Back to Bristol Ch. 20byGaryAPB©
When I left work I drove straight to see Molly at Ralph's house. Ralph was mowing the front lawn, and just nodded his head in the direction of the house. I found her in the kitchen, sewing a patch on a pair of Ben's jeans.
She looked up and smiled, "This is special. These trousers are actually wearing out before he's grown out of them. That's a rarity these days."
I kissed her on the top of her head, "That's the trouble with children, they grow up when you're not looking."
"What brings you here?"
I sat down at the table, opposite her, "I had a ..." I paused, "Let's call it a discussion with your nearly ex-husband. I have some hope that maybe he will be there tomorrow night. I think I convinced him that it was his best bet."
She stopped sewing, and just looked at me for some time, "Why is it so important to you that I meet him with you there? I've been sitting here thinking, and I'm coming resigned to the idea that I'll meet him on his terms. Does it really matter if he takes me out to dinner or something?"
Now that was a good question, "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can answer that one without giving it a bit of thought. But you're right, it is important to me."
She looked up at me, "Take your time, as long as I get an honest answer." She paused, "Have you eaten tonight? There's some cold roast beef in the fridge if you want a sandwich."
"That would be perfect, I had a big lunch."
"I know. I smelt your breath. A touch of garlic by any chance?"
"Sorry." I said, as I raided the fridge.
As I made my sandwich, I was thinking about her question. There seemed so many aspects, and some pretty big pitfalls in it.
Molly just chatted on, but I pricked up my ears when she said, "I was chatted up at work today."
I tried to not show my feelings as I asked, "Who by?"
"A doctor. Dr Ian Wilson. He's early forties. Apparently he had noticed that I didn't have a ring on my finger anymore, and thought I might appreciate some company. He's got his children for next weekend, and he thought that I could bring our two, and take them all out somewhere. He suggested that we go to Longleat."
Suddenly we both burst out laughing, and we were close again.
As I rejoined her at the table with my sandwich, I said "OK. I think I can answer your question now."
She put her sewing down, and just listened, "You have to accept that Peter and I do have a personal relationship. He came into my life uninvited. He caused me, my boys and my wife more hurt than I would ever have thought possible. I can't forgive him that, I never will. And I want to know that he has gone out of my life for ever, and seeing him go will be far better than just hearing about it second hand. But more than that, I would like to see him totally vanquished. It may not be a very nice side of my character, but I'd admit I would quite enjoy seeing him crawl out of my office tomorrow evening, beaten and in tears."
I watched her, she didn't like that bit. She didn't want to see Peter beaten and in tears.
But before she protested, I continued, "But there is also an element of simply not trusting him. After all I've got good reason not to. If he took you to dinner, I'm not saying he'd seduce you, I'm sure he wouldn't. You'd probably drink mineral water all evening, just to make sure he didn't. But I have to admit that he has something special for you, that he does have a proven ability to get under your skin. And he just might manage to get you to agree to meet again, and then again and again, and the whole clever process starts again."
I looked at her, and she was obviously about to protest at that, but I stopped her, "I know you would say that it would never happen. But you can't blame me for worrying about it."
This time she did say something, "No. Never. For as long as I live, never."
I smiled, and then looked at her with what I hoped was sheer earnestness, "And possibly most important of all: we are and always have been in this dreadful situation together. We face whatever life sends together, and that includes facing up to nearly ex-husbands who are causing problems."
Molly's eyes misted, and she just stood up and came over to me and kissed me passionately. But all she said was, "How many cloves of garlic was it?"
I smiled, and she added, "Stay with me tonight. Please."
"If Ralph doesn't mind, sure. But I'll have to leave early in the morning for my place, I've got no clean clothes here."
Just then, Ralph came in and went over to the sink to wash his hands. "Ralph, would you mind if I slept over tonight? I don't want to cause you any embarrassment."
"You won't cause me any embarrassment." He turned round to look at me and then at Molly. "Is one of you going to tell me what's going on? Molly's been upset all day."
So we told him that we hoped to bring the Peter problem to a showdown tomorrow night. By the time we'd finished he had washed his hands and was pouring himself a glass of orange juice.
