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The International Writers Magazine - Our Fifteenth Year: Life Issues

Eyes Together, Eyes Apart
Bruce Harris
I am supposed to be seeing this as a celebration.
Why does it feel so much like a betrayal?

Clare, free spirit, feminist, intellectual, sitting quietly as women at weddings are supposed to do for all the male speeches. Her eyes raise to him as he speaks for them both, her voice subsumed into his. We shared a house at university, Clare and I, we talked many a night about how we needed to live as women, how an independence of mind and action was essential.

Three years after leaving, she seems broken by a need for dependence, the negative of loneliness more potent than the positive of freedom. He seems decent enough as they go, deceptively acceptable, temporarily civilised by environment and occasion. He is attractive, without a doubt; I'm not blind to that. But Clare must know, does know, that men attractive to women are even less likely, ultimately, to discipline or restrain themselves. All the paraphernalia of infidelity will arrive. No stumbling, no gauche blushes; he is confident, as a young man with good training is, groomed for an easy progress into the established male hierarchies. They will practise law together until they decide the time has come for children; she will bear two, probably, and for a while, their joint earnings will support child care. She will be tied to the usual two horses, career and children, while he continues a serene ascent through the masculine ranks. Then the two horses will gallop off in different directions and she will be torn apart, split choices, split duties, split hopes.He says 'my wife and I' for the first time and there is a low, affirmative murmur of laughter. My assistant and I. My possession and I.

He sits down; for a moment, he remains turned away from her. Already, in a few seconds, she is anxious, needing to know that he wants her approval, even though he clearly doesn't; he has his hands snugly on his lap and his smile smugly on his face. The man completed, the suitable deed done, the equipment in place, money, job, wife, normality.Now he turns full on to her; she smiles excitedly, delightedly, she has to show him unbridled ecstasy even at the modest achievement of a half-decent wedding speech. He grins, the boy only just hidden away, and lifts his eyebrows, all mock self-deprecating, the well-practised male shagging wolf in dutiful spouse sheep's clothing. And a long kiss, to general applause. Soon, I will have to say well done, Clare. Congratulations. She'll say, thanks, Sue, glad you could come. But what I really mean for her, for the Clare I knew, is goodbye. Good luck. You'll need it.

I think David's eyes are on me, carefully, and whenever I turn to glance at him, they are, and even though his eyes are not actually green, they might just as well be; it's silly, really. Yes, Rob and I shared a place at one time and yes, we're good friends and yes, he looks terrific and he's one of those guys who looks even more terrific in formal stuff. But David knows as well as I do about the business of fancying straight guys; pointless lust, the unacceptable face of masochism. Rob and I've talked and boozed into the small hours, swam together, bathed together, he's very nicely put together and not the least bashful about it, and why the hell should he be, but nothing was ever going to happen.

And, yes, I think Clare works for him and will carry on doing so; he needs his arse kicked from time to time and she will do; she can sometimes come over all girlie and wet and needs a partner who'll put his foot down and mean it occasionally, and he will. She's a guy's girl, and that's not to impugn her virtue, for God's sake, it's just the way she's made, and he's a girl's guy, ditto for him. David knows all that, and still he sits there smouldering; I raise my eyebrows,
sort of what's the problem; he winks, and I realise jealousy isn't what he's smouldering with, and it makes me blush, idiotically, like a chicken on his first club night. Honestly.Smooth, really polished at the public speaking now, Rob, though I know the polish doesn't run too thick; it took him several weeks of agonising and boozing and asking everyone's advice - including me, would you believe - before he actually asked Clare out, and they were working in the same place at the time.

He sits down and the applause is well meant, more than the thin embarrassed spattering at some of these dos, relief and commiseration sometimes. Funny not crude, brief not dismissive, emotional not schmaltzy; the right tone, as he knows well enough. He's essentially a modest character, Rob, and though her face is alive with pride and congratulation, he doesn't turn to her for a moment, having that ordeal is concluded moment to yourself, hugging it to you, grown up teddy bear thing. Then he turns full on to her, and he's so chuffed that she's so chuffed that he temporarily loses adulthood, an ear to ear grin like someone's given him a mega -ice cream.

From youth to adult in one expression – Rob can do that – and his eyebrows go up, along the lines of 'does this mean I'm on for a shag, girl?' So she starts the kiss, 'you betcha, big boy', and the pair of them completely forget where they are for one lingering minute.He once turned to me, pissed as a cracker – red wine, I think it was – maroon face, wet in the eyes and lips, and said 'it's not just about getting your end away, Mark, I want someone to get kissie with, you know, I like that smoochie stuff'. Smooch on, mate. All the best.

