Here is Simon’s story, entitled I Love You Darling, Honestly.
‘Where are you going?’
‘I thought we’d have wine for dinner; I’m just going down to the town to get some from Bright’s.’
‘That’s a nice idea. We’re having Venezuelan lamb hotpot. It’ll be ready soon. Medium red, Rhone, perhaps?’
‘OK. I won’t be long.’
There was only one phone box on the way. With luck no one would be using it. With more luck Linda would be home and able to talk. If he ran he could get the wine, speak to Linda, and be back before Elizabeth complained about the time he took. It was an expensive way of making a phone call when you added in the cost of the wine. Damn, there was someone on the phone. Looked like they might be set for a long talk. There were phones at the station but that would take another ten minutes. He would buy the wine and hope this wretched creature had finished when he came back. What did she say they were having? Hotpot, probably be spicy. Chilean merlot would be safe. She said something about Rhone. It was too expensive at ten shillings, the Chilean was only seven and sixpence.
The Postmaster General was talking about some great new idea the other day. Phones you could use anywhere. Mobile phones he called them. Used wireless presumably. Great idea; would help in affairs of the heart no end. Ten years away probably, no use right now.
Edward jogged back up the hill clutching a bottle. Once you passed forty it was important to take regular exercise and he was always forgetting. Still, he was in good shape for his age, although the doctor always nagged about his weight. The phone box was empty now. Good. Call the number. The number he knew by heart.
A male voice. ‘Hallo. Hallo. Who’s this?’ Hell. It was Andrew. Better not chance saying anything. Edward hung up without speaking and jogged slowly home, it would not do to arrive puffed out.
While he is out phoning that woman I’ll just see if Charles. . . Good job the phone bill isn’t itemised like they are in America, Edward would know all my little secrets. He always goes over all the bills, even though I pay most of them. Life was simpler once, we were in love. Neither of us was seeing anyone else, and we drank a lot of wine. I get a glass or two of wine out of his sordid phone calls but that’s about it. The mean sod never buys any unless I make him feel guilty. Come on, answer. Oh good, he’s there.
‘Hallo darling, I just wanted to . . .’
‘I’m sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong number.’
‘Oh I see. I’m sorry, I’ll check and try again.’ Damn, I thought he said she would be away for two days. She must have been in earshot. Now how am I going to confirm our little plan for tomorrow? I still don’t know if Edward will keep his part of the bargain. It isn’t a bargain exactly, but he said there was going to be a late night sitting he must attend, leaving me free. There’s his key in the lock. He was quick, perhaps I misjudged him and he only went to get some wine.
‘Oh darling, that’ll be perfect with the lamb. We ought to keep some in the house. You are a Minister[i] now, surely we can afford it? I know you think Mary would steal it, but we can get a little lockable cabinet and put it under the stairs. I think gin is much more her line, anyway. I’ve putt the finishing touches to things while you were out and everything is ready to eat.’ Why does he always buy such cheap wine? Surely he could have got a decent bottle of Rhone, which is what the recipe called for. He’s only a junior minister, but they pay him well enough. He thinks I am invading his manhood by telling him what to get. I know more about wine than he does.
‘Hmm. I’m all in favour of more wine, but you know the election is only a few months off. We ought to wait until then, and see if I’ve still got a job. We might not be able to afford it if I lose my seat. Not a good time to splash out.’
‘Oh, pooh! Your seat is as safe as houses. You’ll think of something if you do lose it, you always do. We’re not poor; at least I don’t think so. I don’t want to go back to you living somewhere else while you work on some dreadful consultancy contract. At least I see more of you nowadays, although not much more with all these late night sittings.’ Actually it would be great if he lost his seat, provided we didn’t move away. Then Charles and I could be together more. Although the silly thing thinks he’s going to get a divorce, I’m going to get a divorce and we’ll live happily on my money. That isn’t going to happen of course, but I would like a few more afternoons in bed and the occasional discreet supper somewhere. He is such fun. But not long term . . .
I don’t want to divorce Edward. We mostly work quite well together. I’m a good hostess for his dinner parties. I know there is an age difference. That isn’t so important nowadays, although I have heard bitchy comments from other women. I’m only a few years older than Edward. They all think he’s a catch. He is, and I’ve caught him. There’s another sort of catch: the poor dear has a problem with his zip, never makes serious money and is a poor liar. None of his affairs ever lasts though, so I have something he wants, or needs. I wonder what that woman sees in him. She has a perfectly good husband of her own. At least I suppose he is all right, you never know about other people’s marriages. Although my instincts are pretty good.
This stew isn’t bad, the wine goes down well. She seems remarkably content. I suppose she phoned Charles while I was out. I’ve probably met him, but a Minister’s life is full of people he has trouble remembering. She told me what he did for a living, but I’ve forgotten. If I keep my seat I’ll probably lose Linda, because I’ll have to break my promise to spend more time with her. Elizabeth and I will get divorced because we haven’t got a future, regardless of what she thinks. She wouldn’t marry Charles. I gather he’s rather a nonentity. So we’ll both have nobody. But there are plenty of women around. If I lose my seat I’ll have to go back to consultancy work and it is not as well paid as everyone thinks, quite apart from having to spend long periods in international hellholes, not seeing Linda, so I’ll lose her either way. Plus the fact that you are not welcome as a consultant once you start to look long in the tooth, although I have got a bit of time yet, thank goodness.
‘Are you going to bed already Edward? It’s early.’
