International Writers Magazine: Married Life
morning after my forty-fifth birthday I closed the front door
firmly behind me and walked off into the future to live with the
man Id dreamt about for the previous twenty-nine years.
Do you know that kind of longing? That hollow feeling within?
Waking with tears on your cheek? A sense of loss so strong that
all you desire is to sleep and be with your lover again?
I first began to
dream of him when I was sixteen. The dreams were full of laughter and
sunshine. We traveled strange lands together, wandered souks and explored
ancient ruins, drank Ouzo in little cafes, ate madelaines for breakfast,
danced and made love in perfect accord, our bodies moving together seamlessly,
as if we were one.
The first time I actually saw him in the flesh I didnt recognize
him at all. For a start he was thirteen years younger than me!
My husband and I had been invited to neighbours for drinks,
to meet a friend of theirs who was moving to Newcastle with his girlfriend.
Perhaps it was the way he stood so silently that stirred a memory. The
way he was appraising the room full of noisy and sociable people. Maybe
it was the way he seemed assured without appearing aloof. Maybe it was
the gut certainty that this woman was the wrong woman for him. She would
break his heart.
I stopped dreaming of him that night. I found instead
he occupied my waking thoughts.
I didnt see him again for two years. I was washing dishes in the
cellar kitchen when his legs strolled past the window. I instantly recognized
the gait and craned my neck to see them for as long as I could as he
made his way up the street.
I washed up more than I had ever done before. I began to handwash my
clothes, began to keep the sink area scrupulously clean: any excuse
to be there when his legs walked past. I took the opportunity to question
my neighbour. Yes, she had broken his heart. She had left with his best
friend, leaving him broke and in debt. He had returned to lodge with
my neighbours, to work off his debts by managing the local hotel.
My frantic life continued regardless of the sick
feeling of longing I felt when ever I saw him.
Juggling a busy and important job in Local Government, guiding my three
children, one in the sixth form, one at University and one, the eldest,
traveling the world and pandering to every whim of my charming but feckless
My husband and I had a busy social life. Our home was
always full of people, people who came to chat, to
eat, sometimes to stay for weeks. My husband was a
splendid raconteur. He would stand in front of the
open fire, drink in one hand, spliff in the other and
regale his audience with tales of his misspent youth.
How he had got the better of Howard Marks (true), how
he had managed The Clash (lie) He had been there at
the Battle of the Beanfield and had gone with
Michael Eaves to the first Glastonbury.
I felt like Martha from the story of Mary and Martha in
the Bible. My husband was Mary, loquacious, handsome, dilettante.
I was Martha working hard behind the scenes, making sure everyone was
cared for. I longed for some recognition of what I did. Recognition
from my husband, preferably, but a thankyou from anyone
would have helped.
He joined our circle, would often call in, late at night on his way
home from work, share a spliff with my husband and chat until the early
hours. I would go to bed at a decent hour and try to sleep,
hoping that he was thinking of me and feeling the same longing that
We would spend a little time together sometimes, getting to know each
other. I was flattered that he listened to me, and loved his calm approach
to life. Unlike my husband, he shared my love of the countryside and
when he had a free afternoon one weekend we took a walk through Hardcastle
Crags, a local beauty spot.
At home I was feeling put upon and unappreciated. It
didnt help that the children adored their father and
saw me as some kind of unpaid help. I shared my
discontent with a few of my girlfriends but they
fiercely defended my wonderful husband, they didnt
understand, thought I must be out of my mind.
But your marriage is so good, youve been together
over twenty five years.
What they meant was:
Dont change. We like things how
I would sigh, count my meager blessings and soldier
He and I talked more and more. One day he suddenly
came out with it: Told me hed been offered an hotel
in the Lakes and wanted me to go with him. I was too
shocked to answer, stunned that a dream even had the
remotest possibility of coming true.
Think about it he said at last.
Things came to ahead just before my forty-fifth birthday. My husband,
whom I had supported through A levels, two years; a first
degree, three more years; a degree in nursing, four years, and finally;
long term sick after sustaining a back injury within the first six months
of actually working. Now he wanted to go back to University and
do an M.A. in Peace Studies.
I was filled with despair. How could I find the time and money to support
him yet again? What would I do? My husband saw nothing exceptional in
his request. Hadnt I always put his needs first? I began to long
for change, to walk off and leave them all behind. Could I go with him?
Every year, on my birthday, we would throw a huge
party. People would come from far and wide, to eat and
drink too much, to fall senseless on floors and
couches and expect breakfast with coffee and
croissants in the morning. This year it was going to
be bigger than ever. They came in droves, like
locusts, all expecting to be fed, watered and
entertained. The attic held a D.J. who played dance
and trance. People danced and sang. There was even a
folk band in the cellar (I hate banjos). I was too
busy with the huge crowd to even dance a step.
He came too and made a beeline for me.
It doesnt have to be like this, you dont need to
stay here. You can leave if you want to. he said.
Youre beautiful and I want you to shine, not be at the beck
and call of all these sycophants. Come with me, Im leaving
first thing in the morning. My entire being froze. My body betrayed
me, flushed and warm from just talking to him, I wanted to embrace him,
cling to him and follow him anywhere. This was what Id wanted
but dare I actually go through with it? I cant. Ive
too many responsibilities. If I leave they wouldnt be able to
cope. Im the steady one.
Its my role.
My husband saw us talking together, was alarmed and
took me away to find more wine.
Hes paying you too much attention. Hes not to be trusted,
I dont like the way he looks at you.
Next morning I spent over an hour staring at my husband, who was smugly
snoring beside me. I finally made up my mind. I crept through the bodies
and made my way to the kitchen. I filled the kettle to the brim
and placed it on the hob. As I made my way back upstairs I wondered
who would be the first to wake when the whistle blew.
© Lesley Matthews November 2006
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