HE STARTED CALLING me ‘Hornbill ‘ recently. Probably for a couple of months now come to think of it, about the same time he started work on the basement. I never went down, it gave me the creeps. Can you believe that? A woman of forty scared of some stairs and the dark. Well it kept him busy – isn’t that what a good wife wants?
He carted buckets of bricks through the house along with bags of cement and sand. Curiosity killed the cat didn’t it? So I let him be, traipsing dirt across the floorboards, running the cement mixer until the early hours, it just seemed he was happy, I couldn’t ruin that for him. ‘A surprise’. That was all I’d get if I asked about his secret project.
One day on the toilet, I was doing my business. Reading while going wasn’t very ladylike, but I saw the pile of magazines Barry kept in the bathroom, some years old. I could’t help myself. Flicking through I read a couple small sciencey pieces. The pictures were spectacular, all sorts of exotic animals and tropical habitats. Then I saw a title, Hornbills, Truly Devoted Partners. Nature throws up some of the weirdest things but this was extraordinary. In the paragraph it said that male hornbills imprisoned their female partners in a hollow tree trunk, patching up the entry with mud and debris so the female cannot escape. Then through a deliberately small gap, she can breathe and receive food. Animals! Whatever next?
A few days later around eight, shortly after dinner, I was sitting quietly reading in the living room when I heard Barry come in. A great big smile was spread across his face. ‘Come on Hornbill! I’ve got a surprise!’
Putting the book down I duly followed. I hesitated at the top of the stairs to the basement. ‘Come on!’ Barry said, encouragingly. The lighting wasn’t great. When I got down there all I could see was the cement making equipment and various bits of junk Barry had stashed down there over the years, but then I saw, in a corner he had built up a box shaped room. There was just enough room for a person to squeeze in. In fact I doubted my Barry could even fit. ‘Go inside!’ he said gleefully. ‘What’s in there?’ I asked..