It’s just the strangest thing
I’ve seen your face somewhere
An early evening dream
A past life love afair
Do you know me at all?
Do You Know Me - John Mayer
Isobel knocked on the door.
She entered Henry’s study. It was a large room, covered in wooden panels with tall bookcases on every wall except for the one on the left, with the windows. There were even two on each side of the fireplace, in front of which the chesterfield sofa she had given him as a gift twenty years ago was. He had been wishing to have one but didn’t seem to find the time to get it, so Isobel had ordered and collected one from Fleming & Howland herself. Her husband had been genuinely thrilled and touched. It ached her that those times seemed so far way.
«What can I do for you, dear? » her husband asked in the condescending tone he used to have reserved for when their children disturbed him, his blue eyes looking pressingly at her from behind the glasses he only used to read.
«We need to talk, Henry.»
« I’m sorry, darling, but I’m afraid I’m rather busy at the moment», he replied pointing at the sheets of paper on his desk, «we can talk later, I’m sure.»
«No, we cannot. And even if we could, you’d postpone it once again, Henry. It’s important.»
«Although being important, it can certainly wait until tonight. We’ll talk then, I promise».
Isobel used to love the smell of the cigar he smoked after dinner that lingered in his study but, at the moment, the combination of it with the frustration that was taking over her was making her feel sick.
«Stop, Henry… Stop, please. »
She covered her face with her hands, looked at the ceiling and took a deep breath before proceeding.
»Why do you always do this? You are so firm and resolute when it’s about work but, at home, you avoid discussing things further or beat about the bush when you know that you won’t like the conversation that follows - I’m sorry I’m not here to talk to you about quarries, stone or revenue. It’s frustrating but at the same time it is also assuring that you’re not completely oblivious to the state of our marriage.»
Isobel sat down on a chair across from him.
«I’ve been trying to talk to you for many weeks but you have been so dismissive. I didn’t insist too much because I know you have been tired, the Olympics have been good for the business but not so good for yourself and I’ve also been busy with the research for my new book… but we can’t go like this any longer.
Henry took his glasses off, rubbed his eyes with his hands but not a single sound left his mouth.
» Your birthday party was a charade we both embarked on tacitly. I have to confess that I threw the party without giving much thought to it, because that’s what we usually do and I had heard some of our friends talking about one even before I had set myself to think of it. I’m not saying it was the right choice but it is done now. We played our parts - I’m not sure if the guests bought it or not, and that’s not the point now -, I believe people had fun but it goes so much beyond that and, at risk of repeating myself, we can’t go like this any longer.»
She took a deep breath.
«Do you want a divorce? Is that what you came asking for?», Henry said coldly and yet with a hint of annoyance.
If he hadn’t spoken so clearly, she would have been certain that she had misunderstood him.
Isobel looked at him aghast and it took some seconds until she was able to speak.
«We’ve been together for 35 years, have three children in common and yet you seem to know me so poorly you can’t tell that if I wanted to get a divorce, I’d have asked for it as soon as I walked through that door?»
She was starting to feel tears forming in her eyes, but she couldn’t give up so easily to them. She’d probably have let them fall freely if he hadn’t hurt her so much. No. She’d make her point first.
«Is that what you want?
»Were you waiting for something particular before bringing it up? If you were waiting for the children to reach a certain age, I guess nothing can stop you now. They have their own lives; I mean, it’s true that David lives here but he has his own family now, James spends the most of his time in London and Sarah comes only during the holidays, something that will probably become even less frequent when she finishes her degree and starts working.
Henry kept still and silent.
»What would I get from a divorce, Henry? The children are adults now, there’s no custody to fight over, this house belongs to your family and always will, as it was set when we got married, and even there was a chance I could get it, I wouldn’t want it. I’d get some money, it’s true but I have my own. I already hold some shares of the company and you don’t see me barging in and I wouldn’t do so even if I got more out of it because I have no idea about this business and you have made an excellent job running it; I wouldn’t suddenly start vetoing everything just to challenge you, putting our children’s estate at risk.
Isobel took a deep breath, ran her fingers through her hair, putting a lock of it behind her ear and looked directly at him.
» No, Henry, I came to talk to you because I can’t recall our last meaningful kiss, the last time our conversations went beyond something in the children’s lives, the company or the house. Even trivial things like the weather and the news seem to have vanished when we’re talking! Every time «dear» or «darling» comes out from your mouth, it hurts like I never thought words like these could, because those terms seem completely void of any meaning they might have ever had.»
Isobel couldn’t rest now. He could talk if he had anything to say and she’d hear but she wouldn’t stop otherwise.
« I’ve tried and tried but I can’t remember the last time we made each other laugh; it used to be one of my favourite things about “us”, our similar sense of humour, when sometimes a look exchanged between us in a particular situation was enough to make us laugh, no words needed…
» I came to talk to you because I also can’t remember the last time we went to bed at the same time; I reach out my arm to the place where you were supposed to be but I find nothing but air. You only come to bed at 3 or 4am with the smell of the leather of the sofa in your study on your skin, a smell that not even distance and a change of clothes can cover completely. I miss you every single day.»
Despite her efforts to remain the calmest she could, she had ended up raising her voice, progressively. Isobel paused for a minute to normalise her tone before continuing.
» I’m not saying it’s just your fault. It wasn’t. I guess that it has been somewhat mutual lately. I’m not some naïve girl, I know that time passes, people change and relationships evolve, sometimes to a point when they can’t move any further. I don’t think our has, but seeing you sitting there, quiet as if nothing of this concerned you, leaves me doubtful. »
Isobel leaned in and put her right hand on Henry’s left one.
« I still love you.»
Although Isobel couldn’t fight the tears any more, he kept quiet, not even reacting to her touch.
» Say something, for Christ’s sake. » she practically yelled, now standing up, trying to make him snap out of that idleness.
Henry rearranged himself on the chair, took a deep breath and looked straight at her.
« I’ve heard what you said and I’ll admit that you’re right in many things. I may have not acted as I probably should but I also have my reasons. In fact, I hadn’t talked to you yet because I needed time to think, to be sure of what I’d tell you.
» I still love you, a part of me will always will, I guess, but I think it may be time for us to separate… for some time, to start with, in order to find out what we’re going to do next. I’m not saying that it will be definitive but there are moments when I think our marriage has ran its course.»
Even though Isobel wasn’t fool enough to consider it a complete surprise, it seemed like all air had been sucked out of her and that every perfect panel on the walls and every bookcase around the room were falling upon her body. Her shoulders sagged; her hands thudded on her lap, as if suddenly she had lost the all her strength. After swallowing in order to regain some control over her emotions, Isobel gathered energy enough to talk.
«Do you have another person? »
«No, Isobel. It’s simply about us. »
The burden of uselessness, confusion and tiredness that threatened to crush her wasn’t any lessened by it. In fact, this new information might have made things even more difficult to bear.