Later that day in an evening marked out by routine; a self-constructed prison built of ritual, she put the food out on the table: two pork chops with some vegetables neatly laid out on the side. Her husband smiling, and pretending to ignore her turmoil, poked the cooked meat with his fork, “Lovely, just the way I like it” he said: it’s what he always said. She pushed her arms as if through water, smiling despite the facts. “Shall we watch some TV,” she asked and he nodded: make-believe filled out the silence.
That night he lay down beside her, at a distance: it was their unspoken custom. He was her sweet and innocent mistake, a character with neither malice nor stratagem, lacking nothing but direction, who slid off into sleep while she lay trawling through the day’s events. Meeting Bill that afternoon, the man she should have married, still the same but somehow different, older yes, and more self-contained, still warm but now without agenda, talking of his travels and listening to her problems with kindness marked by rectitude. He was not to be her cavalry: the rescuer from obscure despair. Her steps, once sure, had led her nowhere. What had she wanted?
She was just a girl with dreams, who struck out on the wrong pilgrimage, worshiping a god who was never in the building. Her husband, irritatingly without fault or drive, had failed to offer more than pleasantries. That dream of reaching for adventure, dining out with men of interest, of being slightly more than average, had dwindled to a distant longing, till Bill sprang out of some newspaper, reminding her of her youthful hope and offering a new horizon.
Her husband’s crime was not being quite good enough, settling for second-rate, dwelling on the search for safety and what she once thought of as verbal brilliance proved to be mere repartee.
In the morning he bought her tea and showered as he always did. Quiet perhaps, but not unusually so. She prepared for work, custom managed everything, till she turned to him, asking as he left, “What would you like to eat this evening” and he replied “Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m leaving you.” The door closed before she could reply.