It was my friend Colin who said, there are two records of your life: one told in the photographs and the other through the impressionist pictures which describe how you felt in the same period. Sometimes it’s hard to see how both medium’s are describing the same life.
“Smile for the camera” the photographer said, “And damn the truth” and that’s how I’ve always played it. I’ve managed twenty-eight years of marriage and built a career as a jobbing solicitor dealing with events which do not make the news such as the sale of your house or the drafting of a will. It is not challenging work and could be done by anyone with common sense, some experience and the ability to smile even when bored: that’s where the paintings come in.
I could show you the photographs: me and my wife Sarah standing in front of a lighthouse at some Devon fishing village, I forget which one, and another of us with our youngest son, Geoffrey, taken when he was learning to ride a bike and many others. I’m in most of the photograph, smiling merrily as always though my heart longed to be in another place.
That’s the story in the main, although I should include our office manager Jackie who’s worked at my firm for the last nine years and been my lover for seven of them: both of us are very aware of consequences and careful of the world around us. To make matters a little more complicated, Jackie is a meant to be a devout practising catholic who still lives with her parents and any mention of my name in a private capacity would be beyond shocking to them: our more intimate exchanges take place during late night “Working sessions” on a settee in my office.
All well good and sordid until emotion got the better of me one evening and I said to her, “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to divorce Sarah and marry you” and her eyes just shone, sparkled if you like, and she replied, “I’ve been waiting for you to say that for so long. I will make you happy” and you could tell she spoke from the bottom of her heart.
We agreed she would have to leave our practice and get another job to mute the scandal and then I would get my divorce and move in with her. Jackie left our firm as agreed, and everyone was sad about her going but wished her well and then life went on while I learnt to deal with a new office manager who did not ask me if I wanted a biscuit with my coffee or even if I wanted a coffee at all.
Things carried on as normal, with my wife criticising me at breakfast and then telling me what we would be doing at the weekend and, as always, there was a quality of discrete vulnerability beneath her commanding exterior. One day at breakfast the truth hit me: that it was her vulnerability which moved me and I could not bear to hurt her so with Jackie I was indulging in a fantasy. I would miss the warm conspiratorial love and the sex of course: my wife has given up “That messy practice “ some years before.
I texted Jackie to say how very sorry I was but that I just could not go through with it to which she replied, “Do not contact me again. You broke my heart” and I look at that text every single day wondering if I’ve made a terrible mistake. I always discussed the main events of my life with her since we became lovers, and treasured her advice, but on this most important question she is not there to help me.
I do not have her photograph but I will paint my feelings about her for eternity. Someone once said, as a joke, that his advice to a coward would be to never hurt someone when they are in the same room as you. Perhaps he was talking to me!