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Fear and bewilderment mingled in Ed's soft brown eyes as we faced each other in the garden. I stared at him, vibrant with indignation, then slowly drew back my right arm.
'Take that!' I shouted as a Wedgwood Kutani Crane seven-inch tea plate went whizzing past his left ear and smashed into the garden wall. 'And that!' I yelled as he raised his hands to fend off first the matching saucer, then the cup, 'You can have these too!' I spat as I frisbeed three dinner plates in his direction. 'And this!' I bawled as the accompanying soup tureen flew through the air.
'Rose!' Ed shouted, dodging bits of projectile china. 'Rose, stop this nonsense.'
'What on earth do you hope to achieve?'
'Emotional satisfaction,' I spat. Ed successfully deflected the action, gravy boat and a couple of pudding bowls. I lobbed the milk jug at him and it shattered into shrapnel as it hit the path.
'For God's sake, Rose -- this stuffs bloody expensive!'
'Yes!' I said gaily. 'I know!' I picked up our wedding photo in its silver frame and flung that at him, hard. He ducked, and it hit the tree behind him, the glass splintering into shining shards. I stood there, breathless with exertion and raised adrenaline as he picked up the dented frame. In that picture we looked radiantly happy. It had been taken just seven months before.
'It's no-one's fault,' he said. 'These things happen.'
'Don't give me that crap!' I yelled.
'But I was so unhappy, Rose. I was miserable. I couldn't cope with coming second to your career.'
'But my career matters to me,' I said as I slashed the matrimonial duvet with my biggest Sabatier. 'Anyway it's not just a career, it's a vocation. They need me, those people out there.'
'But I needed you too,' he whined as a cloud of goosedown swirled through the air. 'I didn't see why I had to compete with all those losers!'
'Ed!' I said, 'that's low!'
'Desperate of Dagenham!'
'Betrayed of Barnsley.'
'Don't be mean!'
'Agoraphobic of Aberystwyth.'
'That's so nasty.'
'There was never any room for me!'
As I gazed at Ed, the knife dropped to my side and I caught my breath, once again, at his looks. He was so utterly, ridiculously good-looking. The handsomest man I'd ever met. Sometimes he looked a little like Gregory Peck. Who was it he reminded me of now? Of course. Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, all happy and covered in snow. Except it wasn't snow on Ed's shoulders but white feathers, and life wasn't wonderful at all.
'I'm sorry, Rose,' he whispered as he spat out two tiny plumes. 'It's over. We've got to move on.'
'Don't you love me then?' I asked, tentatively, my heart banging like a Kodo drum.
'I did love you, Rose, he said regretfully. 'I really did. But . . . no, I don't think I love you any more.'
'You don't love me?' I echoed dismally. 'Oh. Oh, I see. Well you have now hurt my feelings, Ed. You have really got to me. I am now very angry.' I rummaged in my arsenal and found a Le Creuset frying pan. 'And suppressed anger is bad for one's health, so you'll just have to take your punishment like a man.'
As I picked up the pan with both hands, horror registered on Ed's handsome face.
'Please, Rose. Don't be silly.'
'I'm perfectly serious,' I said.
'You've had your little game.'
'It isn't over. At least not yet.'
'You're not really going to hit me with that, are you?' he pleaded as I advanced across the feather-strewn lawn. 'Please, Rose,' he wheezed. 'Don't.' And now, as I moved towards him, smashed china crunching underfoot, his voice began to rise from its normal light tenor, to contralto, until it was a kind of odd, soprano whine. 'Please, Rose,' he whimpered. 'Not with that. You could really hurt me, you know.'
'Rose, don't. Stop it!' he wailed, as he tried to protect himself with his hands. 'Rose. ROSE!' he screamed, as I lifted the pan aloft and prepared to bring it down, hard, on his head. 'Rose!' And now, from somewhere, I could hear banging, and shouting. 'ROSE!' Ed shrieked. 'ROSE! ROSE!'
Suddenly I was sitting bolt upright in bed, heart pounding, eyes staring, my mouth as dry as dust. I was no longer in Ed's garden in Putney, but in my new house in Camberwell.
'ROSE!!' I heard. 'OPEN UP!!'
