Seven years we’ve been together, married for three of them. One dog/ substitute child (crossbreed – you can’t say mongrel anymore, can you?) – rescued from my cousin’s ex-boyfriend’s uncle or something like that – and a joint mortgage on a little two-bed terraced (‘think of it less as a box-room, more as a nursery,’ said the smart-arse estate agent – addressed to me, of course, it takes two, you know!) to go along with our joint bank account. Mum and Dad (mine, not his) were childhood sweethearts, madly in love since they were fourteen. They always drummed into me that for a marriage to work, everything should be a fifty-fifty split. Dad did anyway, Mum confided in me at our wedding that she had started a running away fund for me! Denied it the next day, said I must have misheard her over the racket of the Robbie Williams tribute act we had in the evening. His parents were together for three years, married for the last eleven months. Two word; shotgun wedding. You can’t blame your parents for everything though, can you? Sooner or later, you have to stand on your own blah, blah, blah. Even so, it’s not been an easy balance to strive towards, me with an unrealistic example of lifelong love and companionship, him with no memory at all of his dad being a dad to him, and a handful of increasingly useless boyfriends telling his mother that it was time the boy went to bed when it was still light outside. And we were supposed to know how to make it work? Do me a favour.
See, he’s always been that much more into me than I am into him; not that you’d know it if you were to listen to him ‘banter’ on to anyone he thinks will listen. Banter, I hate that word, excuses all kinds of passive aggression, doesn’t it? I’ve heard it all over the years, been his ball and chain, her indoors, the little lady, she who must, well, you know the rest. He acts like he’s in one of those godawful sit-coms that they repeat on the rubbish Freeview channels at 2:25 on a Wednesday afternoon. No excuse for it, though, he wasn’t born until 1990.
Anyway, I just happen to mention that his hair looks a bit thin around the temples, and he goes off on one at me. Spends all bloody day shooting barbs my way, complaining about the way I look, what I’m wearing (too tight around the middle, makes me look ‘chubby’), my make-up (too much, or not enough, never happy), and how I’ve gone and smudged the camera bit on his mobile, ‘clean the lens from time to time, would you?’ he snaps. This last ‘gem’ is presented to me when he’s at the front door, about to ‘pop out for something, ALRIGHT?’ while raising what he clearly believes are his exasperated eyebrows at our next-door neighbour, Kate, who’s unfortunate enough to be passing by. She’s on my side, though, Kate, calls him the lesser-spotted tit when he’s out of earshot. Kate’s a caterer – she runs The Katerers from home, I find it funny, he just thinks it lacks imagination. Kate has a girlfriend, another reason why he doesn’t like her all that much – not that he’s homophobic, just narrow-minded.
I grab my bag, put the lead on the dog and drag her out for a brisk walk.
‘Hey! Slow down, gorgeous,’ Kate shouts after me, instantly making my day, ‘you’ll break the sound barrier if you’re not careful.’ She bends down to make a fuss off Peaches. ‘What’s he done then?’ she asks, knowing instinctively it’s all his fault, and lets me tearfully offload all the way to the park.
While Peaches is off the lead, sniffing butts with a nice spotty crossbreed, Kate has me in stitches plotting ways for me to get my revenge with the aid of her specialist catering equipment. I actually weep smoky-grey mascara tears of laughter (handily disguising the more miserable ones) over her plan to perform a lobotomy on him with a miniature-laser-thingy bought to cleanly slice the tops off quail’s eggs.
‘All you’d have to do is position the beam over the top part of his head, you know, the pointy bit, and…’ I have to be honest; it does pique my curiosity. Just a bit. Not that I wish him dead or anything, it’s just that I’m feeling slightly more unloved and afraid than usual.
The thought of a house without him in it is ever so slightly tempting. And that’s when Kate propositions me. No, not like that! Well, sort of like that! Well, exactly that!
She has done before, but in a jokey way – poor girl’s probably just being nice, and joking this time too, but I am feeling, well, I’ve told you that already. The thought has crossed my mind once or twice (especially on that Saturday night, when he thought it the height of seduction to drunkenly slur the Match of the Day theme tune in my ear in time with his clumsy thrusting between my thighs, gassing me with his Peroni breath. All this magically reflected back at me curtesy of the mirror he precariously Gorilla-glued to the ceiling. Sorry.) I don’t mind admitting that stood there by the playground, looking like a forlorn fatty with mascara tiger streaks on her cheeks, I get well and truly lost down a dark alley of Sapphic filth; it’d be enough to make warnings flash up on your computer search history, believe me! I feel myself turning a shade of pink that the local DIY store might call ‘Torrid Holidays’, or, ‘Throbbing Rhubarb’, or something equally nonsensical; you know how they are, and I don’t know how long I’m silent for, but when I open my mouth to answer her, she has her back to me and is deep in a heated conversation with one of her assistants as to the correct way to jazz-up those bloody quail’s eggs. If you’re interested, it involves wrapping mangetout around each one, and arranging them on a platter in a sunburst design. I know, you’re welcome! How in the name of all that is holy would you wrap mangetout around anything? Why would anyone go to the trouble of finding out? Weren’t mangetout just peas in the pod gone French?
I make my excuses and call Peaches to me; time to face the music. I’ll level with you; I’ve been putting something off. God, even telling you makes me feel sick, but I know it’ll be worse with him. I’m being unfair, though, we do have fun together; I could have done a lot worse than him. He’s just, well, you know! I should know when I open the door that something’s up, but fool that I am, my mind’s filled with images of what could be. Fumbling in my bag for my little surprise, I smell the sickly perfume off lilies making my stomach twist and twirl. Sure enough, there’s a vase of them on the kitchen island. They look a little on the half-dead side, but I nearly start crying again! Romance isn’t his strong point, but this is surely a sign of love. I’ve always hated lilies, but I suppose it’s a start, isn’t it? Flowers, I mean; not death. Leaning against the vase is a large red envelope. Not Valentine’s day, and that’s generally the one day of the year a man like mine presents his wife with an over-sized token of affection. I wish I’d put my love token for him in a tidy envelope, instead of just shoving it in my bag, but too late now. It’s a bit bent, but I prop it up against the vase and pray it’ll make him happy – God knows he deserves it.
I call out, but there’s no reply, so I tut a bit, and tear the envelope open. It seems a bit flimsy for a card, I think, mid-rip, but still, I never see it coming – just think it must be a card from Poundland that he’s found upstairs and decided to surprise me with. Surprise is the operative word. There, inside the red rectangle, printed off our home-printer (I know this because it’s slightly wonky, and an off-blue colour rather than black, proving once and for all that he hadn’t changed the cartridge like he promised he had), are bloody divorce proceedings! The swine! What right has he to divorce me? Me, who’s put up with all of his cracks over the years, tried to keep myself looking nice (still squeeze into a size 14, that isn’t fat, is it?), while he spreads and thins out in equal measures, though sadly never in the desired places.
‘Well?’ he said, creeping up from behind, ‘will you make me the happiest man alive?’ It’s then that he spots the scan picture propped against the vase, our baby girl bearing witness.
‘Surprise,’ I say.