by Barbara Latham
t was me who shouted, then flung an unexpectedly heavy hotel ashtray.
His actual words can’t be recalled, it’s my instant reaction to them which remains.
There is no question I said “You bastard!” and threw.
Don’t expect a straight explanation – the insurance company can’t settle on one either. They state my insistence on guilt at the first hospital invalidates any claim – Domestic Violence – Perpetrator – the Claimant (wife). But our brother-in-law is as determined to argue for Domestic Incident – Accident.
True, the expensive consequences were accidental. I didn’t aim and I’m not a good shot. As the ashtray went in his direction, was anything intended other than giving vent to a spasm which, at that moment, it wasn’t possible to unpack?
Did marital frustration erupt because I couldn’t articulate? Or be heard.
In the months since, of course, I’ve given thought and words to the matter and to the shock at my own behaviour. In 12 years I hadn’t displayed temper; he would have been as startled as I was, if he hadn’t been concussed out of any response.
At peak tension, with our children small, a cupboard might get kicked and kicked, but that was the limit.
I’d not damaged anyone before –not physically.
And to make a start with that ashtray was bad timing; we were meant to be in Turkey to come back reconciled.
Two children were left with his obliging mother. It wasn’t that she warmed to me, she just wanted a divorce less.
That morning we had “made love”. The same two bodies seeking something through sex as we’d done over years.
But what does that say?
To him it told something.
Perhaps it always had. But there had been less reason to consider this.
After sex we mostly slept. Not this time – it was early morning – I was dozing when he began.
There was some relief, at the start, to give in after long abstinence. That wasn’t the problem and needn’t have ended with the embarrassment of calling in hotel staff then, worse, finding it to be a concerning injury. After all, our bodies, altering slowly, had come together with mixed passions, from episodes of barely masked violence to such tenderness he need only breathe on erect nipples to send anticipation rippling down; and from where the pulse was focused and intense, to feeling hardly interested yet offering flesh he seemed intent on entering. Some nights there was a reaching out, wanting him inert as inches of his body were licked, on others seeking fast and direct penetration.
Were variations endless?
It seemed so, until it didn’t. Was it with the feeling his demands were predictable that orgasm with him began to seem undesirable?
His having one was fine, though sinking against him sated certainly was not.
His getting busy after his ejaculation to get me to come, without the erotic, began to grate.
Was that why he sought a mistress? Or did she arrive first and then sex with me grew perfunctory?
That will never be known. He lied about his affair beginning, and probably doesn’t know, any more than I can exactly date when satisfaction slipped away.
It didn’t occur to me to leave but instead of mutual longing, which had united us, the home, two children and a history held me in place.
My tearful torrent over his exposed infidelity seemed a way to freedom. We could part, then both begin again. Perhaps I could get back to all the promising in love there had once been with him.
He moved to his mother’s for some months but, having already divorced once – I’d been the mistress that time though hadn’t realised it for ages – he didn’t want divorce again.
Nor did his decided mother, not with her only grandchildren involved.
Was I sure?
Not at all. The view changed several times each day. When I couldn’t insist on a formal separation, it was agreed we should try to be together.
Perhaps he even called it a “second honeymoon”.
Our first night he produced a box, a tasteful ring, certainly one I’d like to wear. An extravagant gesture, touching; even so, it didn’t quite make me ready for sex.
His astonishment annoyed since we’d often run this dispute before – for him, sex was the route to intimacy – not for me, it’s much better if I already feel close.
Although what there was to say was not in focus, time together might take me to words. His assumption – it was just hurt pride waiting expression – “If not, what then?”
“If I could tell you directly it wouldn’t be confusion, would it?”
He didn’t get hesitation, not being emotionally patient. He liked to get on. Often an attractive attribute, giving him drive and energy. He did get things done.
Perhaps he saw my sexual submission as the next project to complete.
I was as keen to give re-finding desire for him a chance, before we began as lovers again.
Though once sex had been a cornerstone of our being together maybe it couldn’t be again.
Attraction seemed unlikely to drive our five day reunion but we might decide that, having made a shared life which neither of us felt ready to unpick, we’d find where sex belonged.
“Might” and “maybe” – these were the words I wanted him to hear. I wasn’t in Turkey simply to have my body reclaimed.
“Let’s give ourselves some time to talk.”
“So you can blame me? I’ve already said I never meant you to be hurt!”
To a yes/no man it must already be decided he was “forgiven”, why else go away together? Yet now, contrary to expectation, I seemed to be “holding out on him.”
My attempts to speak bewildered – his reply, “you don’t imagine we can sort out the whole business of love and marriage in five days? I don’t know where to begin except with ‘let’s try and make it work.’”
“Yes, but trying can be as much us talking as having sex.”
Probably he thought I’d read too many women’s magazines and talking was more likely to mislead than our bodies, but we were careful of each other, ready to please in small things, relaxing fully only while sharing our children’s past and present. Then it was ease and laughter and surprising contentment. Having made a family we both enjoyed, of course it was worth making effort to restore the marriage. We could agree there.
If I did decide to take up the duties of wife, including sex, would arousal come from elsewhere, no longer from him?
And if so, I certainly wouldn’t want him to satisfy me, far more preferable to be left with appetite.
To give to him had been easy before and possibly would be again – that could be done with good grace. But to receive his sexual attention with a fully opened heart still felt beyond reach, and that was what I was reaching for.
While I was asleep he knew my body well enough to stir it
I didn’t object to being half out of it yet drawn back to response – not at first – not until an explosive opening, then a convulsion into something dark.
Taking this for pleasure he continued.
Despite myself there was orgasm and he lay back pleased.
Melancholy soaked deep.
He snored as I quickly got up to shower.
Finding yourself turned to stone sadness must be visible to anyone caring to look, so why didn’t he see when I came back in a towel? His half green eyes were fully open.
The precise words have gone, but were more or less “Come here! Give me a cuddle.”
What I heard was his confidence that, through my sexual release, he had mastered all reluctance.
Something crucial felt obliterated, as if he’d struck me and I fought back – the arm he expected to go round him reached for the nearest thing.
The ashtray flew towards the bed.
Given that I had put myself so much in the wrong and with him hospitalised, one option was wiped away.
There was no returning home and saying to his mistress, as his first wife had done, “you’re welcome to him. Have the man.”