I staggered down the unfamiliar stairs, still shocked by the dream which churned in my brain like a thunder cloud.
'Rose!' exclaimed Bella as I opened the front door. 'Rose, thank . . .'
'. . . God!' sighed Bea.
'We've been banging for hours,' Bella breathed looking stricken. 'We thought you might have done something . . .'
'. . . silly,' concluded Bea.' You wouldn't, would you?' she went on anxiously. I looked at them. Would I? No.
'I'd fallen asleep,' I croaked. 'Didn't hear you. It's knackering moving house.'
'We know, they said,' so we've come to help you.' They came in, then gave me a hug.
'Are you okay, Rose?' they enquired solicitously.
'I'm fine,' I said, wanting to cry.
'Wow!' gasped Bella as she surveyed the sitting room.
'Blimey!' said Bea. 'What a mess.'
The room was crammed with cardboard packing cases, bisected by shiny black masking tape. They were stacked up like miniature skyscrapers, almost totally obscuring the floor. I'd paid good money for Shift It Kwik but now I regretted my choice, for far from putting the boxes in their designated rooms, they'd just dumped them then buggered off. 'KITCH,' said a box by the window. 'BATH,' announced the one by the stairs. 'BED 1,' said the two by the fireplace. 'STUDY,' declared the one by the door.
'This is going to take you ages,' said Bea, wonderingly.
'Weeks,' added Bella. I sighed. Bella and Bea's gift for stating the screamingly obvious can drive me nuts. When I broke my arm ice-skating when I was twelve, all they said was, 'Rose, you should have taken more care.' When I failed my 'A' Levels they said, 'Rose, you should have done more work.' And when I got engaged to Ed, they said, 'Rose, we think it's too soon.' That didn't seem at all apparent to me then, but it sure as hell does now. Oh yes, Bella and Bea always state the obvious, but they have twenty-four-carat hearts.
'Don't worry,' said Bella. 'We'll . . .'
' . . . help you,' concluded Bea. They're like an old married couple in many ways. They finish each other's sentences, for example, and they bicker a lot of the time. Like many an old married couples, they even look alike; but that's not surprising -- they're identical twins.
'Give us the guided tour,' said Bella. 'It's quite big,' she added. This was true. I'd gone looking for a large garden flat but had ended up with a three bedroomed house. The twins admired the size of the kitchen, but thought the bathroom was a bit small.
'But for a single person it's fine,' said Bea helpfully. I winced. Single. Fuck, That was me.
'Nice garden though!' exclaimed Bella, changing the subject.
'And it's a sweet little street,' added Bea. 'It looks a bit scruffy,' she remarked as we peered out of the landing window. 'But friendly.'
'Hope Street,' I said with a bitter laugh.
'Well,' added Bella brightly, 'we think it's just . . .'
' . . . lovely!'
'It's fine,' I shrugged. 'It'll do.' I thought with a pang of Ed's elegant house in Putney with its walled garden and yellow drawing room. Moving into that had been exhausting too, but in a nice way as we got engaged just two weeks before. As I'd unpacked my stuff the future had seemed to stretch before us like a ribbon of clear motorway. But we'd hardly set off before we'd crashed and had to be ignominiously towed away. So now here I was, my marriage a write-off, upping sticks yet again.
Some women in my situation might have been tempted to move a little further afield -- to Tasmania, say, or Mars, but though I was keen to put some distance between us I reckoned Camberwell was far enough. Plus it would be convenient for work and the area was still relatively cheap. So, a month ago, I dropped into a local estate agents and before I knew it, One Hope Street was mine.
'It's vacant for possession,' said the negotiator with unctuous enthusiasm, 'and it's semi-detached.' Just like me. 'It's been empty for a few months,' she added, 'but it's in pretty good shape -- all it really needs is a clean.'
When, ten minutes later I saw the house, I took to it at once. It had this indignant, slightly abandoned air; it exuded disappointment and regret. It was the first in a short terrace of flat fronted houses, and it had a semi-paved garden at the back.
'I'll take it,' I said casually, as though I were spending twenty quid, not four hundred grand. So I inflated my income to the building society and exchanged in ten days flat. But then I'm the impatient type. I married very quickly, for example. I separated quickly as well. And it took me precisely two and a half weeks to buy and move into this house.
