Lilith turned out the lamp. The light sighed out, then her husband followed. Lilith understood his quiet plea. She learned long ago to ignore it. She prayed for her children, then turned her back to him.
Lilith teetered on sleep when her husband’s voice broke the calm.
Cyrus said in the darkness, “Woman, you never show me affection. It has been what…..over a year now?”
Lilith asked, “And what have you done in that time to earn my affection?”
Cyrus sat up. The bed quaked. Lilith forced her heart to remain calm.
“I am your husband,” he said. “It is your duty to give me comfort and affection. I married you. I vowed and made pledges to you, as you did to me. I chose you out of any of the others I could have chosen. You are special to me, as I should be special to you. Even more, I have never cheated as other men cheat. And my labor provides you with the roof above our heads and the food that fills our bellies. You should be grateful, woman. You should be grateful enough to show me some tenderness and affection from time to time.”
Lilith remained poised. She didn’t move. She only spoke.
“But, have ever done more than what is absolutely necessary? Have you ever worked harder than what is necessary for us to remain as we are? Have you desired for us to live with more than our basic needs fulfilled? Have you ever worked harder so that I and our children may have the luxuries others have? Weighed against your tendency for idleness, we have always come second. And we are not so foolish as to not see it, dear husband.”
“You insult me as if I do nothing,” Cyrus defended. “You insult me as if never toil for you.”
“You only labor for us because you’re too ashamed not to. If you didn’t at least work, your vulgarity would be completely naked. This way, you at least have some meager works to hide it behind.”
Cyrus let out an ever heavier sigh.
“You never provide us with any more than what is needed to keep this family from falling apart. You do only enough to keep it upright for another season, but never enough to make it stable and sturdy enough to last a generation. You are far too much of a man inclined to the ease of temporary fixes than permanent solutions.”
“Always with the insults instead of any praise for my labors and sacrifices.”
Lilith remained calm. Here words, cold and calculated.
“I insult you for being indolent and far less considerate to your family than the majority of men that surround you. Though you may labor and sacrifice for your family as most other men do, we are not so foolish as to not understand degrees, dear husband. We can see how your sacrifices are minimal compared to those of other men who volunteer to sacrifice far more than you do for their families. It is plain to see, dear husband. And it is not the loving husband and father who wishes to turn his family away from such a bleak reality.”
“My wife and children disrespect me,” Cyrus bemoaned. “In my own home. My children do not even look at me, let alone love me as the children of most other men love them. It pains my heart to love you all as I do, yet, to receive so little in return.”
“Yes. But there is no pain in your heart for us. Your heart aches only for the affection you do not receive. For we have pains too, dear husband. Pains and longings for a better husband and father who wishes to be a better father more than one who merely whimpers about his aching heart.”
“You do not see, simple woman, how the wives and children of most men offer respect and affection to the head of the home? To the provider? To the protector?”
“Perhaps the fault is with you, dear husband, because you are unlike most other men. Perhaps the fault is yours, more so than your wife and children being unlike most other wives and children. Perhaps we were – perhaps even are – more like than unlike other wives and children. Perhaps the difference in us is our hearts have been perverted by some external force.”
“But I love you,” Cyrus said. “As much as any other man loves his wife and children.”
“Stop,” Lilith said. “Please stop. We have played this out for too many years now. And I will not have this chicanery put upon my children. I wish them to know the scoundrel you are now, so there’s no need to struggle through that understanding later. There lives will be filled with enough struggle and they do not need this added to it.”
“How dare you call me a scoundrel,” Cyrus said.
“You are a scoundrel. One of the highest order. Even now, in this very moment, your cunning reveals itself. But I am long familiar with it now, dear husband. So, sadly for you, it has lost its effect on me, just as it reveals itself to your children.”
“You call me a scoundrel when I profess my love of you and my children? I should say you are the one who is wicked.”
“Goodnight,” Lilith said.
“No,” her husband protested. “If you accuse me of being a scoundrel, you must defend the accusation.”
“I owe you nothing,” Lilith said. “And my dreary years with you have proven, if nothing else, all you seek is to put me on the defensive. Nothing I offer will be considered. All you wish is to see me wiggle and twist in defense of my accusation. That is all you desire, and I’ve grown wise enough to refuse.”
“Wicked, wicked woman,” Cyrus said.
“I will offer you one thing,” Lilith said. “Look to my brother. Look to him to see what a truly loving husband is and does. Notice the results of his actions. Look at the warmth and affection given to him by his wife and children.”
“Your brother. Always with your brother. What, I ask the heavens, does he do that earns so much of your respect?”
“Again, I will not offer a defense of his actions. I will not explain. It is all there for you to see, understand and follow easily enough, so long as you wish to. You may easily enough do as he does. Or, you may reject it. You may do for your family as he does. Or, you may reject it, then feel pity for yourself for never attaining the respect and affection he does. You can attempt to coerce us with your sadness into giving you what you want, without you ever lifting a finger to attain it for yourself, dear husband. But the coercion – the manipulation – works for a limited time. Then we grow resentful of the husband and father who would deliberately manipulate his own family as he does. Regardless of how sad you are for lacking the respect and affection of your wife and children, you will never receive it through manipulation and coercion. And the more you stubbornly hold to this tactic, the worse you predicament becomes.”
“You insult me as though I’m worthless,” Cyrus complained.
“If it may ease your slumber, then I will offer you one more thing.”
“What is it?”
“I can admit that your guile is exceptional, dear husband. As are your wits. For some are too foolish to ever understand the error of their ways. But you are not that strain of fool. You understand. And with your guile and laziness and stubbornness, you attack the problem, at least. You attack it with manipulation and self-pity rather than any genuine effort in making it better for yourself, and this is your downfall. This is what I mean by never doing more than what is absolutely necessary. You do something, but always the very least. For that, I have no respect and, therefor, cannot offer any genuine affection. But, at least you try, dear husband. At least you try. It must be disappointing receiving no reward for your efforts, since, in most cases, effort equates to reward. But yours is a perverse equation, dear husband. But, at least you try.”
“Such a wicked tongue. Such a wicked woman,” Cyrus proclaimed.
“And you are a miserable man,” Lilith said. “You are frozen in a misery of your own slothful making. Yet, you expect others to save you from the misery of your indolent doing. You wish for them to feel pity for you in your misery. And then, in their pity, to ease your pain with affection. This is all you understand of love, dear husband. What your slothful mind fails to understand is that love of self comes first. Not a narcissistic love, but a compassionate love of self. Love enough to wish to rescue yourself from the misery of your own making. You must possess enough love of self to wish to rescue yourself, as you might a drowning dog. If you do not love yourself enough to try, then nobody else can love you any more.”
Cyrus sighed again.
“I have nothing else to say, dear husband.”
Lilith closed her eyes and soon fell asleep.