There once was a man whose wife treated him like a servant. The man had in fact been her employee before they got married, he had been her chauffeur. Back then the man had been slim and quite handsome, his face had had clear features, a bit like cut from wood.
The woman- his wife now- had thought he looked quite manly, and that this was at least something.
She owned a company and had been married before. The company was a chocolate manufacturing company she had inherited from her father. She had two children from that first marriage, a boy and a girl. The man did not know what had become of her husband, he was never talked about by the woman or the children. The man did never ask or think about it and when he did, he presumed the husband had died. Maybe he had been much older than the woman.
They rode in the car together every day. He drove the woman to her office in the company building and to meetings. Sometimes he drove her to a bigger city further away where she stayed in a hotel for a conference. The man had a room, too, but on a different floor.
The man also drove the children without their mother and he kept a hand- puppet in the glove box for them. It was a Punch with a red pointy hat with a little bell at the pointy end, a big red pointy nose and a golden and blue shirt. He had brown hair and blue eyes painted onto his head.
The man was good at playing Punch. He could make very odd but funny noises without moving his lips much. The children always laughed. When they were small, and he picked them up from school, he sometimes slid down the seat when the school gates opened for the children to come out and held the Punch up, so he could be seen from the window, as if it had been him who had been driving the car.
One evening when he drove her home after a board meeting of her company the woman had stayed in the passenger seat after he had stopped the car in front of her house. Then she had turned her face towards him. She had touched her hair that was backcombed into a beehive- her style was a bit dated, as she had spent her youth at a time when beehives had been in fashion. She was older than the man.
She had looked him up and down and then asked him to come into the house with her for a nightcap. It had rather been an order than a question. In the first years of their marriage the man had joked about this sometimes and thought about it fondly.
The woman had never laughed about it with him and she did not think fondly of that evening.
Now the years had passed, and the woman’s children were almost ready to leave the house.
The man had become fatter and fatter and now he looked like a giant in a long black coat he was always wearing. His face had lost its contours and his hands were paws with fingers like sausages.
He and his wife had never had other children.
“I have children” the wife had said.
Otherwise she did not talk to her husband much at all. At the breakfast table she read the paper and barely looked at him.
She slept in another bedroom and not in the bed they had shared in the first years of their marriage.
But what made the man really angry – but which he never showed- was how she treated him when other people were around. She still ordered him around like a servant.
He had to ask her for pocket money.
One day the woman had told him he was driving around too much and spending her money, and she would not give him anymore for the rest of the week.
When he wanted to protest, she just walked out of the room and closed the door. She didn’t bang the door, and she didn’t run out of the room. She was cold and collected as it was her way. The man stood in the middle of the room and felt nauseous with anger.
He looked through the door of the adjacent bathroom. There was the sink at the other side of the room and a glass shelf above it. Sometimes when he washed his shaving foam off in that sink, and brought his face very low towards the tap, the man peered upwards through the glass. From below he could see all the things that lay on the shelf. The bottom of the stand of his shaving brush, made from badger hair. The bottom of a mug. A single razor blade. A toothbrush. Some white stains like dried saltwater.
He sometimes felt like a little boy doing this and he thought of children. Other children. It felt strange, being a man and a child at the same time, but there was more. There was also the razor blade. That was also in his mind. It was a bit like in a dream, these moments. The running water from the tap, ice-cold against the man’s cheeks, but in a way he didn’t really feel. The child’s view from below, the sun coming in from the window high up on the other wall. And the children. Little girls, the man thought, they were probably little girls. And then he would usually feel a pain in his cheek from the cold water, or his wife would call that he should not waste the water she was paying for.
That razor blade lay on the glass shelf, attached to a shaving knife and now the man was thinking about it. He had been thinking about it even before the moment when outside a cloud moved and suddenly a sunbeam fell into the bathroom and just caught the tip of its blade.
The man walked straight into the bathroom and grabbed the knife. Then he jogged out to the car.
He drove around in the car and the shaving knife and the Punch hand-puppet were lying in the glove box beside him.
It was not the first time the man had taken the knife. The Punch puppet was still in the glove box from the time the children of his wife had been smaller, and recently the man had taken it out sometimes when he stopped the car and sat in it in a car park or beside a small road that was leading into the forest. He had put his big fat hand in it and wiggled its arms like he used to. He had nodded its head with the red pointed cap and the little bell had jingled. And he had made the very odd but funny noises. And he had thought of children. Girl children. And his wife. And he had had that feeling as if in a dream.
He drove out of the city and onto a country road. He had taken that road before. There was a petrol station behind one of the binds, and on the other side of the road, a bit further from it and almost hidden from the trees, was a small house. A doll house. The man had seen a girl playing in the tiny house with a doll.
And he had also seen her hopping and skipping across the meadow and disappearing into the forest.
He passed the doll house and there was no girl.
The man parked the car at the edge of the forest. He got out and followed a little path into the forest and up a hill. Then he climbed down the slope on the other side. There was a stream at its edge, with rocks in it. The girl often used the rocks to cross the water. Now she had knelt down beside a boulder and was singing to herself. She played a game with a princess and a fox. Sometimes she played a game with a wizard. She looked in the other direction.
When she turned around she saw the man beside a tree. He was tall and broad, like a giant. The girl had to put her head back to see his face. His black coat was like a cloak.
The man smiled. The girl’s eyes widened but then she smiled, too.
The man held out one arm in front of his body, the edge of his coat in his hand. His coat was now like a curtain. Above the curtain appeared Punch. The Punch made very odd but funny noises.
“Are you a wizard?” whispered the girl.