Back to Bristol Ch. 11byGaryAPB©
I drove home on that Holiday Monday afternoon, I not quite sure how, I don't remember any of the journey. But I got home, and I don't think I left a trail of destruction in my wake.
As I put the key in my front door all I could think about was having a large whisky. Then I heard a little voice saying: No, don't run to the whisky bottle. Instead I put on a pair of shorts and picked up my cycle helmet.
I cycled and cycled. I found the start of the Bristol-Bath cycle route, and I set out. By the time I got to Bath I was exhausted. I hadn't cycled that far in years, if ever. At first, I had been full of angry energy, now I'd be grateful for any energy. I'm not sure how I managed it, but I turned round and cycled back again. By the time I pushed the bike up the last hill towards home, I guess I'd cycled about thirty five miles, maybe a bit less. I was knackered, my back screamed at me, by thighs just ached, my knees refused to bend anymore, and I had basically no feeling in my legs below my knees. Even my shoulders ached, and what have they got to do with cycling? Shoulders don't put any effort in!
I got into my flat, and I flopped down in a chair. I must have sat there for half and hour, just sitting there. Finally I dragged myself off for the longest, hottest shower of my life.
By now it was getting late. I felt better, and was padding around the flat in my bath robe, when my phone rang. It was Len.
"Hello, Chris. I thought I'd give you a call. Are you OK?"
"I went for a cycle ride. God only knows what made me do it, but I've just cycled about a hundred miles more than I should. I never knew what knackered meant until now."
He laughed, "Well, you sound alright."
"What's happening at your end?"
"Oh, your mother and Ralph took Molly and the two boys back to their house. I think Ralph was to look after Molly, and your mother wasn't objecting to looking after the boys. She's just phoned me to say that they're on their way back, and now she's starting to worry about you. That's why I phoned, so that I can put her mind to rest when she gets here."
"Well, tell her I'm OK. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure what to think or do. She threw a hell of a lot at me this afternoon, Len. I don't think I've thought it all through yet."
"Well take your time. Ralph said he tried to warn you that he was sure Molly was going to ask you to do the hardest thing you've probably ever done in your life, only he knows you misunderstood him."
I laughed, "Well I wasn't expecting this one."
"I'm sure a lot of well meaning people will want to know what you're going to do. They expect you to instantly make up your mind. Tell them to bugger off, take your time, and come to the right answer in your own time."
"Well, I'm going to have a whisky and go to bed soon."
"Make sure it's only one. I suspect you found too much friendship in a whisky bottle when all this started, years ago. I don't blame you, it's just that there are better ways."
"That's why I went cycling, so now my drug of choice is ibuprofen to stop the aches and pains."
Len laughed, "See you tomorrow evening, Chris. I'll look forward to it."
He was right, a cup of coffee and a couple of ibuprofen would be better than a whisky.
I sat in my chair, and considered what Molly had told me, and what I thought of it all. I think I was still reacting, I'm knew I still hadn't thought it all through. But, I had come to some conclusions. I was convinced that what she told me was the truth, or at least the truth as she saw it.
Somehow, I could vaguely accept that it explained the divorce. I was part of that, I divorced her after all. And I could see how I got trapped into my belief, into the misunderstanding of the facts. I knew how hurt I was, how angry I was, maybe how unreasonable I was. I could see how the divorce happened. But she should have come to me, or Ralph or someone should have said something. But no one did.
I had real difficulty in accepting that she went off and married Peter. She knew she didn't love him. OK, people do make mistakes, especially on the rebound. Especially when depressed or shocked or whatever her mental state was. But to do something downright stupid and wrong... well that isn't the Molly I thought I knew. And it is someone who I didn't like very much.
And then there was the big one, could we put it all back together? And I hadn't the faintest idea about that one. My inclination was to say No. But was that good sense or cowardice? I didn't know the answer to that either.
I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I guess physical exhaustion has something in its favour.
I woke up the next morning to a little routine that I have practiced so often in my life. I sit on the edge of the bed, and I promise: Never Again. Usually it is never to drink that much again, occasionally it has been never to treat some woman that badly again, this time it was never ever to cycle that far again without getting myself fully fit first.
