Yes – you. With the husband.
I can see you sitting there, either with him, or maybe with other friends as he props up the bar with a merry band of dads. I can see your son come up to you and pester you for money for a fizzy drink, and watch as you direct him over to his dad because your handbag is empty, or because you’re deep in conversation with another of the wives, or because he’s just mildly pissing you off anyway because he’s a ghastly, sweaty, overexcited, pre-teen shitbag more interested in sliding along the grass outside than impressing the girls. Or because your daughter is taking her role on the dance floor far too seriously, and you’re quietly thinking to yourself (having spent the first part of this Godforsaken evening watching her apply glitter to her face and being forced to plait her hair,) to calm the fuck down and to stop obsessively doing every bloody dance move because you’re eleven for Christ’s sake and not about to try to get laid. It’s the Year 6 Leavers’ Party at the local golf club, not the bastard Hacienda. And anyway, all the boys are outside and only interested in getting mud on their knees.
You’re being really kind to me, as you always are. You were always happy to offer help while my husband was ill, and I guess I probably owe you. But these days I’m a bit aloof. No longer one of the MILFs. You say hello, and a few people shuffle their chairs along so I can sit down. You’re too polite to say that my make up is smudged, even though one of you saw me in the car having dropped off my own two excited, sweaty, pre-pubescent boys, and seeing that I didn’t follow them in straight away, peered through the window to see my head against the steering wheel, stifling a mental breakdown. Nobody tells anyone else that this happened, of course. Not in front of me, anyway. We all make the right noises about how time passes so quickly and how we never thought the day would come that they’d be leaving primary school. Is yours ready? we ask. Oh, yes! we agree. Little shits, aren’t they? Need a new challenge. Nice kids really, though. It’s been a lovely class.
And then your husband waves at you from the bar and asks you what you want to drink. Oh! And me, too. Yes, I’d love a drink, thanks. I’m getting properly shitfaced tonight, I think to myself.
It’s not your fault, you woman with the husband. He’s lovely, but he wouldn’t have been my type. My husband was fascinating. He never wore a suit. It made him look, and feel, like a twat. He would never have been comfortable in a safe, sensible job like your husband’s, but always respected your husband’s right to his, and liked him very much. Mine was, like your husband, a total pain in the arse at times. But, unlike yours, mine is dead.
He’s not here to see his beloved boys finish primary school. He was there at every open day, assembly, Christmas concert – in fact, if you could gain health and longevity from attending every bastard school event, he’d have outlived the lot of us. Your husband did his best but was often at work selling stuff, or accounting things, or quantity surveying, or whatever it is that he does, but mine was there every damn time. And now he’s not. And it isn’t bloody fair. Not that I wish it was your husband who’d died. Of course I don’t.
Like your marriage, ours had its ups and downs. Like yours, my husband also left his wet towels on the bed, never cleared away his coffee cups, and had an opinion on every fucking thing (whether it had been asked for or not.) He never shut up, or got off Facebook, and he died having apparently never discovered where we keep the Hoover. We didn’t argue often, but when we did it was monumental and one of us would slam the door with a dramatic flourish, although it never stayed shut for long. In fourteen years, we had three nights apart (once, I even booked a room at a Travelodge three miles down the road, because I was pregnant and hormonal, and he was a cunt. But then, by morning – and quite miraculously – he wasn’t.)
We even had a spell of marriage counselling when the boys were toddlers, because we were too pissed off and knackered to go near each other for months. The ethnic skirted counsellor lady was so worthy and unctuous that we almost died of boredom in the session, took the piss out of her in the car all the way home, got into bed, and bonked each other’s brains out. Our marriage was saved that day, but in the most unorthodox way, and we were proud of how hard we’d fought at times to get ourselves back on track. We always did. It was worth fighting for. We loved each other.
I suppose, like yours, ours was just a normal marriage, with its highs and lows, and, like yours, he was just a normal bloke, with all the revolting traits that blokes have – but balanced by fairness, kindness, and a wicked sense of humour to appease me when he needed to.
Before he died, my husband told me that he knew he was leaving his treasured boys in my very capable hands. I wonder if he is watching over us and shaking his celestial head as one kid screams in despair and the other kid holds us hostage in the porch, and if he realises he’s left too soon but it’s a bit fucking late now because he’s already been cremated. And anyway, all this shit has only started since he’s died. I wonder – no, assume – that you’re judging me too. That you think you know how hard it is to be a single mum, because you’ve got friends who are on their own, or because you’ve been there yourself, before your lovely new husband came along. Yes, I’m very bloody single. No, I don’t want a replacement model. My husband’s departure is a bit fucking permanent. He doesn’t pop back at weekends to feed them inappropriate numbers of sweets, or take them to the park while I go for lunch and bitch about what an arse he is. We didn’t choose this. As the boys are busy trying to twat each other over the head, I wonder why my husband doesn’t intervene right now, like he always eventually did. Why he can’t just show me what to do. Tip a whole sky full of white feathers over the boys, for fuck’s sake, if only so they can’t do each other any more harm. He always had all the answers, and just as we need them the most, he’s gone.
So, if you see me over the next few weeks as our kids join in with all the parties and meals and concerts which herald the end of their time at primary school, and you wonder if I’m being a bit monosyllabic (when for years I’d have been the life and soul of any PTA party,) just remember, it’s not me. It’s you. My feelings towards you transcend anger or jealousy, but I wouldn’t wish any of this on my worst enemy, and certainly not on you. Seven years ago, we all began a journey together. For reasons I simply can’t fathom, you and your kids have the privilege of moving on with the one travelling companion my boys and I so desperately wish we had, too.
Love Fanny x