Marital Aid

“Hello, there.”
I swivelled 90 degrees and observed the svelte figure of Carol weaving through the coffee tables towards me. She had clearly spent the morning in the bathroom as usual, with freshly tinted hair, sparkling teeth and the intermingling aromas of shampoo, anti-perspirant and patchouli oil intoxicating all in her wake. But as momentary eye contact was lost, my visceral admiration wavered, and I detected that her bonhomie was far too extravagant for the circumstances. She always performed for new audiences like Betty Grable at a big break audition, effortlessly switching her binary personality from 0 to 1 for maximum effect, but this time something was different. As she sat in front of me ignoring everything I said and beaming sideways at perfect strangers, I noticed an extra special esprit in her manner which I hadn’t seen for many years. After 15 minutes of unreal politeness, awkward vacillation and routine fencing, I looked at the right ear which was turned towards me, and enquired:
“Where are the kids today?”
“Sorry?” she said, pulling her attention away from the pink-shirted charge nurse at the end of the room.
“Where are the kids today” I repeated.
“Oh, one of my friends from work has taken them to see Star Wars XXIV at the Ritz.”
“I see. Is it Andrea?”
“Sorry?” she said, abandoning her non-verbal rapport with a tweedy young doctor in the doorway.
“Has Andrea taken them to the cinema?”
“Oh no. It’s one of the others – nobody you know.”
“It would have been nice to see the kids.”
(Silence).
“It would have been nice to see the kids!” I insisted.
“For goodness sake, there’s no need to shout!” she shouted. “I just thought it would be better if they enjoyed themselves for once. It’s no fun for them in here.”
“I didn’t choose to be in here.”
“Didn’t you?” she sneered. “ Quite a few of your work-mates seem to have been in and out of places like this, just so they could cop out. Why not you?”
“For God’s sake, I had a genuine breakdown! It was because I was having to cope with all that low grade corruption and filth and endless stupidity that I couldn’t take any more.”
“Well, in the end it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s genuine or not. You’re still here.”
“It doesn’t make any difference?”
“No not really. “
“But I was fighting for something that was right and fair. Something less wasteful and less rotten…..”
“If the world’s as mad as you say it is” she interrupted “the only sane thing to do is to adapt to it, otherwise you’ll be driven mad yourself.”
(Silence).
“You’ve always been anti-social Steven. That’s your big problem.”
“Well……. if society means a collection of performing narcissists, mindless bureaucrats, animalistic thugs and shameless freeloaders dancing together over the cliff – yes, I’m very much against it.”
(silence).
“Anyway” she said “I’ve got to meet Bil ….er…my friend at 4 0’clock to pick up the kids.”
“Bill who?” I enquired.
“Look, I can’t explain now” she said “I’ll write soon, but I’m going away for a few days break.”
“Whereabouts?”
“I’ll write soon.”
“Take care then” I said, no longer wanting to hear the truth. “And have a nice time.”
For a few moments she looked shaken and contrite, her eyes shining like mine, shared memories holding us in our seats, but then she was gone. And gone for good (or bad), I could no longer tell the difference. Only the perfume, and the image of her catwalk back remained.
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