He closed the fridge door, and again looked at us both individually, "Peter came between you two, that's the essence of your story. Don't let him do it again. Don't let him win."
It was the next morning, just as I was leaving, that I met Ralph in the hall. He smiled, "I've never thought of your office as the OK Corral, ... " He paused to look me right in the eye, "Make sure you kill him off this time."
That image of a shoot out stayed with me all day. But by about four o'clock in the afternoon I think I felt more like Gary Cooper in High Noon, with the clock at about 11:55.
Carole sensed my nervousness, and seemed to just be quiet, efficient and calm. She did ask if I wanted anything laid out in my office, and I suggested some cans of drinks might be nice, and then added that a box of tissues should be there, which did make her smile.
She asked, "You do know where the first aid cabinet is, don't you Chris?" which I ignored, but told her that I would suggest that she goes home at about five thirty. She looked crestfallen, "But I've been selling tickets. How will I be able to show people to their seats in the spectators stands?" Which made me smile, and I was grateful for that.
When I got back to my office from an Accounts progress meeting at five thirty, I found Molly sitting in Carole's office, and chatting happily, despite how drawn she looked. After a few words of greeting, Carole said she needed a quick word with me about some things, and she followed me into my office, handing me the usual sheaf of notes.
"Chris, I don't know what you can do about it, but she's as nervous as a kitten. If anyone says boo to her she'll burst into tears."
"I'm not sure I'm much better. I thought about working myself up into a righteous rage, but I've got to remain calm, because I suspect it'll be the other two who'll get emotional. But thanks, Carole. Thank you for caring."
She smiled, "Well, best of luck. And I'll see you in the morning."
As Carole left, Molly started to come in, getting a hug from Carole as she passed. "Can I come in and wait here? Or will I disturb you?"
"Don't be silly. Come on in. Choose your seat carefully, I will sit at my desk, so that I'm slightly out of it. But I suggest you sit somewhere where we can see each other. Then you can send me Morse Code messages by batting your eyelashes."
She didn't laugh, but she did sit at one end of a sofa, directly facing me. I worried for a moment that he would try sitting right next to her, but then I couldn't imagine he would really try getting physical. We made small talk, or I made small talk, Molly just gave me monosyllabic replies. And then, at five to six, there was a tap on my door, and there was Peter Fucking Davies.
"Peter, come in, and shut the door." I said, I hope quite firmly.
He stepped into the middle of the room, and saw Molly. He went to rush over to her, but I stopped him by firmly saying, "Before we start, I want to be very clear, this is a private meeting. It has nothing to do with ITI or this company in anyway whatsoever. We are just using this office as a convenient venue." I paused and he looked at me, but didn't say anything. So I finished off, by saying, "Please sit down. You wanted to talk to Molly. So please do."
He sat down on the same sofa as Molly, but at the other end. So I had a good view of both of them. He looked at me, questioningly.
"I'll stay here. This is an opportunity for you to say whatever you want to Molly. Please do." I looked at Molly, "Are you OK with that?" She nodded.
I turned back to some papers on my desk, not that I could focus on them at that moment, but I could pretend.
After a long pause I heard, "Molly, this isn't right. This isn't the way that our wonderful marriage should end. We need to talk. I love you, and whatever you're thinking, I want to go on loving you and being married to you."
"I'm sorry Peter. It takes two to make a marriage, and I don't love you. I never have."
"But....but .... But you do love me. You've said so, so many times." He paused, "I can understand that you want a fresh start, that you feel Susan forced you to marry me. But I've given you your freedom. I accepted that you wanted to break free from the history of the old relationship. But now you are free. You have your decree nisi, and we have only a few weeks to try to put things right with a fresh start."
"I don't see why you think that I will regret it now. Why would I suddenly change my mind about the divorce?" There was genuine puzzlement in Molly's voice.
"But Chris said you'd look on our marriage differently once you had your freedom. That you'd remember all the good things. You said that, didn't you, Chris?"
I looked up, "I never said any such thing. All I said was that you should give Molly the divorce she asked for. For once you should do the right thing. And that if you did, then Molly might remember you with some affection, as opposed to you making her hate you in a long protracted divorce. But your not helping with the nuisance you've been making of yourself recently."
