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Are You My Wife?

Incoming call from Unite International

– Hello.
– We’ve found him, Miss Ford.
– Where?
– New Zealand. But… Look. I should warn you, he’s not in a good way. He’s taken an overdose and they’re not very optimistic. It seems he didn’t want to be found. We’ll understand if you don’t want to go. I’ll send you the data results to look at anyway. I’m sorry but it is our duty to give you all the information.

Click

24 hours later

– Welcome Miss Ford. This way please. How was your flight? I assume you’ve been filled in on the seriousness of his condition? This is the first time he’s been on any database. His profile is completely new to everyone. Such a shame.
Here he is. I can stay – or?
– No. It’s okay. Thank you.
Hello, Nathan.
– Are you my wife?
– Apparently we’re one of the best matches ever.
– I’m sorry. I just didn’t like the whole set-up. It’s no way to find a partner.
– It’s worked really well for many other people.
– Yeah. Well. I wanted to meet the girl of my dreams on a beach or in a club, at uni or even in an online chat or whatever… Get to know someone, get to know different girls. Properly. Make mistakes, ya know, be human… Sorry if it… ya know…
– And I’m sorry you’re… That you’re ill.
– Yep. Well. Things didn’t work out. Turns out life sucks. I don’t wanna be around anymore. The world’s got all creepy. Women saying they can’t have a relationship with me because I’m not on the database. Information Technology has made everyone bonkers. It’s just a shame I got found and now I have to die slowly instead of quickly.
– Is there nothing they can do?
– No. It’s too late. My organs are all fucked up. There isn’t enough time for transplants. And I was never on the – ya know…
– …The database?
It’s quiet here. Too quiet. Oh, hey – I made you a music mix.
– But you don’t know my …
– Oh but I do… Here. See the play list?
– Yeah. Great. It’s good. You did well. Man – you really get it. You really get it. It’s perfect.
So… gasp … Tell me. Where’s our house?
– Well… As we both hate the cold and love the sea but we both love British pubs and British humour, live music, green fields, fishing and snuggling up in front of the fire on Christmas morning… I thought maybe Cornwall?
– Yeah. Cornwall is cool. Great place to bring up kids. How many kids?
– Three?
– Perfect. Ow.
– Are you okay?
– Yeah, yeah… Well, no obviously, but ya know…?
I was thinking about a dog. One of those daffy, long-haired ones that are good with kids like a whadyacall-em? Irish Setter?
– I have an Irish Setter. He’s called Daffy. I really do.
– You do? Unbelieveable man.
– Does it hurt to talk? You’re whispering.
– Come closer. I’m getting weak. Tell me about our children. What are their names?
– Well I’m thinking Anna, Matthew and Thomas?
– Nice ordinary names. Good.
– You teach them how to fish and surf and you build them a tree house and a go-cart and we grow apples and keep goats because we can’t be bothered to mow the lawn. We live outdoors as much as possible in bare feet and we hate the hustle and bustle.
– True. So true. Goats instead of a lawn mower. Ha. You crack me up!
Sigh
And you….. you ummm….
– Nathan?
Nathan. Shall I get someone?
– Sorry. Umm… Getting sleepy.
Did you really wait? Did you wait all this time?
– I was sure. I was just so sure that you were out there. Somewhere. My perfect match.
– Sorry. So sorry. Maybe you were right. I do like you. You seem to fit. Your eyes look familiar. I like the way you smell.
What’s your name?
– Emily
– Nice straightforward name. Perfect. You’re perfect. You have such a kind smile. I trust you. I always wanted someone I could trust. Hold my hand. Please don’t cry.
I’m sorry Emily.
– No, Nathan. I’m sorry. I made a mistake. All those places you visited. All those lovely places. All the things you did. I should have been out there doing them too. We probably would have met then. But instead I was waiting for the call.

Papillon

This story is now available as an e-story from Ether Books:

Six Days

She had her suspicions on Monday but chose to blame it on a blip in her observational skills due to the anaesthetic.
On Tuesday she thought she spotted some familiar signs: shaking, not making eye contact, in a hurry to get away but she told herself to give the guy a break; it was just boredom making her imagination work over-time.

But as the week went by and the gifts got more and more inappropriate from the flowers on Monday, grapes on Tues, to a teenage girls’ mag on Wednesday, a chicken sandwich on Thursday… What’s this? – She had asked – you know they give me lunch here. And since when did we start eating meat again… she knew her caring, considerate husband had been replaced by the useless drunk again. And the visits became shorter; he turned up late, couldn’t wait to get away, tried to joke with the nurses, stopped asking her what she needed and instead kept repeating: ‘You’re okay then, that’s good.’

