‘The Mark of Cain’ by Roxane Gay

“My husband is not a kind man and with him, I am not a good person.” This is how the short story, The Mark of Cain, by the American writer Roxane Gay, begins. It is one of twenty-one stories in her debut collection Difficult Women. This one in particular is an attention-grabbing tale of a woman who is married to a man who has an identical twin brother. “It is nearly impossible to tell Caleb and Jacob apart. They have the same physique, the same haircut, the same mannerisms. Neither of them snores.” The two brothers keep switching places with each other, so that she is effectively married to two different people. “I married Caleb but I prefer Jacob’s company. When Jacob and I make love, there is a sorrowful kindness to his touch. I never worry about being left asunder.” One man is tender and loving, the other, the complete opposite, and the main character never knows who she is going to get that day. It’s a beautiful, well-crafted story that pulses with female rage and desire, and offers no easy platitudes about how these Jekyll and Hyde situations will ever be resolved: “As the doctor glides the sonogram wand across the lower round of my belly, she turns a knob on the machine. ‘Do you hear that?’ she asks. The room is silent but for the identical flutters of two heartbeats.”

First published in Elle, Jaunary 2017, and available to read online here. Collected in Difficult Women, Grove Atlantic/Corsair, 2017

‘Open Marriage’ by Roxane Gay

Generally I prefer Roxane Gay’s non-fiction work but there are some absolute corkers in her short story collection Difficult Women. ‘Open Marriage’ is one of the shortest pieces. The premise is simple; a husband suggests to his wife that they have an open marriage. They discuss the idea while she eats an out-of-date yoghurt. The final two lines are killer.

From Difficult Women. Available to read here