Back to Bristol Ch. 10byGaryAPB©
I pulled up outside Susan and Ralph's house at almost exactly two thirty, and went and knocked on the front door. The door opened, and there stood Mum, with Len behind her, smiling from ear to ear, and hovering in the background I could see Ralph.
"Mum!" I hugged her, "What are you doing here? Where did you come from?"
Everyone was smiling and laughing, "I got a bit homesick to see you and Brian and the children. And Len said: Well why don't we just get on a plane and go and see them? So we did, and here we are."
After some more explanatory chit chat, Ralph spoke up, "Come on, why don't you three go into the sitting room and catch up? I'll make you a cup of tea and then leave you to chat."
And that's what we did. Within five minutes, Ralph delivered a tray of tea, and said he was going to leave us in peace and he'd be out in the garden if we wanted him.
"Where are the boys?" I asked before he left.
Ralph smiled, "Knowing this reunion was going to happen, I sent them over the road to play with Emma Tanner's grandchild. Don't worry, they all know each other well, and will be happy over there for a while."
He smiled at everybody and left, shutting the door behind him with "I'll leave you to chat."
Mum, myself and Len did just that. I could see Ralph through the window, pottering around the garden with his secateurs and wheelbarrow. I asked where they were staying, and apparently Ralph had invited them to stay there for a few days.
After half an hour, and we'd drunk the tea, Mum said, "It's no good, I've got to see Jamie and Ben."
I went to stand up, thinking we'd go and find them. Mum looked at me, "No. You sit and talk to Len. Let me just go and find them and have a few minutes. Ralph will tell me where they are." And she left, pulling the door almost closed behind her.
There was a bit of an awkward silence after she'd gone. Eventually, I looked at Len and asked the very mundane, "Who did you fly with?"
"British Airways. We took off at about half past three yesterday afternoon, local time that is. We had to change at Singapore, but after that it was a straight flight to Heathrow. Ralph must have got up at about before three o'clock in the morning, because he met us at Heathrow at five this morning. That was very good of him."
"So that's why you put me off this morning."
"Yes. We all needed a couple of hours shut-eye."
There was a pause, until Len asked, "What happened to Helene? I rather fancied her, especially when we all went to the beach and she almost wore a bikini."
"Why is everyone so surprised that I hooked a beautiful woman? Or maybe they're surprised that I let her go. Brian was quite forthright on Thursday about that."
Len looked up, "Fraternal problems?"
"No. We wouldn't dare, Mum just doesn't allow them." I paused as we silently acknowledged that Mum was a strong woman. "It was just that he was having a good go at me about Molly. Why was she so special to me? Why didn't I hate her? Just unwanted brotherly advice."
"She's breaking up with that Peter guy, I hear. How do you feel about that, is there anything left that you could build on?"
I looked at him, "Mum asked me the same question. I know that Molly was the great love of my life, and I guess she still owns part of me. But I came second to Peter, remember?"
"I would have thought that you would hate her? You've got every reason to."
"No." I sighed, "I don't think it's in me to hate Molly. I hate what she did, but I couldn't hate her."
Just then the door swung wide open, there stood Molly. Ralph was standing behind her, one arm firmly around her waist. The other hand clamped over her mouth. Mum was standing with her back to me, just to one side, but with her hand pressed firmly against Molly's chest. Tears were silently rolling down her cheeks.
At some unknown signal, both Ralph and Mum let go. Molly staggered forward into the room. Len sneaked out behind her, closing the door.
She just looked at me, and with choking sobs, "Why don't you hate me? ....... You should hate me. ..... I hate me."
Saul of Tarsus had his moment of clarity on the road to Damascus. Mine was that split second. Suddenly I knew the truth. Suddenly all my understanding of the wrongs of five years ago were just that, wrong.
Saul went blind for a while, he changed his name to Paul and started doing good works. Me? I just panicked!
I dodged round Molly and I was at the door. I pulled the handle, nothing happened. Somewhere, deep inside of me, huge, stomach wrenching sobs surfaced, "You can't do this..... you've no right.......not now.......No.......Its not fair."
I pulled the door handle again, still nothing. They'd locked us in. "Let me out. Ralph? Unlock this door NOW!"
