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  • She Cannot Work
  • Ashleigh Young (bio)

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She cannot work when the man is in the house. She is working on a project that she has been working on for a long time, and ever since she began living with the man the project has been moving slowly and she is no longer sure that she will finish it. In the evenings, after they watch the TV show they both like, she and the man lie on the couch together reading or looking at their computers, and sometimes she will try, secretly, to work on her project, but, after a few minutes, the man will hear her hesitant typing and look up from his book to ask her what she is doing. She can’t tell him about the project because once, when she felt tired of his questions about it, she told him she had stopped working on it. Too many things had changed since she began all those years ago, she said, so it no longer made sense to continue, and instead she would spend her spare time on her studies. But the truth is that she has continued.

All this time, she has continued, even though it is true, she supposes, that it does not make sense to continue.

Every week she looks forward to Sunday afternoon because that is when the man will go for a long ride on his bicycle. She will have the house to herself then, and she will be able to work.

Nobody will creep up on her, nobody will call out to her, nobody will want to read aloud to her passages from a book or a newspaper article. She will be alone with her work and only the sounds of shuffling and scraping upstairs, where a woman and her elderly mother live. On a few unexpected occasions the man has stayed out late during the week, and she has hurried into her work at these times, but nervously, because she never knows when the man will arrive home and ask what she is doing. He has a certain way of arriving, throwing the door open as though popping the cork on a bottle, and instantly the house is reorganized because now he is at its center, whereas before she and her work were at the center, and she was traveling through the center of the work, moving slowly, very slowly toward the time when the project will be finished.

One late Sunday morning she is jumpy, [End Page 38] thinking about her afternoon and how much progress she might make on her project.

She has a feeling that today, if she works diligently, she might come close to finishing. She watches the man preparing for his ride: filling his backpack with food, spare tire tubes, a bottle of water. He charges his cell phone in case he has an accident and needs to call for help. When they were first living together, she would sometimes daydream that the man would have a terrible accident and not come back for a few days, and in that time she would be able to finish her project. The daydream makes her feel very ashamed now, because the man is kind to her, and he does not like to leave her alone. She no longer allows herself the daydream. But even though she cares for him, and even though she knows he will go eventually and she will be alone this afternoon, she grows more and more anxious for him to leave.

She goes to the spare bedroom and sits at the desk. Over and over she reads a page of her notebook where she has written a list of tasks. The thought of finishing her project floods her with happiness. She can hear the man moving around the house, the sounds of zippers on his backpack, the click of fasteners. He will be leaving in a few minutes. She hears the toilet flushing. She hears him in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards. Soon she will hear his footsteps in the hallway. He will come into the room to kiss her goodbye, and he might stay...


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pp. 38-40
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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