I am Lauren Wilson and I am married to Alistair Wilson. It is early Spring, 1982. I feel as much fealty and trust in Alistair as I might have in a capricious dog. Trust is in short supply all around; a couple we both know quite well have just broken up. Industry eyes the government with a wary gaze. This couple that we know work in publishing; one is an agent and one an editor, and they share a group of authors. It’s a mess.
I’m here, pregnant, with my face pressed against the cool glass of one of our bay windows, once again awaiting Alistair’s return. We have not been married long. Already, this tanker will be too hard to turn around. It has its inertia. That couple, now broken up, with their confused client list and the mess of recriminations. If there’s a thread, it’s a cotton one and it isn’t strong enough. I jut my hip into a more comfortable position against the window ledge and let out a soft sigh. I rejoice in these moments of lassitude in a world I feel is (and should be) governed strictly. Like taking off a pair of heavy trousers, or removing an itchy sweater, such is the relief and the cool breeze. I was always going to marry someone like Alistair Wilson. The question for me is how much will I allow myself to suffer because of it? The cavity of his heart is no home and yes, I’ve already reached out for solace. I’ll be honest, neither is the smooth marbled scallop of my own heart a place to find love and trust. I fear for our unborn child. In a way we’re vines that would strangle life from a full grown tree. But here it is – I have new life within me. I am pregnant, and I hope it is not a boy and if it is a boy I will name him Jack but I hope it is not a boy. I feel as if a boy would be a betrayal to me, and a burden on the boy itself, to be born a son to such a man. And anyway, I feel as if the truth of the matter is too shocking, almost all of the time, so I genuflect, constantly. Alistair has suddenly stopped going to his coastal retreat that he rents from some shady connection and that is portentously called ‘The Beach House’. I know something has gone on, but of course, I don’t know it all. It isn’t hard to guess that there was a woman involved at some point. I wonder who it was. I wonder if I care enough. Given my own truth, perhaps it is too much for me to cast the first stone. I take a step away from the window and find a slow, easy rhythm that carries me to the kitchen where my plan, if you can call it that, is to make a coffee. The machine – Alistair bought it – is off, is cold, will take too long to warm up – so I boil the kettle and settle for a French press. And I’m buttressed against the day for a little while more. I ponder a cigarette – I shouldn’t with the little one. This is what the doctors say. So I defer, and the urge subsides, and we’re back on an even keel.
My father is an officious man, ex-Navy, a Commodore. He uses phrases like ‘an even keen’ and I guess, for me, it has stuck. He feels Alistair is a suitable husband but that he lacks discipline and perhaps doesn’t have enough moral fibre and to some extent I agree with him. Alistair is more or less tall enough and I suppose he has a more handsome aspect to his face than my severe, pinched and angular father. I’ve made the coffee by now, so I pour it and sip it and it is dark and bitter and I get the sense of being transported to a honeymoon – perhaps not even mine – but someone a bit like me, with the same colour hair, taut, firm breasts of the half moon type, and thin, severe lips now relaxed into a pouting smile. There are odours of fried white fish and a chilled bottle of Chablis or Sancerre stored in a wide necked chiller, the bottle half drunk, the meal finished, the coffee served. There is a hazelnut biscuit along with the coffee and a dash of purest white crockery. Along the lines of my desire is my downfall, my need for this man and perhaps even for his money. I don’t love his spirit or his heart but this adventure is now away and underfoot. It is bound by thread; art and friendship are long, love is short and plans are more important than how I feel about the here and now.
The couple in publishing too great big drunken verbal lunges at each other at one particular gruesome event in the wine bar that we go to. “You slut!” the male partner screamed as his sleeve tipped a glass of moderately priced red onto the floor. “You can’t take Adams!” Adams was one of his prize authors and a real meal ticket for him, moderately talented agent that he is. The look of incredulity and rage on his face, broken and busted capillaries already clustered on his still young boozer’s nose. She’s well off out of that particular arrangement I feel, although she is no angel herself or any great searing source of insight.
