By way of a wee change, I thought I’d post a piece of fiction I wrote a while back.
By the time you read this I will have gone. Left. I thought it was easier if I just went. I don’t think either of us have the stomach for those matrimonial tussles a lot of our friends have been through. You know. They start off saying it’s amicable and by the time the solicitors have got involved they are having screaming rows over who gets that picture neither of them liked very much and no one remembers where it came from. I always think that’s such a sad way to end things, don’t you?
Max, can you imagine? Us rowing over that nasty brass thing my uncle gave us when we got married. Did we ever work out what it was for? I’ve dusted and polished it often enough.
Anyhow, my leaving. I’ve had enough. I tried my very best. 25 years. You and the kids have had your slice of me and now it’s my turn.
Are you surprised? I can see you standing there running one hand through your hair and stroking your ear lobe with the other. Faster the more upset you are. Do you know that earlobe is noticeably bigger than the other one? I’ve always wondered if the stroking did that.
It hasn’t been all bad. Not at all. In fact, some of the memories are very precious.
When we met it was wonderful. I loved all those dances where we used to get dressed up and everything glittered. It was like magic. We used to stay up all night and walk home as the sun came up. Anything was possible.
Of course, I had my job then. I loved my work. I suppose it was quite unusual for woman to work in a laboratory in those days. You used to ask about what we were working on, the experiments and what we were finding out. These days it’s all old hat and computers probably do it, but back then they were breakthroughs. You said you it was good to see a girl who had some zip about her – something different to talk about. I knew you understood.
But you had something different to talk about too. All those travels. Countries I could only dream about, oh, and how I dreamed about them. The adventures you’d had getting chased through that Arabic market, meeting that man on the Caribbean island who believed he was the heir to the throne, the bulls in Pamplona, and the light glinting off the Taj Mahal. The way you spoke about them make my mouth water and my feet itch.
So we courted. They don’t call it that any longer, do they? Probably not. Still, we did. You took me to the dances, to dinner, to tea, you met my parents and I yours. It’s still as clear as day, when you took me home in your MG with the top down. I really was wearing a twin-set and pearls. Your mother actually nodded like I was a healthy new member of their beef herd. Still I got quite fond of the old stick in the end.
That was the year of the weddings. All our friends, one after the other. The hats and the frocks. And they kept asking: “Who’s next?” They all used to practice their ‘new’ names months before they were married. It’s odd. Even now I have to remind myself that I don’t have the name I grew up with.
Matrimony was all some of the girls were talking about – the venue, the Wedding Music Bands Sydney, the dresses, how many bridesmaids and where to go on honeymoon. Some of them even said they’d rather go to the Isle of Wight or Blackpool for a few days so they could have more money for their houses. You wouldn’t believe how boring it was, I promised myself I’d be different.
It was different for a while. We didn’t go to Cowes or Lytham St Anne’s, at least not the first year. Our honeymoon was wonderful. Do you remember? If I shut my eyes I can still hear the cicadas in the garden and the sea shushing up the beach. The air was so warm it was like velvet, scented velvet. We sat in that hammock looking at the Indian Ocean and making plans. Or at least I thought we were.
The change to grey was gradual, I’ll give you that. And it probably wasn’t your fault.
We came home and moved into that first house. It was quite a long trip on the bus to the lab, but I didn’t really mind. And it was nearer to your work. Obviously that made sense to everyone. Maybe I should have said something, but it did feel a bit unfair.
It didn’t really matter because it wasn’t long before I was pregnant. It seemed to be agreed that I wasn’t going back to the lab, but I don’t even remember the conversation. Though at the time I was too busy – and too tired to think about it.
Suddenly I was part of the whole other world no one told me about. I had to look after the children, keep the house tidy and organised, cook for you – and them, go to coffee mornings and toddler groups. It was as if I had been magically transported overnight to somewhere totally alien. I remember sitting there looking at these other women and wondering how they just knew all this stuff. They knew what was wrong with the kiddies who were crying, they knew how to make good cakes, how to keep your house clean with small children in it, what you served with asparagus. I was so bad at all this stuff and didn’t have a clue where you found it out.