Molly was on my back. She had her arms around my waist, and her face pressed to my shirt. "I love you....... I've always loved you......I've never loved Peter, not for an instance.... God knows, I've tried.....But I love you, Chris. I'm sorry....." She too seemed to be sobbing as she spoke.
Suddenly there was Ralph's voice through the door, "Molly?"
"Leave it. I've needed to tell him for so long. You've got to listen to me Chris. I've done some terrible things, I've made some dreadful mistakes and I'm sorry. But, please listen to me."
For a short eternity we just seemed frozen in time. Me with my hand still on the door handle. Molly clinging to my back.
Eventually, I think we both relaxed a little, we separated and I turned round. She looked at me, her face was tired and drawn, occasional tears were still rolling down her cheeks, but there was a look in her eyes that I haven't seen in years, and maybe never. Love? Hope? Remorse? I don't know what it was.
"Please, Chris. Let me tell you my story. Please. You can walk out after that. But, for my sake, please let me at least tell it. Please."
I didn't say anything; the door was locked; I wasn't going anywhere; so I sat down on the sofa. I wanted to curl up in a foetal position, but I just sat with my hands in my lap, slightly bent over as if I had a stomach ache. Most of my brain was committed to the emotions of the moment, to the pain in my stomach, to Hurt, Fear, Anger and to remembrance of all those emotions as well. But there was one small portion of it that was still logically functioning. I could hear her, I could see her and I could even feel some interest in what she was going to say.
Molly knelt down on the floor in front of me. I looked at her, her face was full of indecision. "I've rehearsed this speech so many times over the years. Now I don't know where to start."
Her head dropped and she stared at her knees. Then she looked up, "There are two fundamental truths in this story. Whatever you feel, whatever you think, please remember two things. First, I love you. I've always loved you, from the times you came here to this house to collect me for dates, right up until now. I love you and I've never, not for a minute, loved anyone else. It's true that for a short while, a matter of months I guess, I doubted that love. I shouldn't have. And for the last four years, my love has only been in my dreams and fantasies, because you weren't there to share it. But it is just as strong as it ever was, I promise you."
I felt I should respond, maybe tell her how much I've thought of her, but all I could do was to prompt her, "And the other truth?"
She looked at me, maybe disappointed at my lack of response, "You may not like this one. Peter is a good man who does truly love me. He's loving and caring. He's intelligent and has a wonderful sense of humour. He's sexy and good looking, he's a great cook, and he really believes in the good that his research might achieve. At the moment he is going through Hell, I know he is. He doesn't deserve what's happening to him at the moment."
"I have some problem with that." I said, thinking that, although all that she said maybe true, this all started with his immoral actions. He brought this on himself.
She half smiled, "Perhaps you do."
I almost felt that logical bit of my brain grow in strength, grow in its interest. "So what happened?"
Again, she took her time to think out what she was going to say, "Five years ago, you were at Jamesons. And you were working so hard. I knew you were fighting to keep your head above water. And I knew you were fighting for us, the wonderful house, the hard work, it was for all of us, I knew that. I was so proud of you. And there was nothing I could do to help you. Yes, I could keep the boys off your back if they were a bit much, I could get a nice meal when you wanted one, but I couldn't really help you." Tears were streaming down her cheeks again, "I was so frustrated that I couldn't help ease your load. A load you took on for all of us. But I couldn't think of anything, anyway to help."
"But, you did do so much. I thought you knew how much I appreciated all that you did. I tried to tell you."
"I know. But that didn't help. That even with all the pressure, you found time to buy me flowers, to spend time with the boys. In some ways it made me feel more useless."
"I'm sorry you felt that. I did wonder if my stress was spilling over on you."
She shook her head, "No. This was all my stress. I generated this emotion." She paused and gulped back some tears, "Well that's the background. Then, at work I met this very attractive man with a great sense of humour called Peter Davies. I thought he was nice. I didn't fancy him or anything, I had no sexual feelings for him at all. But he was nice. This is weeks, maybe a couple of months before anything happened."
"You never mentioned him."
