L: "Living with You"
...an extract from a piece of fiction I wrote at university....
...When we first got married, he asked me if I wanted to cut down my hours at the office – to spend more time at home, cooking and cleaning and being a kept woman. I said no. No. I didn't want to be one of those women. It would start out as going into the office a few days a week – keeping on track with admin, and catching up with Gert. Then it would become a few hours each week. Before I knew it I would be stuck at home, ironing and washing and bringing up the babies. “No,” I said, “I want to stay at work.”
It wasn't easy though, living up to his expectations as well as working five days a week. As Mrs. Reynolds I was expected to keep the house clean and shiny, and at all times be sophisticated, just in case he brought home an executive to negotiate a deal. Sometimes I’d find myself up well into the early hours, running my fingers over the same part of the kitchen counter, just in case a particle of dust decided defiantly to land there. I was desperate to please. He wouldn't expect any less of me than perfection.
Maybe if I had been the dutiful housewife, it wouldn't have happened. Maybe if I’d spent more time out of the office and in the kitchen, things wouldn't have gone so far. Cracks started to appear. He spent more and more time at the office and less and less time at home. He said it wasn't anything to do with me, but I could see through him. The house wasn't up to scratch. He wasn't pleased.
“I just want you to be happy,” he said, caressing my cheek. I could feel his fingernails press into my skin.
“I am happy,” I said, tearing his hand away and turning from him.
“The house doesn't matter. If you want to keep on working, we can get a maid.”
He sighed. “ I'm anal. I told you that. It’s my biggest flaw. Just do your best. If it wasn’t for the long hours, I’d help.”
He headed my way, arms open. The veins pulsed in his head. I flinched. Stay strong. Just stay strong. I tried to keep the fear from my face as he approached me. I tried to be brave. Stay strong. Just stay strong. His arms enveloped me in an enormous hug. I felt his hot breath tickle my skin. He sighed with relief.
“It’s alright sweetness. I've got you. I won’t let you go.”
“You don’t understand Gert, I need him.”
“That’s what they always say hun. And then they end up in a ditch somewhere, hacked to pieces.”
Gert takes a sip of her coffee and looks at me, cocking her head to one side. Gert doesn't understand. She’s not the settling down type. Not since her sister took the only man she’d ever loved. Since then, Gert had been on a mission; do whoever she could get her hands on.
“I just need to be more organised.”
Gert sighs. She pulls her chair closer to mine and looks me straight in the eyes.
“You wanted my opinion,” she says, “So I’ll tell you. I think you’re an idiot. You’re with a man who says he loves you, yet wants you to spend every hour God gave you being Holly Housewife, and being at his beck and call. You’re trapped. You can’t even see it. You have these headaches and; you’re forgetful. That’s not you. You are gone. I'm talking to someone else right now.”
I start to feel really uncomfortable. Although Gert is my friend, probably my only friend, I don’t think I can talk this through with her anymore. She doesn't seem to understand what I’m going through. I glance at the clock. It’s nearly five. If I'm not careful, he’ll be back before me and I still have the shopping in the car. Dinner is lamb casserole, and his boss is coming with his latest girlfriend. I have to get going.
“ I've got to go,” I say, kissing Gert on the cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Sure, whatever,” she replies, eyeing me up and down. “See you later.”
I'm losing her, I can feel it. But all I can think about is getting home before he sees the washing up I still have to do from breakfast.
The sky’s beginning to look awful by the time I get to Heritage Walk – that kind of ominous grey that you see in films when you know something bad is going to happen. It is starting to drizzle, and the pavement is becoming a sea of black. It will be a battle to get through all the umbrellas, but at least it means I won’t get wet.
I park the car in the drive and get out, grabbing the shopping with both hands. The light is on in the living room. Shit. Stay strong, just stay strong. I do not want to go in. I want to run back to Gert and weep in her lap, telling her she has been right all along.
Carefully squeezing through the crowd, I make my way to the front door and fumble for my key. It is lodged inside my coat pocket – stuck. I can’t free it. It’s enfolded in the fabric.
“Get caught up in traffic?” His voice comes from the console outside. “Maybe I should just leave you out in the rain.”
He laughs. It makes my head bang. Everything is starting to get very hazy. His laugh always does that to me. It almost sounds too happy. Nobody can be that happy.
The door buzzes, and I push my way inside. Rain is dripping from my head and I'm leaving a trail of water behind me.
“Aw, sweetheart!” He makes my skin crawl. His words are like poison. They tear away at my insides. They make me want to scream. They make me…
“I’m not late,” I say, pushing through him and into the house. “ I'm not late, I'm not late. I…”
“Of course, darling.” He follows me into the kitchen. “But you are late. Big night tonight.”
He leans on the kitchen counter, right by the unfinished washing up. He is fingering a knife in its holder. I can’t take my eyes off that hand. He hasn't cut his nails and there is dirt under the nail of his index finger. There are little scratches and scars all over that hand. Paper cuts…fingernails…war wounds. He still hasn’t showered. I can smell that his deodorant has worn off. He needs to wash but he hasn't He has been waiting for me so that it can begin.
“I’ll have dinner ready for seven thirty,” I say, still staring at his hand gently fingering the knife. “You go and shower.”
“Don’t I get a hug first?”
I smile weakly. My head is pounding now. This migraine is one of the worst I've had in ages. It’s gripping the sides of my head and doesn't want to let go, tearing at my brain, dragging its nails down my skull.
He’s watching me approach, a look of uncertainty on his face. I have seen that look before and I know what that look means.
“Come on sweetheart,” he coos, coaxing me towards him. Maybe this time it will be alright. Maybe it is just going to be a hug, and then later tonight we’ll make love on our white satin sheets.
I feel his hands on me, and my dream fades with me as I fall into darkness...