I met his eyes, but then he accused me again, "You told me that she'd told you how good our marriage was. That she'd remember all the good things." He turned to Molly, "You do remember the good things, don't you Molly?"
Molly nodded, "We had some nice times."
"Nice times? Nice times? We had wonderful times." Peter glanced at me, "Remember our honeymoon in the Maldives. How we made love with the windows open onto that marvellous view of the Indian Ocean. How you wanted me, how I pleased you."
Again he glanced at me. I wondered if this was more about hurting me than winning Molly.
Molly didn't say anything, so he went on, "We were good in bed. I know I pleased you more than he ever did. You opened up to me, you know you did. How I could please you with my mouth like he probably never did." He paused and seemed to collect his thoughts, "You changed me. I fell in love with you and I've never been the same since. I've loved you and stayed faithful to you ever since that wonderful day in my flat. Our first time, and the day my life changed."
Molly didn't say anything. Peter looked at me again, and this time I felt I could see hate in his eyes, but then he turned back to Molly, "You think you love him. I know you cling to that silly notion. But, can't you see, he doesn't want you. You've had months now, and he still hasn't taken you back, has he? He hasn't and he won't. You'd only get in the way of his ambition, his need to go wherever ITI send him. He doesn't want you or the boys. I do."
Again he paused to glance at me, but then turned back to Molly, "I don't understand. I'm a better lover than he ever was. I have been there for you when he walked out on you. I've taken care of you and even his children for years. And now you want to desert me because of some silly idea that he'll take you back?"
At that point, the pencil I was holding in my fingers just snapped into two pieces. The noise distracted them for a moment.
Molly recovered first, "I love him." She looked straight into my eyes, as if Peter wasn't there, "And I hope that he will take me back." She refocused on Peter, "But that's irrelevant. It's not about me swapping one husband for another. I don't love you Peter."
"But you said you did, so many times. You said you were over him, and that you loved me now. You said we had a marriage that would last a lifetime. You said it on every anniversary. It was your toast to me, to our love. And I believed you, but more importantly, you believed it as well, I know."
"I wanted to believe it. I tried to love you, but I never did. I said it to convince myself as much as you. But I didn't, I'm sorry."
"You lied!" He said it almost in triumph, but with a very bitter undertone.
Molly didn't like that, "I wouldn't talk about lies in our marriage if I were you, Peter. You lied and lied and lied. You know you did. You lied to get into my pants. Isn't that the romantic phrase you use? Well you lied your way into them. And you went on lying and lying and lying. Our whole marriage was based on lies and cheating and collusion."
That outburst from Molly did stop him for a moment. He picked up a can of drink and stood up. He paced up and down in silence for a while, the silence only broken by the 'phhht' of him opening the can.
But then he turned back to Molly, and sat down again, this time with his back to me, "I know I did. I really am sorry about that. In some ways I'm ashamed of what I did. But it brought me you and the happiest years of my life. And I can't regret that. But don't you see? Now that all of it is out in the open, it's a chance to start again. For me to prove that I do truly love you. Give me a chance Moll, please, meet me and let's talk. Not like this, not with him breathing down our necks. You owe me that, at least. I gave you four happy years, I deserve a chance, please."
Molly lent forward and picked up a can and a glass, and poured herself a Coke. She looked up at Peter, "Well, while we're being open and honest, tell me something. How often did you meet with Susan or talk to her on the telephone as you plotted and schemed to push me into marriage?"
I could hear the regret and guilt and hesitancy in his voice as he answered, "Quite often. Three or four times a week, I suppose. She laid down her terms. She didn't make it that obvious, but I knew how I was meant to answer her questions to get her on my side. That I had to promise to marry you, not just have an affair. But I wanted that, so it was easy to agree. And I had to promise to stay in Bristol. But don't you see, Molly? It wasn't all my lies, your own Mother believed that we were a good match. She believed in me, you can't just blame me for everything that happened."