Of all my nephews and nieces, my feeling always was that Clare had the most potential. Awfully pretty, even as a little girl, raven hair and hazel eyes. My fear was that Stephanie would spoil her; wonderful soul as my sister in all sorts of ways, holding a firm line against obstreperous teenage nonsense would never be her strong suit, and her husband Ralph is a cold fish, successful businessman of course, but as far removed from the labyrinthine angst caverns of girlhood as can be possibly imagined. It didn't surprise me when all this feminist business started up, priorities and proprieties simply not having been firmly enough established early on, and I had visions of the darling girl warping into one of these dreadful androgynous leather-clad creatures who go on demos and live on illegal substances while being casually enjoyed by whichever members of the male population are mad enough to want to. But, no, here we are in law, so respectably lucrative and probably extremely useful for the older family when we all start popping off, undoubtedly intestate in some cases where ga-ga-ness has already more or less taken hold. And as for her young man, well, she could have done a great deal worse, without a doubt. Awfully nice bottom. I know we more mature ladies are not supposed to notice such things, but he happened to be bending over to retrieve something as we were all getting settled and a surreptitious peek-a-boo was not too outre, I felt. Good-looking boy altogether, really; almost a blondie, misty blue eyes. Handsome, rich, well bottomed; bingo, I think, really, on Clare's part. Because, however mercenary one's disposition, and allowing that strategic infidelity is always an option, it does so help if tolerable rumpie-pumpie is easily to hand and destitution unnecessary. Clare and I were once together in the conservatory, nicely and unexpectedly, with everyone off doing something or other – no more than about ten, then, I think she was, flibbertigibbet little girl. She sat on the floor next to me, bold as you like, and took my hand; 'tell me, Auntie Jo' – Joanna always too much of a mouthful, thank goodness – 'tell me about men'. So I did, and I rather think that she took it on board. Eventually.He parks his pretty bum at last, to general acclamation and rightly so. Hugs his triumph to himself for a moment, as they do, from potty onwards, really. Then an arch little look at her, meaning not difficult to read, that one, I don't think she's going to be staring at the ceiling wondering what all the fuss is about on her wedding night – and a long kiss, a proper kiss. My heart is quite blown away. Be happy, little Clare.

I suppose, by rights, I should hate the boy. Hate the whole blasted family. Here I am, his eldest uncle, the man who should have blazed the trail for the family, but instead of him visiting my resplendent villa or whatever for avuncular tips on how best to get on, he's bringing me grapes in hospital and advising me on early retirement procedures.Likewise his father. Little brother Philip, invariably Philip not Phil, brainy from infancy, the clever one, my mother always used to say to people, even when Marie and I were there. We would all do alright, she thought, Michael will graft, Marie will meet someone rich and well-favoured, Philip will think and study his way to success. Irritatingly, she was right on all counts, though didn't live long enough to see the predictions fulfilled. And now little brother is not only a successful lawyer, but seems to be in the process of setting up a dynasty, smart young Rob waiting in the wings, earning his spurs ready to step up as a partner.

The boy's not quite his old man to a tee; he has more joie-de-vivre about him, more warmth and humour, I suppose; I often thought Philip lost something in all those hours of swotting and writing. And this stunning girl he's setting up with, smart as he is, lawyer like he is, so God only knows how much money they'll finish up making between them. More power to their elbow. He's a nice kid – well, young man now. He came to see me in hospital just after the attack. Sad Uncle Michael, can't cope with managing a store. But he's sitting there beside the bed, and we're both being desperately male and buttoned up, discussing retirement possibilities, and I notice suddenly his paleness and slightly damp eyes. I do seem to have come to matter to him. He and Philip saw me right between them, and I can't say I don't appreciate it; they got me every penny I was ever likely to get, and even if I should be green with envy and frustration, with nothing now but retirement and taking it easy, I'm not. I was, I am, very tired and I need more than anything to be able to take it easy.

He sits down; he's done his bit conscientiously and well, as he always does, the boy. For amoment or two, he's still, letting the relief wash over him; that confidence doesn't go so deep,maybe, he is still very young. Then he looks at her, and there's still an appeal in his eyebrowspractically up into his forehead; 'darling, did I do alright, tell me, please?' She has that amazing smile of hers on, headlight eyes, sexy little mouth just open, and he realises he did and there'san unfeigned, long smacker of a kiss. Made for each other, absolutely, obviously, two nice, clever kids who found their girl and fella.
How could anyone see it otherwise?

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