My legs ached, my back ached, but far more important than that was that my arse was so bloody sore. At the end of a hot shower, which eased my muscles but stung my butt, I could stand upright and even walk at a world shattering pace of about ten miles per century, but my arse just hurt. Eventually I found a half used bottle of after-sun cream, which was the nearest thing I had to any skin cream, and I salved my cheeks with that. It helped.
I cautiously walked through Carole's office, with a surly "Morning." from me.
As I walked to my desk, she followed me, "What happened to you? You didn't meet Peter Davies in that dark alley did you?"
I knew she was joking, but there was an element of truth in it. I smiled to myself, grimly.
"I went for a cycle ride, and I shouldn't have."
"Jamie and Ben too fit for you?"
"I was by myself, and I cycled to Bath and back as a one off. And I don't think I've ever cycled that far and certainly not for years."
She paused thinking about that, "That must be over thirty miles. What in the world made you do a thing like that?"
"Nothing. It seemed a good idea at the time."
"Rubbish. Was this the macho Dad, proving something to his sons? Something like that?"
Very quickly I was becoming tired of this conversation and the direction it could take. I tried to move it along, "I don't feel too good today. Any chance we can make sure I have a fairly light day?"
"I'll check the diary. It wasn't going to be too bad anyway. I think you were going to sit here and let a parade of people come and see you." Again she paused, "So what made you do it? You didn't suddenly decide to torture every muscle in your body. Look at you, you can hardly walk. What made you do it, Chris?"
"Nothing. I had some things to think about, that's all."
"Think about what?"
"Think about whether I should sack an over inquisitive secretary. Can we talk about my diary?"
That seemed to close the conversation, and with only one meeting postponed, I expected to get through the day without leaving my office.
I did ask Carole to phone the estate agent for the flat I'd fancied. I'd told the agent on Sunday that I would take it, but now she needed all the details of bank references and personal details for the lease.
Carole looked pleased.
I was suspicious, "Why are you smiling?"
"Two reasons. I thought that was the nicest flat, the one I would have taken if I were you. But also, the agent, she's a niece. About twenty five times removed, but we are related. I told you I had a huge family, and they pop up at surprising moments."
"Well you can also ask her if she knows of someone who can do my cleaning, and better still, do my laundry as well."
By lunchtime I was feeling better, and I went down to the canteen. The sight of the MD queuing for his lunch and sitting with a bunch of juniors was no longer something to whisper about. I sat with a bunch from IT. Sod's law played, one of them happened to be a very keen cyclist. Half and hour of advice on what I did wrong was not what I needed.
As I came back to my office, Myra was there, talking to Carole. I only caught one phrase from Myra as I approached the open door, "I can try and have a word with him, if you think it will help. He might talk to ....". No prizes for guessing what that was about.
I closed Carole's outer door and turned and looked at them, "My ex-wife of four years chose yesterday to tell me that she'd never loved Peter Davies. That she loved me, only me, and she still does. OK?"
I just kept on walking to my desk, as I turned to sit on the far side, I realised that they had both followed me into my office and were standing in the middle of the room, just looking at me.
"And I'm not going to talk about it. Not now, not until I've grasped it all and vaguely feel that I might understand it. So can we get some work done, please?"
Myra had the good grace to step backwards, and to leave. Carole just stood there looking at me. Suddenly her face softened, "Shit happens!" she announced, and then she too left.
We got through the afternoon without Carole saying a word about Molly. I was grateful for that.
At about six o'clock she came into my office, "I'm off now. Chris, if you'd like to come back to my place you'd be most welcome. It's only going to be fish pie, it's one of Rick's favourites....."
I looked at my watch, "That's very kind, Carole. Thank you. But, in less than an hour, I've got to be at my ex-father-in-law's. Apparently he's got some more family secrets that he wants me to know. As if I didn't have enough problems. But then I'm taking my mother and step-father out to dinner...."
"Your mother!? I thought she was in Australia..."
"She was. But she secretly came all the way here, so that she could enjoy yesterday's little festivities. In fact she played a part in it...."
She stepped up to my desk and reached for my hand. She gave it a gently squeeze, "Look after yourself, Chris." She smiled and then turned and left.