They also knew how to make their husbands happy too. They did all this stuff and then they smiled and took them to bed. One or two whispered to me that they put it on their lists, like walking the dog, because looking at it that way made everything easier. Do you remember my attempts? You just looked at me like I’d lost my mind and said: “Maureen, sit down I’m watching the test match.”
Maybe I should have spent my time learning how to get tomato stains out of bibs and how to get soufflés to rise than studying all that chemistry. Have you any idea how inadequate – and how bored I was by all of this? Actually I know you had no idea, because I didn’t tell you. You didn’t really want to know, I knew that much.
In the beginning we did get out for some fun – the pictures, the odd dance. My mum used to come and look after the kids so we could go. You would look at me in that way that made it all worthwhile. A little bit of glitter in amongst the nappies and the baking. Then it seemed to happen less and less. You were tired, I understood your job was exhausting, then we moved into the bigger house so we didn’t have the money.
A caravan holiday would be fine – we didn’t need anything flash, you said. Do you know how much I hated those holidays, trying to keep the kids entertained when it rained and producing meals in those stupid little gas ovens? I don’t suppose you did because I never told you. “Next year,” you’d say. “Next year…” But we always went back to the caravan park.
What exactly would be wrong with a little flash anyway?
When Tom and Sarah started school, I thought I’d be able to get something back for me. I don’t know, maybe a little job or something. It was starting to feel as though the world was getting on with its business and I was stuck in this well-polished cocoon where I wasn’t very good at anything much.
But you didn’t want that. And you didn’t even tell me yourself, not properly. One Sunday when we went to your parent’s house. I used to spend the whole time stopping the children breaking any of the china or pulling the books and ornaments off the shelves. Let’s say it wasn’t child friendly. The sun was streaming through the drawing room window catching the finger marks Tom had just left.
“I hear you’re thinking about getting a job,” your dad said and laughed. Everyone else laughed too. It was like I’d suggested learning to ride a unicycle or dying my hair purple. I felt as if I hadn’t earned a job because I was so bad at what I was doing all the time.
Quietly I threw all the job adverts and application forms in the bin when we went home. I couldn’t stand you all laughing at me. After a while I was too busy anyway. I couldn’t work out how to tell those committees that I really didn’t want to help. I had to do my bit, apparently.
So I thought I’d just try my hardest and do the best I could. Not complaining. Did you notice that I got quite good at cooking and the house always looked nice? I asked about your work – nodded and made soothing noises when you told me about how how awful your new boss was. I rubbed your back and ran you baths. That was what you wanted wasn’t it?
And the children Tom and Sarah have done rather well. I’m quite proud of them, I must have got that right. And now they don’t need me any longer. They’re off achieving and exploring. I made Sarah promise never to get tied down like I was. “But I thought you were happy,” she said. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
That was just the other day when I helped her move into her new flat. She’s so excited about what life is going to give her; you can see it shining out of her. It reminds me of when she was little and it was Christmas morning.
Her move means I’m free now. I’ve taken just what I need – some clothes and a few books. The rest you can keep. I’ve got the little money my mother gave me when we got married. She said I had to keep it safe until the day I knew what it was for. Well now I know.
I’ve given you no forwarding address, no contact details. Don’t bother looking for them. I’m won’t be coming back. None of you need me any longer. I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient or embarrassing. It’s not my intention to upset or hurt you. Hopefully in time you’ll see that and, maybe, find someone else.
That’s it then Max, I hope you’ll understand and don’t stay angry with me forever.
Your loving wife
I’m divorcing you.
You probably had your suspicions but Caroline from the office and I are in love and we want to be together.
It has been going on for a while and I did try to stop things for a while, but life is just so exciting when I’m with her. We do things together that I know you’re not interested in doing.
You’ll be able to keep the house – I know you like it here. It was the least I could do.
I’ll be back on Monday with some papers for you to sign,