Every day when she comes home from work, Lucy undresses in the foyer of the home she shares with her husband. They have been married for four years. They’ve loved each other longer. She removes everything she’s wearing. She sets her earrings, bracelet, necklace on the small stand where they keep their keys, mail, a beautiful vase she and her husband bought while on their honeymoon in Venice. Lucy gets on her hands and knees and crawls to the walk-in closet in their bedroom. The carpets are expensive, plush. She crawls into the open cage, pulls the cage door shut with her teeth, and she waits. When her husband comes home from work and sees the neatly folded pile of clothes waiting by the front door, he smiles. He fixes himself a drink, never scotch, or grabs a beer. Sometimes he loosens his tie and watches the news or SportsCenter. He likes to be well informed about a number of subjects. Sometimes he brings Lucy flowers, calla lilies, and he arranges them without filler in a crystal vase he sets in the center of the kitchen table because Lucy once told him that flowers are at their most beautiful when they are unadorned. Lucy listens. Lucy waits. That’s all Lucy needs to do. She likes having a finite number of options available to her. If she falls asleep, her husband lightly kicks the cage with the tip of his expensive leather shoe and she instantly gets on her hands and knees, waits for him to open the cage. He gives her a set of instructions for the evening, mostly directing her in how he would like her to attend to his needs, his appetites. When he is satisfied, Lucy returns to her cage where she sleeps until morning. Sometimes her husband joins her but mostly he doesn’t because Lucy is wild in her sleep, prone to biting and scratching. Lucy has a lot of fight. Lucy comes home from work. Lucy undresses in the foyer. Lucy gets on her hands and knees and crawls to her cage. Lucy listens. Lucy waits. Her husband tells her, “Lucy, you are not an animal. Lucy, I love you.” Lucy nods. Lucy kisses her husband so he will stop talking, traces his teeth with her tongue, his tongue with her teeth. She knows better; she is an animal. When her husband fucks her, he mounts Lucy like an animal. He holds on to her hips or presses his fingers into her spine. He bites her shoulder and kisses the back of her neck. Sometimes, he kisses behind her knees or massages her inner thighs. When he is inside her, Lucy tries not to think. She pretends he is the only man who has ever known her like this. She makes noises like an animal. So does he. They are both animals. What we have is mostly honest, Lucy thinks. Lucy comes home from work. Lucy undresses in the foyer. Lucy gets on her hands and knees and crawls to her cage. Lucy listens. Lucy waits. Her cage is a wire crate, large enough for her to stand on her hands and knees without her back touching the top of the cage. There is a soft pallet on the floor and a bottle of water in one corner. Lucy hides a book beneath the pallet. She is an animal but she is civilized. She too likes to stay well informed. Lucy knows every inch of her cage. Lucy knows everything that can possibly happen to her in her cage and in the small world she has created beyond her cage. Lucy goes to work. Lucy dresses in short skirts and tight shirts and tailored jackets and high heels, the kind with the bottoms painted red. Lucy sits at her desk in a cubicle, which is another kind of cage. Lucy listens to her coworkers gossip but doesn’t share much about herself. Lucy works. Lucy eats a ham and cheese sandwich cut in half diagonally. Lucy eats an apple. Lucy eats a granola bar. Lucy drinks chai from the coffee shop in the lobby of the building where she works. Her job is boring. She works with boring people who keep pictures of loved ones on their desks, always posed, often in coordinated outfits. On her desk, Lucy has a picture of her empty cage. The picture is a reminder. Her coworkers ask Lucy about her cage and she tells them the truth. She says, “That is my home.” Lucy’s coworkers think she is a strange girl. Lucy doesn’t mind what people think about her so long as they don’t get her wrong. Lucy comes home from work. Lucy undresses in the foyer. Lucy gets on her hands and knees and crawls to her cage. Lucy listens. Lucy waits. Her husband sits on the floor next to the cage and talks to Lucy. He tells her about his day but he makes it quick. When they first met, Lucy said, “Let’s never bore each other,” and they didn’t. Lucy and her husband are good at keeping promises to each other. Mostly he talks about a man he works with who is an incompetent idiot and how he wishes he didn’t have to work so he could spend all day waiting for Lucy to come home and sit in her cage. He doesn’t ask Lucy about her day. Lucy likes that he doesn’t ask about her day. Lucy made these rules. When he’s done talking about his day, they talk about all the interesting things in the world. Lucy sits up, crouching forward so her head doesn’t hit the top of her cage. She talks animatedly, often using her hands. She smiles a lot and even though he is sometimes lonely, Lucy’s husband can live with the loneliness to be able to share these moments with his wife. Every night before bed, Lucy’s husband holds his hand out to his wife, palm upturned. He says, “Come to bed, love.” Lucy always wants to say yes but she never does. The word trembles on her lower lip. She closes her cage door. Her husband reaches into the cage with his fingers and Lucy kisses his fingertips. She