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The Starveling

When it started, long before the woman, he lived in one room. He did not hope for improved circumstances. This was where he belonged, single window, shower, hotplate, a squat refrigerator parked in the bathroom, a makeshift closet for scant possessions. There is a kind of uneventfulness that resembles meditation. One morning he sat drinking coffee and staring into space when the lamp that extended from the wall rustled into flame. Faulty wiring, he thought calmly, and put out his cigarette. He watched the flames rise, the lampshade begin to bubble and melt. The memory ended here.

Now, decades later, he sat watching another woman, the one he lived with. She was at the kitchen sink, washing her cereal bowl, using a soapy bare hand to scour the edges. They were divorced now, after five or six years of marriage, still sharing an apartment, hers, a third-floor walk-up, sufficient space, sort of, tiny barking dog next door.

She was still lean, Flory, and a little lopsided, the soft brownish-blonde tones only now beginning to fade from her hair. One of her brassieres hung from the doorknob on the closet. He looked at it, wondering how long it had been there. It was a life that had slowly grown around them, unfailingly familiar, and there was nothing much to see that had not been seen in previous hours, days, weeks and months. The brassiere on the doorknob was a matter of months, he thought.

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