‘He’s gone and done it again,” Josephine muttered to herself under her breath. “Why must he do this every night? All writers are insane,” she decided, stopping in front of the bathroom door. As best as she could recall, Arthur had always been a very odd and eccentric man. The two met twelve years ago at a lecture concerning German literature at the university. They were both in their senior year, but while Arthur had taken a degree in comparative literature, Josephine was studying mathematics. The two would often trade jabs at their opposing interests, and while Josephine rarely took the facetious remarks seriously, her husband seemed deeply wounded each time she insulted what he called ‘the classics’. Sitting at the very back of the lecture hall, Arthur had been wearing a very stylish black suit and red tie – easily more formally dressed than any other member of the audience. His shoes were planted on the back of the unoccupied seat in front of him, and a slim leather notebook, opened about halfway through the pages, rested on his knees. Even before the lecture even began, he was fast at work scribbling away. As Josephine approached, this rather comical looking man caught her eye. She had absolutely no interest whatsoever in German literature, and had only entered the hall to warm herself and shield her from the harsh elements stemming both from boredom and the blizzard outside. In fact, Josephine had always viewed herself as a superior to the arts students, so attending an artsy lecture was bound to produce a few laughs.
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“Is this seat taken?” she had asked Arthur, who paid no attention. Later, on their second date, he would tell her that he was working on a novella – a “breathtaking work,” he had called it – and hated having his writing interrupted. At this point she knew nothing of it, and when he didn’t answer she gave him a playful poke with her finger. “Hey, Shakespeare, you awake?” He looked up coldly.
“Do you mind? I am busy and I don’t need your incessant pratter. No, no one is sitting beside me, and, if you agree to be quiet, by all means take a seat. But right now I can’t be bothered.”
His outright rudeness amused Josephine, and she couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay you highness, don’t blow a gasket,” she said with a smile, sitting down beside him. To this he said nothing, keeping his eyes and attention on the pages in front of him. Once the lecture started, however, he was all ears. Arthur was so transfixed on the speaker that he didn’t even notice the pretty girl to his left mentally undressing him with her eyes.
“He was cute,” Josephine thought with a smile. “Still sort of is.”
She would learn that Arthur was a writer, “and not an amateur either.” Even when they were dating (after much prodding and poking in the lecture hall, she had given Arthur her phone number), she came second to his writing. Even now, locking himself in the washroom with his pads of paper, did Arthur put his writing first.
She gave a light knock on the door. “Arthur,” she said, her face so close to it that her nose crazed the wood. “Arthur, it’s supper time. You don’t want the food to get cold, do you? You’ve been in here nearly three hours, ever since I came home from work, and Lord knows how long before that you first locked yourself in there. Now, stop being childish and come out.” There was no answer.
It was a habit, Josephine learned, that Arthur had picked up in college. All of his inspirations came to him when he was one the toilet, or in the shower, or shaving. Goodness knows how long he had spent in the stingy washroom of his apartment when his first novel had been published. They had been dating then, but not living together. The night that he completed the manuscript, he took a cab to Josephine’s house and banged on the door.
“Arthur, it’s late!” she said, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. It was indeed late: three o’clock in the morning. “Can I come in?” he asked her, already taking a step through the doorway. He was already taking off his coat when she muttered, “by all means.”
He was so ecstatic, his big brown eyes the size of baseballs. “Look at this, Josephine! Just look. I have finished it! My first novel! You must sit down and read it right this instant,” he said, thrusting the hefty notebook into her hands. “Read it. You’ll love it, I know you will!”
“I’m too tired right now, Arthur,” she had said, putting the large volume on the coffee table. “Maybe in the morning.”
“But this – this cannot wait! It must be read now!” He insisted, squirming uncomfortably in his seat. “At least read the first chapter.” And so she did. It was rather morose, though she dared not tell him that. The first chapter was nearly thirty pages, but Arthur sat patiently, giggling from time to time, until she had finished. He looked at her, in want of some sort of reaction. She nodded her head and smiled. He took her into his arms with playful growl, fire in his eyes and passion in his heart, and embraced her. Such outbursts of naked emotion were very rare for Arthur, and so Josephine made a habit of smiling whenever she read his manuscripts.
