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The Wife (II)
In the last few months, E. has changed. I mean, he’s always been a little bit distant emotionally, especially when he is stressed about work, but somehow this feels different. At first I just assumed that this is how all men are. After all, my template, my main role-model is my father. Compared to him, E. is positively gushing.
I was so young when we got together, fresh out of university, that I hardly had anyone with whom to compare him. Some of my friends probed me about him, their curiosity flashing like beacons in their young, excited eyes:
‘Is he so silent and dour when you’re alone together?’
‘They say it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch!’
‘What, he hasn’t told you he loves you yet? How long has it been now, six, seven months?’
When, after a few years of being together he suggested we share a house and ‘Maybe,’ he said, get married, I took it as a given that he loved me. That ‘maybe’ was, in my head, a substitute for ‘I love you,’ and at the time it was all I needed.
Now I’m not so sure. I feel like my eyes are seeing clearly for the first time and it’s terrifying. What if it’s not him who has been lying to me, fooling me, all these years, but me?
Lately, E. has had a short fuse. He can’t stand being late for work and urges me to hurry up in the bathroom on a daily basis. He no longer wants to talk about the house, holiday plans, or even children. When he can sense one of those conversations approaching I see him wincing as though he is in physical pain.
So I have avoided these conversations, just so I don’t have to see that contortion of his mouth, the sad, tense droop of his brow. I feel the words boiling up inside me. They’re simmering all the time but I manage to keep it under control. Sometimes I leave the room, lock myself into the bathroom and cry. Most of the time I feel like screaming and have to cover my mouth to stop it exploding.
Last night when he didn’t come home I just got into my car and drove. I didn’t have a destination, I just needed to occupy my hands and feet and focus my mind on something. It was nearly midnight when I got in. I’d put my ‘phone on silent and checked it when I pulled up onto the driveway. Six missed calls: all E.
I sat in the car for a few minutes, staring at the house. His car was parked in front of mine, lights were on upstairs. I locked my car, walked up to the front door and silently let myself in.
Immediately he appeared at the top of the stairs, his face thunderous:
‘Where the hell have you been?’
Fantastic! A cunning move! Deflect the blame, the attention, straight onto me and he won’t have to answer awkward questions concerning his whereabouts.
‘Oh, just went for a drive around,’ I say casually, forcing a smile onto my face. ‘How are you? Hope work wasn’t too stressful?’ I hope my tone isn’t too obviously sarcastic.
E’s face deflates, with no fire from me to stoke his flames.
‘I don’t know what’s got into you lately,’ he says, and turns his back on me.
Footsteps across the landing. I hear the bathroom door click, the water shooting through the pipes.
I pour myself a drink, just something to settle my nerves. I’m proud of my class act. He doesn’t suspect a thing; can’t see for a second that I’m onto him. To all appearances, it is still him who is in control, me the cowering, dutiful wife. I light a cigarette indoors: the ultimate act of rebellion.
I switch on my laptop, wait while it loads up. Connect to the internet, type in ‘Private investigator for women.’ I tap the number into my mobile, press ‘Save’ under the initials ‘PI.’
With everything tidied away, laptop stowed, ashtray emptied, mobile switched off, I head up to bed to lie next to my unsuspecting husband.