A response to Katherine Mansfield’s ‘A Married Man’s Story’ (1923).
You perch at your writing desk, fingertips barely connecting with the polished wood. Every night, you assume I cannot feel you, beady eyed and silent, watching me, instead of writing. You assume with babe in arm and a sideboard of dishes, I couldn’t possibly know what my husband’s up to.
When I met you, everything I knew became null and void; my life was child’s play and nothing more. You were an avid, aspiring writer and a man I knew my mother would love more than I would. I was nineteen, naive and numb to the world. So, I loved you. My entire chest swelled with a voracious desire to have you, own you and never share you…
Until last Autumn.
The baby has your eyes, beady and silent, welling slightly as I rock and toss until those same eyes begin to waiver and blink, slowly. Sleep… We sleep alone now, accompanied only by our separate thoughts.
You’ve picked up your pen again. On November 20th – all those years ago, you informed me I was your muse. The Greek nine had never been enough for you. Yet, as the waves lapped against the rocks, my curls fluttered in the coastal chill and you struggled to tear your eyes away from my face, I became your muse; for the first time in my life, I was good enough…
We are fortunate, we live comfortably and within our means. A well-known publishing house picked up a selection of short stories, you had a serial in a newspaper and your home town forked out for a memoir. What of me? I’ve smiled, pressed your suit trousers and spit adjectives into the air when you’ve twiddled hair furiously between your fore-finger and thumb. I’ve collected postcards from all the places we’ve been lucky to visit; collected instead of sent because that requires a recipient. My mother got tired of postcards, preferring expensive perfume as your pay packet began to swell. My friends were left behind when I swapped the Friday roller-disco for the back seat of your car and watching the stars.
It’s as if the baby is you reincarnate. He struggles to settle, shifts awkwardly in my arms as if repulsed by my touch. I shush, hush and stroke his downy curls whilst he turns purple, livid with the thought of me as his mother. You manage to settle him; it is the one time you leave that desk. To coo and burble with your son, for twenty minutes in twenty-four hours. I love you both, I’m sure of it. Not once did I ever consider the grass was greener.
Until last Autumn.
Becoming comfortable altered the man I met. You were handsome, charming and the suits you wore fit you in all the right places. I cast my eyes nonchalantly towards you; count the liver spots, frown lines and bulges below your chin and above your belt. I remind myself appearances mean very little. Until I remember the outside reflects the inside. The selfishness, gluttony and misery. The selfishness, gluttony and misery all belong to me too. With powerful hands, mine were tied. My thirst for love, recognition and five minutes away from this baby, quenched.
You must know it lasted only six weeks…six weeks of pure delusion, yet I was utterly lost; falling like Alice, deeper and deeper, spinning in twists and adoring every second. Adrenaline reawakened. You must know it wasn’t the sex. He smiled, no…he acknowledged me as more than the other human being in the room. He looked past the stretch marks, the lines tying me to you and blew raspberries. He made me howl with laughter, he showed me films you thought were travesties, played me music you called crass. He wasn’t you.
The baby is in bed, thanks to you. I’m left with the sideboard of dishes and my thoughts. For years, my thoughts were unadventurous, limited like my circle of friends, maternal nature and aspirations. My thoughts were constrained to these four, thick brick walls where only your creativity thrives as the rest is stifled. My thoughts were those of my Mother – the woman who will always love you more than I do.
Until last Autumn.