We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

Read an extract from The Quiet Tenant


The woman in the shed

You like to think every woman has one, and he just happens to be yours.
It’s easier this way. If no one’s free. There is no room in your world for the ones still outside. No love for the wind in their hair, no patience for the sun on their skin.
He comes at night. Unlocks the door. Drags his boots through a trail of dead leaves. Shuts the door behind him, slides the deadbolt into place.
This man: young, strong, groomed. You think back to the day you met, to that brief moment before he revealed his true nature, and here’s what you see: A man who knows his neighbors. Who always takes out the recycling on time. Who stood in the delivery room the day his child was born, a steady presence against the evils of the world. Mothers see him in line at the grocery store and shove their babies into his arms: Can you hold her for a minute, I forgot the formula, be right back.
And now he’s here. Now he’s yours.
There is an order to what you do.
He glances at you, a look that serves as an inventory. You are here. All two arms, two legs, one torso, and one head of you.
Then comes the sigh. A softening in the muscles of his back as he settles into your shared moment. He bends to adjust the electric heater or the fan, depending on the season.
You put out your hand and receive a Tupperware box. Steam rises from the lasagna, the shepherd’s pie, the tuna casserole, whatever else it might be. The food, piping hot, leaves blisters on the roof of your mouth.
He hands you water. Never in a glass. Always in a canteen. Nothing that can be broken and sharpened. The cold liquid sends electric shocks through your teeth. But you drink, because the time to drink is now. A metallic taste lingers in your mouth afterward.
He gives you the bucket, and you do what you have to do. You stopped feeling ashamed a long time ago.
He takes your waste and leaves you for a minute or so. You hear him right outside, the padding of his boots against the ground, the
spray of the hose. When he comes back, the bucket is clean, full of soapy water.
He watches as you clean yourself. In the hierarchy of your body, you are the tenant and he is the landlord. He hands you your tools: a
bar of soap, a plastic comb, a toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste.
Once a month, the anti-lice shampoo. Your body: always brewing trouble, and him, keeping it at bay. Every three weeks, he pulls the
nail clippers out of his back pocket. He waits while you snip yourself back to presentableness, then takes them back. Always, he takes them
back. You have done this for years.
You put your clothes back on. It seems pointless to you, given what follows, but this is what he’s decided. It doesn’t work, you think, if you do it yourself. He has to be the one to pull down the zippers, undo the buttons, peel off the layers.
The geography of his flesh: things you didn’t want to learn, but learned anyway. A mole on his shoulder. The trail of hair down his abdomen. His hands: the grip of his fingers. The hot pressure of his palm on your neck.
Through it all, he never looks at you. This isn’t about you. This is about all the women and all the girls. This is about him and all the
things boiling inside his head.
When it’s over, he never lingers. He’s a man in the world, with responsibilities calling out to him. A family, a household to run. Homework to check. Movies to watch. A wife to keep happy and a daughter to cradle. There are items on his to-do list beyond you and your little existence, all demanding to be crossed out.
Except tonight.
Tonight, everything changes.
Tonight is the night you see this man—this very careful man, known to take only calculated steps—violate his own rules.
He pushes himself up, palm flat on the wooden floor. His fingers are miraculously splinter-free.
He secures the belt buckle underneath his belly button, pushes the metal against the tight skin of his midsection.
“Listen,” he says.
Something sharpens, the most essential part of you rising to attention.
“You’ve been here long enough.”
You search his face. Nothing. He’s a man of few words, of muted facial expressions.
“What do you mean?” you ask.
He shrugs his fleece back on, zips it up to his chin.
“I have to move,” he says.
Again, you must ask: “What?”
A vein pulses at the base of his forehead. You have annoyed him.
“To a new house.”
He frowns. Opens his mouth as if to say something, then thinks better of it.
Not tonight.
You make sure his gaze catches yours on his way out. You want him to drink in your confusion, all the questions left unaddressed. You want him to feel the satisfaction of leaving you hanging.
Rule number one of staying alive in the shed: He always wins. For five years, you have made sure of it.