събота, 20 юни 2020 г.
The Crack Up
She managed to rush to the bathroom and lock herself up. He was raging outside, pounding on the door with his fists. He threatened to break in, if she did not come out right away. She turned the shower on to muffle up her crying.
“You will be really sorry, if you don’t come out! I will kill you even if I have to rot in prison for the rest of my life!”
“Please, calm down and I will be out. Go for a walk and when you get back, we can discuss it!”
“No, you have lied to me, you have gone behind my back and I can never trust you again!”
“I could not have told you. You would not have understood me.”
“You are not going there to see your sick mother. You are going to meet your ex-lover.”
“If you don’t trust me, you can come with me!”
“I cannot go right now, I have got urgent things to do here. You know it only too well.”
“I won’t get out of the bathroom before you calm down. I don’t want to go to my family with another black eye.”
“I am your family, you have no other family. I am going out to the pub. You are the one who is pushing me that way.”
“Don’t you try to make me feel guilty for your own inability to control yourself. You are just looking for excuses.”
“If you keep on like that, you will end up with more than a black eye. I cannot stand you sleeping in my bed, so you better settle on the couch. Bye and go to hell!”
She heard him bang the front door. She splashed her
face with cold water to wash away the tingling sensation of the tears. What has
she done? Her mother was very ill way back in her native country – the doctor
did not give her more than three months. Lina wanted to be by her bedside and
take care of her, probably her presence would prolong her life. She knew that
nothing else would make the old lady any happier! So, she had a little money,
saved in her account in the Post Bank and she did not hesitate to give it all
for a plane ticket to
She could not tell Clive in advance. All she could expect was rage and violence. She still had pains in the cracked rib when he gave her a strong punch for daring to disagree with him. The black eye he gave her for daring to disagree was almost gone and she learnt to disguise it with powder. Though most people did not really believe the version she gave them, i.e. that she banged into an half-open door, when she went to the toilet during the night. Moreover, they had heard stories of violence from his two previous wives.
Lina kept quiet about his violence and preferred to
keep it within the family. She hoped probably in vain that one day he would
have a change of heart and would be miraculously transformed. The verbal abuse
hurt more than the physical bruises. He called her a liar and a traitor. He
hated her so much that he could not stand the sight of her. Why? Because she
dared to be a person with legitimate human feelings. She dared to take a
decision on her own–to go back to
What was at the root of his selfish cruelty? Was he unable to empathize with her? His mother was gone but he talked so fondly of her, he told her so many stories about her independent character, he was so proud of her being an emancipated woman who dared to have her own musical band way back in the 30’s. He also told her of his unbearable frustration when she was waning away from cancer before his eyes and he could not do much to bring her back to life.
They also visited her grave near
How could he be so insensitive to her now when it was
time for her to be a loving and caring daughter? It hurt her to think of it.
She decided to call
“It’s me Lina. How are you over there? How is mother?”
“Not too bad, darling. Mother was released from hospital and is with us at home. A nurse comes regularly to give her shots to relieve her pain.”
She felt the sadness in his voice, though he made an effort not to sound too gloomy.
“I am coming in a week’s time. I have already booked with British Airways. I am longing to see you all. Little Rita must have grown up a lot. How is she doing at school?”
“She is doing fine. She is helpful with mama. She often takes her to the toilet and up and down the balcony, overlooking the park. Mom refuses to use the walking stick though she is weak and a bit unsteady...When are you coming, darling?”
“Next Friday at 5.00 p.m., local time. Now I must go. Kisses to everybody and see you soon.”
She hung up and burst into tears. To get over it, she went into the kitchen to prepare supper. How did it all come to this? She had married Clive in the hope that she would have a warm and understanding partner.
At the beginning, he really acted like that, but it was during the year before they got married. Then he controlled his drinking and went to the pub only on Friday night. He always invited her to join him. He had a few pints of beer, while she had “sprizza” white wine. He introduced her to his friends from the neighborhood. The Tilneys, an elderly couple, John, the insurance agent, Peter, the construction engineer, Clive’s son Allan and his girlfriend Nicolla who lived next‑door. Everything was all so new and exciting for her. When they got home, he would play the piano for her, Duke Ellington, Keith Jarrett, Dizzie Gillespie. Sometimes she would dance modern and contemporary ballet to his music. But this blissful time lasted only eleven months and now it seemed like a far away dream to her, lost for good.
Though she remembered that on one occasion he was very rude to her and she booked her flight back home. He fell on his knees. Then he rushed out and returned with a bunch of red orchids, her favorite flowers. He fell to his knees again and begged her forgiveness. He told her that she was all he had in the world and if she disappeared, he would commit suicide. Naturally, she was deeply touched and canceled her reservation.
When he proposed marriage to her, Lina had to make a
hard choice.She had to give up her promising career at the
But only a month after their marriage things started changing…He would go out, without saying a word and would return soused very late at night. He would turn argumentative and start abusing her verbally. “You are useless. You can’t organize a piss up a brewery.” Once he said that he acted like an alcoholic and he slapped her hard across the face. That was the first night she slept on the couch in the living room. She hoped that he would apologize in the morning but...he didn’t.
She served him a typical English breakfast in bed but he snapped at her, ordering her to leave the bedroom. She felt more lonely than ever! She had not a soul to confide in. Lina still hoped that this was only incidental, that he would repent and get back to his old self, the Clive she knew before their marriage. Instead, things got from bad to worse.
He started finding fault with her, telling her that she was useless. His eggs were overdone, his roasties were underdone, his shirts were not properly ironed and so on.
