“Please sit with me,” she said, watching him from the top of the stairs. He said nothing, the silence filled with the click of the fan. “Please Eric. Come upstairs.” He said nothing, turning the page with disinterested hands. He did this every night, every evening. She repulsed him.
Her vision blurred with hot tears, the roses in the wallpaper blooming to red smears. When was the last time he had wanted her? Months. Over half a year. Maybe more. Maybe always. She remembered her wedding night, how he had fell asleep seconds after consummating the marriage. She had watched him disappear into the gloom, rolling away with shut eyes. She stared up at the landing light, watching the moth burn itself again and again against the hot bulb.
He sat at the bottom of the stairs, reading the paper, cold. He wore blue, always blue, navy sweaters over blue striped shirts, blue jeans, blue cruelty. He avoided her with a subtle unpleasantness that poisoned her, leaving her with a rattling insecurity and gnawing loneliness. If she’d known his secret before the wedding, she would have run.
She imagined herself, younger, dropping the yellow carnations and running out of the church, down the overgrown path, on and on, far away from the blue burnt coldness of her dead loveless marriage. And him. Far away from him. Back through time, back through every heartbeat, hope, every inch she fell for him. Back to the warm freedom of nothing.
He was mocking her. Sitting just where she could see him, just out of reach. She couldn’t come down in her nightgown, and face the humiliation of watching his silent rejection of her. Nor could she go to bed, alone, and stare up at the crumbling plaster until he thought she would be asleep. It was a trap, forcing her into the purgatory of the landing, endlessly waiting and watching, endlessly out of touch.
He was in love with him. If he was capable of love.
She watched with an aching jealousy as his face lit up at each letter or telegram, listening in on his raw hot laughter down the telephone wire. He wrote his name again and again and again in the calendar, never pausing to answer the hard stare of his wife.
Oliver. Oliver Oliver Oliver Oliver-
She’d found his polaroid hidden in a small pile of notebooks in Eric’s study, hidden between page after page of love letters. He was smooth, beaming, fresh, filled with a raw spiritual power and yearning she lacked. Dull, dowdy Judith. Doctor’s wife. She could not have been better cast in this facade. The polaroid was lined with the traces of kisses and spilt vodka, a simple ‘O’ marked in the corner. O, 1966. Yes, Eric resented her, but he still needed her. She was the mask and the border between himself and the world. She bore the punishment and loneliness for his secret, his love.
She said the words from the top of the stairs, spat with hot salted tears, choking her. Her confidence surprised her. “If you hate me so much, why don’t you go back to Oliver?”
He barely moved, pausing before he turned his page of The Times. “Have you been drinking again, Jude?” That wasn’t a question. It was a statement.
“You know I don’t drink,” She said, shaking in rage. “I’ve never drunk anything. You know that. You know that.” He looked up at her with soulless eyes. They reminded her of buttons.
“You are tired. That’s what this is. Go to bed, Jude.”
“I’m not tired.” She wasn’t going to back down tonight. Not again.
He looked at her, blankly. There was something monstrous in him, bubbling up in the glint of his eye. “You must be. You’re saying irrational, ridiculous things. Stress, is it? Exhaustion? Maybe we should get you some sleeping tablets.”
“Don’t give me that shit. You’re fucking Oliver, aren’t you? You’re fucking him.”
He stared up at her, shaking his head as if she were raving. He always did this. He did this everytime she caught him out on any unpleasantness, any deception, any small deliberate cruelty. “Judith, go to bed. You are behaving appallingly.”
“I’m not crazy, Eric,” She said, standing to her full height. “You are not going to convince me that I’m crazy.” He smiled, putting the paper down, leaning on the stairwell. “I saw your diaries, I saw the polaroid. I know everything.” He was half grinning now, his hands slumping in his pockets.
“My diaries, Judith? Where are these supposed diaries?
“In your study. You know what I’m talking about. I’m not crazy.”
“Then I suppose we better go find them, dear.”
Judith stared at him, nodding slowly. This was a trap. It must be.Trembling, she followed him to his study and pulled out the black notebooks from underneath the shelf. “Here.” She said, “See?” He took one from her, as gently as a father from a child. He flipped it open.
1961/12, patient 103, 1962/1, patient 112, 1962/1, patient 103-
It went on, each notebook, pages and pages of talk therapy notes. Nothing. Judith stared, shaking her head in disbelief. She frantically searched book after book, tears rolling down her face, silent in shock. Eric watched on, observatory against his unwilling patient.
“See, Judith? You’re mind is playing tricks on you. Marriage is often a lot of stress for a new housewife. It’s perfectly treatable.” He stood up, looking at her with a sharp satisfaction that frightened her.
“I’m not crazy,” She stammered. “I’m not. They were here, they were-”
“I think it’s time we got you on some medication, Judith. Don’t you? These fantasies-” He bent down to her level. “- have to stop.” He kissed her forehead, and turned to leave. She didn’t follow. Confidently, he walked over to the parlour to the fireplace.
In the darkness, he threw a final fistful of papers down onto the grate, watching a young man’s face smouldering away in the red hot flames. Closing his eyes, he smiled, and sat down with his paper.