My needle loops round and round. Piercing the cotton, it breaks into a rhythm; in and out, in and out, over and under, over and under. My arms, my wrists, my hands weave a tranquil wave, pulsing water in a pale sea of cotton, and I am buried beneath it. My silent sea sits in the corner of the room. I sit and I listen, but I do not speak.
The men sit in their own circle. They drink down whiskey and puff on cigars, funnelling smoke through their lips like chimneys. I wonder what it would be like to sit a cigar in my mouth too, and let it turn to ash between my fingertips. I say nothing.
“Duty is what binds the household together—protects the family. With no duty, there would be no society,” One man says.
“We must maintain the world we have. Duty is to be passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son, always. Tradition and ritual, that is what we must focus on. You see, without it, there would be no goodness in the world,” Another man mutters.
The other men mumble some similar response. They echo around the circle like this for some time, until their glasses are empty and the cigars are burnt down to cinders. I keep on with my needle.
The ritual is finished. The men leave with their typical farewells, and depart in their carriages. They leave behind them only a thick, unwavering silence, and the mechanical clopping of horses; now gone.
I do not raise my head. I sit silent.
He is still there, and I realise he is waiting for me. My hand moves quicker and quicker, the thread begins to fall into a shakier line, the stitches not so tiny and smooth. The wave has broken. The tide has gone out.
That night he does his duty, and I do mine. All the while I am silent, drifting on the sea’s wave, letting it pull me under the water. That is what my duty is.
I try to think of nothing.