International Writers Magazine - Our Fifteenth Year: Life Issues
Together, Eyes Apart
I am supposed to be seeing this as a celebration.
Why does it feel
so much like a betrayal?
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
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
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.
anyone see it otherwise?
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