Midway through the task of polishing cutlery, Rachel stopped to gaze through the window and think about Ralph. She was very mixed up. She supposed she loved him after a fashion, though it was not the same as the intense love she had for
, not the kind that made her want to wash and cook and slave for. The odd thing was that every time Ralph made a pass, she shrank away. Strange, when sex was what she lusted for with Gary . She had a golden opportunity to get laid but she couldn't let him undo a button without squirming inside. There had been some petting, which she found tedious, but she wouldn't tell him. Eric thought she was saving herself in case Gary crawled back and begged forgiveness. She didn't think that was the case. She was inclined to agree with his observation that the chemistry was wrong, which didn't augur well for a lasting bond. Eric said at least Ralph was company and she could do worse. How much worse was unclear, bearing in mind the past fiasco. Gary
The one person she felt absolutely at ease with was Eric himself, which was a laugh considering his age. He was so kind, so reliable. When she told him about her frustrations over Ralph, he jokingly offered to right the matter. At least she assumed it was a joke. She hadn't dared ask.
She resumed her polishing, rubbing the spoons and knives until they shone, before putting them in place on the damask cloth. Ralph and Terry were coming to dinner. She was extremely anxious about meeting Terry for the first time. Rachel planned to cook fillet steak. Anything more complicated would end in disaster if her nervousness didn’t ease. Eric told her to put yellow flowers on the table, maintaining they would reduce her tension. Although she didn't believe it she thought it would be a pretty touch.
It was while she was in the back garden picking yellow forsythia that she heard Rex bark, seconds before the front door slammed. She stood rigid, dropping the flowers to the ground.
Rex was beating his tail against the hall table; she could hear it vibrating against the wall, making the phone bell jingle and the collection of Biro's rattle in the glass jar. She wished she had closed the back door, then perhaps he would think she was out. She did not want him here.
He called her name.
Deliberately slowly, she went into the house. Maybe he wanted to discuss a divorce. Only a couple of days ago she had herself deliberated about getting one.
He appeared in the doorway, looking tanned and remarkably well. ‘Hi,’ he said, cheerily, as if he'd never left. ‘Any chance of a cuppa?’ Instead of waiting, he picked up the kettle and went to the sink. ‘Garden looks nice,’ he remarked, looking through the window.
To cover her confusion, she busied herself getting a jar of coffee from the cupboard and milk from the fridge.
‘You must be wondering why I'm here,’ said
, coming up behind her. Gary
She stiffened, silently begging him not to touch her. ‘Yes,’ she said curtly.
‘I'm changing my job.’
Was that all! Couldn't he say he was coming back.
‘I'm going to work on the oil rigs.’
Oil rigs? What the hell for? What about her, and Amy?
‘You're not saying a lot,’ he said.
She turned to look at him. ‘I don't know what to say. I thought you'd come to ask for a divorce.’
‘I suppose it's something I should consider at some point. I mean, there's no chance of us getting back together.’
‘I've left Amy, by the way.’
Rachel felt battered by the bombshells being sprung upon her.
‘Her interminable nagging drove us apart.’
She did nag. She had nagged Rachel all her life. She nagged Toby to an early grave.
must have surely known what she was like before he slept with her. And if he did, why on earth did he move in? Was he so captivated that he thought he could overcome it? Gary
Rachel made the coffee in two
Majorca mugs and handed one to . She sat on the chair next to him, noticing the fine hairs on his hand as he agitated the spoon, the tapering fingers which had presumably stroked her mother's thighs. Supposing he ever chose to come back to her, how she would feel if those same digits mauled her? Gary
The doorbell sounded.
She put down her mug. ‘Don't be stupid. She wouldn't come here now.’
She was right. The caller was a double glazing salesman, who didn’t take kindly to her slamming the door in his face.
Rachel went back to Gary who, absurdly, was hiding behind the living room door, one hand covering his mouth like a child having committed a misdeed, about to be found out. She looked at him with disdain, seeing him for the immature beast he really was. She went back to her coffee. ‘You're pathetic, you know that?’ When he joined her, she edged away as if a brush with him might contaminate. She started to talk, needing a measure of normality to keep herself on even keel. ‘These oil rigs,’ she began, ‘do you sleep on them?’
‘You don't have to be shipped on and off, then?’
‘Not every day, no.’
‘Does Amy know you're going?’
‘Don't suppose she minds, if you've separated.’
‘Oh, she does. She minds very much.’
got up and put his empty mug in the sink. Gary
Rachel pursed her lips. She wanted very much to know how the affair with her mother started. She wanted to ask him how they cultivated an illicit affair without either her or her father knowing. She would ask, she had a right to know. ‘
,’ she said, resolutely, ‘do you mind if I ask you about your relationship with Mum?’ Gary
‘How come Dad and I never cottoned on to your ex-relationship? How did you meet without us knowing?’
She felt a little afraid, wishing she could retract the question. ‘I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked.’
‘Did he see anything?’
‘There was nothing for him to see. We hadn't had sex that time.’ His tone implied that it was perfectly normal to discuss an adulterous affair with his legitimate wife's mother.
Coldly, Rachel asked if her father had ever seen anything.
‘No. We went elsewhere.’
Rachel put her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her hand, inordinately pleased that her father had been spared. The ordeal of seeing his wife making out with his son-in-law would have killed him more swiftly than his illness did.
was being so open about his sordid intrigue, that she had no qualms about asking where elsewhere was. Gary
‘We used to go to an empty house not far from here. It was supposed to be haunted.’
And Sally-Anne had seen him going in.
‘Go on,’ Rachel said, attentively.
‘Amy had a friend at work ...’
‘Was her name Eve?’
‘Hilda, actually. She was companion to the owner of the house until she died. She moved out, but often went back to clean. Amy sort of borrowed her keys from her bag and got a set cut.’
‘So that's where you met?’
‘It was a sight better than the shelters in the field.’
Rachel jerked upright. She didn't believe it. It was her husband who fixed up the bed, her husband who made love to her mother, surrounded by mice and rats and other nocturnal or diurnal creatures. And she herself might have come across them, naked and thrusting, in a shelter only fit for an animal kingdom to inhabit. Was it love or lewdness that made him choose an ageing woman to do it with, rejecting the nubile wife who would have turned herself inside out to please him. If he asked her to act out a series of nude postures for him to violate in a dank and smelly corrugated air-raid shelter, she would have done. Any time. He only had to ask.
‘Do you want to tell me about your boy friend, Rachel?’
‘No.’ Discussion about Ralph was out of the question. Totally.
‘Do you love him?’
I love you, Gary. Don't you know I always have?
‘I'd better be going. There's a long journey ahead of me. Did you by any chance keep the haversack I left in the loft?’
The constriction in her throat prevented her from answering, so Rachel just nodded. She was as devastated over him leaving the city as she was over his affair with Amy. Tears scalded the backs of her eyes, but she blinked them away, ruling that she cry later, when he had gone.
SHE steadied the stepladders while he climbed into the loft. Even though it was probably the last time she would see him, the tears stayed locked up inside. If oil rigs were what he wanted, then she was happy for him. It suited her best to think of him living on a vast platform with a bunch of chaps, than only a stone's throw away with Amy. And who knew what might happen when he tired of it.
(to be continued)