“Arthur!” she called out again, banging harder on the bathroom door. “Arthur open the door! I’m worried, please open up. At least answer me.”
Since his first novel, he had written several more, and published works in magazine and journals on a regular basis. With the royalties he made from his writing, and the money Josephine pulled in as a mathematics teacher at a nearby junior high school, they had a comfortable, quiet life. And yet he still insisted on locking himself in the washroom each night for hours on end! At first his quirks amused Josephine. Later, she tolerated them. Now, years later, she grew increasingly agitated each time he confined himself.
“Arthur, this cannot be healthy!” She wiggled the doorknob, hoping that the lock would accidentally give and save her the trouble and guilt of unlocking the door on purpose. It didn’t budge. “Arthur! If you insist on staying quiet and not opening this door, I will be forced to unlock it myself!”
Only once before had she unlocked the bathroom door without his permission. She found him on the bathmat, curled up into a ball, his notebook and pen beside him. “Arthur?” she had asked, unsure of what to make of situation. He looked up at her in sheer hatred and screamed, “Get out! Get Out!” His voice was shrill and piercing, and Josephine ran out of the bathroom with tears in her eyes. Now, with that memory clear in her mind, she was hesitant.
“Maybe he’s testing me,” she thought to herself, letting go of the doorknob. “Maybe he wants to see if he can trust me.” The thought wasn’t new to her; she was often tempted to open the bathroom door whenever Arthur locked himself in, but always restrained herself on this belief. “Yes, I will leave him be,” she finally decided, turning and walking away. As she did so, she heard a deafening scream coming from behind. Arthur’s scream.
Quickly she removed the bathroom key from her housecoat pocket and fumbled to get it into the keyhole. Nearly dropping it, she finally jimmied it into doorknob and turned it. The sight on the other side of the door sucked the breath out of her lungs, and she was unable to speak, unable to break. There, lying on the floor in a pool of his own urine, was her husband Arthur.
She suppressed the urge to vomit and ran to him. “Arthur!” she cried, shaking his shoulders. “Wake up! Oh, Arthur!” His chest was still rising and falling – a good sign. She checked his pulse. He was alive. Quickly she ran to their room and called the ambulance.
The paramedics found the front door unlocked, and followed the sobs upstairs and to the washroom. Seeing the men in uniform, she ran to them. “Help him! Help my Arthur!” They pushed past her and inspected the scene. Soon, a stretched was brought in and Arthur was carried off on it. Josephine was instructed to follow in her car to the nearest hospital, where she would wait for an update on her husband’s condition in the emergency ward’s waiting room.
After throwing some clothes on, she drove furiously to the St. Andrew’s Hospital. Once there, she informed the receptionist who she was here to see, and took her seat. Her mind raced in all direction as she tried to deduce the nature of her husband’s sudden collapse. He had been complaining about headaches, but nothing too serious. Then again, he had been spending so much time in the washroom that it was hard to make any reasonable hypothesis. Finally, a small, pot bellied doctor came through the emergency rooms doors, a grim expression hiding behind a very long jet-black beard.
“Mrs. Geddes,” he said in a thick French accent. He extended his hand to her, and she took it hastily. “Is my husband alright, doctor? How is he? What has happened to him?” she said, her questions bombarding the poor doctor. “Please, say something!”
“Mrs. Geddes,” he said, squeezing her hand. “Your husband is alive, though not well. We have discovered what people in my profession call a ‘stone’ in his brain. This is why he had his collapse, and this is why he has been complaining of the headaches you described to the paramedics. You may come see him, but I must warn you, he is rather delusional.”
Josephine nodded her head in understanding, and eagerly pursued the doctor down the hall. They came to a stop in front of a large metal door.
“Josephine! Josephine!” he called out to her from the bed. He was strapped down, the only movement possible being the turning of his head. “Don’t let them do it! Please, don’t let them do it!”
“Oh, Arthur!” she said, running to his bedside. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m perfectly fine. These yahoos are the ones with the problems. Especially that fat one over there.” He nodded at the doctor, who was making notes on a small pad in his hand. “Don’t let them do it! Please, if you have any mercy you won’t let them do it!”
