There is a potential pitfall in posting little stories like this one, and that is that readers might assume them to be something they are not. Hence, my upfront disclaimer: this story is neither an autobiographical sketch nor a theological treatise. Writers often write what they know, so parts of my story may speak of my own life, but readers should not presume to guess which parts do or do not. (Example: I’m a married woman but I don’t live in a culture where arranged marriages are the norm…etc.) While the story may seem to be allegorical, each element should not be viewed as symbolic nor representative of some doctrine. Trust me, I’m not that deep. What I wrote here is pretty much just a little story, not a theological statement in disguise.
Enough preamble and disclaimer…
“What do you want?” he asked. “What is it you really want?” Years of living with this woman had tried his patience and exasperated him, and his tone reflected his frustration.
It had been an arranged marriage — as was their custom — and he thought he had finally made peace with the fact that she was not at all the sort of wife that he would have chosen. His sense of disappointment was no longer acute nor painful, and he had eventually managed to forgive the matchmaker for tricking him into marrying a woman who was so ill-suited to his needs. In fact, as the years passed, he had not only become rather accustomed to his wife but, despite everything, had even grown to love her.
But still — this wife of his! She was so impractical, such a dreamer! From the very beginning, she had refused to accept their marriage arrangement for what it was. Sometimes he wondered if she actually believed they lived in another land, a fairy tale land in which people married for friendship and romance. It was as if she held him to an unrealistic standard, as if she expected him to act like some love-sick, desperate suitor whose only desire in life was to woo her and win her heart — or as if she wanted him to act like a bosom buddy who couldn’t get enough of her presence. He refused to stoop to any such silliness. He let her know that her romantic longings were so far beneath him as to be not even worth his consideration. After all, he was her husband and he was certainly not going to pretend otherwise, nor would he degrade himself just to humor her childish, irrational fantasies.
But lately something had changed about his wife, and it puzzled him. As much as he had resented her juvenile, clingy and incessant demands for his attention, he found it vaguely unsettling not to be so desperately needed by her. It was ironic. She had finally stopped pestering and pressuring him, stopped demanding that he treat her like royalty, stopped behaving as a spoiled child, stopped insisting that he change — she was finally acting content with their relationship — and, instead of feeling relieved and thankful, he felt insecure and unloved. Although she was not overtly rebuffing him, he couldn’t help feeling rejected.
To add to his confusion, he had to admit that she was being neither cold nor indifferent towards him. In fact, she was kinder and gentler than she had ever been. Whenever she behaved in ways that irritated him, she apologized genuinely, and somehow managed to do those things that offended him less and less. She was much more pleasant to be around. He should have been happy with these improvements in her nature, but he felt uneasy instead.
Rather than clamoring for his attention as she had for most of their marriage, she had immersed herself lately in a study of the history of their land. That was one of his fields of expertise, but — stubborn as always — she preferred to study in her own way rather than consulting him. She filled her room with pictures and artifacts; she sought after those who sang the songs and legends of their people; she seemed especially drawn to anything regarding their long ago king. She even began corresponding with far flung scholars who claimed to be companions of this king no one else they knew had met in person — this absent king who supposedly ruled their land from a throne no one had seen, this mysterious king who had promised to return someday.
In fact, she had grown rather obsessed with finding out all she could about the king. Everyone in their land acknowledged him as “the real king”, even while admitting he had become, during the many years of his absence, little more than a figurehead. Other men ruled in his place and attempted to enforce their understanding of his laws and decrees. But his wife seemed to be taking things to an almost bizarre extreme, weirdly emphasizing that she was the king’s subject, swearing her allegiance to him in odd little ceremonies of her own devising, and even going so far as to re-enact part of an ancient ritual declaring herself a lifelong slave to the king.
At first he had told himself that her troubling but amusing behavior was the latest example of her many, intense, passing interests — a fad that would quickly fade away. Then he wondered if she had gotten caught up in some bizarre infatuation. Finally he had to admit that this was different than any of her previous hobbies: it was actually changing her. She was uncharacteristically content and peaceful…yet obviously filled with longing as well. So he asked her what she wanted.
What he really hoped to hear was what she wanted from him. He wanted to be the focus of her desires, even if those desires annoyed and frustrated him, even if he had no interest in ever seeing them fulfilled. He was so desperate for a reassuring answer that he humbled himself enough to tell her, “I need you to want me.” And then he asked her to tell him, finally, her deepest longings.
“I don’t think you want to know,” she said, “because my hopes and dreams are not about you. They’re about the king.”
And then she told him.
[Stay tuned next Fiction Friday for part two.]
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