At seven o'clock I was knocking at Ralph and Susan's. Len opened the door, "Ralph's in the sitting room. He's waiting for you."
Ralph was sitting in an easy chair, he looked up at me as I came in. I knew he was sixty two or sixty three, he looked to be in his seventies. He smiled, "Would you like a drink, Chris?"
"No thanks. I'll be drinking at dinner."
"You don't mind if I have one. I could do with it."
I watched him as he poured himself a small brandy and ginger. As he sat down again, he looked at me, "Tell me Chris, did Susan come and see you about a week after you'd actually issued the divorce petition?"
"No. As far as I know, she didn't try. I didn't have any message that she wanted to see me. Why?"
He sighed, "That's what I guessed." He paused, "I knew, I always knew that Molly regretted her little dalliance with Peter. I kept telling her that she had to go and see you, to talk to you. I think she was just feeling too guilty, too scared to do so. And she'd got hold of the idea that you had to come to her. Anyway, Susan and myself had this pact that we wouldn't interfere, it was very important to Susan. She said our role was to look after Molly and to see Jamie and Ben through it. She put a lot of time and effort into that."
"I'm grateful for that, Ralph. I really am."
He didn't like my interruption, "Hear me out. Well, one evening I really began to get a bit hot under the collar about someone, anyone, at least trying to talk to you. I said I was going round to see you, then and there. Susan told me not to, that I was too upset to do it. But she promised to go and see you the next day. Well we know now that she didn't. But when I asked, she told me she had seen you. That you'd rejected any approach, that Molly had been unfaithful and that was that."
"She never saw me."
"Now I know that. Since that Sunday, when we talked down in the shed, I've realised that Susan actively worked to see you and Molly break up. I don't know the whole story, I doubt whether we ever will, but she's lied to me on several occasions, and she's made things happen or not happen that suited her cause."
I sat back in my chair, and sighed, "Wow!" I looked at him, "You really do believe that, don't you?"
"Sadly, Yes. When you told me how upset you were that night when I brought Molly down to see you... And I can't tell you how angry Susan was with me that I did that. It was the only night in over thirty years of marriage that we chose to sleep in separate bedrooms. Anyway, once you'd told me and I went in I was so angry with Molly, and I started to rant and rave. But then somehow it didn't fit, that you were so upset that night, when you'd been so deaf to Susan's entreaties only a few weeks before." He looked up at me, "Well, I know when my wife is guilty. It shows in her eyes. So then I asked her about Good Friday, that you thought she had lied. That got to her, she was guilty about that as well, but when I pushed her she suddenly broke out as to how she had to bring Peter and Molly back together, before you and Molly got together. She was really scared that you might come back into the picture."
"You told me that she was scared of me."
"I hadn't realised how much. Well, after that I lost my temper, I think you saw me. And I began to ask some very awkward questions. Now I believe that she did all in her power to make the rift between you and Molly permanent, and then to push Molly and Peter together."
I sat quietly for a moment, just thinking about that and all its ramifications, "You're saying she did her best to not only split up Molly and me, but to break up her own grandsons' home. And talk Molly into marrying a man she didn't love. That's horrible. What sort of mother is she?"
"Oh, I think she sees it as building a happy family. A nice house here in Bristol, and a man who isn't going to go out and conquer the world. Her grandsons just down the road, and she can see them three or four times a week. And when they started getting awkward with Peter, she suggested that they stay here some nights, to give Molly and Peter some time to themselves. Perfect as far as she was concerned."
"So what happened?"
"Well we had an almighty row on that Sunday night. Followed by an icy calm and harsh words on the Monday. The only break I took was that I phoned your mother in Melbourne. I told her that I just had to get you and Molly together. Anyway, as far as Susan was concerned, I said I wanted her to go away for a bit. Not only was I pleased to see the back of her, I've never been so disgusted with her in all our married life, I was beyond anger. But I also wanted her out of the way, I didn't want her using underhand tactics if I was going to try to get you and Molly together. Eventually, I got her to go down to her sister's in Weymouth. Maybe the sea air will help her think about what she's done."
"Did you talk to Molly?"