I am heading a little into myself, this I know. You read around and you think, ‘be critical’. Be wary, stay vigilant, but soon enough you re in the trough like all the other pigs. So I grab out at the world, look at the newspaper on the kitchen table (art-deco but farmhouse style, Alistair’s choice). There’s a gilt inlay on this table and it wasn’t me that asked for it. Judge yourself, they say.
So, the news. It’s been bubbling up. Unemployment is high, there’s discontent. Princess Diana is pregnant with a future prince or princess. I turn my thoughts to what my little bundle might end up doing. The paper ink runs onto my fingers and suddenly I’m not so keen on the news, staining me, imprinting itself and the dirt of the day onto me. And it’ll rub off onto something else, I’m sure. On the wallpaper and then we’ll have to have it cleaned, or re-hung, and the world turns on. I put the paper down after reading a short article about the new “Commodore 64” personal computer. I think of course of the Royal Navy. I think of my father. I wonder if he ever experimented aboard his many ships.
What is there to do today apart from to wait for Alistair? There is so much to do. I need to call Elizabeth to ask if she can make the cake for this small party that I am arranging at the golf club for one of Alistair’s business acquaintances. He said to buy it in – that three million are unemployed, that we should give people the work they need – but I like Liz’s cakes and I haven’t seen her in a while. It’s guilt. I thought I was cold and immune to guilt but here it is, pulling like a cord, constricting me. I need to write to Tristram – someone, somewhere is always writing to a Tristram – and then I have to get to my hair appointment. So no, I’m not waiting. But why then do I feel that I am? It stuffs my mouth with cotton wool, fuzzy and dusty. I can barely stand the sensation. The second anniversary is cotton. The third is leather. Perhaps Alistair will spank the living daylights out of my with a riding crop and then take me over the kitchen counter top? A cocktail spilt in haste all over the frigid granite, the chromed taps showing me my face back to me, mirrored into a strange new recognition. That’s not what Elizabeth would want. She’d spend the time saved writing small lists, to do lists, done lists, lists of changes, lists of things she would like to do one day. Her long, elegant fingers and erudite mind calms the angers and rages contained in the swirls of her impotent turquoise ink. I am myself. That, I will not deny, sure of my origins and my birth, my direction as British as aspic jelly. No, I am not looking for a reinvention and nor do I need one.
I know that Alistair breaks the law. He feels, I think, that he is above it, that perhaps it isn’t a crime if he is the one doing it. There’s his expectation writ large across his face, that blank, sere acceptance he displays, that his way would of course be the right way. There’s such little room for doubt and perhaps that is part of how successful people think. Well, I feel doubt. About what I feel doubt, I am not sure. And I doubt so much that sometimes I’ll go round and round at the store wondering which vegetables to buy. The store of all the places to pick is the place where we have our rows, Alistair and I, circling over a leek or a cucumber. It’s laughable.
So there’s one thing. I have this thing going on. So I have this secret that I need to tell someone, even if it is to myself, here, breath frosting a windowpane on the way out of my faithless body. My father stands up very tall and straight, says things like, “its top hole” and then he’ll disintegrate into a pile of cliché and linen. I need to tell this even if the telling is more to myself, like a mnemonic or a mantra or a meditative chant. The words turned inwards like seppuku, my stomach lining bleeding out onto a mat that has me all over it. These congealed curlicues like an untidy butcher’s display, upsetting fake grass misaligned. I had an affair. An offal thing to do, right? I grimly smile. I had an affair with a butcher of sorts, John Raymond Baxbury, a man who gladly chops up his own meat and drink, the lifeblood of his own English certainty, into the unwholesome mincemeat of broken down decision free anarchy, only in tiny shards, invisible to the newcomer, always under his bare feet, always hurting him the most. I had an affair with Ray. And I am sure, deep down, that Jack might be Ray’s child. Sure and might. The true timings are quite hard to work out. How will this pan out?
I must go. I have to call Liz. We move, and we move onwards, and we move despite it all.
Lauren Wilson is married to Alistair Wilson. Two years in, she spends an afternoon at home pondering her life, her marriage and her pregnancy. Of interest to those who have read 'Sons and Fascination' will be her almost inevitable revelation.