Back to Bristol Ch. 01


"Yes, sorry. As I said, I was very stressed. Part of the solution, or I thought so then, was to work harder and longer." I glanced up, but before he could say or even think anything, I said, "I know what your thinking: that I just lost my family to work. Well I didn't, I put rules around myself. I always insisted that we had family breakfast, although I did move that forward by half and hour, but it meant I did see the boys everyday. I always made sure that I got home in time for a meal with Molly, normally at about seven thirty and never later than eight o'clock. Then we would watch a bit of telly, or she'd do her crossword and I might read some business papers. I never did any computer work at home so that I wouldn't cut myself off into the computer, and I never went into the office at weekends. I thought that, considering it was tough times, I was keeping to the right side of reasonable." I shrugged.

"Travel? Nights away and entertaining?" He asked.

"Not much. Maybe a couple of nights per month in London. And maybe another couple of nights a month taking someone to dinner, but I managed to take Molly along on about half of those occasions, and she was great making polite conversation with some buyer from a supermarket and his wife. I don't believe that was the problem."

"And how was Molly in that time?"

"She knew I was tired and stressed, I never hid it from her. And she was great, she kept everything calm at home, she always had a lovely dinner waiting for me in the evening. She always dressed nicely and looked great. She made sure weekends were kept clear to be a family time with no chores. She even took over my job of writing the weekly email for my Mum in Melbourne, just to take another job off my hands."

"And did you say thank you?"

"Yes I did." I said, somewhat indignantly. "I bought flowers, I took little presents home whenever I spotted something she'd like. I told her I loved her --- often! And I used to say thank you about once a week for all she did. I've always been a good boy like that."

Keith hesitated: "How about the bedroom, if I dare ask?"

I smiled, I had no problem answering, "Great. She was always there for me. I don't think Molly refused me once in our whole married life. We had a rich, varied and plentiful sex life. And she was as eager as I was, pregnancy times excepted. I would guess three or four times a week at about that time, which considering we had two young children I didn't think was bad."

"Oh." Keith looked disappointed. "So when did you see something going wrong?"

"Well, I guess I misunderstood it at the time, but about ten or eleven days before blow-up day, she seemed slightly over the top in mothering me in the evening. I did register that I wondered if my stress was beginning to spill over onto her. I wondered if her job at the Hospital was getting too much."

Keith frowned, "She's a dietician, isn't she?"

"Yes. And she was working at the Hospital part time, about fifteen to twenty hours a week. But I know she always felt some involvement and responsibility for some of the patients. Maybe I hadn't cared enough about that, I don't know."

I paused, to give him a chance to ask any question. When he didn't, I went on: "And then that weekend the boys seemed very clinging to me, do you know what I mean? Everything was Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. If Ben needed his food cut up, then Daddy had to do it. Daddy had to read the bedtime stories, you know the sort of thing."

"Yes, I know." He sounded sad in his remembrance. Then he saw my look, and said, "It's OK, you get used to being hit by sadness." And he smiled weakly.

"So, I thought the boys are the problem. However much I've tried, they've missed me. So, for the next week I made sure I was in early enough to at least read them their bedtime story. But Molly still seemed a bit off, distant but very caring towards me. Anyway we get to the blow-up weekend. I remember packing my briefcase on the Friday night at the office, filling it with papers to read. Then I thought 'Sod it, family comes first' and I purposely went home without it."

"Good boy." Keith muttered.

I ignored his patronising comment, "We had a great family weekend. On the Saturday we went to a Disney film and then out to a restaurant. It was Ben's first ever trip to a cinema, he had to sit on my knee to watch it, and even then he fell asleep. But it was a great warm family feeling, I promise you. And after we'd got the boys to bed, and had something to eat ourselves, we went to bed early - if you know what I mean."

I looked at him, Keith smiled and nodded, so I went on, "And we almost did it again on Sunday morning, except Ben woke up and started making a general nuisance of himself. Anyway, on that Sunday we took them down to the beach at Weston. I built sandcastles and we ate ice creams, and Jamie rode on the donkeys. It was great day out, and I'm sure everyone loved it."

"So, when did it go wrong?"

"Well, I had noticed that the boys were still very much Daddy's boys. A couple of times I had to correct them for what was almost minor insolence to their Mother. And I really didn't know what was causing it. So, after I'd put them to bed and read them their story, I came down stairs, poured a couple of glasses of wine, and started to try and talk about it to Molly. I wondered if this was just a stage they were going through, or had she done something to upset them, or what? I just didn't know."


"And after a lot of delving and talking and refusing to ignore it, with her saying 'they'll just get over it' or 'they've been a bit troublesome lately' I got to what I thought was a truth when she admitted that she'd been a bit hard on them recently, and had been shouting at them. So she was the rotten Mummy and I was the good Dad. So, now I knew, but that only raised more questions, and I teased away at it, and she got more and more short tempered and agitated, and she was almost in tears at one point. Then she said it: 'There's been someone else.' Well, if you want a conversation stopper between a married couple then that's it. There's a sort of pause while you re-marshal your emotions and get your head around that little gem."

