Who does she think she is?

  • Posted on July 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm
An acknowledgement; it may not be accurate, it is just my presumptuous imagination if you like, and told as a story. Yes, it is fiction. A collage of life, out of sequence.

How did she know what flowers I like?

And now she’s sitting there reading New Scientist like my husband used to. I don’t know what the Higgs boson is, but she does, and explained it to me as well as I could understand. The pink lilies are coming out in the fireplace, and she is slightly elegant in a long jade and navy dress, with butterfly ear studs to match the pattern and a lovely matching bracelet that even has jade butterflies in it. She has taste, and says she hardly has to try when it comes to clothes. Her eye shadow is just right for it too. My husband was never really interested in what he wore: greys and blues, without much thought from day to day. And now she compliments me, like he used to. I don’t feel the same about her. Should I try harder with my appearance? Or give up? Or simply not compare? I don’t know where she came from. She sort of turned up in my life and in my home, uninvited, as I saw less and less of my husband.

A bill arrived in the post this morning, addressed to Ms and Mrs. Something is missing. Not right. Part of me. Now she’s telling me how the International Olympic Committee has apparently got it all wrong about gender testing women athletes, and is asking again: ‘What is a woman? What is a man?’ I never had to even think about it. Now she wants me to. Needs me too. And I realise I don’t know either. We talk about all the many variations in gender markers. In the end I know I am a woman. A woman who used to have a man. She says she only knows what she is not.

We have both been to work today. Very different offices, in opposite directions, and we are both tired. She has a new job and welcomes the inclusion and being paid again. I’m lucky enough to have some extra days, so this month feels like it used to when I had a husband who always supported us financially. I think I would prefer it if she wasn’t making this all possible, and that I was the one with financial independence. Then I could say to her: ‘why are you here?’. My husband and I shared everything, always. Now she is sharing my dressing table, crowding me out. It doesn’t make be cross, it just feels too close, taking my space. But I know what I do best, so I head for the kitchen to make dinner and she goes to the computer. I always used to complain to my husband about that, but actually, I don’t want her in my kitchen all the time. Maybe I should jog her about the shed roof that needs re-felting. She promised. Instead I hear her getting the ironing board out. She does get cross about this, saying it doesn’t have to be my job. It’s funny, she does as much vacuuming and ironing as my husband used to. It’s time I set her a shared schedule on the loos and bathrooms, if she wants to live in my house. So long as she doesn’t ask me to mend the shoe cupboard next time. How did she know what to do? Ten minutes and it was back in use, even before it had time to get damaged. I would have asked a man.

We end up eating on our laps in front of the TV, and there’s a trailer for romance programmes for the autumn. People are kissing; soft focus and music to make it all emotionally inviting. It works. She’s looking away, and I know she is crying silently. I miss my husband. He wouldn’t have let me see him crying, even if he had been touched by things like this. He was sometimes, but he always hid it, like getting up to put the plates in the dishwasher. She is grieving something. So am I, but I am somehow angry inside because my husband was taken away and I don’t know where he is, only that he isn’t coming back. That, not the kissing on the TV, hurts. I was Mrs. I was his other half. I was the woman and he loved me like I loved him. I know he didn’t leave me for another woman, or for a man, or because he didn’t love me any more. I know what happened. I guess I understand why. But it isn’t fair, and I wasn’t given a choice. And I don’t have anyone to be angry with.

The evening is very quiet after that, so we get ready for the night, feeding cats, setting the dishwasher, pouring glasses of water, switching everything off and going upstairs. She always seems to know what needs to be done, how it needs to be done to be like it used to. I grab my nightdress and head for the bathroom. I don’t do naked in the bedroom any more. Not when she’s there. That is a right my husband had, but not her. She does naked though. And she reminds me of him still, so I don’t look. And then she comes to bed, wearing the same nightie he used to like to wear, for a while in his last year with me. She feels the same, but I don’t like to touch. She curls up ‘like a tiny beetle’ she says, right on the edge of the bed, facing away. She is frightened of my rejection. She wrote these last verses to a poem:

If it was a wind
with a ticket for a hope
and a promise in its lick
I would be carried

but this is fear
blowing, just blowing
and I am hanging on
being invisible
to air.

I think she is trying to show she is not taking my husband’s space, even though he isn’t coming back. I don’t want her in that space either. I’m not trying to be unkind. We’re both hurting and I need her to know that. She wants to fill that space. She never will. It would be wrong if she ever did.

I wake up and it is still early. Saturday, so no rush. I can hear slow classical music faintly below me. I know she is dancing, releasing all sorts of strains, in graceful movements reminiscent of the tai chi my husband started doing once. She will make tea, like he used to, and bring it up soon. I should have a shower to replace the long cuddles we used to enjoy on mornings like these. But she will be off out anyway, to play my husband’s old trumpet. She’s just as good. More relaxed maybe.

Breakfast. Saturday Live is on Radio 4 and something comes up that I remember from when I was first married. ‘Do you remember when the kids …?’ I begin. No. That was my husband. He would remember.

‘Yes’, she replies simply. ‘I was there. And you said …’

Who does she think she is?


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