She started wondering whether she could do anything right. She was losing her self-esteem and there was no one to boost it up. When he made love to her, it was nothing like the good old times when he was tender and considerate of her. It was more like a rape – he grabbed her like an object and after coming, he turned his back on her and snored away. She stood awake in the darkness and wondered how it all came to this. What has she done wrong? What could she do to bring him back to herself? She did not believe in superstition but it was as if somebody had worked black magic on him. She had to find some kind of job, otherwise she would go nuts. She went through all the adverts for a bookshop assistant in the newspapers but when she called they would not have her. Perhaps because of her lack of local experience and because she sounded like a foreigner. Finally, she put up an advert at the local newsagents: “An experienced house cleaner, looking for decent families to work for.“
Within a week she got a few responses. She was out of the house for six hours, away from this surly man who was a complete stranger to her. Moreover, she could make a few bobs to buy things for herself like cosmetics or underwear. She subscribed to a yoga club and went there twice a week. How nice it was there! The walls were painted orange, the melodious zither played in the background, the fragrance from the burning aromatic sticks was intoxicating. But Clive seemed to dislike the idea of her having a life of her own.
“Why did I marry you? To stay alone while you are tying your feet up round your neck I am the governor here. There will be no next time going there!"
"Am I like a native to you? This is not the time of colonial rule, this is the time of women’s lib movements. You speak like a male chauvinist.”
“Don’t you dare speak to me like that or you will be in trouble!"
He slapped her across the face. She swung back and hit her head against the edge of the cupboard. He did not look in her direction but grabbed his barbour jacket and banged the front door behind him. She knew he would go straight to the pub. She did not want to think of what would happen when he would be back. She would go to bed on the couch again. The next day he would accuse her of purposefully estranging herself from him. He would accuse her of God knows what. She hoped to slip out of the house before he woke up from his drunken slumber. Now she had a choice of going to work or popping round the shop. How long could she stand this life on the run? Lina could not admit to herself that she had made a grave mistake of marrying Clive, she had virtually ruined her life. She missed her creative work on literature and the theater, her free lance journalism in specialized periodicals like the Literary Front weekly, the ABC weekly, Panorama quarterly. She tried to do free lance journalism for the BBC Bush House but she could hardly do one piece in a month. She was permanently depressed and felt tired as early as she woke up. She missed not only her family, but also her circle of friends, the atmosphere at her work place with the endless discussions on literature and the arts. Now, all her past seemed unreal to her, as if it had been in a previous reincarnation. She missed the view from her window with the forest across the street. She loved to leave bread crumbs for the birds, perched on the rails of her small balcony. She also had other 'visitors' like the squirrels that swerved gracefully like cats, crunching the nuts she left in heaps for them. She would not feel so poignantly nostalgic, if Clive treated her differently, if he was cordial and considerate of her. She made friends with Karen, a young single woman who lived a few blocks away but he did not seem to like that either. Especially, when he found out that she had stayed the night with Karen on a few occasions when he got dangerously violent and she ran for her life in the yard. He would growl at her:
“I might kill you in your sleep, I don’t care if I go to prison for it!”
Today’s scene was just as bad. She did not know what would follow when he got back from the pub tonight. She thought of calling Karen, she had to be back from work by that time:
“Hi, Karen. This is Lina speaking. Listen, I am in trouble again. Can I stay with you tonight? I am so glad to hear of your new boyfriend. I don't want to interfere with your privacy, no way.
When can I see you?
expect a call from you. Mind you, I am leaving for
Yes, I will be coming to do the cleaning on Tuesday, as usual. Fine, I’ll expect a call from you tomorrow.
The Good Samaritans? No, thanks. I would not like to go to their shelter.
You gave me the phone and all the details but I am ashamed to admit my problem to strangers.
I know they will be very kind and understanding but still I have got my reservations. Bye, Karen. Have a nice evening!
She hung up and wondered what to do next. Karen had been persuading her to go the refuge for abused women. She had kept her dark secret to herself so far. Only Karen knew about it and she was shocked with what she heard. She advised her to leave him and go back home. She was an independent woman in her mid-thirties and she was adamant:
”You should not put up with this. You are not your real self anymore. You have come to believe the crap he is telling you. You have lost your self-esteem.”
But then Lina tried to give her reasons for sticking with him:
”You know, things are not that simple. He is going through a terrible crisis. Everything he has worked for the last twelve years is going down the drain. He has nobody else in the world. Even his son keeps away from him. If I go, he says he will commit suicide. I will feel guilty for the rest of my life.”
Karen got angry:
“But it might cost your life, he might disfigure your face or even kill you!"
“You are right, but I am attached to him in a strange way. I feel him as my own child who I have to protect and take care of. Moreover, this will be my second marital crash and I am not young anymore. I am forty five. I am scared of being alone.”
“This will be the lesser evil. You are more lonely now than ever.” argued Karen. “Marriage is in crisis the world over. You should not be hard on yourself and think that it was all your fault. Things like this happen time and time again.”
“I have invested so much into this relationship. I sacrificed my academic career to have a really satisfactory private life. I still remember the good times we had together at the beginning of our relationship. He has got so deeply under my skin that I think of him as my destiny. You have to face your destiny and accept it.”
Karen lost patience with Lina:
“You must get away from him to find out how things are. Tell him you will stay with your family for three months to find out exactly how you feel about your marriage.”
“If I tell him this, he will surely kill me.”
Even under the present sorrowful circumstances with her mother’s lethal illness, the next day she begged him passionately to let her stay for a month. She felt guilty that she “pushed” him to the pub tonight. She decided to go out and look for him. She would get a cab and bring him home. She knew he had not eaten since lunch. It was extremely dangerous for his ulcer. He might have a haemorrhage any minute.
