‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 16
“Vivienne lied to me,” he said.
His voice was just the same, carried away from me by the upstart breeze as we stood in the garden. Maybe a bit less certain, a bit stumbling, but just as I remembered it, even so. I was listening intently, but would not meet his eyes and pulled my face aside as he spoke. Wanting to be up and doing, I was clumsily unfolding and hanging the laundry as he stood beside me, talking. Almost, I was thinking, Well, if he leaves me now, at least I will have hung up these clothes to dry on the first clear morning in months… He steadied me a couple of times as I rocked with the wind, with the weight of wet tops, with the whip of the line.
“Can’t we go and have a cup of tea, just …?”
“I’ve been driving since six this morning… Vivienne lied to me, said she was dying. Cancer, she said, and looked thin enough for it. How could I know she wasn’t being truthful? I only found out because I went to the surgery myself for some routine check-ups, and was commiserating with the doctor about her illness… He was surprised – I remember exactly what he said – ‘For a woman her age, she’s in rude health, though she could knock off the booze a bit.’ Turns out she has a ‘drink problem’ and was just using me to pay for her habit. Keeping secrets…lies.”
There was a long pause. High above us the wind kept blowing.
“Please look at me, Marian.”
I couldn’t, not until he came and put his arms around me again, said, “Please,” and lifted my chin. When I looked, I saw only a tired, sad, truthful man.
“Okay,” I said, slowly. I dropped the damp clothes I had been shouldering and held out my arms. I didn’t want to let go as we kissed, at first carefully, gently, and then with more fullness. In full view of the birds, the neighbours and the hydrangea bushes, we kissed, remembering. As shirts flapped lazily and the light flitted, I thought my heart would burst with longing, for love of this man; this man, of all the men who could keep me company. Only his hands would do, only his gentleness.
At length we broke away, both tired, saddened and at peace. “Leave that lot, and come in” I said, staggering slightly as I pushed open the kitchen door. “Elaine is at school, she might be home soon. Half day Friday.”
I went to put the kettle on, when the phone rang again. “Busy, all of a sudden,” I muttered quizzically.
“Hello, Mum?” It was Elaine, saying she was visiting a friend.
“Yes, that’s fine, have fun, love…” My reply was easy, almost automatic. For many weeks now, Elaine had been staying with friends after school on Fridays. Overhearing me, Arthur made tea then sat quietly cradling his head in his hands with tiredness.
“Bog standard all right?” He asked. As if he had never left, he had found the cups and the milk and set it all out with a plate of biscuits. He was so used to doing everything, he hardly knew when to stop.
“Thanks” I said, as I sat beside him. I poured. I could not remember another time when, sitting down beside anyone, I had felt so comforted or so easily understood by anyone except Elaine. And Karl.
“I should start at the beginning…” Arthur’s voice shook slightly.
“You really don’t have to.” Sitting beside him was comfort enough.
“I would like you to understand.”
“For so many years I had no-one to really talk to. I would love you to know.”
“Okay.” I felt tears and fought them away, as feelings of loss and pity overcame me. One tear escaped and slid down my cheek, thankfully on the other side, so Arthur would not see it. I licked it away, taking a sip from my mug as he carried on speaking.
“Vivienne – ” he said the name with obvious distaste. “She is very…plausible, you know? Anyway, the morning I left you…” there was a pause as he was wondering what to say, what to leave out. “I left you early because I did not want your daughter catching us together. I got home and there was this garbled message on the phone. Turns out Viv had been drinking, feeling sorry for herself. She made up this – excuse – to drag me back to see her. Said she had cancer and was dying and I owed it to her and our son to come down and look after her until she…well, until she died.”
“History repeating itself?”
“Perhaps she just knew that was my weakness. A woman in distress has always got past my reason. I feel a fool for going.”
“Well, at least you are home now. No harm done, I take it?”
“No, except to poor James. She leans on him so badly and is never especially grateful or kind to the boy. She seems to think that she can ask him to do anything. Once she even insisted that he take her to a bogus hospital appointment. She kept him waiting for a couple of hours at oncology outpatients. She just went to the café and read a book, then came staggering out looking sorry for herself. I was so angry with her when I found out, that I just threw all my stuff in the boot, took a detour to see James” – his voice shook – “and drove straight back.”
Feeling suddenly grateful and slightly ashamed, I leaned into him.
Well, I’m very glad. Would you like to, I dunno…” Abruptly, I was silenced. Arthur looked tired and sad.
“Why don’t we go round to yours and you can get yourself sorted? Elaine will probably be away most of the afternoon.”
“Would that be okay? I might be a while sorting out my mail and stuff, but I would appreciate the company.”
I gathered my keys and my coat, and then we walked together rather awkwardly down, round and up our paths to his front door. A grin split my face.
“What’s that for?
“For you, for coming home,” I sang.
Arthur fumbled for his keys, dropped them and bent to retrieve them from his front step. As he did, he toppled forward and hit his head, which clonked on the wooden door. He knelt, looked up and grimaced, tears glistening and falling over his cheeks. “Sorry, a bit of a pain…” he croaked, trying to rise to his feet.
“Are you all right?” an anxious feeling reared up, wondering what had happened.
“Tell you what, just you go in.” He pushed the front door ajar and I went ahead, stepping over papers and envelopes on the hall carpet. My eyes were taking a while to adjust in the gloom so I glanced back at the outside brightness and saw Arthur clutching at his chest, heaving a breath and trying to look as if nothing was wrong.
I scampered fearfully to the hall phone and rang 999. In a voice that was calm and not like mine at all, I asked for an ambulance, gave the address and confirmed it was a suspected cardiac arrest and an emergency. I went out to hold Arthur’s hand. Out on his pathway we waited, as the minutes passed until finally, an ambulance arrived and in a noise and a scuffle of bright lights, two strange men appeared asking questions. .
“What’s your name, sir?”
“This your wife?”
“No, sorry… Come with me?” He gripped my hand and obviously didn’t want to let go.
“Yes, I’ll come, but I’ll need my handbag…” As Arthur was wrapped up, fitted with an oxygen mask and lifted into the back of the ambulance, I flitted home, fumbled with the front door key and grabbed my bag, doing my best not to weave and fall in my panic.
I sat mute by the side of the gurney as we blue-lighted it through the streets. My eyes fixed on Arthur’s face, on the veins stranding loyally down his neck; on watching his chest rising and falling, his arms moving fretfully; I held his hand, whispered in his ear above the noise, and prayed. I prayed for a miracle because I loved him.