She’d just about realised she had basically two options: a) she could wait weakly – weekly even; daily perhaps! – for her white knight to appear with horsepower but perhaps no horse (it was, after all, the Western 21st century we were talking about here); or b) she could gather all her courage together, as if forming a baleful bale of yellow wheat of anciently harvested times – and then become the white knight herself (along with Fiat 500 … not so much a horse as a tiny little pony of delicately designed and elegantly framed features).
So then she had that hugely challenging decision to make.
And the alternatives showed the weakness of her position.
To stay where she was she felt quite impractical to contemplate: to stay with a husband who spent his days saying no to every suggestion and occurrence she made for herself, demanding pointedly – as he did – that she imagine on his behalf, and doubleguess, his every need and whim – that was him, how he was, and he worked his socks off no doubt; she couldn’t criticise him in that respect; she had no desire to do so; to do so would’ve been about as rankly unfair as any spouse could have been in this measuring world of quantitative likings and unlikings: all those secretive beens and gones …
But what she really asked of him – so that maybe one day she could feel positive enough about herself to shine in job interviews, and then prove to him her value as an economic unit of productive addition for the family he was currently breadwinning quite alone for – was the love and affection, the physical cherishing, the bantering bodies of lovers still enamoured after almost three decades of the battered existences that life throws at us all … she needed this bantering, this being able to touch him when she wanted, to not have barriers placed between her and him … and she was clearly starved now of all kinds of affection, she was clearly in a place of deeply dark emotions, she was clearly – all too apparently, even to friends and family – the subject of some kind of oppressively normalised, naturalised existence.
To the outside world still, to many she knew, she was the frigidly cold and confusing half of the couple. But it really wasn’t her – she responded so well to love: to smiles and saucy glances; to cheeky retorts; to the kind of casual stroke on the shoulder that momentarily pets you into a different world, and makes you wonder: “With this person, what would it be like?” And it wasn’t that she was of a promiscuous bent: it’s just that she was so hungry for some kind of physical contact. And the man she really had a right to expect such affectionate contact from – even in today’s politically informed times, even in curiously cold and correctly distanced way – slept in the bed she slept in every night, and he didn’t even like for her to doze on his side of the bed, and they had all sorts of arguments about messy eiderdowns and corners not square and clothes left draped over the edges of a bed which should’ve been there for passionate embrace.
And if he had wanted to touch her body, just occasionally, just at weekends, maybe once a month, maybe every quarter, she’d have felt the most powerful, beloved and positive creature in the universe.
But the reality of the matter was that he neither wanted her to touch him in private nor allow her to consider anything which wasn’t a safe (for him, she presumed) display of public normality: a tap on the forearm perhaps – or a linking of hands as shop window pursued shop window and he bought up the city with the pretty excuse that his job made them money.
And so she struggled to realise, to identify, when it went wrong.
And they’d loved each other the day they’d got married: of that she was sure; of that she had no doubt. And their children were gorgeous, gorgeous creatures of a love exemplified and held out, through grand anticipation and selfless sacrifice – and a simple delight in the pleasures and treasures of seeing their offspring spring off into wonderful sectors of endeavour.
But what never worked right, and right from the beginning perhaps, she begins to see at least, at least she begins now to see, was the fiery necessity she had to be physically cherished and the simultaneous fear he manifested more and more – always slyly (she now realised) covered up and hidden below a cloaking set of wisdoms, intellect and argument; and this was something she’d pretended not to notice for a while; and this was something that she knew now would never change.
And she loved him so dearly, and cherished his soul, and if the soul of a person was the sole thing we needed, she had what she needed in the soul she obviously cherished. But then she was quite unable to become that productive economic unit he threw in her face, quite rightly time and time again when she failed once more to put her best foot forward: and the reason she was unable to put her best foot forward was because his crushing lack of physical affection meant her best foot forward no longer existed: his crushing lack of physical affection now acting as a mental diabetes on her heart and soul, on the muscles of her mind, on the sinews of her ability to perform: and so the courage she could’ve expressed now wound down into a crummy simulacrum: and no one was ever now going to be convinced by her daily weeknesses.
So she began to realise the universe was right: her strong desire, her finest wish, to resolve the squaring of these circles by becoming that productive unit which meant the family would finally breadwin together … it simply wasn’t going to happen. He had refused for so long to cherish her physically; and maybe even at the beginning he’d done it with fear. And this recent thought had arrived literally to taunt her, and make her think she was worth even less than she’d once thought she was worth, a very long time ago now; too long ago for her to forget.
And she so wanted to save all the good things that had been.
And she so wanted to square the circles of their lives.
And there was nothing she would’ve liked better than to say to him: “Love me as you can, whilst I love another.”
But if she went and said that to the proud man he was … well … what on earth might happen to the woman she still – even then – managed to continue considering herself?
What on earth could happen? What on earth really wouldn’t?
If truth be told, she was terrified not of change but of leaving behind her the relic and wreck of a person who without her would suffer as she had never done.
She wasn’t terrified of being happy at all – quite the opposite.
She was terrified, rather, of the degree and level to which his sadness might fall in her ultimate absence: once her absence were communicated: once her absence were consummated.
Failure and betrayal were the words that came to mind: and nothing, nothing in any true way, would ever be able to usefully repair his soul.
“Is this how a war veteran feels when they return?” she asked herself. “Guilty about survival; morbid about the prospect of recovery; tied to the past and to companions who will never return; fighting the future and better times that can never be shared … so is that what a veteran really feels? And am I a veteran in some terribly similar way? A veteran without bullets … but even so, with daggers to the heart?”