She hurried up and headed to the “Fox and Hound” which
was the nearest pub. She did not care what bad names he might call her in front
of his mates. She had to take care of him at any rate. She entered the crowded
pub and saw him standing at the further end of the bar. He was talking to Jack,
the contractor with whom he had worked on projects in the past. In the good old
days when his business was prospering... Then he bought buildings in
In her native country they lived like lower middle class Westerners. Most people were equally poor. They could go to the theater or the opera for pennies. You could buy books for pennies and use public transport for pennies. Then holidays were very cheap if you went to one of the rest homes. People used to go to restaurants a lot. The average family went for a meal to the local tavern once a week. You could hear the best musicians of world class and you only paid two or three pounds. She heard herself telling these things to Jack tonight. Clive was in a good mood and inserted:
“She is a clever little thing, isn’t she?”
Jack took the occasion to confirm Clive’s statement.
“She is damn clever and she speaks brilliant English. “
She relaxed and ordered herself a sprizza, which is white wine with soda and ice. The bartender looked at her in a complicit manner. The mates must have had quite a few pints by now. Seven or eight, most probably. She ordered a cold starter, pretending that she was hungry. Then she managed to stick into his mouth a bite or two. She furtively looked at her watch. It was near eleven o’clock. The pub would close at twelve and then she would get a cab back home. As usual, he was well‑disposed to her in other people’s company. He even seemed to be proud of her. This was her old Clive, the Clive she knew during the first eleven months. She was only slightly worried about his ulcer. She ordered a salad and tried to stuff as much as she could into his mouth. He was her baby, her naughty baby. She had read in the Cosmopolitan magazine that wives should not treat their husbands like babies. It was too late for her to change her attitude to her reckless husband.
He often joked and said that she behaved like a fussy hyper-protective Jewish mother. Probably, it was because she did not have any children of her own, or perhaps he had not grown up. She was so analytical when it came to literature or art but she was completely baffled before the mystery of real life. She splurged on him all the warmth and tenderness which she had imbibed from her mother. Mind you, her father died of a brain stroke when she was only ten. He loved her dearly and he spoilt her immensely even to the point where her mother protested and warned him she would be in trouble later. But she was a sweet little thing with long curly hair and never threw any tantrums. She was a blithe spirit round the house which danced and drew pictures, hummed tunes and...asked difficult questions. On public parades her father carried her on his shoulders and loved to crack a kind of joke:
“She is the continuation of my head.”
Thinking of this while she was sipping her white wine, she thought with a certain bitterness.”I'm afraid I did not justify his expectations of me...but then this is how life is. You cannot expect children to be a projection of your personal ambitions.” She promised herself to visit his grave and take care of it when she got back home. Actually, she believed that his spirit was hovering at other levels of being and like a guardian angel he was protecting and guiding her. Surely, he got reincarnated into a person who was a leader of people or a scholar who invented a new theory with many followers. Because in this life, he was unable to finish his major projects in microbiology.
The pub was closing down. She rushed out to get a cab. They all went to their place. She was relieved to have Jack around. Clive played the piano and she thought that he had inherited a lot from his mother’s talent. He had the perfect pitch. The way he played and sang, he behaved like a real showman. Around one o’clock a.m. Jack wanted to go but Clive would not let him go. Lina offered to make some coffee to make them sober up. Then she proposed to Jack to put him up for the night. Clive liked the idea very much and asked if Jack liked the songs of Cole Porter since he was a special favorite of Lina. It looked to her as if Clive was struggling to win her over again and make her regret her decision to go home. Perhaps she still meant something special to him? She seemed to have forgotten the nightmare in which they had been living for the last two years. She forgave him everything and she felt so proud of him tonight. She enjoyed the deference with which Jack was treating her, she felt being her old self again. She offered them freshly squeezed juice at dawn. Later she rushed to the kitchen to make pancakes with strawberry jam. When she returned to the living room, carrying the tray, Clive had fallen asleep in one of the armchairs. Jack made her a sign to her not to wake him up and had his breakfast with relish. Then he said:
“Thank you for this lovely night. Believe me, Lina, Clive is such a lucky man to have a gem like you. But I must go now. I have to be at the site at nine. “
When she looked at Clive crooked in the armchair she felt like carrying him like a baby to the couch. She put his breakfast back into the warm oven and crouched on the couch. She was so happy to share the silence in tune with him. Occasionally, he stirred up trying to make himself more comfortable. She tiptoed and put a blanket over him. At eight o’clock the landline in the office rang. Clive rushed instinctively to answer it. She handed him the handset and he spoke into the phone:
Hello, this is Clive Peterson.
Hi, Peter, thanks I’m fine. Oh, I have got a bit of a cold.
Certainly, I am meeting you at eleven. At the café, right, cheerieoh.”
He hung up and looked around as if he had awoken in the British museum. She was quick enough to place the tray with his breakfast on his knees and huddled up shyly on the couch. He looked at her briefly and said:
“Was I a good enough entertainer?”
“Certainly, you were. You were simply great. Your mother would have been proud of you. “
“Were you proud of me?”
“Certainly I was. You were the old Clive, the Clive I want to remember.
“Do you love me only when I act the showman?”
“No, you know too well I love you most of the time.”
“Yet you are going to leave me alone, anyway?”
“Only for a month. If I don't do my duty by my dying mother, I will regret it to the end of my days.”