She couldn’t smell booze. Must be vodka, she decided. She had to ask him. He would deny it of course but that was always their starting point – she would challenge him, eventually he would admit it and cry, beg her not to leave and then they would get the calendar and make a plan and he would hand over his money and his credit cards.
Only this time she couldn’t look after him and she was scared.

On Friday he didn’t turn up until visiting time was over. He was properly drunk this time; staggering, confused and pushing past the nurses who tried to tell him that they would have let him had he been sober.
‘It’s my wife!’ he shouted. ‘I have every right to see my wife!’
Three nurses followed him as he lurched towards the wrong bed.
‘Phil!’ she shouted. ‘Here.’ Instinctively she swung her legs over the side of the bed to go to his aid, but realised she couldn’t get up.
He side-stepped over and dropped himself heavily onto her bed, jolting her and causing her to wince with pain. He leant forward puckering his lips and closing his eyes making a kissy kissy noise. She obliged if only to keep him sweet so they could get him out quicker.
‘One minute,’ she mouthed to the nurses, raising her forefinger. They remained quietly behind, ready to assist at any time.
‘You’re drunk. You’ve started drinking again. I want you to stop and I want you to stop now. You’re no good to me like this.’
‘Whasha talkin’ ‘bout?’ he laughed. ‘I’m jusha bit late, thasall. Here – smell ma breff.’ He hoffed in her face so hard that she had to lean back suddenly, causing yet more pain in her stitches. He smelled of Polo mints and dirty hair.
She blinked slowly, breathed deeply and said ‘I’m tired. Can you come back tomorrow?’

Phil suddenly remembered he had something for her in his jacket and pulled out a crumpled greetings card without an envelope. ‘To my dear mother, get well soon,’ read the message printed on the front over a picture of peonies. She hated peonies, great big blousey showy off things – especially those light pink ones on the card. Her husband knew she hated peonies but this drunk next to her didn’t know anything. She wanted to scream and rip the card up in his face but instead she said nothing and lay down slowly.

He didn’t show up at all on Saturday. She was relieved the drunk didn’t visit but heartbroken and unbearably lonely without her husband, who she hadn’t really seen since Sunday.
Where are you? she wondered. Where is my husband? Does he die every time you drown him in alcohol?

On Sunday afternoon he arrived looking like he’d just woken up; his hair over his face and his clothes badly crumpled. When he was drinking, this was the soberest he would ever be but she knew that he would need a drink soon. Keeping his distance, he offered no present and no kiss. But there was no mistaking the familiar smell of whisky even from six feet away. She didn’t bother asking why he hadn’t shown up the day before; she knew he wouldn’t remember. She felt sorry for him but for the first time she felt more sorry for herself. She wanted her husband back. She needed him to take care of her. The hospital staff had said the specialist would come to see her first thing Monday to discuss going home. But who the hell was going to give her a lift home, help her into the house and feed her?

Phil looked uncomfortable and vaguely ashamed. At her suggestion he went to the visitors’ toilets and came back sucking a mint and looking like he’d made an attempt to look more respectable by wetting down his hair and washing his face. Then he sat waiting for her to make the first move.
NO, she was screaming inside, I CAN’T DO THIS.
‘No Phil. You take the lead. You sort this out. I’m ill. I need looking after. You have to stop drinking again right now. I simply cannot do it this time. Please go away, sober up, stop drinking and don’t come back again until you’ve beaten it. I want my husband back, not you. I didn’t marry you, you’re a stranger and I hate you. Make a choice, you ugly, stinking mess of a man: the drink or me. I mean it.’
He left. Walked away. Right that minute.

She imagined the doors were revolving doors and that as the drunk walked out her loving husband, freshly showered wearing clean clothes, free of pointless guilty gifts, would walk in. He would kiss her face, ask if she was in pain and promise clean sheets and a freshly stocked refrigerator by Monday.
God, she loved that man. She felt totally bereft.

Learning to Let Go

Creative family versus tidy house – my life’s greatest dilemma

For all of my married life I have struggled with the guilt of duty to the household, as many parents have but particularly women who, I’m afraid, do have the greater share of the guilt in this world. Women are natural multi-taskers. Many of us know where all our children are at any one time, can be holding in our head a list of jobs for the day, be worrying about a friend or our mother and under our arm we (perhaps metaphorically) carry a book we hope to read when we feel we have deserved it. If we do finally start to do something remotely enjoyable or creative, we are looking at our watch and thinking about school kicking out time or dinner or looking at the calendar wondering if our nephew would like a football for his birthday.

