Fay Weldon tells the story of a common-law marriage in crisis while skewering two other institutions of reverence and repression: psychiatry and the British middle class
After ten years of living with Spicer, Annette is finally pregnant; her first book is about to be published; and her common-law marriage is unraveling—or, rather, it starts to after Spicer goes into psychotherapy. Suddenly, Spicer is taking up astrology, finding constant fault with Annette, and making cruel sexual demands. To humor him, Annette seeks psychiatric help as well—until her therapist makes her life a living hell. As battle rages between them, Annette learns a lot about herself and the man she thought she knew. Trouble is a piercing novel that perforates Jungian therapy and the mind games played in the name of science, while capturing the painful disintegration of a relationship.
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By Fay Weldon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Fay Weldon
All rights reserved.
'Annette,' said Spicer to his wife ten years and five months later, 'I won't be able to come with you to the Clinic this evening.'
'But, Spicer darling,' said Annette, 'why not?'
'Because I have matters to attend to that are more important.'
'What could be more important than the baby?'
'I could,' said Spicer, and he left the rest of his breakfast and went to work straight away without even calling goodbye to Susan or Jason. Nor did Spicer kiss Annette goodbye, as was his custom.
The habit of years had been broken: the gears of the relationship shifted and changed.
Annette set about her household duties and after an hour called Spicer at his office.
'Mr Horrocks,' said Spicer's secretary Wendy. 'I have your wife on the phone.'
Wendy was kind and efficient. She was in her thirties, plain and a hockey-player. She lived with her mother.
'Spicer,' said Annette. 'How could you speak to me like that? If you knew how it upset me, you wouldn't do it. You being bad-tempered isn't good for the baby.'
'Annette,' said Spicer, 'I am in a meeting,' and he put the receiver down his end so that the one in Annette's hand buzzed. Annette and Spicer were the first in their road to own a mobile phone: their neighbours possessed newer, lighter, cheaper models. There can be a penalty for being first; especially in technological matters.
Annette called Spicer's office again.
'Wendy,' asked Annette, 'is Spicer really in a meeting or is he just saying that?'
'Mr Horrocks is just saying it,' said Wendy, 'but in fact he's very busy. The auditors are due.'
'Wendy,' said Annette, 'has Spicer been a little, well, on edge lately?'
'No,' said Wendy. 'He's been just fine. Happy as a sandboy, in fact, as usual. Very chatty. We're all so looking forward to the baby. If she's born on Christmas Day she'll be a little Capricorn.'
'I don't know about things like that,' said Annette.
'Nor do I,' said Wendy. 'It's Mr Horrocks who tells me she'll be a little Capricorn, A little goat.'
'Oh,' said Annette. 'Well, I'll try and get used to the idea.'
Wendy said, 'When he's got a moment I'll say you called, shall I?' And Annette said, 'No, don't worry. It can wait till this evening,' and put the phone down, but not before she heard, or thought she heard, Wendy say, 'Sometimes I'm really glad I'm not married.'
Annette called her friend Gilda; they went to the same antenatal class. Gilda was seven months pregnant to Annette's five and lived four doors along from Annette, at No 17 Bella Crescent. People likened Gilda to Ginger Rogers, and indeed Gilda had red hair and had once been a dancer. But then people likened Annette to Meryl Streep for no better reason than she had a fair skin and small, straight nose, and a vulnerable air. Gilda and Annette worked as freelance researchers for a TV production company. Gilda's current task was an investigation into the history of heraldic beasts, and Annette's into the myth of Europa, ravished by Jupiter in the form of a bull.
'Hello, Gilda,' said Annette.
'What's the matter?' asked Gilda. 'I can tell from your voice something's wrong. Is the baby all right?'
'The baby's just fine,' said Annette, 'but Spicer won't come to Father's Night at the Clinic and he seems angry with me and I don't know why.'
'He was all right when we saw you at dinner on Tuesday,' said Gilda. 'In fact he was being very attentive and kind. Perhaps he has troubles at work?'
'His secretary said something about having the auditors in, but so far as I know everything's okay. Profits are down but aren't everyone's?'
