When Elwin reached the door to his apartment, he deliberately slowed down his footsteps. The light was on inside. He listened at the door but heard nothing. This was not a good sign, so he poked his head through the small dirty window into the multipurpose room. He gasped audibly for staring straight back at him through the window was the sour face of his face wife, Holda. He had been seen; there was no point in him trying to avoid this any longer, he had to step into his apartment and face her. The thorn in his leg ached and his leg started shivering uncontrollably. Once he was inside the apartment he closed the door silently while looking down on the ground before him: avoiding all eye contact with Holda as she glared venomously at him. His leg was shaking uncontrollably as it did when he was afraid.
Holda was sitting in one of the plain chairs next to the table. She was a large woman, large enough that her frame from shoulders to hips was an almost perfect square. Her flesh seemed to bunch up near her joints and when ruffled he would pull her head back creating a second chin. Her hair was dark and curly, while her small dark eyes blazed with malignant intensity. She was thorned in her throat so most of her face was clear. However, several black filaments reached over the top of her chin terminating in her lower lip. She was pinching her thin lips as she watched Elwin walk in half dragging his shaking leg.
“Elwin,” she began, “I can’t believe that you did this to me again. Another week; another disappointment. Today is Friday, everyone finished work early today, I finished work early and I was here scrubbing and cleaning myself. Preparing myself for you. Yet again you locked yourself in your study playing with your rubbish, and then slipped away. Well, have you got an explanation for why you run away from me?”
Elwin opened his mouth to say something, but before he could she started a whole new rant about how it was essential that they produce a child, because if she did not get pregnant in the next five months they would lose the triple rations card. Married couples were allowed to have a special rations card that allowed them to buy enough food for three people instead of just the allocation for two people. Holda insisted that this was to help her stay healthy so she could conceive. With the couples ration card she purchased the maximum amount of food each week, but ate two thirds of it herself. In fact, she ate more than that because Elwin had been eating less since Holda had arrived.
Elwin never got to say more than a few words while Holda berated him about his failure as a man. She attacked his lack of libido, his lack of interest in her, his lack of desire to help perpetuate the Delphorian race, and finally accused him of homosexuality.
Elwin slumped onto the floor, the leg with the thorn crumping underneath him. However, it was the thorn in his heart that was giving him the most trouble. He could feel his heart throbbing inside his chest. From the floor Holda appeared like a towering giant who could squash him at any moment. He didn’t care though. He thought that maybe if she did then he would just die and that would be it. He’d never consider thinking about killing himself, that would be contract breach, a shameful way to die. However, the thought sometimes crossed his mind of what it would be like to be hit by a train, to fall off a roof, to get stuck in a mechanical press, or to just be strangled to death by his wife.
Eventually Holda finished her litany of attacks against her husband as he lay broken and shaking on the floor. She stormed out of the room and into the bedroom. Elwin waited on the floor staring into space. All he could focus on was the gnawing pain from the three thorns. At last a thought came to his mind. That dog… the dog that removed a thorn and lived. Why had it lived? The memory seemed to give him some strength. He pulled himself up and left the apartment.
A few minutes later he was knocking on another apartment door. The sound of furniture being moved from behind the door could be heard. The door opened a little and a pair of eyes regarded him.
“Elwin? What brings you here at this time? You’re looking terrible, what happened to you?”
A few minutes later Elwin was sitting at the table in another apartment, one that looked identical to his own, and a man with a thorn that was wedged into the side of his nose was preparing him some tea.
“Elwin my man, I can tell from the way your left leg is shaking that you’re just had your Friday night tongue lashing from the misses. You have to report that woman. She’s a terrible wife. They will expel her and find you a new one.”
“Erian,” muttered Elwin pathetically, “I would but they charge you $25,000 penalty for a broken marriage contract. Mine only has another five months before it’s up. I can last that long and maybe the next wife will be a better one than Holda. Failure to impregnate a wife is only a $10,000 penalty. That’s much easier to live with.”
“Still, it isn’t fair to punish you,” said Erian compassionately.
“This isn’t what I came here to talk to you about though. I was outside of the city today, visiting Rebekah-”
“Did you get a new book?” interrupted Erian.
“No, not this week, anyway, Rebekah is not important. What is important is that on the way home I saw a dog pull a thorn out of his foot and he lived.”
Erian gaped and sat down to clutch his cup of tea with both hands.
“Yes, it was in the water, it ripped a thorn from his foot, and it lived. What if that’s how we can remove a thorn? What if we just need to be underwater when it happens? Maybe the water washes away the black bile?”
Erian looked upward as though he was in a trance, “and the water washed away his sins.”