‘Number Ten’ by Edna O’Brien

Number Ten by Edna O’Brien, 1976

The magic trick:

Connecting Mr. and Mrs. Reinhardt’s respective coping mechanisms in a surprising, effective way

We begin another week of Edna O’Brien stories. With her, it’s never just like looking at five separate stories. It’s like entering a different world. The stories connect and overlap. The feelings run so intense and every detail bears the weight of immense joy or overwhelming sadness. Good stuff, so let’s go.

“Number Ten” features a woman who has developed the rather unique coping strategy of sleepwalking. Her marriage is pulling apart, and so she disappears into dreams every night to find a world where things aren’t so bad. They’re often exactly as she wishes they could be in reality. So that’s cool, off the top. It’s a fascinating way to consider a woman aching for more than she has. But the real kicker is the story’s end, the way his and her escape plans are connected. And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part.

The selection:

Naturally, Mrs. Reinhardt now went to the mews house night after night, and her heart would light up as she saw the pillar of the house with its number, ten, lettered in gold edged with black. The naught was a little slanted. Sometimes she got into the brass bed and she knew it was only a question of time before Mr. Reinhardt followed her there.

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