'It depends how far down,' said Gilda, whose journalist husband Steve was short, thin and pop-eyed, but kind and intelligent.
'Spicer's very protective of you, Annette, especially now you're pregnant. Perhaps he's trying to save you from bad financial news but taking it out on you at the same time. Men do that kind of thing.'
'It doesn't feel like that,' said Annette. 'It feels worse.'
'Spicer doesn't have a new secretary? He's still got Wendy?'
'Yes,' said Annette. 'And I don't think it's anything like that. The sex is still fine between us. It's just that we used always to speak a lot when we made love: each offer the other a running commentary, but for the last few weeks he hasn't liked me to speak. In fact if I say anything at all he covers my mouth with his hand. This isn't being recorded by the answerphone, I hope?'
'No,' said Gilda.
'Because,' said Annette, 'I don't like talking about things as personal as this in the first place: it feels disloyal: supposing your Steve ran the answerphone tape and heard me talking about my sex life with Spicer.'
'I'm your best friend,' said Gilda. 'You're allowed to talk to me. Think of the things I've told you!'
'In fact,' said Annette, 'it's rather as if Spicer were plunging about in the dark, in the silence, and it was nothing at all to do with me. I can't explain it exactly. I don't mind, I quite like it, it's just different. It's mindless. So long as it doesn't go on like this too long.'
'Perhaps the baby is the problem,' said Gilda.
'But Spicer was the one who always wanted me to be pregnant,' said Annette. '"One of yours," he said, "one of mine, one of ours." And I don't think time has changed that.'
'Perhaps Spicer wanted a boy? Men tend to.'
'I don't think so. I was the one who so wanted to be told whether it was a girl or boy: Spicer preferred to leave it as a surprise. But to me it always seems peculiar if the hospital know the gender and don't tell the parents, as if everyone were playing some kind of cute game.'
'It seems to me,' said Gilda, 'you're just paying the foetus more attention than you are Spicer, and he doesn't like it. I'll have to go, Annette. My other phone's going.'
Annette prepared a special supper for Spicer that evening and put scent behind her ears. Spicer liked Annette to wear scent. Of recent months, Annette realised, she had neglected so to do.
Spicer returned at seven-fifty-one instead of six o'clock, his customary time. Annette took care not to reproach Spicer or ask him where he had been. Nor did he offer any apologies for, let alone any information about, his lateness.
'I'm sorry I called you at the office, Spicer,' said Annette. 'I know you like to ring me but not me to ring you. I just sometimes get a little upset if you go off in a mood in the morning.'
'Um,' Spicer said. 'I see you have opened the 1985 Saint Estephe.'
'I made a rather special dinner,' she said. 'Beef olives. I know you like those. So I thought we'd treat ourselves and open our best wine.'
They were in the drawing room. Annette had found some candles and polished the candlesticks. Their light made the heavy grey curtains shimmer agreeably. She had arranged roses in the vases: red and white. The room seemed delightful.
'I thought pregnant women weren't supposed to drink alcohol,' said Spicer.
'Just a glass or so doesn't hurt,' she said.
'I thought you'd be at the Clinic,' he said. 'Weren't you supposed to go?'
'It was Father's Night,' she said, 'so if you couldn't be there, there wasn't much point in my going. Steve went with Gilda, though. So I had time to cook us something special. And since Susan and Jason have gone to the cinema, we can have some time to ourselves. Shall we eat now?'
'I don't know why you cooked beef,' he said. 'I don't eat red meat. It goes against the grain.'
'Since when?' she asked. 'And what grain?' but he didn't reply.
He was not in a jokey mood.
'I'm afraid that without the meat,' Annette apologised, serving her husband's food, 'the mangetout and the new potatoes look a little bleak.'
'It takes very little food to keep me going,' Spicer said. 'Fruit and vegetables; pulses occasionally. In fact, Annette, if you would keep the fruit bowl full, I could help myself when my appetite dictated and then we could do without the formality of the family meals which nobody wants; let alone the dinners à deux. They must be as trying for you as they are for me.'
And Spicer smiled at Annette politely and rose and went to the living room and, instead of opening the newspaper as was his custom in the evening after dinner, opened a book entitled The Search for the Father, which had a whooshy pattern of oranges and reds upon the cover, and began to read intently.
