40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS (2002) is a comedy film in which a young man attempts to abstain from sexual contact during Lent.
12/08/09 | Film

40 Days and 40 Nights

by Claudia Smith

When they were first married, that year in China, they had Peking duck every night for forty nights straight. They took pictures of each other on sculptures, in the gardens. Children would hold her hand and ask to take a picture with her, as if she were a float or a beautiful doll. By the end of the year, she was cooking. She picked out the chickens at the market. He could never bear to see. He said he’d come here for her, and they should go home. And he didn’t want to eat anything killed for his supper again.

Their daughter liked meat. It was an argument, always between them but she won this time. He said tofu would be enough and she pointed to statistics, to the vegan children she knew, she said their eyes were sunken, their bones like birds. They gnawed on bones, teasing him. He shot her the finger. “How can you do that in front of her?” His wife wanted to know. At night, they’d whisper, hissing, and the child would listen until she dreamed of snakes.

At night the daughter would curl up with them, her body pressed into the mother, a comma. Sometimes the man would end up on the floor. He stared at the ceiling. There were more arguments. “You think she doesn’t know? You think she can’t hear?” His wife hissed, then bit her bottom lip, popped her knuckles. Sex was silent, and later she’d say I love you I love you I love you. She waited for him to say something. When she was a child, her mother told her that if she prayed the same prayers every night, the repetition could sink into her, make her believe. He said he was tired.

It rained that night, thundering. Their daughter screamed. The scream went on and on. The windows shook. “Stop it from booming,” the little girl said. Her mother held her, rocking. “The sky is broken,” the girl said. “The sky is cracking. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.” Her mother said, shhh, and honey, and sweetness and all the terms of endearment she’d never said to anyone. Long after the storm had passed, she held on tight.

In the morning, the girl was laughing again. They opened the windows and the father made yogurt pancakes. They made a smiley-face out of butter, raisins, and bacon. The little girl said “I love you mommy.” The mother said, “I love you too and I love daddy.” “No you don’t”, the girl said. “You can’t love daddy! He’s just a grown up.”

The parents drank coffee and the little girl had chocolate milk. She crossed her eyes and poked her eyebrows. “Daddy,” she said, “this is how you do angry. You do this. You do angry.” She looked like her parents; her father’s plummy hair, her mother’s purple eyes. Her father sang a song about breakfast. Her mother started to cry, so she went into the kitchen and washed dishes. The dishes were cracked and mismatched. In the dining room, those two were laughing, singing about ogres, and now about flying up up and away. She thought about her own mother’s rosary, and prayer beads, and China. She reminded herself, she thought, his hand in mine, and us playing gin rummy, and kites on long strings. Back then, when they walked together down the soggy streets, she’d felt too big, a giantess in a foreign land.