slides her fingers through his and wishes she could give him more and then she says, “It’s getting late,” and he goes to bed alone, leaving the closet door open, just in case Lucy changes her mind. Lucy never changes her mind. She lies in her cage for hours, staring into the darkness. Lucy wears a red dress and red pumps and red lipstick. She fidgets with her wedding ring and her engagement ring, a big square-cut diamond mounted on a platinum band. Lucy loves diamonds. Her husband wears jeans, a blazer, shirt and tie. Before they get out of the car, she straightens his tie for him, adjusts the Windsor knot. They hold hands and walk along the stone path flanked by a well-manicured lawn to the front door of her parents’ house. Lucy rings the bell. Lucy’s mother smiles widely as she welcomes Lucy into her home. They kiss once on each cheek. The air is heavy with their perfume. Lucy is her mother’s only child. Lucy’s mother takes her daughter’s coat. Lucy’s father is in his study. Her mother says, “You should go in and say hello.” Lucy declines. They eat dinner at a table that is far too big for so few people. There is fine china, heavy silver. A maid in a gray polyester dress and white apron serves soup, a beet salad, roasted duck, fingerling potatoes. Two different wines are served. For dessert, they eat a chiffon pie. Lucy’s father sits at the head of the table, Lucy’s mother at the other end. Lucy sits on one side across from her husband who smiles at her every so often, gently rubs his shoe against hers. Lucy grips her silverware very tightly. Lucy watches her father eat. He has no couth. He takes large mouthfuls of food and chews them loudly. He grunts. Beads of sweat cover his forehead. His lips are shiny and a few breadcrumbs cling to his lower lip. Lucy’s father talks and talks and talks and talks. He talks with his mouth full. He asks Lucy a vague, pointless question about her future and she says, “I have no idea.” Her father slams his fist against the table, points his fork at Lucy’s husband, and says, “You should keep your wife in line.” Her father takes a long sip of wine. He laughs. He points his fork at his own wife, says, “I could give you some pointers. I sure keep this one in line.” Lucy’s mother looks down. Lucy’s mother blushes. Lucy’s mother grips the handle of her fine sterling silver knife, studies her hands. She is a fine-boned woman. Lucy’s husband cuts into his duck, still very warm, and clear liquid oozes from the flesh. Her husband says, “My wife is not an animal. I don’t need to keep her in line.” The room feels too big. It is Sunday. Lucy does not feel rested. She dabs at the corners of her mouth with a linen napkin and politely excuses herself. Her mother watches as Lucy leaves the room, envies her daughter’s freedom. Lucy sits on a small bench beneath the staircase. She grips the bench with her hands and leans forward and tries to breathe. The rich food sours in her stomach. When her mother and father and husband finish eating, they all retire to a sitting room. Lucy sits next to her husband, her legs crossed, her hands folded in her lap. Lucy’s father sits in a high-backed chair and stares vacantly into the distance, drinking a liberal quantity of scotch. Lucy’s mother discusses her garden, an elaborate, mazed affair where she spends most of her time hiding from herself. The sitting room feels bigger than the dining room. All that space overwhelms, makes Lucy dizzy. Lucy excuses herself again, goes to the bathroom, splashes her face with cold water, tries to understand the number of Sundays between now and when she will no longer feel this obligation. There are some things so big they are impossible to understand. Lucy waits as long as she can. When she emerges from the bathroom, her father is standing in the narrow hallway. There is a certain look on his face. Lucy reaches for the doorknob behind her but her hands are damp and the doorknob won’t turn. Lucy can smell the scotch on her father’s breath. The scene is familiar; she is bored by the banality of it. He traces her collarbone with one of his fat fingers; the fingernail has been bitten to the quick. His lips are still shiny. He slides his hand lower, along the curve of a breast, her ribcage. Lucy stands still. He slides his hand lower. Lucy closes her eyes. Lucy grabs her father’s wrist. Lucy says, “No,” very very quietly. Her father hears, like a dog. He is an animal. He leans in until his lips are brushing her ear. His lips are hot. He licks her neck. Lucy slides along the wall and away from him, his saliva drying on her skin. She exhales loudly and smoothes her hair and smoothes her dress. She does not falter in her steps because she knows her father is watching. Her mother is still talking about her garden, the new rose she is trying to breed. Lucy sits next to her husband. She holds her husband’s hand with both hands, with both hands now. She holds her husband’s hand so tightly. His wedding ring is cool and strong. Her husband turns to Lucy, leans in to kiss her softly, on the lips. Her chest tightens. Her father returns to his chair, his scotch. Lucy slides closer to her husband, rests her head against his arm. Lucy writes something with her finger on the backside of her husband’s hand. He puts his arm around her, tries to make the room feel smaller for her. Lucy’s husband clenches his jaw but bites his tongue. Lucy loves her mother. Lucy loves her mother dearly.
Roxane Gay lives and writes in the Midwest. This story first appeared in Avery Anthology 7.