Madame was tired, exhausted, flaccidified. She usually went to him, Professor Vert, her husband, when she could not stand straight or fold herself up correctly.
At the kitchen table (scrubbed pine) she sat, dipping a sugar lump in her tea. No, she didn’t want a biscuit, but a shot of whisky would be nice. She fidgeted, resting her elbows on the wood had led to the fabric of her sleeves imprinting a fine mesh into her skin. “I didn’t know where to go or what to do.” Mascara streaked her cheeks, small black rivulets marked her distress.
“And so you came here,” said P Vert.
“Yes,” her misery was complete.
There is much to be said for the French tradition of mature relationships. Each partner, depending on their proclivities, is free to do as they wish, providing they don’t seek to embarrass or deceive. In practice, however, men still like their wives to be in their beds … “My bed!”
“I thought it was our bed.”
“By being ‘ours’ it’s necessarily mine.”
“You sound like a caveman.”
“You sound like a feminist” … And any deviation from this accepted, age-old medium of possessive validation is liable to cause a few ructions.
“What is it this time?” he said, refilling her cup and glass.
“You need something from me?”
“Oh forgodsake Michael, this isn’t about you.”
“You’re in my home, at my table, drinking my whisky, of course it’s about me. Freya, you’re my fucking wife, when are you going to understand it’s always about me.”
“Are you mad,” she said, rising (blood, passion) from the table.
“No, I’m a realist.”
“And what reality are you living in today?”
It was P Vert’s turn to feel the prick of retribution.
“In any event, it’s not about you or him, it’s about her.”
“Yes, there’s always a ‘her‘.”
He raised his eyebrows, “So I recall”.
“That’s not funny.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
Madame ignored him, as she often did, “She has this way of … of intervening”.
“Coming between you?”
“Not as such, just asserting her presence, being THERE”.
“Peter Seller’s finest film.”
Madame dropped her hands, palm upwards, on the table, as if inviting the mercy of a higher power. “She appears, out of nowhere, says one thing, apparently, to me, and then behaves in a contradictory fashion.”
“In what way?”
“She ingratiates herself. Look, do you remember Franckie?”
“Here we go again,” said P Vert, propping one foot, flat-side up against the wall and folding his arms.
“Come and pick my damsons, bury my cat, see why my bathroom light won’t work,”
“Yes, yes, but this was years ago, why are you still hanging onto this crap?”
“Because this is how women operate. They do this attention seeking, apologetic, helpless thing, and men fall for it all the time.”
“You do, yes you do,” Madame began to get excited, “you think it’s about you, always, but it’s not, it’s some alpha female drive”.
“Right,” he raised an eyebrow.
“They’re not interested in the man, the man is secondary, a tool, what they want is to exert their power over the other woman.”
“Darling, you’re in absolutely no position to talk about ‘the other woman’”.
Madame dropped her eyes to the table and fingered her china tea cup. By swallowing hard and fast she was able to control her tears. She ground her teeth together rhythmically. “Have you got any wine?”
“Not much, and it’s been open since yesterday.”
“You don’t usually leave a bottle,” she smirked.
“I had work this morning, you know, that thing that pays your bills.”
“Are you suggesting ..?”
“Actually, I suggest we just stick to the point,” he strode out of the kitchen and into the sitting room to retrieve the wine and two glasses. Madame felt immensely satisfied when she heard the familiar glug glug of large amounts of alcohol being poured into a balloon glass. At least he had taste, he always had had taste, she thought, and some sense of style.
“I met her,” she started up again, after a substantial gulp.
“His fancy woman.”
“Have you been to a 1940s film dialogue school this week?”
“OK, his tart, his bitch, his whore, the slut who …”
“Alright, I get the idea. So what’s the problem?”
“Do you know what she said to me?” Madame was beginning to talk quickly, “she said ‘if you weren’t so old and so ugly then maybe you’d be in with a chance’! She said that. Can you believe that?”
“No, but you obviously do.”