She was on the verge of tears, so she went into the bathroom to splash her face with cold water. 'It is starting all over again.' By the time she got out of the bathroom, he had put on the mask of his other self. He did not speak to her, she seemed to be invisible. And he closed the door of his study when he spoke on the phone. He went out around ten o’clock, without saying goodbye. He did not return for dinner and did not call her to let her know where he was.
Karen called her and invited her to her place the next day. She was so disturbed that she could not read a newspaper, so she stayed in front of the TV set for an hour or two, thinking of what his next move of terror strategy would be. She decided to leave him a note on the night table, saying:
“I understand that you have your personal reasons not to tolerate my presence, so I decided to show respect for your feelings and sleep on the couch. If I am wrong, please, let me know.”
She had a cup of warm milk with some honey in it but she could not go to sleep. Finally, she took a Lexotan pill which was a mild tranquilizer. She prayed for his safety, wherever he was, and while worrying, she fell asleep. She dreamt a strange dream – she was rowing down a lake but she could never get close to the shore. She was going round in circles and she felt more and more tired but nobody was in sight. One of the oars slipped out of her hand and she bent over trying to pick it up. But the boat tilted to one side and filled with water. She jumped into the water, still holding on to the other oar. Then she woke up, shouting: “Help!” The bedroom door was closed and no noise was heard from there. She turned on the lampion and caught glimpse of a sheet of paper on the table. It was a note from Clive.
“I am going away to
So, she was right that he could not stand the sight of her. He decided to keep away, in fear of committing some atrocity. It was Saturday morning and the house was seized by dead silence. It reminded her of an ice bound cave. She did not feel like making breakfast just for herself and she had just a cup of espresso. She picked up the Times newspaper and looked through it. Nothing was of interest to her.
She had to occupy her mind with something - she was
not very keen on cross word puzzles or solitaire, so she decided to prepare her
next article for the BBC – it was going to be about boat people for the “Life
“Hi, Karen, I was expecting a call from you. No, I am on my own. What time do you suggest? At five oçlock? That’s all right with me. Fine, see you soon.”
It was only one o’clock. So, she would have plenty of time to tidy up and revise her article. She had to keep herself busy to chase away the dark thoughts. Lina looked forward to meeting Karen. She was more than a just a friend, she was like her private psychotherapist. They both liked white wine, so she would get a bottle of nice Chianti on the way to her place…
Karen lived on the ground floor of an Edwardian building with a few gnomes, grinning roguishly among the hydrangea clusters of the small garden. As usual, they went into the kitchen where it was warm and cozy. Karen was in her dressing gown and had something like a turban on her head – she was having an oil mask on her hair. She opened the bottle of wine and while pouring it into the crystal glasses, she asked:
“So, what’s up? You are going home next Friday, aren’t you?”
“Yes, you might think this is the right thing to do under the circumstances, but Clive doesn’t.”
“Well, this his problem. He hasn’t grown up in an orphanage, has he?” “No, on the contrary, he had a very strong bond with his own mother.”
“Anyway, did he make trouble?”
“He fell into one of his fits of rage and tried to hit me but I managed to lock myself into the bathroom.”
“Did he break in?”
“No, he just pounded on the door and kept threatening me. Then he went straight to the pub. I have to admit that I felt guilty.”
“You didn’t drag him there by force, did you? He might have gone there anyway.”
“It’s all very easy to say but I worry about his health. You know that he has a stomach ulcer and high blood pressure.”
“So, how did things go further?”
Lina kept quiet about her “Salvation Army operation”. She knew that it would make Karen angry.
“The next day I became invisible, he went out in the morning, without saying a word. He returned late, well after midnight, I was fast asleep on the couch and did not hear him coming back. When I woke up I found a note on the table in the living room.
“What did it say?”
“It said that he was off to
“I can’t say how long I will be staying.”
“Do you think he might be back before you go?”
“No, I think that he won’t be back before that.”
“This is the best course things could take. But what if he returns on the eve of your departure? Are you going to spend the night in the bathroom?”
“Oh, I don’t know, he might have undergone a change of heart.”
“No, it is too naïve to think so. You must have your luggage safely tucked away, ready to take flight. You can sleep here on the couch. Your ticket, passport and other papers should be ready in your handbag. So, you can go straight from here to the airport.”
“You are being so kind, Karen. What would I have done without you?”
“That’s nothing. That’s what friends are for.”
“Now, can you tell me something about your new boyfriend?”
“Oh, yes, this is the hottest show in town. Let me show you his photo. I took it during our last weekend together.”
“Where did you go?”
“What kind of a job has he got?”
“He is a bank manager at one of the branches of Barclay’s bank. But, thank God, he is not one of those narrow-minded boring bank officials. He plays the trumpet beautifully and we were at Ronnie Scott’s the other night.”
“Judging by his facial expression on the photo, he is not somber, he looks a jolly guy.”
“Oh, yes, he is the born entertainer. He can make a joke out of everything. But, then, Clive has a great sense of humor too and he is nice company. But there is another side to him which you come to know only when you live with him.”
“So, when time is ripe, we can shack up together, without getting married. Let’s see how things go, but if I start thinking of him as a prospective husband, I would like to live with him for a year or two before we make any other commitments. Right now we are in the stage of romance, so everything looks so glamorous and exciting.”
They were interrupted by a phone call. It was Graham. Lina noticed a special gleam in Karen’s eyes, her voice was vibrating with elation. She was definitely a woman in love. Lina remembered she felt the same way during the first eleven months of her relationship with Clive. It was like living in a tropical dream! There seemed to be no barriers or obstacles to be overcome. She felt vibrantly alive for the first time after so many years. She wrote poems, dedicated to Clive, which she presented to him on their first anniversary. She also gave him a book with the memoirs of the British spy Burgess who worked for the Russians - he was so keen on documentary stories about real spies. They went to a Malaysian restaurant and he bought her a bouquet of orchids, her favorite flowers. She was wise enough to know that the romance could not go on forever, but she hoped for mutual respect and devotion, for a loyal conspiracy against the odds of fate and the hostile world around.
