Back to Bristol Ch. 14


Just then, our food turned up, but between mouthfuls, Ralph continued, "...Anyway, when your decree nisi had been declared, he used to come and collect Molly from our house some evenings. When we were babysitting by having the boys to stay with us. I guess a lot had been going on before that under Susan's conductor's baton. But anyway, I always felt I was answering the door to a young schoolboy. It was like when Molly was seventeen, and the first boyfriends started appearing. There was an immature earnestness to him. It was as if Molly was his first true love. He just seemed all keyed up and obsessed."

"I remember that feeling. Oh for the innocence of youth..." I responded.

Ralph paused, and looked at me, chewing thoughtfully, "Well, add the sophistication and money of adulthood to how you were. How did you react when your first true love turned you down?"

"She was Yvette Cooper, and she told me that Charlie Taplin had asked her out, and she was going. I was devastated. I could have murdered both of them, just to show her how much I needed her." I paused, "If you're right, God help us. He could do anything."

"Well, he is also highly intelligent and a little more mature than you were then. But, I wouldn't be surprised if he gets very upset, and doesn't play by mature and sensible rules. I hope I'm wrong. Maybe he'll go away defeated. He must know that he's a lost cause."

"Yes. He was the one that accused her that she loved me. So he knows, in his heart, the true story. Let's hope he acts sensibly."

After that, we finished our lunch and then strolled back to my flat. But Ralph didn't come in, he got in his car and went home. As he drove away, I realised that he hadn't asked me what I was going to do, not that I could have told him. But I was grateful that he hadn't asked.

I went in and watched sport on the television, until it was time to change and head for Piers' and Jeanette's home in Bath.

On my way to Bath I did manage to stop and buy a huge bunch of flowers for Jeanette, and far more important, with a minor detour, I was back at my whisky shop, where I bought half a dozen miniatures of what I hoped were fairly unusual malt whiskies.

When I arrived, and after the initial welcome, when Piers marked each of my six little miniatures out of ten, and I scored a total of forty-seven, we went and sat down. Jeanette announced that, although she wanted to know every detail of my story, we weren't going to talk about that until we sat down to eat. So, instead, I got a complete gin and tonic's worth of Edward including photo's, the joys of grandparenthood, and how his other two grandparents were doing everything wrong, but I was let off the video.

But almost as soon as we sat down to eat, Jeanette just said, "OK then, from the top...."

I looked at her, "But I know Piers has told you almost all of it...."

"Yes. But he's a scientist. He only tells me the facts. He never tells me about the look in someone's eye, the inflection in the voice, all the important things."

And so, with Piers sitting there between us, I told Jeanette everything as best I could remember it. I just hoped he wasn't too bored, but it was him that prompted me on a couple of things, which did help explain things to Jeanette. It took all the first course and a very large part of the main course before I'd finished. The only bit that I didn't talk about was the details of Molly's story of her limiting their sex life inside her marriage. I did say that she limited it, but I drew a veil over exactly how. For some reason, I seemed to respect Peter's privacy when I was talking to his boss. Jeanette had asked a couple of questions, but I got the impression that hearing the story told my way, in my words, from my lips, was very important to her.

I finished with telling as much as I knew of Peter's and Susan's collusion, and of Susan's lies and manipulation, ending with the story of the letter. Afterwards there was a long silence. When I'd finished Jeanette just said, "Tell Molly to phone me. I'd like to meet her and talk to her. It's time to mend my fences with her."

I was surprised, "I thought you had problems with adultery? And whatever the circumstances, she still cheated on me. But I am very pleased that you said that, and I will certainly tell her. You know that she doesn't know why you and they split? Peter never explained it."

Jeanette smiled, "Then I can leave her thinking it was Peter, not her, which is mainly sort of true." She paused, "But you're right. I'm the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and still a regular churchgoer. With very few exceptions in some grey areas, adultery is wrong and unacceptable to me." She paused to look directly at me, "And that includes you with Molly a few weeks ago. But I'm also a daughter of the manse who was taught to take a tolerant view of people's mistakes, and to forgive those who trespass against me."

There was little said after that, until Piers had finished serving the dessert, when he asked "Can you forgive her, Chris? Do you want to, or even to try?"