'Can you afford it?' asked Bella, tucking her short blonde hair behind one ear.
'No,' I said simply. 'I can't.'
'Why did you get it then?' demanded Bea, who can be overbearing.
'It was an impulse buy.'
'We'll help you decorate,' said Bella as she scissored open a packing case.
'You can be our first client,' said Bea.
'Have you got a name yet? I asked.
'Design at the Double!' they chorused.
'Hmm. That's catchy,' I said.
The twins have just given up their respective jobs to start an interior design company. Despite a conspicuous lack of experience they seem confident that it'll work out.
'All you need's a few contacts, then it snowballs,' Bea had said blithely when they first told me about their plans. 'A nice mention in one of the glossies and we'll soon be turning them away.'
'You make it sound unfeasibly easy,' I'd said.
'But the market for it is huge. All those rich people,' said Bella happily, 'with big houses and horrible taste.'
'We'll get you things at cost.' Bella offered as she unpacked some dinner plates. 'I think you should definitely get a new bathroom suite . . .'
'With a glass basin,' said Bea.
'And a jacuzzi,' Bella added.
'And a hand-built kitchen of course.'
'Yes, Poggenpohl,' suggested Bella enthusiastically.
'No, Smallbone of Devizes,' said Bea.
'You always contradict me.'
'No I don't!'
'Look, I won't be getting any of that fancy stuff,' I interjected wearily. 'I'm not going to have the cash.'
As the twins argued about the relative merits of expensive kitchens I opened boxes in the sitting room. Heart pounding, I gingerly unpacked the wedding photo I'd flung at Ed in my dream. We were standing on the steps of the Chelsea town hall in a blissful, confettied blur. Don't think me conceited, but we looked bloody good together. Ed's six foot three -- a bit taller than me -- with fine, dark hair which curls at the nape. He's got these warm, melting brown eyes, while mine are green and my hair's Titian red.
'You're my perfect red Rose,' Ed had joked at the start -- though he was soon moaning about my thorns. But it was so wonderful to begin with I reflected dismally as I put the photo, face down, in a drawer. Ours had been not so much a whirlwind romance as a tornado, but it had already blown itself out. I surveyed the trail of marital debris it had left in its wake. There were dozens of wedding presents, most -- unlike our abbreviated marriage -- still under guarantee. We'd decided to split them by simply keeping those from our respective friends; which meant that Ed got the Hawaiian barbecue while Rudolph came with me. Ed didn't mind, he'd never really taken to Rudy who was given to us by the twins. We named him Rudolph Valentino because he's so silent: he's never uttered a word. Mynah birds are meant to be garrulous but ours has the conversational skills of a corpse.
'Speak to us, Rudy,' I heard Bella say.
'Yes, say something,' added Bea. I heard them trying to tempt him into speech with whistles and clicks but he remained defiantly purse-beaked.
'Look, Rudy, we paid good money for you,' said Bella. 'Two hundred smackers to be precise.'
'It was three hundred,' Bea corrected her.
'No it wasn't. It was two.'
'It was three, Bella: I remember distinctly.'
'Well you've remembered it wrong -- it was two!'
I wearily opened the box labeled 'STUDY' because I'd soon have to get back to work. Lying on top was a copy of my new book -- this is embarrassing -- Secrets of Marriage Success. As I say, I do things very fast, and I wrote it in less than three months. By unfortunate coincidence it was published on the day that Ed and I broke up. Given the distressingly public nature of our split the reviews were less than kind. 'Reading Rose Costelloe's book is like going to a bankrupt for financial advice,' was just one of the many sniggery remarks. 'Whatever next?' sneered another, 'Ann Widdecombe on Secrets of Fashion Success?'
I'd wanted my publishers to pull it, but by then it had gone too far. Now I put it in the drawer with my wedding photo, then took my computer and some files upstairs. In the study next to my bedroom I opened a large box marked 'Letters/Answered' and took out the one on top.
Dear Rose, I read. I wonder if you can help me -- my marriage has gone terribly wrong. But it all started well and I was bowled over by my wife who's beautiful, vivacious, and fun. She was a successful freelance journalist when we met; but, out of the blue, she got a job as an agony aunt and suddenly my life became hell. The fact is I hardly see her -- answering the letters takes up all of her time; and when I do see her all she talks about is her readers' problems and frankly, it gets me down. I've asked her to give it up -- or at least tone it down -- but she won't. Should I file for divorce?
