Envy: a short story by Mary Telford

A husband pays the price for attempting to tie down his wife in this tale from the collection Sins

There once was a wife who went dancing every night.

Her husband knew nothing of this for she was always asleep when he came to bed, her shoes neatly placed toe to toe.

When he awoke next morning she was still sleeping and her shoes were as they had been the night before.

The wife had pretty feet and her husband delighted in buying her shoes.


He bought her so many pairs that there was no need for the soles to be anything other than as clean and smooth as the day he gave them to her.

One day, the wife came home tired from dancing, and forgot to put her shoes neatly together.

When her husband awoke, he saw her shoes lying where she had kicked them off the night before, their soles worn through.

The friends she had danced with lost interest in her and drifted away.

The wife was lonely. She wrote letters to her friends.

When her husband came home, he found ink on her fingers.

To stop this happening again, he tied her hands together with silken thread.

The silk was so soft, it left no mark but she could no longer write. Her friends thought she had forgotten them and ceased to write to her, even at Christmas.

The wife discovered she could lift the telephone and speak to her friends.

When her husband came home, he found it still warm from being held against her cheek.

To stop this happening again, he gagged her mouth with silken thread.

It was so soft it left no mark. But she could no longer speak and her friends forgot her entirely.

Now she could speak only with her eyes.

Her eyes begged to be allowed to dance, to write, to speak to her friends.

Her husband, not wanting to meet her eyes, blindfolded her with threads of silk so soft they left no mark.

Now she could no longer move, nor speak, nor write, nor see.

A suspicion entered his mind. Was she thinking? He did not know how to chain thoughts with silken thread.

He tried to persuade her that she did not want to think, she did not need to think.

Then he tried to trick her into giving her thoughts to him.

The wife was not persuaded by his arguments, nor was she tricked into telling him her thoughts so he could make them his own.

Her thoughts were invisible, without colour or mass. They crossed the world and returned at her pleasure; no one could steal them.

With her hands, her feet and her voice stilled, with her eyes in darkness, the wife waited, thinking, “One day, I will slip from these chains.”

The years passed and she did not dance, nor write, nor speak, nor see.

When she died, people wondered at the threads of silk found wound around her body.

“No wonder she was so quiet,” they said, “No wonder she went nowhere and saw no one. How could she have borne it?”

But as she slipped from the last chain, her mind smiled and her thoughts danced.

“I have been everywhere, done everything, seen everyone. I have always been free.”

The husband, alone without his wife, could not rest.

His head was filled with her thoughts.

He could no longer find his way through the familiar places of his own mind, but found himself lost in hers.

His head was filled with her thoughts.

Her friends thronged him.

The sounds she had loved deafened him.

The sights she had loved blinded him.

He was exhausted by the mountains she had climbed, the rivers she had swum, the deserts she had crossed.

His mind was dizzy from argument, his soul convulsed with warring faiths.

Desperate, he searched for quiet and stillness. But he had no silken threads to tie his mind to certainty and his body to rest.

He mourned his wife deeply, and all who knew them agreed that they had been a perfect couple.

Written by Mary Telford and illustrated by Louise Verity, Sins is published by Lilliput Press