The International Writers Magazine: Married Life

The Whistle Blower
Lesley Davidson

The 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 I’d 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 husband.

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 I was.

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 didn’t 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 didn’t understand, thought I must be out of my mind.
‘But your marriage is so good, you’ve been together over twenty five years.’ What they meant was:        ‘Don’t change. We like things how they are.’ I would sigh, count my meager blessings and soldier on.
He and I talked more and more. One day he suddenly came out with it: Told me he’d 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. Hadn’t 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 doesn’t have to be like this, you don’t need to stay here. You can leave if you want to.’ he said.
‘You’re beautiful and I want you to shine, not be at the beck and call of all these sycophants.  Come with me, I’m 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 I’d wanted but dare I actually go through with it? ‘I can’t. I’ve too many responsibilities. If I leave they wouldn’t be able to cope. I’m the steady one.

It’s my role.’ My husband saw us talking together, was alarmed and took me away to find more wine.
‘He’s paying you too much attention. He’s not to be trusted, I don’t 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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