"Actually, that stupid moment of lust seems quite minor in my thinking at the moment. Mind you, I have found that things keep changing in importance. What was important last week is minor this week, and vice versa. But I don't think I've ever thought that one moment's stupidity, especially fuelled by alcohol or circumstances, should be allowed to ruin a family or a good marriage. Instead, it's something to be got over, recovered from." I paused and smiled, "Maybe it's the nearly five years since that's taken some of the sting out of it. Maybe it's that I've had too many lousy lustful moments with the wrong person in the intervening years that has lent me some tolerance, some understanding, but that isn't my problem at the moment." Again I paused, and realised that both Piers and Jeanette were listening intently, "I'm not saying that I don't mind, I don't like the idea of my wife cheating on me...."

Piers asked, "If you'd known then what you know now, would you have forgiven her?"

"That I can't answer. In theory, I'd like to say Yes. But I was so hurt, so angry, I don't know that my rational mind would have won."

Jeanette seemed to take a different tack, "Was spontaneous sex part of yours and Molly's life? You don't seem to be the sort of people for Thursdays and Saturdays, after the ten o'clock news and with the lights off."

I smiled, and was grateful for her blunt question. She wasn't politely shying away from sensitive areas, and I liked that. "Yes. I mean you have to be a little more circumspect with two young boys around. But before they came along....Yes."

"Yes. So for Molly it wasn't surprising to suddenly want sex with the right man at the right moment. It was just that it was the right moment, but the wrong man. But then we know he'd worked very hard to be The Man at that moment..."

I smiled, I liked her choice of words. "You could say that..."

Piers looked round the table, "Why don't you go and sit down comfortably, and I'll get some coffee."

And that's what we did. Jeanette asked another very basic question whilst Piers was in the kitchen, "Do you still love her?" But I couldn't give her a proper answer on that. I tried to explain how I felt about Molly, that surely some of my love for her has not died, but I really couldn't separate out my current feelings from memories, and the hurt and the anger still, and loyalty to the mother of my sons. It was all too muddled.

It was the natural break of Piers returning and pouring the coffee that brought that wandering, unintelligible explanation of my feelings to an end. But then Piers sat back and asked, "OK. So what are you worrying about this week then? What stops you trying to see what's left?"

I sighed thoughtfully, this was the question I needed to be asked, but I wasn't sure how to answer it. Eventually, I tried, "I know that Susan used every trick in the book to make the fault line between Molly and me a permanent feature. And I know that Susan and Peter worked in some sort of collusion to trap Molly into that new relationship. But, I still can't get over that she allowed it to happen. I can't help feeling that there must have been some part of her that wanted it to happen as well. And if that's true, then maybe we are where we are, not because her true love has broken through at last, but because her second love just didn't work out quite as well as she hoped."

I looked at Jeanette. I knew I wanted her thoughts and not a clinical analysis from Piers. Jeanette knew Molly, and maybe a woman's view would give me something new.

Unfortunately it was Piers who started to answer, "Surely, that's a matter of trust. You either believe her and trust her, or you don't...."

But Jeanette interrupted, "No. I don't think that's what Chris is worried about, is it? Not really? It's that you can't reconcile the way she behaved then with the woman you thought you knew and maybe even the woman that seems to be around now?"

I felt relieved, "Yes. That's it exactly. I can't see a rational explanation for what happened after her moment of stupid lust."

We all sipped our coffee in silence. Then Jeanette turned to Piers, "Maybe it's like Claire after Roger's death?"

Piers shrugged, and Jeanette turned to me, "Roger and Claire were neighbours of ours in our first family house. Claire was an accountant by training, and Roger worked for one of the big banks, in their corporate loans department I think. Their garden backed on to ours, and they were similar age and had two children like us. Only theirs went girl boy whilst ours went Fraser then Ester. We weren't that close as friends, but we got along OK. Anyway, one day Claire knocked on my door in tears. I think I was the only one around when she needed someone. Roger had gone into hospital for a couple of days for some tests. He was thirty one at the time, and that morning the doctor had seen them both and told them that Roger had cancer..."

I interrupted, "I'm sorry, Jeanette. And I know you think this story maybe relevant, but I had Myra Hepsted giving me little anecdotes of other people's lives the other day to argue a point. I was hoping that, as you know Molly quite well, you could just tell me if you think she was just dumb enough to do what her mother told her to do."

"I didn't really know Molly then. Not well. I guess Peter didn't introduce us until he had almost got her to the altar, or at least the Registry Office. But, I think you've got to let me answer your question in my own way, as best as I can."