She looked at me, slightly surprised, "I'm sure I did. There was certainly no reason for me not to. He was a nice guy, a nice friend. I thought you'd like him. If we'd been giving parties at that time I would have invited him, but we weren't, I didn't want to burden you with entertaining. But Peter wasn't a secret. You probably just didn't register the name. At a hospital there are so many people coming and going, I'm sure I mention a new name every week."
"Anyway, go on."
"Well, one Thursday, I had a particularly lousy morning. One patient was obviously not telling me the truth about his diet. Another was killing her child with kindness. I was fed up and browned off. But it was only a half day, all I was going to do was have a lunch in the canteen and go home. And by chance, I bumped into Peter. He was always a cheerful face, and he noticed how fed up I was. When I told him that all I was going to do was have lunch and go home, he suggested that he take me down to King Street and buy me a nice lunch. He said no one was expecting him to be anywhere particular that afternoon, he had plenty of time. I saw it as nothing more than a kind gesture from a friendly colleague. I actually remember thinking that it might even be a good idea, it would cheer me up, so that I would happy and cheerful for you when you came home. How stupid was that?"
She paused, to look at me and see how her story was going, but I just waited for her to continue.
"Anyway, we took his car down to town, and he chose a little Italian place in King Street."
"Don't tell me, its painted lime green?"
"It is now. It wasn't then, but I think it's the same place. Peter always insists on taking me back there for our anniversary. The place of my downfall, and I'm meant to think of it as 'our place'. I hate it, not for what it is, but for what it symbolises."
Again she paused, again I waited.
"Anyway, we had a nice lunch. Peter was great company. But there was nothing overtly sexual, I promise you. You could have sat in the corner and watched. There was nothing going on. Just two friends, who happened to be different genders, having lunch. But when it got time to leave, Peter asked if I was going to be OK to drive when we got back to the Hospital. And I said, I wasn't sure. I think I needed another cup of coffee and a bit of time to recover."
"How much had you had to drink?"
"Not that much, but probably enough to put me over the limit. I had a G&T when we sat down. Then we had wine with the meal, maybe I had slightly more than my fair share, as Peter had a bottle of water as well, he was driving after all. Then at the end, Peter asked if I'd ever tried grappa, as he never had. Well I hadn't either, so he ordered two glasses of grappa with the coffee. He took one sip of his and said he didn't like it. I didn't mind it, I wasn't a great fan, but it was OK. I ended up drinking both his and mine. So, a bit too much, but not a huge amount."
"So what happened?"
"Peter suggested that instead of having another cup of coffee there, that we go to his place. He'd bought this flat overlooking the old docks, and he was so proud of it. He'd been talking about it for weeks. So, he suggested that we go back there so that he could show it off, we'd have a cup of coffee there, and then he'd run me up to the Hospital to collect my car." She paused to collect her thoughts again, "I often wonder at what point I made the mistake. I guess accepting that invite may have been the start of it, but I promise you, Chris, honest to God, I didn't have any ulterior motive. And I don't think Peter had either."
"So when did that change?"
"Well, we got to his flat, and it really was quite impressive. It was all wood floors, and minimal furniture, quite a bachelor pad. Anyway, I was standing looking out of the window at the view of the old docks when I hear this terrific scream from the kitchen. I rushed to find out what had happened, and Peter is tearing his clothes off. He'd spilt boiling water right down his front. He couldn't get his shirt and trousers off quickly enough. It was an accident with his kettle. Once he'd wiped himself down, and said it he was OK, I went back to looking at the view. But, I'll admit, I had rather enjoyed the view of this sexy semi-naked man in the kitchen. That was the first time I was aware of sex that afternoon. And he was good looking, and he had a body that was so different to yours. Not that you aren't good looking, but he doesn't have any hair on his chest, and his skin colour was a darker tan than yours, that's what I mean by different.
"No offence taken."
"Anyway, I was looking out of the window again, and Peter came up right behind me, in just his Calvin Kleins. I could smell his cologne. I could feel his body heat through my blouse. And he stood right behind me, pointing out the sights. You could see the SS Great Britain in its dry dock and even that little recreation of the old ship that sailed the Atlantic was there, moored to the side."
"The Matthew? John Cabot's boat that he sailed to the America's in, at the end of the fifteenth century - I think."