Why?

Well I believe the guilt and the multi-tasking are natural instincts that we are born with. Any woman who says she can’t multi-task hasn’t thought about how she really is multi-tasking in her mind constantly. It’s difficult to have the straight-thinking, one-job-in-hand mentality of most men. Take shopping for example. Most women will be distracted when shopping, but a man can walk into a shop to buy only milk and walk out with only milk. Okay, so maybe I’m generalising a bit but on the whole this is true.

Women are people people! We are delegators, planners and, – yes – nurturers! This is why we find it hard to let go of our guilt; ‘If I do this for myself, I won’t be doing this which means so-and-so may suffer,’ we think.

There’s more though: Social guilt. We are compelled to conform to a norm’, to fit in, to worry about appearance, to not stand out as weird or different. And we are constantly critical of other women. We rarely stand for messy hair or garish outfits on TV. ‘Oh my word, what DOES she look like?!’ we exclaim. Or about someone who looks over a size 12: ‘Oh dear, she’s carrying a few extra pounds or two… You can tell she likes her cake!’
We use our own insecurities and take them out on other women. We tell men we don’t want them to judge us by our appearance, but we cry when we are having a ‘bad hair day’ or we’ve got ‘nothing to wear!’ Aren’t we awful?

Well no. We’re not awful. We’re wonderful. We do our best to make everyone happy and we worry about our families, our friends and we do something magical that men are totally crap at (sorry – most men!). We support, we listen, we prop up, we care, we empathise. We don’t prescribe a pill. We don’t go and fetch a builder to try and fix things. We drop everything, even if only for a few minutes and we take time out to let someone know that we are there and that they are important. We offer tender words and a shoulder to cry on (for free!) and for that we are incredible.

But. All this caring and guilt and social stress and incredibleness means we over-worry ourselves. My husband goes to work and when he comes home will often load the dishwasher. ‘Oh my god.’ I think to myself, ‘This is so wrong. I should have done that. What would my mother-in-law say?’ If he goes shopping I make a list for him, I phone him halfway round the store to remind him we need loo roll and I worry that someone will see him and wonder why I’m not doing the shopping.

And along with this social guilt comes the ‘State of the House Guilt’. I get it in bucket loads. But – and, as they say: ‘it’s a big but’ – I’ve noticed that the ‘State of the House Guilt’ can be damaging to my family.

I am naturally creative and I have staunched my creativity in order to be a good housewife and mother.
‘Whoops.’
Well that’s my fault. I’m finally allowing myself to be creative now but it’s causing a constant internal battle. Writing means letting go of everything for a time. Everything. Blocking out the outside world, ignoring the phone, not eating properly; losing myself inside a cocoon of imagination and little thought processes. If I stop to make a shopping list, to speak to my mother on the phone, to eat simply because it the right time to eat, to clean the kitchen, I am thrown out of my creative bubble back into a world of tasks and lists. And I lose the spell. Unfortunately my family seem to think they like it better when appointments aren’t missed, when the fridge is full of food, when they can find clean pants, when I can help them organise their social lives, when I can cook dinner so that my husband can go to the pub. But they also want to be creative too. All three of my children are artistic. They get lost in a world of creativity where they make a goddamn awful mess and … should I stop them when I know what it feels like? No. I don’t think so. But I don’t think I should be their slave either.

So if the five-year-old has left glue and scissors, pens, pencils, sheets of paper, rolls of card and sticky tape strewn across every downstairs room (and she has!) and the fifteen and thirteen-year-olds are doing something similar in their bedroom, should I scream ‘Stop! We can’t have a messy house! We need to have a home like the adverts on the TV!’?
Should I say ‘Stop playing the guitar, even though you’re brilliant at it and it gives us all immense pleasure, because you haven’t tidied up.’ Probably not.
But should I spend my whole life running around tidying up after them constantly? Or should I live and let live and hope that I am allowed to let live too? Can I have the strength to stick two fingers up to the narrow-minded people who judge me by how often they see my husband at the supermarket or how dirty my windows are? I think I must, for my sanity and to show my kids that people that spend their whole lives just tidying and cleaning are slaves and that appearances are just that – appearances.
Guilt schmilt.

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