Clipped to the back was my reply.
Dear Pissed-Off of Putney, Thank you for writing to me. I'd like to help you if I possibly can. Firstly, although I feel certain that your tire loves you, it's obvious that she adores her career as well. And speaking from experience I know that writing an agony column is a hugely fulfilling thing to do. It's hard to describe the thrill you get from knowing that you've given someone in need great advice, So my suggestion, P-O -- if I may call you that -- is not to do anything rash. You haven't been married long, so just keep talking and I'm sure that, in time, things will improve. Then, on an impulse, which I would later greatly regret, I added: Maybe marriage guidance might help . . .
It didn't. Far from it -- I should have known. Ed suggested we went to Resolve -- commonly known as 'Dissolve' -- but I couldn't stand our counselor, Mary-Claire Grey. From the second I laid eyes on her she irritated the hell out of me, with her babyish face, and dodgy highlights and ski-jump nose and tiny feet. I have been hoist with my own petard, I thought dismally, as we sat awkwardly in her consulting room. But by that stage Ed and I were arguing a lot so I believed that counseling might help. It wouldn't have been so bad if Miss Grey inspired any confidence, but the idiotic little woman simply did not. She was thirty-five(ish), divorced, and a former social worker she told us in this fey, squeaky voice.
'What I shall do,' she began, smiling winsomely, 'is simply to listen to you both. I shall then reinterpret -- or, to give it its technical name, reframe -- what you both say. Got that?' Catatonic with embarrassment, and already hating her, I nodded, like an obedient kid. 'Okay, Ed,' she said. 'You first,' and she actually clapped her podgy little hands as though this were nursery school.
'Rose,' Ed began quietly, as he looked at me. 'I feel that you don't care about me any more.'
'What Ed is saying there,' interrupted Mary-Claire, 'is that he feels you don't care about him any more.'
'I feel,' he went on painfully, 'that you're more concerned about the losers who write to you, than you are about me.'
'Ed feels you're more concerned about the losers who write to you, Rose, than you are about him.'
'I feel neglected and frustrated,' Ed went on sadly.
'Ed feels neglected and -- '
'Frustrated?' I snapped. 'Look, my marriage may be a bit rocky at the moment, but my hearing's perfectly fine!'
And then, I don't know, after that, things went from bad to worse. Because when it came to my turn, Mary-Claire seemed not to hear what I'd said.
'Ed, I'm really sorry we've got these problems: I began, swallowing hard.
'Rose admits that there are huge problems,' Mary-Claire announced, with an expression of exaggerated concern.
'But I love my new career,' I went on. 'I just . . . love it, and I can't simply give it up to please you.'
'What Rose means by that, Ed,' said Mary-Claire sweetly, 'is that she doesn't really want to please you.' Eh?
'You see, until I became an agony aunt, I'd never really felt professionally fulfilled.'
'What Rose is saying there,' interjected Mary-Claire, 'is that it's only her job that makes her feel fulfilled.' Huh?
'And I guess I am a bit over-zealous on the domestic front,' I went on uncertainly, 'and I know that's been an issue too.'
'Ed,' said Mary-Claire soothingly, 'Rose is acknowledging that at home she's been a' -- theatrical pause here to signify sadness and regret -- 'control freak,' she whispered.' What?
'But I do love you, Ed,' I went on, heroically ignoring her, 'and I think we can work this through.'
'What Rose is saying, there, Ed,' 'explained' Mary-Claire benignly, 'is that, basically, you're through.'
'I'm not saying that!' I shouted, getting to my feet. 'I'm saying we should try again!' Mary-Claire gave me a look which combined slyness with pity, and Ed and I split up within three weeks.
Looking back, I think I'd been semi-hypnotised by Mary-Claire's squeaky, sing-songy voice -- like Melanie Griffith on helium -- otherwise I'd have been tempted to give her a slap. But, for some reason I found it impossible to challenge her bizarre interventions. It was only later on, that I twigged . . .
Copyright © 2004 Isabel Wolff