‘What’s he talking about, doctor?” Josephine asked, turning to face the doctor. “What are you going to do with him? I demand to know this instant what is going on!”
“Mrs. Geddes, please calm yourself. All will be explained if you just follow me into the other room, where we can speak in private. Your husband will be fine; he is in the care of the hospital’s finest nurses. If you’ll follow me,” he said, walking towards the door. She did follow him, her husband’s screams nearly bringing tears to her eyes.
When the door had been closed, the doctor turned to her. “As you can see, he is not sound. Not yet, at any rate.”
“Why is he so angry, doctor? What is he talking about?”
“Well, as I was saying before, your husband has developed a stone in his brain. It is fairly large, and it grows every minute it is left untreated. It will require a very long and risky surgery, but in all likelihood he can be cured very soon. In his current state of mind, he is not fit to agree to anything. As his spouse, you hold his life in your hands. With your compliance, I’d like to begin the operation as soon as possible.”
Josephine did not know what to say. Arthur’s health was the most important thing to consider, and after some internal deliberation with her conscience she reluctantly agreed, and the doctor placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “You have made the right choice, Mrs. Geddes.”
The operation was very long and stressful, but in the end, when Arthur opened his eyes, Josephine breathed a sigh of relief. The doctor gave permission for Arthur to go home, and said that it was a success. With Arthur, very fatigued from the painkillers, lying in the backseat, Josephine glanced from time to time away from the road and onto the jar on the car seat beside her. The doctor had given her the stone as a keepsake, sealed tightly in a glass jar. It was a large black thing, nearly the size of a tennis ball. She placed it on top of a bookshelf in their living room – “Such an odd decoration”, she thought to herself.
In time, everything returned to normal. Josephine no longer worried when she came home and found her husband in the washroom, and Arthur no longer complained about headaches. All was well until one day Arthur brought his latest manuscript to the table following dinner and asked her to go over it.
“Go on, Josephine. Read it, or at least the first chapter,” he said with a wink. She took the papers and began reading. Or trying to, since there was absolutely no coherence to be found in the entire stack of papers. Words were thrown together haphazardly, and sometimes were replaced by small squiggles that carried no particular meaning. “Do you like it?”
Joseph could not nod her head, let alone smile. A five year old could have made a better novel. Arthur, seeing her expression, snatched the papers from her hand and threw them to the ground. “Fuck!” was his last word, and he stormed out of the room.
Arthur began to spend more and more time in the washroom, even more than before. After each session he would produce a manuscript and show it to Josephine. Each manuscript was somehow worse than the last, and, seeing his wife’s reaction to the rubbish, Arthur would always storm back to the washroom, leaving a slew of profanity in his wake.
A very apparent tension began pervading. Josephine and Arthur rarely spoke. Arthur spent more time in the washroom than he did out. He rarely ate, and he would fill notebook after notebook with babble. This all continued for months, until one day it all came to a head.
Josephine tossed her car keys on the kitchen table, hungry for a snack. Instead of finding a plate full of cookies to tide her over until dinner, she found a stack of papers sitting on the counter. It was Arthur’s latest work. With a sigh, she opened it and began reading. To her surprise, it was brilliant! It even surpassed Arthur’s previous work. She was so delighted that she squealed and jumped up and down like a schoolgirl receiving her first A on a test.
“Oh, Arthur! Arthur!” she cooed, passing from room to room. “Wonderful! Brilliant! You are back. I love you so much, and I was getting worried that you’d never - ” She stopped in front of the bathroom door. It was opened a crack. Pushing the door open, she exclaimed, “A marvelous piece of writing!”
There was Arthur, lying on the floor, his eyes unblinking, looking up at her. A queer smile was stretched across his face, and a pen was gripped tightly between his fingers. A very large lump – nearly the size of a tennis ball – protruded from his neck. She sat down next to her dead husband, and brought his face to her chest. For some reason she could not cry.
"Imperious, choleric, irascible, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change."
From his Last Will & Testament, Marquis de Sade