"That's the one. It's so tiny. And to think men set sail right around the world in boats like that in those days."
She paused, but I wasn't going to let this slip into a discussion on maritime history, so I just waited.
"Sorry, where was I? Yes, the moment of my downfall. There was this tremendous sexual tension in the air. He leant forward and just kissed me, very lightly, on the side of my neck. It was as if there was a bubble around us. There was only the two of us in the whole world. Where were you? Where were the boys? Where was everything that was important to me? It should have been there to protect me. It should have been right at the front of my mind. Our love should have stopped me, why didn't it?"
She broke down in tears. I wondered if I should comfort her, but I knew my emotions were pretty unstable and I didn't trust them That stopped me. But by now I was truly listening, comprehending and reacting.
Eventually, she wiped her eyes. "I half turned and he kissed me fully on the lips. And suddenly, all I could think about was wanting him. I wanted him so badly, I wanted him in me, right there, right then. I'm sorry, Chris, but just for that moment I forgot you. I'm not going to tell you anything but the truth."
I think I was about to explode, and she saw it, but it didn't stop her. "We sort of shuffled into the bedroom, I guess he was leading me, because I didn't know the way. We were tearing at our clothes. Or I was, he only had to take off his boxers. I didn't have time to really undress, I slipped off my pants from under my skirt, I unbuttoned my blouse, but I only pulled......no I think he pulled my bra up above my breasts. And we did it. There was no foreplay, it was missionary position and then we rolled over and I rode him. We came at about the same time. And then the bubble burst. And then you were there in the room, I felt I could see you watching me. I remember sitting astride him, looking down at him, and I was horrified. I couldn't get off him fast enough."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. I don't think either of us said anything from the first little peck on the neck until the end. Then I was babbling about it being a mistake, and how I had to go. I found my shoes and pants, and I got out of there. I was still doing up the last buttons on my blouse when I got out onto the street. I found a taxi, and I went back for my car at the Hospital."
"And that was it?"
"Yes. But that's bad enough. I drove home, I'm not sure how, I probably wasn't emotionally fit to drive, let alone how much I'd drunk. But I did. And I had a very long, very hot shower. I was so ashamed of myself. I'd betrayed everything in my life. Everything that I believed in, everything that was good. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
Again she collapsed in tears. I just watched. Now that I knew this full story, it didn't seem so bad. But how would I have judged it then? Then I was an innocent. I hadn't fucked my way around the brothels of the world. I hadn't had so many one night stands that I've lost count.
Molly looked up, "By the time I'd finished in the shower, I suddenly realised that it was time to collect the boys off Susan. I should have collected them a lot earlier, and I phoned and apologised, and went and collected them." She laughed, "And that was the start of you finding out. Jamie had got some plastic cartoon character out of the cereal packet that morning. I can't remember which one, but it was bright yellow, I do remember that. And Ben had got hold of it when they were in the back of the car, and they were squabbling. Their Mother had just betrayed them, betrayed you, and everything we believed in, and they were squabbling about some damned bit of bright yellow plastic. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and turned round and screamed at them. That was the start of me letting my anger at myself out on them. I shouldn't have done it, it adds to my shame. But that evening, I tried to act normally, and just hoped it would all go away. That time would let me get over it."
"But I noticed."
"Yes, you must have picked up on something. Suddenly, with all the pressure on you, you still found time to be an even better Dad. You got in to read them their bedtime stories. You were the perfect father and husband, and I was the evil, traitorous wife. Why did you have to be so bloody good that week of all weeks? Don't answer that, I know why. But it made it all the worse for me. Well you know what happened, you caught on that something was wrong, perhaps you knew or guessed it all, I don't know. But, eventually I confessed on that Sunday evening."
"You had been to work that week, and you did see him again?"
"Yes. Twice. I told him it was all a mistake, a dreadful mistake. And I didn't want to talk to him or see him again. Two days later, he delivered a huge bunch of flowers to my desk to apologise. I accepted his apology, but told him we couldn't be friends."
"I can understand why you didn't tell me when it happened, but when I found out, why didn't you just tell me all this then? Why did you let me believe that he was more than that to you? And above all else, why couldn't you tell me that you simply loved me? That was the bit that really hurt the most."