Peter Ho Davies is the author of the novel The Welsh Girl, and the story collections The Ugliest House in the World: Stories and Equal Love. His work has appeared in Harpers, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, and been selected for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Award and Best American Short Stories. One of Granta's "Best of Young British Novelists," he teaches in the MFA Program of the University of Michigan.

Bride of the Future

posted Oct 16, 2012

He was more fun than you might imagine, at least at the start. There's something awfully attractive after all about a man who's so sure of himself. "He knows where he's going," my mother nodded after she met him. His first words to me were, "I've met the woman I'm going to wed," and who wouldn't fall for that at thirteen? Especially living in an age where it was more likely your father would come home and say, "I've just met the paterfamilias of the house you'll wed."

Madame de Nostradame, I whispered to myself.

Ooh, and he was that good in bed - no, really. It must have been one of those sex and death things. Very intense. He told me on our wedding day that he could see the future - "I don't want any secrets between us" - but I didn't believe him. When I came - the first time ever - he seemed as surprised as me. "I didn't see that coming," he said and I burst out laughing. But it was true, he discovered, he couldn't see our future, or later the future of our boys. Love, it seemed, blinkered his foresight. Not that he wouldn't have wanted to divine the boys' fates - it used to drive him mad not knowing.

Not that he was easy to live with. Talk about gloomy. That youthful confidence soon curdled. Pestilence and famine, plague and whatnot, morning, noon and night. And a know-it-all, to boot. Just try telling him you think Henry VIII has finally found the one. Or how hale the current Pope seems. He would give a little shake of the head, and look down that long beard of his as if the future were nestled in it, and not that day's bread crumbs. I took to looking up into the sky of a morning and saying, "I predict...clouds," in just his prophesying voice, but he wasn't amused.

Of course, at first it was handy. He made a lot of money wagering, until people in our town stopped betting against him. They stopped playing games altogether actually - they couldn't see the point - and in fact there was a temptation around him to just give up, sit at home and let come what might.

"Just as I have foreseen," he would say, and I'd be like, "Yeah, yeah."

"I knew you'd say that," he'd snap and I'd go, "Oooh! Spooky!"

The truth, I tried to tell him, is that all married couples can see the future. It looks exactly like the present: wonderful on your wedding day, dull as dirt as the years pass. You start out as Madame de Nostredame, but you end up as Missus Nostradamus.

More and more, then, he kept to himself, scratching away at his papers, as if writing were an itch, the future buzzing about him like fleas (like flies, I'd say if I was as morbid as some).

And he used to write verses to me - to my lips, not the apocalypse. That's what he wanted to be when I met him - a poet. He was that romantic. Oh, it was all June, moon, spoon, before it was fire, mire, dire. Dante was his idol. Homer. Virgil. He wanted to live forever just like them. Maybe that's what started it. His lust for posterity, his dread of mortality. Maybe there were just more rhymes - ire, pyre, liar - for his end of days doggerel.

"What business is it of yours, anyway?" I'd ask him. It made him so sad sometimes, all those eruptions and earthquakes, epidemics and pandemics. "They happen to other people; people not even born yet! What about us? Me and the boys?"

Perhaps it made him feel immortal to imagine everyone else's death.

And then as the years went by, and I reached that time in life when the future ceases to flow from between a woman's legs, it seemed he did know what was going to happen to me. Sometimes it seemed like thoughtfulness. He'd bring home a packet of pepper just when I ran out, or a fruit tart just as I was craving one. "What's gotten into you?" I asked coyly. What I would have given to surprise him like that. But another time he came home with tools and a board just after a shelf fell down, and all I wanted to know was why he couldn't have fixed it before my best Delft was smashed. "We can't change our destiny." He held up a hand. "Don't bother. I already know you don't understand."

It's one thing to have the man you love know you better than anyone else. It's another when he knows you better than you know yourself.

We started sleeping in seperate beds. His and hearse, I joked, and clapped my hands to my mouth as if I could stuff the words back in. Finally, the florin dropped. "You've seen my death, ain't you?" He nodded, and it was as if he had delivered the blow himself, because what he was really saying was that he no longer loved me. "I've seen the end of everything," he whispered, as if in consolation. But it all seemed so far off to me. The end of the world? Distant as the moon and the stars. But not to him, I saw. I'd be dead and long forgot by then, but he expected to be remembered. He knew the future and the future would know him, so long as there was death and devastation. Except in the end even his name would die along with everything else.

I watched his hand as he stood there, stroking his beard, brushing all the way down it to the tangled end, and for once, I could see the future - its grey, tapering expanse - as he did.