She had to go now. She had to return to their family nest which was cold and dreary, haunted by bad memories and frightening anticipations. She was tense, expecting his sudden return any minute. She could not go to sleep, so she had to take another pill and she startled in the middle of the night, hearing a knock on the door. She jumped and looked through the peephole. There was no one. It had been all her imagination. She tried to go back to bed. It was impossible to go to sleep. Her heart was thumping at a mad rate, as if she had been on the run, persecuted by a gang of black boys in Brixton. She felt like watching the video on Edward Elgar’s life which they had watched together a few times. Clive got very emotional when the composer became disabled after a stroke and could not play the piano anymore. But his loving wife was dedicated to looking after him.
Probably, he thought of his own old age which was not so far away – he was fifty one. But he always said he felt like a man of twenty five, he was so young at heart. It was Sunday and she had to do babysitting for a friendly family a few blocks away. They had two very energetic and naughty boys of five and three and she always got exhausted with trying to keep them under control. The hardest part was putting them to bed. They ran around and hid in secret places all over the house. It took her an hour to put their pyjamas on. They were whacked with doing all kinds of mischiefs which involved nonstop fighting with each other. Finally, they dropped tired into their beds and were fast asleep before she had got through the first page of their children’s story. Now she could relax and watch TV, keeping the door to the children’s room open. She had prepared her luggage during the day and she had stashed it away into the pantry. Going meticulously through her daily routine, she did not notice how time passed by. It was Thursday and she was flooded by some dark anticipations. She called Karen at her office:
“Karen, darling, it’s me, Lina. Can I spend the night at your place.
Will I disturb you very much?
Fine, thanks. I will come over to your place around six p.m. “
She could not wait to get out of the house. She seemed to hear all kinds of menacing noises, coming from the back yard and the staircase. At four o’clock, she heard a car being parked in the back yard. “To hell, this must be him.” She peeped behind the curtain of the bedroom. Thank God, it was somebody else’s SUV, it was not Clive's Land Rover. She rushed with her luggage out of the door. She did not know where she was going. It dawned on her she could take a temporary refuge at the local public library. She had a friend there and she could ask her to put her luggage away in one of the office rooms. She asked the lady at the cloakroom if she could find Susie for her. It took ten minutes before Susie turned up. She had been busy in one of the book depot premises. Susie was surprised to see her suitcase and bag.
“Could you put it away for two hours.I would appreciate it greatly if you do.”
“Yes, certainly. Obviously, you have to make some urgent references before you leave.”
Lina loved the blessed silence of the reading room. Here she felt protected from the outside world. She picked up the latest issues of a few periodicals – some light stuff like the Cosmopolitan and National Geographic.
She came upon an article about domestic violence. They explained the vicious circle – “you are mentally and physically abused, you lose your self-esteem, you start thinking that nobody else would appreciate you. So, your only chance is to put up with the violence, since otherwise you will be doomed to loneliness.Your partner realizes you have no capacity to fight back or leave him and continues the pattern of abuse. At a certain point, he has no respect left for you and treats you like an object.” She felt sick. Has she come to this? She was a self-confident independent woman once with a brilliant academic career and a close circle of friends who respected and admired her. She was proud of herself that she had the guts to leave a day earlier. This was preventive strategy to avoid being victimized in the eleventh hour. Now, she was going to her friend who treated her like her friends at home. She trusted her completely and had her as a confidante. Lina was very good at judging other people’s relationships and always came up with a wise comment or advice. But, ironically, she had made a complete mess of her own life. Karen opened the door for her and exclaimed:
“ Congratulations, madam.
Lina had bought a bottle of Chardonnet on the
way and had prepared a small surprise for her friend – a hand-embroidered
table-cloth which she had bought during her last visit in
“You are such a caring little thing. You live to make other people happy.”
They went into the kitchen and opened the bottle of wine.
“So, thank God, he was wise enough to keep away which means that he is not always as wild as he usually is.”
Karen was really pleased with the course things had taken of late. Now she thought it was the right time to beat some sense into her friend’s head:
“You go tomorrow and I hope you will have some time to think it over.”
“Yes, I cannot go on like this. I must stand up to him. Certain conditions should be attached to our future life together. Otherwise, I must have the courage to put an end to our relationship.”
“I am glad to hear you talk like that. I know it won’t be an easy decision but it is the lesser evil. Mind you, people get divorced at any age today. They also remarry at any age. I think you have certain old-fashioned prejudices in this respect.”
"I seem to have imbibed them from my mother. When I was young I fought her on issues of conventionality and prejudices. But, at this age, I act exactly like her.”
“This is the unconscious influence of our parents. I notice such things in me too. Like my mother I like a more conservative style of dressing. But Graham wants me to change in this respect. He wants me to dress in a way which emphasizes my femininity. So, I have to do something about it. Though my first reaction was:
“You should like me the way I am. This is my essence, expressed in my style of dressing.”
“If you ask me, I can imagine you should dress a bit more provocatively, showing off your body more. There could be a compromise between how you like yourself and how you appeal more to your man. For example, you have got long shapely legs and you should make them more visible to others.”
“Cheers, darling, let’s drink to our experimental spirit. We must learn to change with time and take radical decisions of how we look or how we behave. Most of all, if we don’t want to turn into boring middle-aged women.”