Molly looked shocked, but then a smile of acceptance crossed her face, "Peter, our whole marriage was based on lies. And they went on and on, through all the years." Again, she paused and sipped her drink, "When you came back to forgive me on the night of the Ball, you said we could go to the Ball, or we could go to Our Restaurant and have a meal and talk and finish with a glass of grappa, Our Drink. Because until that first lunchtime with me in Our Restaurant, you'd never drunk Grappa, had you? Even in trying to salvage the marriage, you went on lying. Five years after the first set of lies, you went on using them to try to recapture what they brought you first time around."
"But grappa is Our Drink. Don't you remember, I didn't like it when I first tried it, but because of you, because we drank it on our first time, I tried again. And I learnt to love it."
Molly looked at him with disgust, and in a very bitter voice, "And you go on lying even now."
For a moment he was silent, and then he looked round at me, "This is your doing. God, you did your research well. Who was it? Who told you? It must have been someone at the Abbey. You've used your position to sneak around and talk about me with my colleagues. You disgust me."
"Why? Did you have something to hide?" I innocently asked.
For a moment he looked nonplussed, but then he smiled, and still looking at me, "It was a good trick. It's normally quite high proof you know, and I don't know how many times I used it on girls and it always worked." He was proud of his deceit.
He turned back to Molly, "But, after you, grappa did become special. It helped bring me you."
"Don't you mean it helped you get into my pants?" She asked with heavy sarcasm, but then she paused, "In some ways I can understand a man fancying a girl, even if she is married. But I had children, but you couldn't even respect my duty and love for them."
"And I took them in. I did learn to love them. You didn't want more children, and they were the nearest I ever got to having sons of my own. I loved them, even when they did try to provoke me." He looked round at me, but then back to Molly. "Even when they started calling me Elsie. Do you know what that meant? It wasn't the girl's name. It was the letters L and C. They stood for Little Cock." He stood up and looked round at me, "I wonder where they got that idea?"
I smiled in my genuine innocence this time, "Is it true?"
He didn't answer me, but turned back to Molly who was obviously thinking. And then she asked, "And how do you know what it meant?"
"It was written on their blackboard in their den." He said with pride at providing conclusive proof..
Molly looked at him with disgust, "You went in there? You couldn't even keep a promise to young children! You disgust me. Our marriage was never anything but dead. Just accept it."
He sort of collapsed back onto the sofa, "No it was never dead. It was the most vibrant thing." He paused, "I'm sorry that I lied, that I pretended. I suppose I should have confessed at some time. If that really troubles you we could go to a counsellor. That girl Heather that you know. Or any other one. Or we could go away together, to talk, to rediscover each other." I heard his voice lighten and raise, "We could go back to the Maldives. You'd like that. Our special place."
He looked round to check on me. I sat, blatantly listening, there was no pretence any longer. But he seemed satisfied that I was not going to interfere, "You could take a few days out, next week say, and come away with me. If I can't convince you to try again, then I'll accept it, but surely you could come for a week in the Maldives? We could even go back to our honeymoon hotel if you like. Please Molly, please."
Molly leant forward and took one of his hands in hers, and spoke in a deliberate, reasoned voice, "You're not listening Peter. I don't love you. I never have. And a week in the Maldives isn't going to make me love you."
"But....but....you're my wife. I want to take my wife on holiday. Just for a week. Is that too much to ask?"
"Yes Peter, it is."
Suddenly I saw his shoulders shake before I heard the sound of his sobs. Molly looked at me, I wasn't sure what she wanted, but there was a question in her eyes. I shrugged, I wasn't quite sure what she or I should do. She got up from her seat, and went and crouched in front of him, and took hold of both his hands, forcing him to look at her.
"Peter, you were the one who always said that I still loved Chris. You knew it, it can't really have been a surprise that I eventually admitted it."
He sniffed, a wet ugly snort of a sniff, "But....but I only used to say that because I knew what your answer would be. You would always say that you didn't, and that I was your man now, that you loved me. I only ever said it because it would make you say that you loved me, and I needed that."
"I'm sorry. I lied. For once, you were telling the truth and I was the one lying. I'm sorry." But then her expression changed, she stood up, pulling her hands from his. "But you knew that, you aren't a fool, Peter. In your heart you knew it, like I did. That was your insecurity and guilt. You'd seduced me and trapped me into marriage, but you knew it wasn't real."