A Gentle Wife



t the rustle of his newspaper Susan made a quick move – might it be possible to finish coffee in silence, at peace with the morning, before her husband’s commentary began?
Why did he need her as audience to know he was right, politicians foolish and the world not as it should be?
Was passing on irritation meant to be friendly?
Did he assume she did not know the news, or liked his indignation? Maybe any impact on her was of no consequence.
When she attempted to tell him, his claim to care about issues came back fast, along with criticism of her more “parochial” and “domestic” interests.
Well, if he was set on reform, couldn’t he begin with the change she pleaded for – starting with intimacy before sex, not sex to get closer. And paying attention to what his children had to say, instead of swamping them with opinions and calling it conversation.
He called Susan such a “gentle and kind” person. True, he considered her too family minded yet also asserted value in “maternal care.” She told him, sharply, his recently dead mother had much to answer for, especially in relation to his sister, Gwen. Yet, over years of marriage, that was about as far as her cross words went, until the day he got a torrent.
Of course, Susan had reason to be upset. Tears might have been expected but not shouting.
Susan yelling at him, with force, was a first.
“That is it! Your sister is no longer welcome.
“Gwen can’t behave so irresponsibly in our home. You have to see her somewhere else.
“Having messed up her own life, she needn’t disturb ours. You say “poor Gwen just wants our boys to adore her.” She tries to get everyone to admire, though her only child now refuses contact and who can blame her?
“Everything was always about Gwen as heroine of her own endless story, with that “adored daughter” no more than a footnote. She was just part of Gwen’s self-decoration. Through two divorces that girl got little consideration.
“Gwen trying to be ‘radical’ on our boys’ side, all seduction and charm, was nauseating enough, but bringing them drugs is over the line.
“Besides I’ve spent far too long listening to her melodrama, full of self-importance.
“Any chance I get to speak, her impatience to be back at centre stage is obvious. Everyone can see the glazed look coming over her if she isn’t the one holding forth.
“As if I go to all that work, of cooking and cleaning, simply for her prima donna performance. And have you once politely shut her down or stuck up for me? Have you suggested she might contribute, bring food, or at least offer to clear the table?
“No, poor Gwen, her life is tough, so we have to be forever kind.
“Well, I’m done with kind! She isn’t even grateful – she accepts it as her due because we haven’t questioned how it’s taken for granted.
“I know you pass her considerably more money than you acknowledge, which she pockets as if you should offer – to not be generous when we have more would be, in her eyes, ‘vile bourgeois materialism.’
“She has all the rhetoric to cover the fact that she is a scrounger.
“You earn a decent income because you’ve been luckier and male, she says – a small truth – but, for the rest, there were decades of hard work. And I hardly get a fortune for my teaching hours.
“She, being ‘artistic’, can’t be expected to do anything as boring as trying to let others flourish, or marking their essays.
“But why have I put up with condescension? And been too slow to recognise her fixed resentment??“From go Gwen made a point of showing I was hardly good enough. “Days she sees you as part of her, you too become some superior being, deserving better than my ordinariness.
“So, stupid me, I sought to please.
“What folly stopped any earlier confrontation with her self-indulgence? There was more than just pressure from you to be nice to your troubled sister. Nevertheless, you never questioned the family myth of her ‘delicate, thin skin’ – another way of saying she clings to being special and wronged.
“You were unable to put right your father’s early death, as if you could have, or even should have. Instead you shouldered the responsibility for ‘over-sensitive, suffering’ Gwen. That way you could push down your own pain and impotence over the death.”

As our son walked in from his paper round, the tirade stopped.
But where had it all come from? Could it be the menopause? My golfing partner warned how the start of menopause unhinged his wife.
After Susan strode away, I offered a welcome day’s fishing to our youngest. Give her time to recover.
Exploding over a relation was not like her, she wants all the family for celebrations.
Besides Susan and Gwen have so much in common and, with only sons, she warmed to another woman. At times a conspiracy of wife and sister made me uncomfortably left out..
Susan can’t really expect furious words to obliterate Gwen from our lives, and my sister will never see that any of her behaviour (except possibly bringing our sons Ecstasy) needs improvement.
She will undoubtedly turn up next Christmas and for birthdays, and the two women will be giggling together again.
I am so lucky to have a gentle wife.

•   •   •