Mary Foxe came by the other day — the last person on earth I was expecting to see. I'd have tidied up if I'd known she was coming. I'd have combed my hair. I'd have shaved. At least I was wearing a suit; I strive for a sense of professionalism. I was sitting in my study, writing badly, just making words on the page, waiting for something good to come through, some sentence I could keep. It was taking longer that day than it usually did, but I didn't mind. The windows were open. I was sort of listening to something by Glazunov; there's a symphony of his you can't listen to with the windows closed, you just can't. Well, I guess you could, but you'd get agitated and run at the walls. Maybe that's just me.
My wife was upstairs. Looking at magazines or painting or something, who knows what Daphne does. Hobbies. The symphony in my study was as loud as it could be, but that was nothing new, and she's never complained about all the noise. She doesn't complain about anything I do; she is physically unable to. That's because I fi xed her early. I told her in heartfelt tones that one of the reasons I love her is because she never complains. So now of course she doesn't dare complain.
Anyway, I'd left the study door open, and Mary slipped in. Without looking up, I smiled gently and murmured, "Hello, honey ..." I thought she was Daphne. I hadn't seen her in a while, and Daphne was the only other person in the house, as far as I was aware. When she didn't answer, I looked up.
Mary Foxe approached my desk with her hand stuck out. She wanted to shake hands. Shake hands! My longabsent muse saunters in for a handshake — I threw my telephone at her. I snatched it off the desk and the socket spat out the wire that connected it to the wall and I hurled the thing. She dodged it neatly. The phone landed on the floor beside my wastepaper can and jangled for a few seconds. I guess it was a halfhearted throw.
"Your temper," Mary said.
"What's it been — six, seven years?" I asked.
She drew up a chair from a corner of the room, picked up my globe, and sat opposite me, spinning oceans around and around on her lap. I watched her and I couldn't think straight. It's the way she moves, the way she looks at you. I guess her English accent helps, too.
"Seven years," she agreed. Then she asked me how I'd been. Real casual, like she already knew how I'd answer.
"Same as always — in love with you, Mary," I told her. I wished to hell I wouldn't keep telling her that. I don't think it's even true. But whenever she's around I feel as if I should give it a try. I mean, it would be interesting if she believed me.
"Really?" she asked.
"Really. You're the only girl for me."
"The only girl for you," she said, and laughed at the ceiling.
"Go ahead and laugh — hurt my feelings ... what do you care," I said mournfully, enjoying myself.
"Oh, your feelings ... well. Let's go further in, Mr. Fox.
Would you love me if I were your husband and you were my wife?"
"This is dumb."
"Would you, though?"
"Well, yes, I could see that working out."
"Would you love me if ... we were both men?"
"Uh ... I guess so."
"If we were both women?"
"If I were a witch?"
"You're enchanting enough as it is."
"If you were my mother?"
"No more," I said. "I'm crazy about you, okay?"
"Oh, you don't love me," Mary said. She undid the collar of her dress and bared her neck. "You love that," she said.
From Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. Copyright 2011 by Helen Oyeyemi. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Hardcover.