‘Tomorrow will be a very long day. To start with there’s an inter-departmental meeting about these arms sales stories that the newspapers have been carrying. We need to tell the public everything we did was in their interest.’
‘Probably not, but they don’t need to hear that. At least not from me. Then I’m going to meet with all the arms suppliers. Each will say that they have supplied war materials exactly per their contractual agreement. I will respectfully disagree, as I know they haven’t. The spooks won’t let me say how I know, so that will all be fairly futile.’
‘Oh. I thought we might . . .’
‘Why don’t we? But don’t stay up late. I’m pretty whacked.’
How nice of him to tell me he’s too tired to make love. I thought only women did that.
He’s asleep already. I thought as much. You’ll have to pay more attention to your wife Edward dear, especially when you are in bed. Otherwise she won’t be your wife for much longer. He always shoots out of bed in the morning so fast it is impossible to dally, or even have a quick hug.
The interdepartmental meeting over Edward started the first of his long series of meetings with the suppliers. They all wore much better suits than he could afford, with hand made Italian silk ties. Elizabeth was well off but pretty close with her money, although she did pay the household bills. He brought his mind back to the question of whether a recoilless grenade launcher with optional homing device was a defensive weapon within the meaning of the War Office guidelines. He would have to make a statement to the House tomorrow, and then there was the Press conference. He would write it all out this evening. Damn. Linda said she was going to be free, although she never confirmed it. He had half promised to see her. He also half promised Elizabeth last night he might be able to come home early. He could keep one promise. He’d better call and tell Linda it was off, although it was always chancy. Their house was tiny, and Andrew was unpredictably in and out. Damn, he was in. He hesitated and picked up the phone again. At least Elizabeth would be home.
She was furious. She had sent Mary home early and there was nothing much in the house to eat. After speaking to Edward she called the usual number. ‘I’m sorry Charles, Edward will be home this evening, although he told me this morning he did not expect to be. I’d better be here.’
‘He lets you down often enough, why not let him down for once?’
‘We’ve been over this before. We know he has a girl friend, but he often does have to work very late. I don’t have an excuse for not being at home when he wants me there. It’s not as if I belong to a bridge club or anything. I really can’t give you as an excuse. I’ll see you soon. Promise.’ Perhaps Charles would have to go. There were plenty of men who were more available and in her age bracket. A rich elderly lover perhaps, provided he was up to it. She had plenty to offer, well perhaps a little too much but a lot of men liked fleshy women.
The evening was a repetition of the night before, except that Edward arrived home carrying two bottles of wine. One from the Rhone and the other a respectable white Burgundy. What had got into him? His conscience must be pricking. Edward explained that he had out manoeuvered the arms manufacturers by holding out the prospect of further sales if they could dampen down the negative publicity surrounding the present crisis.
‘Will there be? Further sales I mean.’
‘I shouldn’t think so.’
‘Hmm. So you were fibbing. I’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher and then I’m off to bed.’ She yawned, stretched and kissed the top of his head.
‘Darling Edward, don’t be long.’
‘Coming soon, my love. Speech not working out. I must get it right.’
‘Oh come to bed, your speeches always get rewritten by, what’s her name? Linda?’
‘No, she’s moved on to something else. A young chap from the Press office usually does them now. He’s quite good.’
‘Pooh to your speeches. No one ever listens to them. I think you just get up and make them in the Commons because you think you ought to.’ She went upstairs and Edward frowned at his notes.
Linda stopped writing his speeches years ago, when she first slept with Edward. Now a competent young man with round shoulders did them. Edward could never remember his name. Linda dealt with him. He put his pen down and mused. She had raised the old question of divorce and remarriage again recently. Should he tell her that he borrowed money to pay for her amusements? She thought he had more money than he did. A Minister’s salary was not that much, and small beer compared to Elizabeth’s income. Linda did not make much as a government press officer, although she talked about coming in for plenty when her father died. That might not be for a long time. And there was a brother who might inherit.
No, things were better left as they were, except that he had half promised Linda he would do something about their life. He didn’t even know if she would get a divorce. There was a child to consider. She and Andrew probably got along quite well, despite what she said. Edward was just her little bit of fun on the side. Or was Linda really serious when she said she wanted a more permanent relationship? Time to move on? It would affect life in the Department if he broke with her. Although she would probably get another job she was good in her present post. He could manage with Elizabeth, their life together worked well enough.
Elizabeth wished on the one hand that he would wash before he came to bed so she did not have to smell the traces of that odious woman’s scent. She wished on the other hand that he would make love to her. She dozed, thinking that they had not made love for a long time, but she could still recall the last time. He silently slipped into bed beside her and she turned, half awake, towards him.
While she lay there, dreamily wishing that he would take hold of her, he fell asleep, as he so often did. He was probably dreaming about his speech: guns and bombs and tanks. Or he was dreaming of Linda, if it was still Linda?
She came to, thinking that her life might be for the best, after all. She would pretend she did not know about Linda, although Edward probably knew that she knew. Three quarters of him was probably as much as any woman would ever get. Charles could occupy the other quarter of her life; or whoever replaced him. It didn’t matter, although there were things about Charles that she had encountered in no other man. She and Edward did not have a bad life together, and one day they would be mature enough to admit to each other what they really thought about things, about people, about each other. Meanwhile they would go on pretending, but somewhere beneath the pretence lay the truth. Somewhere.
©Simon Evans 2016