Your Wife’s Photograph
I wake to the dry hum of your mobile, rattling on the table. You move in your sleep, pulling my body up the mattress. Your touch repulses me. Or rather, my own guilt does.
I lie there and listen through the alarm, the drone of the fan, the rattle of the workmen below. The sheets are bright in the path of unshut blinds, your cologne burning into my mouth until I turn away from you. You are breathing heavily onto my ribs, deep in slumber. Your wife hangs over us, beaming next to two small children.
Did you take the photograph? The grain and the fullness of her hair says late nineties. She stopped loving you a long time ago. You said that in every silence, every abridged sentence interrupted with a forkful of salad. A marriage flickering into convenience, a kindness to teenage children and bearable morning spent looking for keys and shoe polish. I imagine her, southbank, finding your son’s homework and pushing him out the door. Your own absence is explained without explanation. Work commitments.
She would think I was a kid. I’m as old as that photograph. Younger than your marriage. After your money. Grasping, ambitious little thing.
I’m not, I half mouth to the picture. I’ll leave. I want to leave. This wasn’t meant to happen. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so so sorry
The husband grips my pelvis. I am prey underneath his paw.
Can I blame him for what happened, I ask the photograph. He is powerful, I am not. He is well connected, I am not. He was sober, I was not. Could I have said no? I remember not wanting to do it. I sound like a schoolgirl, don’t I? It. Who says it? Sex. I didn’t want sex. I came back half out of curiosity. I kissed him. I’ll admit to that.
But I didn’t want this. I should have pushed him off and gone home. I should have screamed instead of laughing a refusal when he stripped me-
I give your wife a name, although you never told me it. It makes her watching easier. She looks like a Jenny. I’ll call her Jenny. Jenny just stares back at me, grinning, her hands on her children’s shoulders, angelic. Virgin, Mother, Whore. I look up to the blonde Madonna and silently ask to be forgotten, if not forgiven.
I can’t be the first, I reassure myself. I can’t be the only girl he’s brought back to his flat. Why else do you have a flat to yourself-
You roll over in your sleep, waking slowly. You kiss my neck, hands running up to my chest. I feel limp, numb, unresponsive. Your skin is hot and your mouth dry.
This is where I should get up, insist that this was a mistake, wrong, immoral, that you should go home to your wife and forget you ever met me. But embarrassment stops me. I’ve played this part too long to claim to be the saint.
I try to resist your wandering hands, climbing inside my blouse, still half undone from the night before. I realise that my shoes are still on, unstripped. I could leave, now, if I wanted to.
I want to. I want to leave. You persist, holding me tighter, rolling on top of me. You look less handsome now, old, creasing, grey hair splintering through your jaw. There’s no point resisting. If I resist more, this will be rape. I don’t want a court case. I just want you to stop.
Your wife’s photograph watches on from the wall, grinning.