Annette cleared the table. The baby kicked. Annette hurled a plate across the room. It broke. Annette went into the living room and snatched the book from Spicer's hand and flung it in the fire.
'For fuck's sake, Spicer,' Annette shrieked, 'what is the matter?'
Spicer regarded his wife calmly, only occasionally looking away from her into the fireplace to watch the book burn. He could have saved it had he wished, but he did not so wish.
'Look at you!' said Spicer. 'Take a look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself what the matter is, and try to calm down. You are quite insane.'
'But what have I done?'
'It isn't your fault,' said Spicer. 'You can't help yourself, I realise that. But shall we go through today's performance? First you call me at my office and try to disturb my peace there; you cannot bear me to escape from you, even for an hour or two; you then call my secretary and try to turn her against me. You spend the morning talking to Gilda on the phone about our sex life—I had lunch with Stephen—it looks as if he's being made redundant, by the way. You're totally self-centred and without loyalty. I do not take kindly to you discussing our intimate life with your lesbian friend. I wonder what hold she has over you? When I come home late you're not even interested enough to ask me where I've been. You're wearing scent so I know that in your calculating way you have sex with me planned for tonight. You do apologise for calling me at the office, which is something, but then you follow it up with a remark designed to make me feel bad, about how much I upset you. You open a bottle of 1985 Saint Estephe without consulting me—you are so competitive it extends even into the world of wine!—and worse, do so without the slightest concern for the health of our baby. You have so much ambivalence about poor little Gillian, I'll be surprised if you manage to bring her to term. You don't go to the Clinic—cutting off your nose to spite my face because making me responsible for your actions is another way of controlling me, and you can't resist a little extra dig, mentioning that Steve went with Gilda. Poor Steve: he seems to have no will of his own. You must have me all to yourself so you send the poor kids off to the cinema, regardless of what they want, let alone the fact that I might want to see them. You cook beef although you know perfectly well the only protein I can eat these days is white meat—chicken or a little fish—and you overcook the mangetout in a way that can only be deliberate. Then you break some plates, follow me in here where I am peacefully reading, snatch the book from my hand, and fling it in the fire. Is that enough about what the matter is? Now for God's sake don't start crying or you'll upset the children. They're upset enough already. Okay?'
'Gilda,' said Annette on the phone early next morning, 'I am so miserable.'
'What's the matter now?' asked Gilda. 'What's the time?'
'It's well past nine,' said Annette. 'I'm sorry. But I have to speak to someone.'
'The baby kept me awake kicking all night,' said Gilda. 'I've only just got to sleep.'
'Well, I didn't sleep at all,' said Annette. 'I was suffering from terror. That's the only way I can describe it.'
'Tell me more,' said Gilda. 'Here's Steve with my cup of tea. Thank you, Steve. You are so good to me. Okay, Annette, go on. Forgive me if I slurp.'
'It's a kind of black pit within the periphery of myself,' said Annette. 'It's as black and empty as outer space, and everything spins down into it and is lost.'
'A black hole,' said Gilda. 'I used to feel that when Jackson my first husband left me and I didn't know how to pay the rent. I think you're describing anxiety, not terror. What's making you anxious?'
'The thought of me without Spicer,' said Annette. 'He said such terrible things to me last night, and I love him and I'm having his baby. How could he? Then he just went and slept all night in the spare room. He said he was frightened to sleep next to me in case I did him some terrible damage. He said I was a madwoman, and eaten up with hatred of men.'
'What had you done?'
'I broke some plates,' said Annette, 'and threw the book he was reading into the fire.'
'Well,' said Gilda, 'you ought to expect some reaction. If you behave like a madwoman you get called a madwoman.'
'He drove me to it,' said Annette. 'He wouldn't eat the dinner I cooked. And he was late home and wouldn't say why. And I lay alone on the bed all night with a headache and a black hole in my chest, and I must have dozed off because when I woke Spicer had left the house and gone to work, and without a word, without a note.'
'You told me you didn't sleep at all,' said Gilda.
'Gilda, this is serious. There was a difference in tone. I can't explain it. I'm terrified.'