Keith smiled, but was listening intently. I took a sip of water.

I smiled, "Choose any invective you like, associate it with a couple of really good profanities, and I'm pretty sure I threw it that night, and at fairly high decibels. She was sobbing her heart out about how she felt so guilty, and how she never wanted to hurt me. That's why she'd been so short-tempered with the boys for the previous week. And, yes, she had had sex with him, at his flat down by the waterfront. Eventually, I asked if she loved him. Somewhere along the line I'd learnt that his name was Peter Davies and he was doing some research at the Hospital. Actually I think I gave her a simple choice, did she love him or did she open her legs for every randy researcher at the Hospital? She said she had 'deep feelings' for him. To be honest, that totally deflated me. I felt utterly defeated, my whole life had just slipped through my fingers. There was nothing left to say, I just went to bed."

"What did you take her to mean when she said she had deep feelings for him?"

"Precisely what she said. That he was very important to her. Probably more than that, I assumed she would ease back a bit from the truth for my sake, to make it easier for me. I guess I assumed she loved him."

"Anyway, go on. What happened next?"

"I went to bed, she came up about half and hour later. She was still in tears, and saying how sorry she was that she'd hurt me. All I did was tell her that she wasn't welcome in any bed where I was. She should take her things and sleep in the spare bedroom. I think that hit her very hard, it really came home to her at that point that we'd suddenly got to the end. Then I lay in my bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering all sorts of thoughts. And I could hear her crying in the other room."

Keith was thoughtful for a moment before he asked, "I guess I should ask: Did she have any reason to maybe think you might be playing away? A serious affair maybe, or just one night stands. You've told me that that is exactly what you did after the break-up."

"Of course I've thought about that. I can certainly say there was nothing like that whatsoever in my life. But did she think there might be? Well, how do I know? She shouldn't have, because there was nothing."

"OK. Sorry, but I thought I should ask."

"Look, Keith, I don't want to make out that I was Mr Perfect, because I know I wasn't. Some weekends I was too tired to have two little boys bounce all over me with too much healthy energy. I know I took far too many work papers home to read. And I'm sure Molly had a long list of things I did wrong. I always wore jeans at the weekend, she was always sending me up to the bedroom to dress a bit smarter for whatever we were doing. The funny thing is that I don't even own a pair of jeans now. She also used to tell me that I wasn't in touch with my emotional side, just because I don't cry. Actually I did fill up a bit in the Delivery Room when both the boys were born, but it's not the sort of thing you make a show of, is it? Oh, and I hate gardening. Her father loves his garden, so I guess she grew up believing that that was what the man of the house did."

"None of that would seem to be a hanging offence." Keith smiled.

I returned his smile, "I didn't think so, but maybe they pissed her off enough to let a randy bachelor into her life."

"So what happened the next morning?"

"I got up early, I couldn't sleep anyway, and I had hopes of just slipping out of the house. But she followed me down stairs when I came out of the bedroom. She looked awful, and was still sobbing that she was sorry. I just walked out, sometimes being sorry isn't enough."

"OK, what did you think she meant by being sorry?"

I looked at him, and paused to choose my words, "It can't be easy for someone falling in love with someone else. Of course they're sorry for the poor schmuck they're leaving behind. Of course she didn't want to hurt me, we'd been happily married for seven years But being sorry doesn't change anything. Anyway, I went into the office, but I couldn't work and instead I phoned round and found a cheap studio apartment. It was basically a furnished room, down on the Brewston Road. It really was grotty."

"It's got worse in the intervening years down there, that whole area needs bulldozing and starting again."

"Anyway, late in the afternoon I went back home and packed some suitcases. In the middle of doing that, she came home. She screamed hysterically at me, it was almost frightening. Eventually, by me talking calmly she calmed down. I told her I'd see her at the weekend and we could talk then, but I needed a few days. Then I just left."

"Did you ever find out how they met?"

"Yes, I did ask, on that Monday evening as it happens. I won't swear that I got all the detail right, I'm not sure I was in a very receptive mood for listening, but as I understand it, he came and sat with her in an almost empty staff canteen one day when she was having a late lunch. That's the thing that still bugs me: he chose to sit down with a married woman and chat her up. OK, after that they fell in love, and I accept that's an unstoppable force, I was just collateral damage. But at that first meeting it was just a randy bachelor spotting an attractive woman eating alone, and he thought he'd try his chances. And I know Molly, if she's talking to anyone, you can bet your bottom dollar she will tell them about Jamie and Ben. So, he knew she was married, she was wearing a wedding ring, he quickly knew that she was a mother of two small children. I'd like to think that I got a mention, she was supposedly happily married after all. And he chose to chat her up. Everything else is consequential to that."

"But she responded?"

"I don't know. Did she? Or was she just polite and she didn't tell him to get lost as she should have done? It probably depends on how subtle he was, and what sort of mood she was in. But, yes, she certainly responded later, in his flat down by the water, one afternoon apparently. And my demise was inevitable."