“Why did you even hear what she was saying Freya?”
“Shecamerightuptome, rightuptomyface, andshesaid, ifyouweren’tsooldand …”
“Yes, yes, but it was only a problem because you DO think you’re old and ugly.”
It is difficult for silence to make an actual physical noise. Silence, by it’s very nature, is an absence of sound, yet long after P Vert’s words had faded from the general environment of the kitchen, Madame’s ears still rang with their implication. “Do you think I’m old and ugly,” she said in a small voice.
“I think you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, but you don’t believe me. Freya,” he said, moving forwards slightly, then thinking better of it and sinking back into the wall, “you don’t believe the good things that anyone says to you. I don’t think you want to …”
“Of course I want to.”
“I think you’re deaf to the good things, the kind things, the pretty things. I stopped telling you that I loved you a long time ago, because when I said it, those words, I didn’t even see a glimmer of recognition. When we argued though, and I shouted at you, then you heard me. For every time I called you a bitch, I called you something more gentle fifty times as often.”
“Oh don’t try to excuse yourself Michael,” she said, the tears winning their battle and escaping over her cheeks.
Why do you do this? Why do you always have to have the moral high ground and own all the pain?”
“BECAUSE IT’S MINE.”
The cat flap clanked somewhere in the background. Minky, who they had owned as a kitten together, slinked into the kitchen and promptly demanded food, in her loudest and most direct voice. P Vert went to the fridge and unclipped a white plastic top from a can of brown lumps in jelly.
“You obey her,” said Madame smartly.
“Precisely, she’s a bloody stupid cat, and yet still you do as she asks.”
“Because it’s uncomplicated, there’s no interpretation or negotiation. She wants food, I supply it, she’s happy, grateful, appreciates me in response, it’s simple.”
“You must have another bottle tucked away somewhere.”
“Yes or no? If the damn cat can get what she wants, why can’t I?”
P Vert held the bottle between his thighs as he pulled the cork. “Darling …”
“Don’t call me darling,” she spat.
“DARLING,” he emphasised, “you have to believe, at some point, and some point soon, that you’re not a piece of shit.”
“And whose fault ..?”
“Listen to me, please, stop talking and listen to me,” he poured another generous glassful, “whatever HAS happened, between us, before us, it’s not important.”
“Is this where you tell me to stop living in the past?”
“Please, I can’t do this for much longer.”
“No-one ever can.”
“It’s been ten fucking years Freya.”
“Were you timing them?”
“Sometimes yes. You go through these phases with tedious regularity. You hate yourself, then you hate other people, then you hate yourself some more. This is not a good way to live your life.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in value judgements.”
“I don’t believe in anything, nothing, whatsoever.”
“And yet you expect me to have faith?”
“Yes, in yourself,” said P Vert, his voice taking on a higher tone, “I expect you to at least have some BELIEF in who you are, what you are, and other people Freya. Not everyone in this world is going to hurt you or try and steal something from you.”
“Yes they are,” she said flatly, “experience has taught me that much”.
“No, no it hasn’t, because everything you think you know is based on what you think you know.”
“Please, spare me your philosophy.”
“Leave,” he said through tight lips, “I can’t talk to you if you won’t listen to what I’m saying”.
“Be quiet for a minute then. I feel like you’re trying to win.”
In certain situations it is not possible for there to be a wrong or a right answer. Truth, to an extent, is mutable, infinitely divisible according to various possibilities. White is the congregation of all colours, so it is both white and not white, it is everything and nothing simultanously. Black, on the other hand, is not a colour at all, rather it is the absence of colour, and yet it is ascribed the properties of something it is not. Given mutual misunderstandings, and a human condition that requires substantiation, it is hardly surprising the grey areas appear so dim.
“Will you hold me?” said Madame, her body finally finding the functionality for folding.
“Will you fuck me?” said P Vert, in perfect symmetry.
“No, I can’t, sorry.”
“Yes, of course you are” – but at least the symmetry was maintained, momentarily.