The following morning, having completed the school run, Jane drove to the cemetery. She wanted to think, and there was something intangibly honest about a graveyard. Death was honest. People could pretend their whole life, act a part which convinced even themselves; but no one could be fake in death. There was a stark truth about the ending of a life, a blatant inability to hide. Jane had felt it at the funeral. Sorrow was awful, but it was real. Sometimes life was so muddled and false that even hurtful clarity was welcome. A half-forgotten saying filtered through her mind, something about it being: “Better to attend a funeral than a wedding.”
She felt that she almost understood what that meant.
So, she chose the graveyard to do her thinking. She walked first to Sophia’s grave. She knelt and fingered some fading flowers, the crunchy green oasis showing through where they had shrivelled. A card, damp and curling was still fastened, but Jane did not read it. It would be like prying, spying on a private message.
There were fresh flowers too, white and pink, smiling on the sunken mound of dried earth. Jane supposed Tricia had placed them there, needing to still do something for her child, needing a way to mourn. The thought of it took her breath away, she could barely imagine the emptiness that must consume you if you lost a child. You would, she thought, cease to be the same person. So much is invested in our children, they represent our future. It would be like losing a limb.
Jane moved to a wooden bench and sat. She perched her heels on the edge of the seat and hugged her knees. She was quite alone. There was a distant whine of traffic, and the occasional growl of an overhead aeroplane, but she was watched only by a blackbird as he tugged a worm from the soil. She rested her chin on her folded arms and tried to think.
She thought about her life as it was now. The overwhelming physical bond she shared with her children. She thought about how it felt when Christopher held her face in both small hands, when Abigail confided in her, when they clung to her for comfort. She considered long days of scattered toys, dust and laundry. The tedium of school runs, constant meals, endless shopping.
“Why did you let this happen?” she asked God. “You knew I was lonely; you know that Peter mostly ignores me unless he’s feeling randy or wants me to help with something.
“How many evenings,” she thought, “have I sat alone in a house of sleeping children, while he’s off living his life? How many hours do I spend, never speaking to another adult? Is this what I want? Is this what I have become? Someone who enables everyone else to have a life? I am eclipsed by them, by their needs and demands. They don’t even see me anymore, not Jane, the person. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter. But I want to be me too, Jane, a person. I am not simply an appendage, a useful add-on.
Gradually, the sorrow turned to anger. Hot feelings of resentment surged through Jane, she was alone with her thoughts, her eyes unseeing.
“It’s your fault,” she raged at God, “You made Matthew fun and kind to me. You knew I was vulnerable; you knew I was empty inside. And you sent someone who cares but who I can’t have. You sent someone who sees me, who likes me for who I am, not just because I’m useful to him.”
Jane stopped. If she was honest, she didn’t actually know how Matthew saw her. Did he see her, like her, want her company? Or was he looking for something a bit different and bedding a wife and mother would make a change. At least, she assumed it would be a change—again, she didn’t really know. It was possible he did this with all his customers, moved from lonely wife to lonely wife…
But she didn’t think so. She thought herself a good judge of character, and she was sure he was a good person and had genuinely liked her. He was so good with Christopher, she was sure a philanderer wouldn’t be kind to a child. No, it was just Suzie making her doubt things. He liked her, and thought she was special.
“I only want some fun,” she reasoned, “I only want to feel human again. Isn’t pursuit of happiness a basic human right?”
Jane thought back to her childhood, hours spent playing with dolls. How lovingly she had dressed them, held plastic spoons to their painted lips. She had washed their plastic faces at bedtime, and snuggled them under her own covers. She remembered their unwieldy bodies against her at night, their stiff moulded fingers scratching her face when she rolled against them in her sleep.
One doll, Hilda, she had loved above all others. She had strands of nylon hair that could actually be combed, and blue staring eyes fringed with ginger lashes that closed when she was laid down. Once, Jane had trimmed her hair with red handled scissors. The hair had fallen in one clump, leaving a bald patch behind the right ear. Jane had cried and Hilda had always worn a bonnet after that.
Another time, Jane had bathed her in the sink, washing away grime with rose scented bubble bath. She had dried her in a big towel and dressed her in a yellow onesie. All that night, Hilda’s hollow legs had leaked tepid water into Jane’s bed. The following day she had returned from school to find both her bedding and Hilda hanging on the washing line. She had viewed Daphne as a cruel torturer. It took several days for her to forgive her mother.
Hilda herself never recovered. The water rusted the joints in her hips. Two weeks later, her legs fell off.
“Such futile love,” thought Jane, “so much wasted emotion.”
Or had that care been good practice, preparing her for the unconditional love of real motherhood? It was all she had ever wanted, to be married, to have children.
“If only I had known how lonely it would be,” she thought.
Her thoughts moved to Peter. She could see him as a young man, bursting with vibrant energy, full of ideas. He had seen Jane in those days, had noticed everything about her, made her feel special, cherished. Strange word, cherished. It was only ever used in the wedding vows, which, it seemed to Jane, was the time when mostly it stopped happening. How many wives actually feel cherished by their husbands?
“Did I even choose to marry him?” she wondered, “Or did it just happen? Perhaps I just drifted into marriage, as a logical next step, without even thinking whether I really wanted it. Did I ever consider there might be a different option?
“What do I actually want?” she asked. “Do I want to be free? Do I want to risk losing everything, or am I willing to risk stagnating, disappearing into a shape labelled wife and mother?”
The answer eluded her, but she knew she wanted to make a decision. She did not want to wander through life anymore. Whichever route she took, it would be of her own choosing, she would not allow herself to drift into an affair, nor would she remain married through passive indecision. She would decide. She would attempt to control her own life.
“I’m not Hilda,” she smiled, “I don’t have to just let things happen to me.”
By the time she left, she was stiff from sitting for so long, the damp from the bench had seeped into her bones, her mind numbed by considering her options and the consequences. As she walked through the graves, around the markers for so many forgotten lives, she felt at peace. Her decision was made. Jane was going home.
To be continued on Sunday.
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