"Anyway, you went off to your dingy room?"

"Yup. I refused to take her calls. I was a bit in two minds as to whether I wanted to talk to her, or whether I'd be better off having a week's time out. I thought: well if she really wants to see me or get through to me she'll find a way. But she never did."

"But you did go back at the weekend?"

"Oh, yes. On the Sunday. I worked Saturday, there was no reason why not. But I went back late on Sunday afternoon."

"So what did she say?"

"That Peter Davies was a really nice guy, that he reminded her of me in some ways, that he had a great sense of humour and he was intelligent. Oh, and he was a really good listener too. What was I meant to say to that? Congratulate her on her choice of lover? If there was one thing that I didn't want to hear at that moment, I think she hit upon it. I blew up again, not as bad as the previous week, but it wasn't a fun conversation. I did learn that she had seen him again, twice. They had lunch together on both Wednesday and Friday. I got out at that point, and saw my solicitor on the Monday."

"And that was it, she never tried to reconcile?"

"No. We had to go through showing that we'd made proper provision for the boys, but as my solicitor said: In this country if someone wants a divorce, then they get one. Of course I thought about the boys, but I don't believe in trying to hold a dead marriage together for the sake of the children. That would be a formula for everybody to get hurt. As it is they got a stable home where their mother and step dad are happy, and that's better for them."

"And it was smooth? I won't say painless."

"No, never. It was a mucky divorce. We argued about the boys. I'd suggested joint custody, but that she should have residency. But she wanted me to have joint residency. I couldn't understand that, I guess bloody Peter was influencing her, he probably didn't want the boys around all the time. We'd always agreed that a stable home life was important for them. Living some of their time with me, with my career going on, wasn't going to give them that. I thought they'd be better off with their mother, or even their mother and this Peter Davies if they were really going to get together. When I'd won that one, we argued about money. In fairness, I think that was more her lawyers than her. Remember that house we'd only just moved into?"

"Yes, I remember it. Anne was so jealous."

"Yes, it was on the back of me getting the ITI job. We'd decided to mortgage ourselves up to the hilt and beyond to buy the one big family house that we'd always wanted. We decided it would be worth it to give the boys the benefits of it right then, and financially things would get easier in the future. Well, of course, her lawyers started going on about her need to remain in the family home."

"I thought that was pretty standard, at least until the youngest is eighteen."

"It often happens, but it isn't a legal requirement, and doesn't always happen. The problem was I simply couldn't afford it. It wasn't that I didn't want to, it was a 'read my lips' situation about how much money I had coming in. One blip of the mortgage rate, and I'd have gone bankrupt, literally. I had to house myself, however humbly, and I had to pay formal maintenance. It was impossible, but her solicitor just wanted to squeeze me dry."

"But you sold the house in the end."

"Oh, yes. After this bit of the row had straggled on for a few weeks. Of course I offered to buy them a smaller alternative home, and that was being haggled over. Then I got a letter from my dear, estranged wife. Apparently 'Dear Peter' had asked to marry her. He would sell his flat and buy a house and marry her and make a home for them all, including my sons. Wasn't that generous of him? Anyway, she wrote that she intended to accept, so our house could be sold and the money split fifty-fifty, which it was."

"And that was it? Suddenly a great marriage, a great love affair was over?"

"Pretty much. I only saw her a couple of times after that. One was a bit odd, two days after I'd received the wonderful news that she was off to marry the love of her life, she was standing outside my front door when I came home that night. I wasn't sure what I was meant to say, she'd just told me that as soon as she could she was going to marry Peter. It was the end of any residual hope that I had; that somehow this was all a dreadful nightmare and I'd wake up soon. But she just stood there and looked at me without saying a word. I hadn't the faintest idea what I was meant to do or say. Our marriage had reduced itself so that we had nothing to say to each other, so eventually I congratulated her on her engagement and went indoors." I didn't tell him how I sat on the stairs, just inside the front door, and cried my eyes out for the end of a wonderful marriage.

"And so, dear reader, she married him?"

"Five weeks after the Decree Absolute she married her Peter. Actually, in some ways I find that comforting. I wasn't thrown over because of some silly fling, or worse still, some drunken mistake. They loved each other, you can't beat that. I'm fairly philosophical about it all. But I do wish I knew if I had done something wrong, if there was some underlying mistake of mine that made her vulnerable to his entreaties. And, of course I wonder: Did she ever really love me? But I guess I'll be taking those questions to my grave." I smiled gently and shrugged.

I looked at Keith, he looked at me. Neither of us said anything for some time.

Eventually, I spoke: "I know that ends the evening on a down beat. But truly, believe me, I'm not all bitter and twisted. Life really is fun, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. But I do need my beauty sleep, and I've got a whole new world to conquer tomorrow. Let's pay the bill and be off. I'll definitely see you again before you go. And do give my love to Anne."

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