I didn’t complain about the hotels. There was nowhere else for us to go. I still lived at home with my mother and father. A strange life, it must seem to Ian’s wife. A lonely life.
“Hello there. Is there something you want? Someone you’re looking for? He’s not at home – my husband, that is. If that is who you’re looking for. Please, please don’t come around here again to look for him.”
She doesn’t know anything, yet she treats me like a pariah. I’m going, I’m going, but the wife has turned around, cooing into a pram while a little boy is riding a scooter on the grass. So, this is what he meant by his ‘family life’, and the thoughts came rushing through my head: You don’t know anything about us, about me and your husband, so don’t pretend that he never fell in love with me. Don’t pretend or put on a pose in front of your community, your housekeeper, your nosy neighbour, and, most of all, your children. If you must know, he told me that he was going to leave you. Yes, that’s right. Get a divorce. But you’re beautiful, university-educated, and you’re fertile.
You don’t know what it feels like when somebody says something sexually inappropriate to you, and he has a ring on his finger, and you walk as fast as you possibly can to the bathroom and sob hysterically. Nobody comes to find you, workplace politics being what they are. The book, if you must know anything about it, is about me and Ian. Isn’t it obvious that the subject I would choose to write about would be us, our relationship?
I always wanted to try my hand at writing romance novels in a Czech style. Channelling Barbara Cartland versus Milan Kundera. They call me Holly Golightly in the workplace. The bullies in high school who used to gravitate towards me called me Olive (Popeye’s girl). I think of Coco. Coco Chanel and all the shit that she had to put up with. The rough and tough men of the dance hall where she was a singer. I’m just a vein. A vein of fragments to Ian. He has stopped taking my calls. Instead, she answers his phone now.
We’ve never spoken before. Well, just that other time on the phone, I mean, Ian’s wife and me. I’m going to have my hair cut today, just to get Ian’s wife out of my headspace. Cruel and vindictive, malicious and belligerent. I never thought I had that inside of me. Everything seemed counterintuitive. From our first public display of affection. A stolen kiss. A peck on the cheek. A brazen wink. I will always love Ian. There were so many things to love about him. But there were so many things Ian’s wife also loved about him.
I figure that, with someone who has looks like her, she was never alone in high school. Always had a boyfriend, girlfriends to accompany her wherever she went – to the movies, to the swimming pool, to the mall, to a restaurant or the drive-through at a takeaway place. I can imagine her, Ian’s wife, in the backseat of a car, gladly giving away her virginity so she could be ‘free’; whatever being ‘free’ meant. It would mean moving. Perhaps moving to another city, another country. Botswana – Bessie Head’s Botswana – or Malawi, or even America.
I have a cousin who lives near the LaGuardia airport in New York. Her life is different now. She has other priorities. A husband and a boy and girl. I had always dreamed of mountains, though. Of being surrounded by them – green valleys, quiet pools of fresh air, and no one demanding anything with a sense of urgency, as if it was a life-or-death situation. “No children, yet,” all the aunts would titter. “Shame, maybe one day. You’ll see, a child makes all the difference in the world.” Really, I would think to myself. Because you all seem to have given up on yourselves and the way you look because of your ‘wonderful’ children.
“You’re a stupid, stupid girl. Even dumber than you look if you think he’s going to leave me for you,” said Ian’s wife, putting peas into their youngest child’s mouth with one hand, holding the phone with her free hand. “Go away. Please, just go away and leave us both alone. Write a book, or whatever. Yes, my dearest, Ian told me about that. We’ll sue. We’ll sue you for sure. Of course I’m trying to put fear into your life. I know you’re still there, that you haven’t hung up yet. Wait till I get my hands on you. He’s married. Married.
“Do you even know the meaning of that word? You’re just a girl, swanning around and around and around like jazz. This is just a sweet vacation for Ian. He’s not serious about you. Oh, my word, there’s been others. You didn’t know that, did you? Not so clever, not so emotionally mature now, are we? Not so confident on your feet, miss? Watch out. Karma is a bitch. What goes around, comes around. You should be more careful of who you sleep with in the future. And what if you’d gotten pregnant by him? And then what? He has two babies already. Remember what I’m telling you now: she who laughs last, laughs the loudest.”
The book – well, it is, it was, about two consenting adults. Well, it’s going to be anyway. I read my horoscope. I visit astrologers. I go to seances. I have a homeopath, a hairdresser, and a medium. Home life was hellish growing up: absent parents, neglect, a lack of attention to all my achievements, which never quite made up for anything in my life. My father, he worked as a barman all his life. It was the clairvoyant who told me that when Ian left and I went my own way, it would turn ugly. She warned me to stay away from Ian’s wife.
And then she looked at me hard, and said, “Don’t hurt yourself.” I listened with half an ear. Let it breeze through me, as if I was at the beach. Relationships, past and present, faded into the beyond, long gone into a kind of pale kingdom where there was no flora or fauna or indigenous people. Just, perhaps, eddies of dust, heat, and ochre. Something like Mars. His wife didn’t care that I’m disabled, that I have to wear a hearing aid. It certainly wasn’t her mission in life to save me. Not her crusade.