"Not about this, not then. I intended to. I went around there, after Susan had left, on the Wednesday evening. I had to explain her mother's absence, after all. But I started with really laying into her for not talking to you on that night that I brought her to see you. I told you, I reduced her to tears, and I still kept going. But whilst she was all raw emotion, I suddenly asked her if she still loved you. She had tears running down her face from me shouting at her, but she said, 'More than you can ever imagine', but that you were never to know. You had every reason to hate her and probably did. That you had your own life now, and she had no right to interfere. That you must never know. She made me promise never to tell you. She did admit that she had thought about it, that she'd beg you to take her back, now that you were back in Bristol, but after the Easter Monday episode she'd decided against it. It was her fault she'd lost you through her own mistakes, and she could never have you back."
"So what happened?"
"Well she was far too upset for me to launch an attack on her mother. So I left and came to see you. To beg you to go and see her." He tried to smile, "But you were as scared as she was. That's why your mother and I cooked up yesterday's little charade."
"But you've seen Molly today?"
"Yes, I went round to see her early this afternoon. I told her what I suspected of Susan's games. Of course Molly was horrified and said I must be mistaken. But I told her of the two or three times that I know or am pretty sure that Susan lied to me. Eventually, I think I got her re-appraising Susan and what she did and said."
"Poor Molly." was all I could say, "To have to think that of your own mother."
For a moment, Ralph looked at me, very straight in the eyes, "I really am so sorry Chris. I feel guilty. A man should know what's going on under his own roof. He should know what his wife is doing, especially about family. I really am so sorry that I let you down. It seems that me, my wife, my daughter, we're all good at that." He sighed again.
"I don't know what to say, Ralph, except, maybe I'm just sorry for you." I paused and looked at my watch, "I guess I'd better go. Mum and Len will be waiting. Do they know about all this?"
"Yes, I told them. There's no point in keeping secrets."
"You and Susan? You'll be alright, won't you? We don't need another broken marriage on our hands."
"Oh, we'll pull through. You get used to living with all sorts of things. And you don't even think of breaking up when you've been married as long as we have. Don't worry about that."
I looked at my watch, "Well, I guess I ought to go and find Mum and Len." I looked at him, he seemed an old and broken man, "Are you going to be alright? Why not come with us? Mum and Len won't mind."
"No. I promised Molly that I'd go around there with a Chinese, after she's got the boys to bed. I think I'd like to check that she's OK. You go off and have a good evening."
Once I'd got the three of us in my car, and we'd set out, I had an admission, "I've got to confess, I haven't booked anywhere. I haven't been the brightest spark today. Sorry."
Len's voice came from the back seats, "Maybe you've had other things on your mind."
"Let's go and see if Les Jardins is still there." Mum suggested.
Les Jardins was the height to sophistication to the widow of a railway worker years ago. It was French. In fact it was a cheerful café, with good basic French peasant food, good wines, and a cheerful atmosphere. Myself and Molly had eaten there a couple of times before we were married, but I hadn't any idea whether it was still in business.
So I headed for Les Jardins. Whilst we drove along the inevitable discussion started on Susan. Mum was quite clear, she was a selfish inhuman bitch. I don't think Mum had an ounce of sympathy for a woman scared of losing her daughter and grandsons to an ambitious husband. I think I was just saddened by Susan's behaviour, but I didn't know whether she had done any real damage, except maybe to Ralph. I accepted that she had tried to come between myself and Molly, but whether she was successful depended on Molly and how she felt her actions were coloured by her mother.
Les Jardins was still in business. In fact someone had taken a strategic decision, because it was obvious that they now style themselves as a theme restaurant, with a French peasant theme. And their prices had risen to match. But we got a table and were soon served our drinks.
Mum isn't a person to hold back until the coffee stage on saying what's on her mind. So I wasn't surprised when she looked across the table and started, "What do you think, Chris, about all you've been told in the last couple of days?"
I shrugged, "I guess in some ways, it's good to know the truth. But whether it changes anything..."
"Of course it changes things. You've got an opportunity to get your family back. It's what you must do, I know it will be hard, but it's your duty for Jamie and Ben's sake."