Then they went to Karen’s bedroom and discussed what she would wear tonight. They were going to the theater, so Lina advised Karen to wear a green brocade dress, tight on the body, with a slit at the back. Then they decided together on the jewellery and perfume that would go with the dress. There was a ring at the door. It was Graham. Karen introduced him to Lina and left them to sip their wine in the living room, while she was putting the final touches on her appearance. Graham had an unassuming friendly manner and put Lina immediately at ease. Karen further made things easier for her:
“Lina is staying overnight because her husband is away on a business trip.”
“What line of business is he in?” Graham asked
“He has a real estate company, so he deals with bank managers like you quite often. It’s another matter whether he likes your lot.”- Karen put in playfully .
“You can find out only if you introduce him to me”- Graham laughed heartily and looked at his watch:
“I am afraid it’s time to go. Nice meeting you, Mrs Peterson. Bye-bye! “
Lina’s first impression was positive. He wasn’t stiff and smug like the bank managers she had met through Clive. Moreover, he enjoyed a good laugh. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! Karen had had a few relationships but always something went wrong and she was disappointed. She was thirty-five and she longed to have children. But she was not the single mother type, that,s why she was already on the lookout for a prospective husband. Lina thought that men and women might bring up children, without getting necessarily married. If this were the usual accepted way, children would take it for granted and would not feel so hurt, if their parents split up. No, perhaps she was wrong. There was no alternative to bringing up children normally, except in the classical nucleus family.
There was a phone ring. Karen told her not to bother to pick it up and leave to the answering machine to record messages. Suddenly she bristled up – it was Clive.
“It’s all very nice of you to leave the house deserted so that burglars might easily break in. Your actions of late are a vicious conspiracy against me. You are hiding there like a criminal, discrediting me before other people. Think about it, while you are away. Bye.”
He was again on the accusation offensive. He wanted her to make her feel guilty on all accounts. This was part of the abuse game. This time she would stand up for herself and do what she thought was right to. Her heart beat at an accelerated beat and she felt a sudden flux of weakness all over her body. Her legs got wobbly and she collapsed into an armchair.
She was not a very good warrior because she was so vulnerable and sensitive. He knew it quite well, so he stuck his poisonous arrows into the tender flesh of her soul to the very last moment. She had to take another tranquilizer since she felt disturbed again. Was she a criminal on the run? No, she was a sensitive, vulnerable woman who could not take more verbal and physical abuse from her husband. So, he had planned to come back on the eve of her trip and shake her up or prevent her from going. He might have torn her ticket to pieces or he might have hidden her passport. He might have broken her arm and thus thwarted her departure. For once she did the right thing – ask Karen to spend the final night at her place. She pulled up the curtains in the living room and prepared to go to bed. She watched her favorite Jasper Carrot show and then turned the TV off. She was in no mood to watch a crime film. She was tense enough. Moreover, she was alone on the ground floor. At their apartment house, the ground floor flat had recently been burgled.
Anyway, she wanted to have a good night’s rest before the tiring trip and the emotional reunion with her family. Luckily, she did not wake up during the night which happened to her quite often of late. She woke up around eight and by that time Karen had left for work. She found a letter on the kitchen table and a jug of coffee which she warmed up in the microwave oven. The note went as follows:
“Have a good breakfast. Sorry, I cannot keep you company. I’ll give you a call around eleven to make sure that everything works according to plan. Love:xxx Karen”.
She was so lucky to have such a good friend in a foreign country! What would she have done without her? She would not have had an option and would have fallen into Clive’s trap. She opened the A to Z guide to check up her route to Gatwick airport. She had to leave at least two hours earlier. So, she had to be there at twelve thirty to be on the safe side. What if he waited for her at the underground station just to embarrass her? No, he would not bother to do a thing like that. There was a telephone ring. It was Karen.
“I wish you a safe trip and a most pleasurable stay. Try to see things in a different perspective!”
“Thanks for everything you did for me. I can’t imagine what I would have done without you. Bye.”
Lina checked up everything before she started and jotted down a note for Karen:
“Thanks a lot. I wish you good luck with Graham. My first impression was very positive . So, if you trust my intuition, you will be happy with him. Let’s wait and see.”
Off she went, leaving the keys in the hideout. She loved the atmosphere of airports and she did not mind to hang around there a bit longer. She might pop round to the duty free shop and buy a few things as presents. She liked to watch the planes, touching down like huge birds, alighting to rest after a long flight. It was interesting to watch the emotional reunions of people, people, arriving and people, waiting. The airport is a world of its own, an outlet on the verge of the global village with own hectic rhythm. It took her some time to find where to check in for her flight and she decided to pop in at the duty free shop. She got a pair of slippers for her mum, a nice perfume for her sister-in-law, a CD for her niece and leather belt for her brother. Then it was time for her to board the plane. She was lucky to have a seat by the window for she loved to watch the clouds, sailing around like boats and look down, seeing Mother Earth from a bird’s eye view. She always had insights when she was up in the air. So, she was eager to find out what kind of “epiphanies”, as James Joyce called them, she would have this time. Her immediate neighbor was a reserved Japanese who looked like a sales manager, so she would be left to her own thoughts. She ordered a beer and buried herself into the “Economist” which she bought at the airport. Her brother would be very interested in reading it – he was among the best journalists in the country and he had some articles published in the “Financial Times” and the “International Herald Tribune.” She longed to see them all. She had not seen them for over a year, which seemed an eternity. She watched the dance of the clouds and remembered Wordsworth’s poem “I wander lonely as a cloud that floats high over vales and hills..." She had a sudden longing to be as free as a cloud, drifting around in the blue skies. Could she still do it at the age of forty-five?
