Stella Duffy. “Payment in kind”

I just finished this short story and thinking about it I am surprised it affected me as much as it does.  The premise is simple: husband kills himself and the wife learns about his gambling addiction and huge debts afterward.  The widow decides, after being pushed into financial ruin by those same creditors, to seek revenge on all of those creditors.  What is most telling about the story though is the writing.  Duffy really has some great turns of phrase and her description of an all-encompassing grief is he most powerful and accurate accounting I have ever seen.

As she learns about her husband’s former life there is this little gem:

That was something else I had not known.  His weakness.  His soft, pathetic fear.  Scared to tell me, scared to face he facts, scared to acknowledge the mess he had made of it all, scared to look at himself and his truths.  Chicken.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  Becasue he saw a truck coming. (38)

Let us aleave aside for a moment that the truck really is an object worthy of avoiding, but this passage is really well done.  The punctuation drives home the varied fears, even though it is just one fear (which Duffy arrives at the end of the story) and the insight is valuable.  I can see some of myself in this description and I do not think I ever before realized some of these fears and how damaging they can be to a relationship.  There are always unsaid things, but the question is not about what is unsaid but why they are so.

The writing in this story is great, but I also love the implicit criticism of capitalism within.  The widow admits and never shifts all the blame off of her husband, but to think that he had no accomplices is ridiculous, and this is what the story sets out to demonstrate.  It is not, for Duffy, even that capitalism needs to be dissolved, but rather reformed/humanized.

Imagine if someone, anyone, just once, had been kind to him.  Had told him gently to take care.  Had not threatened him with reveltation and recriminiation.  Had helped him find a way back. (43)

And the story ends.  Well.  Predictably well.  About half way through the reader has a moment of “wait a minute, there’s a problem here.”  Duffy sees the problem and resolves it the only it can be.  There were some other ways out, and maybe they could have been explored to their unfulfilling end, but the way Duffy does it is nice.

Duffy, Stella.  (2007).  Payment in kind.  In M. Szereto, ed. (2007).  Getting even: Revenge stories (35-43).  London: Serpent’s Tail.

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