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‘How to Pronounce Knife,’ by Souvankham Thammavongsa: An Excerpt | Press "Enter" to skip to content

‘How to Pronounce Knife,’ by Souvankham Thammavongsa: An Excerpt

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Frank drove a dark-green Jaguar. It was fancy. You never heard the engine at all, creeping down the street to pick up the school bus driver’s wife or to drop her off after work. He took good care of this car. Even in the winter, when there was snow, Frank’s car was always newly washed and polished. All year round, he kept it like this.

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When the school bus driver thought about how things used to be, he would remember what his wife used to smell like when she first started working at Coffee Time, a bit like burnt coffee beans. He had to admit to himself that she seemed happier now, not having to rely on public transit. Now she smelled of cigars. Frank’s cigars. The scent was a bit metallic and dusty. Frank probably smoked in the car. That’s how the smell got all over her like that.

The first time it happened was on a Saturday afternoon. Frank came over. He rode up in his dark-green Jaguar and parked it in their driveway as if he lived there now. The school bus driver thought it was odd for Frank to stop by on a weekend, when his wife didn’t have to be at work. She greeted him at the door, invited him in. The school bus driver was watching television in the living room, but they did not join him.

His wife said they had to talk about work. “Very boring,” she said.

They went into the bedroom. The lock clicked into place.

He wondered what they were doing, if they were naked together. If so, how they kept it all so quiet. He didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

“Why don’t you want me to have any friends!” his wife said when he asked her about what happened in the bedroom with Frank. He hated arguments. He would do anything to avoid them. He had thought of forgetting this whole thing, but he didn’t want to be seen as spineless or, worse, not caring. Other times, when he tried to protest, to confront them, Frank would step in, his face red and sweaty, the white patches of his hair damp and rumpled, and say, “Be cool about this.”

Sometimes he was certain Frank was mocking him, but it was just too awful to think about. How could he be sure, and to whom could he bring this up? His wife would just say he was jealous of their friendship, and accuse him again of not letting her have any friends. He didn’t want to seem like a possessive, jealous husband, even if that’s how he was feeling.


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