With Clive, she felt so lonely like a wingless bird on
the seashore. At this point she felt “as if sleeping with the enemy”. She did
not marry him to get British citizenship as some women from
Her self-confidence was dependent on her professional
achievements but, they, on their part, depended wholly on her personal life. It
had been about two months since she did a long piece on the alternative theater
Many people to survive, relied on money sent from
relatives, working abroad. She regretted that she could put aside only a
hundred dollars to help her family in
Lina pressed the doorbell and held her breath. She had waited for this precious moment for so long! The time she spent with her family was full of so much joy, pierced with immeasurable pain and suffering. At the sight of her ailing mother who was like the ghost of a doll, wearing a wig on a naked skull, she was shattered. She took her in her arms and led her by the hand to the kitchen to make a nice cup of espresso for her. Her mom was so weak that she leaned on a walking stick to get to the toilet. But her brain was untouched by dementia.
Her mom started telling her about her dramatic life. She disliked the cassette player, so Lina put her story down in short hand. The nurse used to come at five to give her a pain-soothing shot. After that, her mom looked dreamy and tended to repeat the same things over and over again. But she smiled like a happy mother who had just found her long-lost child. She was waning like a fast burning candle. She died one early morning when she was short for breath and asked Lina to open the windows. She could say, in spite of the agony, with great relief: ”Thank God, I am getting rid of this unjust world . I am going to a better world and I am sure to meet my beloved Boyan there.” Boyan was her husband’s name.
For the next two weeks Lina moved like a zombie and
felt that her life was no more the same. A chasm opened in her agonizing
heart which gave her an insupportable feeling of emptiness. It was as if
she had a limb cut off. She was going to limp through life till the end of
time. She could not bear to look at the grief in her brother’s eyes. She could not stand to touch anything round the
house – it sent a wave of anguish through her body like an electrical current.
Her drama over there in
When she arrived at Gatwick she almost got lost. She asked an airport official to take her out to the entrance where the cabs were. When they reached their apartment house she felt she could not face Clive. She prayed that he would not be in. She pressed the bell but nobody answered the door. Thank God, he was not in. When she entered the flat, the alarm went off. She pressed the code, remembering the numbers with difficulty.
She noticed two empty glasses on the table in the living room and a bowl of nuts, some of which were scattered all over the table and the floor. Everything in the bedroom was tumbled over and in disarray. It looked as if Clive had had a guest for the night. Could it be another woman? She noticed the marks of lipstick on one of the pillows. Yes, he has had a female guest. Was it a serious affair or just another revenge on her? She was too shattered to think of it. She just felt sick and hurried to change the sheets. Then she ran the bath. She hoped the hot bath would soothe her soul, bleeding like an open wound. Once in the tub, she closed her eyes and tried to assess the situation. It seemed very disgusting to bring another woman to their marital bed. There was a ring. She wrapped herself up in her blue bathrobe and picked up the handy which was on the table in the living room. It was Raisa, her Russian friend.
“Hi, Lina. Welcome back to
“ Oh, I’m so sorry, I did not know she was that ill. Shall I come to your place. You should not be alone. Moreover, I have got something important to tell you."
“What is it about?’
“Something to do with Clive, you know.”
“Fine, let’s meet at the wine bar round the corner then. He doesn’t like to go there.”
“ All right, I’ll be there in forty minutes.”
“That’s all right with me. See you soon, Raisa. Bye”
Lina went back to the bathroom and took a quick shower. She anticipated another blow but she was unusually calm. Nothing could scare her after what she had been through. She grabbed her leather coat from the hanger and checked up about the money and the keys in her purse. She looked at her watch – she was five minutes late. When she reached the wine bar, Raisa was already there, waiting for her.
“Sorry for being late. But I am completely shattered.”
“I know, my dear, I can imagine how you feel.”
Raisa spoke Russian in a low voice. She stretched her hand and compassionately squeezed Lina’s hand.
“I wonder whether I should disturb you further now, but you have to know, anyway.”
“Is it something to do with Clive’s love affair?”
“Unfortunately, yes. He is going out with a Russian girl.”
“Did he pick her up in the street?”
“No, at the club where the Russian ballet dancers go. The same place where I took you once.”
“What kind of a person is she?”
“She likes to call herself a dancer, but she is one of the women brought over here by Russian pimps to prostitute under the disguise of escort ladies or strip tease dancers.”
“Which of the two is she?”
“A strip tease dancer in a club in Brixton, as far as I know.”
“He brought her home into my bed. The next step is to give me a venereal disease.”
“You know, my dear, I never approved of the way Clive treated you.”
“Quite unlike your ex-husband who adopted your son from your previous marriage and sent him to an expensive college.”
“He has always been a real gentleman to me. But, as you know, at a certain point, our big age difference turned into a serious problem. Especially, after his prostate gland operation.”
“In the end, he left you the house and continued to pay Igor’s tuition fee.”
“Yes, I owe him a lot and I often invite him to dinner.”
“Raisa, that’s the worst moment for me to take a radical decision, but I think I have no choice left.”
“If you ask me, it is high time to leave Clive. If you can’t find a proper job here, you can always go back home.”
“Yes, but I sacrificed my career for the sake of my relationship with Clive. At my age, it won’t be easy to find a proper job anywhere. “
“Anyway, you should not stay with him. He is downright dangerous. As you said, he might give you a venereal disease.”
“I’ll think it over and I will give you a call. Could I stay with you for a couple of days before I have things arranged.”
“Certainly, my dear. My house is always open for you.”
“I must go now. I would like to call my brother to find out how things are over there.”