"OK. Sorry." I said and sipped my coffee.

"Anyway, what followed was two years of Roger fighting the Big C. Operations, chemo, radiotherapy, love, recuperation, long holidays, you name it. And then, after about two years, the doctors said they were sorry, but there was nothing else they could do. He had about two months left, and they got him into a hospice. And he died seven weeks later."

I did a quick calculation, "So he was thirty three. I'm sorry. That is young, too young."

Jeanette continued, "Yes it is. Well, you can imagine, everyone rallied. Poor Claire's freezer was brimming over with casseroles. And her children were taken on every day trip any neighbour was taking. But, after the nine day wonder died down, it seemed that I was the only one taking a real interest. Claire's family lived miles away. Anyway, I did my bit, and checked up on her every day, and tried to make sure she ate properly, and that she was looking after the children. And I let her talk and talk and talk, because that's what she needed to do. And that went on for weeks."

"OK." I said, still not seeing where this was leading.

Jeanette smiled, "Stay with me. There is a point to this story. Then I began to notice that if she said she didn't know what to get the children for supper, and I said my lot were only going to get pizza because I hadn't had time to cook properly, then the next day I'd find out that her two got pizza. If I said that Piers and myself were going to watch Morse on the television that night, then you could bet on it that Claire would watch Morse. She started attending my church, although I'd been careful not to invite her, I didn't want to push my religion onto her. She had become totally dependent on me, she was incapable of thinking for herself. I don't think she knew she was doing it, and it was all quite scary."

"You really were shaken by it, I remember." Piers observed, "I told you to go and talk it over with our doctor."

"And I did," Jeanette continued, "And I went to see the people at the hospice where Roger had died. They said it wasn't at all unusual, and that she needed professional counselling."

"And did she?" I asked.

"Yes. I used these very powers of influence that I seemed to have to get her to see a proper bereavement counsellor. And that did the trick. A year later she moved to live nearer her family. A few years after that she met another man, and now she's happily married to a farmer in New Zealand. On her last Christmas card she said she runs the farm holiday side of their business. She has four fulltime staff and twenty-one part time staff under her. There is nothing wrong with her mental abilities, there never really was."

Piers sat forward, "She was shocked and grief-stricken. She had two years warning that Roger might die. She had seven weeks notice that it was definitely going to happen. And yet, when it did happen she became totally dependent on a friendly neighbour. Molly went from being a happily married wife and mother to a single parent where her partner now hated her, or so she thought, in the space of a couple of weeks. And she turned to the one person in the world who she thought she could trust, her own mother." He paused, and then added, "And Claire knew that it was an act of God. Molly knew that it was all her own fault."

Jeanette turned to me, and looked me in the eyes, "I don't know what Molly was like in those days. But is it possible that, in her way, she became totally dependent on her mother? In my opinion it is well within the bounds of possibility. And she herself probably doesn't know how dependent she really was. But you know her, Chris, you'll have to make up your own mind."

After that I was probably pretty lousy company. But Jeanette and Piers didn't grumble. I was deep in thought. The only real decision I came to was that, whereas before I was shocked and disgusted at what Susan had done to Molly, now I was beginning to take on a personal hatred for what she had done to me.

At some point, Piers had slipped a small glass of whisky onto the table in front of me. "It's my Highland Park. You look as if you could do with it."

I smiled and took it and sipped it, "I'm sorry. I seem to have a lot to think about."

Not long after that, with very grateful thanks to both Jeanette and Piers, I said my farewells.

I was almost out of the door when Piers said, "Well, if there's anything we can do, then let us know. It can't be easy."

I smiled, probably fairly weakly, "Thanks."

"And anyway, we've got to continue your education in the true religion, the gift of my forefathers to the world."

Now I did smile, "You just want to get your hands on my Balvenie."

As I drove home, I seemed to feel that I had got to make-your-mind-up time. That I knew everything that I was going to know about Molly and what happened.

On the Sunday I put my bike on the back of my car and drove out into Somerset. I parked and quietly cycled. This time I was very careful not to over do it, and I stopped several times, three times at very pleasant pubs, but I only had alcohol at lunchtime. But whilst cycling along the country lanes I had time to think. And that's what I needed to do. It was up to me to decide, did I want to try and build some new relationship with Molly, or do I just walk away but have my boys at the weekends?

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