He remembered glasses of orange juice, choosing a bed, taking out loans he was still paying off. It was a busy, blurry time at work; that never changed; she was still in the thick of her course at the time. They went camping with her cousins; it was only a long week-end. He wished they had done more. God, it seemed so long ago!
Revolving those days in his mind, it was certainly possible to think that their marriage could have gone along just as transparently as it started, right up to this very moment. He would, perhaps, be up and showering now in a new house, a little tired from sitting up with their little girl. Instead he was driving early towards work from another direction, along a misty road where no-one knew he ever went.
He blamed Beatie. Of course it was Beatie who had done for all that simplicity. Himself he had never been looking for anyone – why would he? He’d only been married six months. Beatie had hunted him down, lured him off course and trapped him into sharing a lift one evening after a heavy dinner with a client. It all seemed like an accident but somehow she had made it happen. It was just terrible luck that she’d looked at him in that way. Every married man knew there was just one look – just one look. She laid her wondering eyes on him and stood her ground, putting the question. Her fine dark eyebrows were as level and calm as a line of writing: he read the words: we are going to have each other
For nearly two years, once or twice a month, he had been travelling uneasily to and fro along this road. He called it “the portal”. He had two mobile phones – nobody knew this. When he was twenty minutes into the portal from home, he switched his normal phone off; that was the point when it was no longer possible to explain where he was. The Beatie phone came out of his briefcase and onto the passenger seat. It was never seen at other times. It lay in the bottom of his brief-case at work; when he got home he transferred it to his filing-cabinet. It lay between his old university papers, where no-one would ever look. The Beatie phone was always on silent. When she texted him she didn’t sound angry at all but when he turned up on her doorstep it was a different matter. How he pitied her! She was self-absorbed, distressed, she found life difficult. He got sucked into her theatre, her whirlwind. They spent most of their evenings naked – she had curves everywhere and when he arrived his hands were pulling at her clothes straight away, his hands thirsted to reach all over her.
So there was no little girl, and they never needed to move into a bigger place. Their marriage was treading water. He didn’t know what she thought. They started going on holidays further afield and then he enjoyed the feeling of constancy – in the Seychelles there was no portal. They seemed to draw closer, it flowed. He loved his wife dearly. She was slim and pretty, but he believed she was a strong, level-headed woman. Most of their talk was about friends and work, but running through it was a kind of intimacy; he could feel it. Oh yes, they definitely had something. If only Beatie would silently melt away so they could get on with making their home and their lives in the same kind of way they fooled around rigging up a shelter on the beach. When they dressed up in the evening she was elegant and fun, sitting across from him in the restaurant and swishing her foot around his ankles. His lovely wife.
But Beatie would never go silently.
While he was in the portal he was completely alone. It was a longish drive and he could listen to a whole quartet and a concerto. Then he got to the point, twenty minutes from work, when he switched the home phone on again. He prayed there would not be any messages or missed calls; he dreaded feeling that he’d been remiss.
Work was busy again, but at nine thirty he got up and went along the corridor to the toilets. He pulled his trousers down and sat on the cool toilet-seat. Then he carefully took out the two phones and laid them side by side on the floor without a clatter. He sent two loving texts – “thank u, it was unbelievable” and “I missed u so much, I can’t wait to be with u”. He felt grey with tiredness. He had to get back to his desk. For some strange reason, holding a phone in each hand, he suddenly held them screen to screen and made them kissee-kissee. It excited him, sitting there with his boxers round his ankles and neither of them ever to know. Somehow he was still holding it all together.
Labels: The Littlest Feeling