“Bye, Lina. I’ll be expecting a call from you.”
“Bye, thanks for everything.”
Lina could hardly walk down the street. She was at the end of her tether – she had a short-lived impulse to swallow a handful of pills and put an end to it all. When she approached home, her heart sank. What if he was in? She could not stand another row now. She would keep silent and would go to bed on the couch. She prayed passionately he would not be back that night. She preferred to have 'the hard talk' in the morning. She hoped that by then, she would be in a better physical and mental shape. Luckily, he was not in, maybe “gallivanting” with his Russian whore.
So, before running another bath for herself, she prepared her suitcase, in case she had to run for her life after the painful confrontation. She would go straight to Raisa’s. The bath had a soothing effect on her nerves. She even thought that she had to be grateful to this Russian whore for urging her to make the final move. But, at the same time, she felt deeply hurt and betrayed. Suddenly, she started crying, her tears burning her cheeks like embers and melting into the bath foam.
She had another impulse of dipping herself under the water and putting an end to it all. But then she thought of her brother who told her that trials make us stronger and wiser. She did not want to be weak, it was all too easy. Everybody in her family had been strong and had fought to the last the losing battle with life.
She unplugged the bath and had a refreshing shower.
She prayed that he would not be back before she went to bed. She had her usual
dose of tranquilizers and kept the TV on until she felt exhausted and sleepy.She
had the feeling she was sinking down a well, sinking deeper and deeper, but
never reaching the bottom. She woke up in the middle of the night and peeped
into the bedroom. He was there snoring away in a drunken slumber. At least, he
had not brought the Russian whore with him. She spent the rest of the night,
lying awake, rehearsing tomorrow’s talk. The first light of dawn started
seeping through the half-closed curtains. Like any insomniac, she felt a relief
and went to make herself a cup of instant coffee. Then she took to putting her
books in a box – the books she had bought with her savings from her cleaning
jobs and her French lessons in private nursery schools. They were her greatest
treasure and she did not want to leave them behind. She squeezed in two
pictures, done by a friend in
“Welcome back home!” he muttered and headed to the bathroom. When he returned he asked:
“How was your stay there?”
“We buried mother.”
She fought back her tears.
“I’m so sorry. She was a sweet old lady. Did she suffer a lot?”
“Yes, at the end even the morphine could not soothe her pains.”
“Could you make me a cup of coffee and some toast. My head is splitting with pain.”
“Yes, I would. But I ask you kindly to sit down and pay some attention to what I have to say.”
“Yes, I owe you this after all you have been through.”
“If you like you can take a shower while I prepare breakfast.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I need now. I won’t be long”
There was a moment of awkward silence when they sat down to the quick breakfast.
“Sorry, the house was a bit of a mess when you got back.”
“That’s the least problem. I have more important things to tell you now. But promise, you won’t lose your temper!”
“I promise unless you don’t start with your accusations.”
“I don’t intend to play the part of the prosecutor. God is the best judge of our actions. Clive...I am afraid I cannot stand it anymore. I want to leave you.”
“I am not very happy to hear that. Leaving me at the worst possible time. When I’m chased by the creditors and bailliffs. And avoided by all friends and colleagues.”
“I did not do it before we got married, even though I had good reasons then. But I loved you and thought that you needed me to stand by you because you were going through a hell of a time. But…”
“I was not a very nice husband to you, I admit. But I could not make it because my world was falling to pieces. Everything I had created for the last twelve years was going down the drain.”
“I don’t want to discuss the details now. It’s too painful for me.”
“Did any of your nice girlfriends advise you to do so?
“No, not at all. I simply know that it is all over between the two of us. It won’t affect you financially, as it did with your previous wife. I will just take a few private belongings, two boxes of books and a few paintings."
“ And leave me alone and broke?”
“ As far as I know you are not alone. How about your new Russian girlfriend.”
“Oh, it’s nothing serious. It was a kind of revenge on you for betraying me and going behind my back.”
“Whatever the reasons were it was in very bad taste.”
“I admit it was. But couldn’t you forgive me once more?”
“I am afraid not. My decision is final and there is no going back. Now I know that you will survive without me.”
“If drinking myself to death is survival, then you might be right.”
You were very fast in finding female company in my absence.”
“This is just a casual affair which most men have now and then.”
“This is not the main and the only reason for my decision. I only hope that we will go through the procedures without turning into enemies. “
“I hope you will give it a rethink once again.”
“Yes, I will before I book my flight.”
“I can only say that I’m very sorry for everything I caused you.”
“Thanks. It takes honesty to admit to one’s own faults”
“I must go now. I have an appointment with my bank manager at eleven.”
“Fine, good luck! See you later!”
She was relieved that he did not respond in a violent way. For the first time he admitted his faults, something quite unusual for him. The end of their marriage was another death to her – she was nostalgic about the beautiful moments they had shared together, about the feeling of two souls in one against the big cold world. But she suppressed her sentimentality and tried to be practical. She had lots of things to do – to cancel her contracts at the nursery schools, to cancel her cleaning jobs, to visit the few friends she had.
But the first thing she did was to book her flight within a week’s time. Suddenly she felt more self-confident and self-assured, more like her old self. She had no more any fear of the unknown. Whatever came her way, she would face it and deal with it. “You have to face up to the day whatever come may” as Bob Marley’s song went.
In a week Lina was again up in the clouds, sailing freely in the blue expanse. For a moment she imagined she was a bird, soaring higher than the clouds, her wings were gently caressed by the air currents...
But then she
lost the momentary vision and got enveloped in her memories. She had things
which bonded her with good old