'It doesn't sound serious to me,' said Gilda. 'He'll ring later in the morning and apologise.'
At ten-thirty precisely the phone rang. Wendy put Spicer through.
'Annette,' said Spicer, 'I hope you're okay. I left you sleeping. You look lovely asleep: I didn't want to wake you. I hope I didn't upset you last night. I seem to get these moods these days.'
'You upset me quite a lot,' she said.
'But you're better now? It's all forgotten?'
'Yes,' she said.
'I love you very much,' he said. 'None of it's your fault. You can't help being what you are any more than I can.'
'Well, thank you,' said Annette.
'Pauline just called. She and Christopher want us to join them at the opera tonight. I said yes. That's okay, isn't it? It's Figaro.'
'That's wonderful,' said Annette. 'Mozart is always soothing.'
There was a slight pause—
'That's not a dig, is it?' asked Spicer.
'Of course it isn't,' replied Annette. 'How could it be?'
'It could suggest you needed soothing, which means you're not going to let bygones be bygones. Well, never mind either way. We'll meet up at the Coliseum at seven then: eat afterwards. Wear something lovely, especially for me.'
'Of course,' said Annette. 'Don't I always? Spicer, you know you have a really remarkable memory? Last night you went through every single thing I said, in order, finding fault. The other side of appalled I was impressed.'
'I don't have time to talk now, darling,' said Spicer. 'Though I'd love to. I have a meeting. But yes, I do have a good memory. That's Saturn's doing, sextile my moon but, alas, also quincunx your sun.'
'What are you talking about?'
'Never mind,' said Spicer. 'Not your world. Must go. Kiss you.'
'Kiss you,' said Annette.
'Gilda,' said Annette, 'you were quite right. Spicer phoned. The black hole feeling has gone. Last night was incidental, accidental. Put it like this: it was a little bit of emotional flotsam, washed up by the tides of togetherness. In ten years there'd be quite a lot to wash up.'
'How poetical,' said Gilda.
'Thank you. I'm so relieved,' said Annette. 'And we're going to the opera. I don't know what Spicer was upset about and I suppose I'll never know, and it doesn't matter.'
'I know what it may have been,' said Gilda, 'and all I can say is I'm sorry. I was about to phone you. I told Steve a bit about what you told me about Spicer and you in bed, and he talked to Spicer about it over lunch, he now tells me. I'm not speaking to Steve, it doesn't matter how many cups of tea he brings me. It was a confidence.'
'I knew that,' said Annette. 'I didn't bring it up. Spicer did mention it. I expect Steve was only trying to help.'
'Steve likes everyone to be happy,' said Gilda. 'That's his trouble.'
'It's over now anyway,' said Annette. 'It did upset Spicer. But all kinds of things seem to upset him nowadays.'
'What do you mean by nowadays? How long has this nowadays been going on?' asked Gilda.
'Two, three weeks. I don't know,' said Annette. 'Two or three years, for all I know. How would I know? Spicer keeps complaining I'm unperceptive. But how can I perceive things he doesn't tell me?'
'Steve expects me to read his mind and tell him what he's feeling,' said Gilda.
'If I tell Spicer what he feels he goes berserk,' said Annette. 'He says he doesn't like to think of me inside his head so I try to keep out of it. I take nothing for granted. Gilda, have you heard of the word quincunx? Spicer used it this morning.'
'Neither had I. I felt stupid. I looked it up. It's a term used in astrology to denote a 150 degree separation of the planets in orbit: a stressful aspect, particularly in a compatibility chart.'
Excerpted from Trouble by Fay Weldon. Copyright © 1993 Fay Weldon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"Weldon writes as if she were Virginia Woolf and Roseanne Arnold joined at the hip
literary and off the wall. Everything is perfect."
Anne Roiphe, Mirabella
"A fiercely funny tale of nuptial betrayal"
"Impossible to put down
A wickedly splendid showcase of Weldon's genius with dialogue and satire on modern culture, proving once again that she is a virtuoso of dark humor and dangerous wit"
San Francisco Chronicle
"A tough, funny, smart, and ultimately moving novel"
New York Newsday