied the giant gold statues and attempted to meditate, but found her unfocused mind just slipped back to the disappointment of the previous night. Soon she was scripting imaginary arguments with Nathan, who was still outside taking endless photographs and spending an achingly long time witnessing every architectural detail. Small irritants that had nestled into Susie’s brain became amplified in the hushed atmosphere of the prayer-rooms.

Standing outside the monastery, insistent hawkers and gambolling black pigs bore witness as Susie failed to untangle herself from a million mundane problems. Travel had promised she’d leave everything behind and become one with the beautiful landscape, and her inability to do so was a source of great frustration.

Finally Nathan emerged, blinking in the bright sunlight and beaming. He announced that one of the local tour-guides had told him about a great place to have lunch.
‘None of that tourist crap for us,’ he smiled, hailing a taxi.

A drained muteness washed over Susie as the headache crept back behind her eyes.

The menus were all in characters Nathan was unable to read, but it didn’t curb his enthusiasm. After much hand waving and pointing to phrases in the guide book, the waiter disappeared and returned with a vast bubbling pot. Something black and smooth bobbed to the surface.

‘Authentic,’ Nathan said, removing his chopsticks from the plastic packaging.

Susie pursed her lips and said nothing.

She poked with trepidation at the bits of meat floating in the pot. The ghostly white head of a chicken bobbed to the surface. She struggled to hold back a wave of nausea. The rest of the soup was joints around which paper-thin slithers of meat clung greasily. Nathan revelled in catching tiny bits of bone before he swallowed them, but Susie ended up just sipping the watery broth, paranoid about choking. Scooped out into a bowl, the rubbery black things proved to be two clawed feet.

Susie felt the quivers in her stomach as they walked back to the hotel. The sweat began to push through her skin, and she burst into the toilet as soon as Nathan had the door open. He offered advice meekly through the thin plaster wall.

When she emerged, hollow and on the verge of tears, Nathan was sitting anxiously on the edge of the bed.

‘Are you ok?’

She growled. He approached cautiously and helped her lie down on the mattress.

A bottle of water had been procured from the lobby.

As she lay there uncomfortably Nathan stroked her hair.

‘It’s not been that great for you yet has it?’ he said ‘you’ve had a tough day.’

She went to disagree, but her brain was too tired and his eyes too concerned.

‘I didn’t think you’d noticed.’

His eyes widened in hurt surprise.

‘Of course I noticed. You always get tired on the first day of a trip and I thought it best to just let you be. Maybe tomorrow you’ll feel more rested.’

He leaned down and kissed her vomit stained lips.

‘It’s like I said,’ he added ‘in sickness and in health.’

The two embraced in a silence through which words became unnecessary.

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