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The Escort

by Griselda 

Posted: 06 February 2006
Word Count: 3478
Summary: Marcie does not hear from her husband and celebrates Christmas and New Year alone

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Marcie is eating toast and honey, and the radio is making party music in the corner, and the sun is burning in. The sky is achingly blue and empty. Because the sun is so low in the sky, it shines directly on her face and neck and she is getting uncomfortably hot, which is very odd for January. She thinks, it was almost as hot as this in Egypt. She is in her dressing gown, starting the New Year in relaxed style. What's sauce for the gander can be sauce for the goose too, and it is his choice, not hers, that he stayed away. She drank his health alone last night at midnight as the old year slipped away, an ironic gesture if you like, affection or indifference, who knows? She finished the whole bottle of wine on her own, to be honest, and is now feeling a little fragile. The toast sounds quite loud in her ears as she eats, but the coffee smells dark and the honey is sweet, and the New Year has arrived with sunlight and all this heat. Maybe there is some hope, after all. There are actually bumble bees flying outside in the sunshine. In January.

She has no idea where he is. She cannot ring any of her friends about it, nor his, not again. She has this New Year's Day to get through, nothing much to do, and only a very faint sense of obligation to him. He is the one out carousing, after all. God knows where he's ended up this time. Though it is a little odd that he's been away so long. He's not usually gone for so long. But Christmas and New Year are bad times for drinkers.

She has got over her tears. There used to a be a time when she'd be pleading with him. 'Please don't, Jack. You've had enough. Look at you. Look at the state of you. You don't need any more.' And he would sneer, and push her to one side as she tried to block his way to the front door, and mumble at her 'I can do what I like so stop interfering you silly cow', and then he'd be gone. It might be hours or days before he'd be back, totally incoherent and defiant, to spend the next week or so in bed 'with flu'. Eventually, she just gave up trying to stop him, moved all his things into the spare bedroom, and took up pilates and bridge. She has become almost completely independent these last three years, sharing the house with him, but little else.

But this is the first time he's been away for Christmas and New Year. Twelve whole days. A record.

When he gets home after one of his binges he does not usually say much about where he has been. He has sometimes mentioned the guys on the train home, repeating jokes, and telling her what success stories they are. 'These are success stories,' he tells her. 'Men who know what they are doing. Masterminds.'

He mentions Mal, a graphics designer, whose agency does all the wine labels for Tesco. 'Lucky bastard's going out to Chile this time,' he says in a reflected-glory kind of way. 'They're going to repackage all the Cabernet Sauvignon'.

He brags about knowing Jimmy Just, a shipping broker, 'the richest man in the Square Mile,' apparently.

'Why is he travelling second class like you then?' she asks, and Jack blinks at her with a venomous glare till he thinks up an answer.

'He chooses, he chooses, to travel with us,' he hisses. 'Don't be so pathetic, Marcie. The man can make his own decisions how he travels. He's in with us.'

And she hears about Gordon, who does accounts for hotels, and Pravda who works for the Polish section of the BBC at the Aldwych, and Tony whose third wife is divorcing him the cow, and Mark Geldard who deals with contracts for the earth-moving equipment which Jack has to sell, and the rest of them, and these are all his real friends, his pals, who understand how hard it is out there, how hard they have to graft. They all try to get home on the same train, take the same seats, break out the beers on the table, unwind together on the way home. Missing a train is no problem, because any one of them can wait in the station bar, and no doubt one or other of the gang will turn up to keep company, and sometimes they stay to eat in London to avoid the rush, or to wait for the next fast train, or to stay on for someone else to travel with them.

She thinks of them collectively by their smell. All these guys smell of beer and whisky and a particularly acrid kind of sweat, the smell of bodily stress. She has detected this whenever, by chance, she has met any of them. Jack used to say, in the days when she bothered to ask him, that it was with one of these guys that he stayed overnight, when he didn’t make it home.

'Great guy, great guy,' he'd enthuse. 'Lent me a clean shirt. Lovely house. Lovely girl, his wife. Sue. Lovely. No trouble at all.'

Implying, of course, that she, Marcie, was not a lovely girl, or was causing trouble. 'What I am doing, getting boozed up like this every night, is normal. What you are doing, moaning about it, moaning about what time I get in, or moaning about me, is what is not normal. What you are doing is unusual, out of line, causing trouble, disloyal, annoying, shackling, a pain in the neck if you want the honest truth. You are stopping me from - what? Meeting my friends? Talking shop? Enjoying myself? Unwinding, unwinding on the way home, having a quiet beer? Living? Is that what you want. You know what you are? Eh, Marcie? You know what you are? You are becoming frigid, that's what's happening to you. Loosen up, girl! Get real! Oh, piss off then’'.

And so, what originally seemed to her to be perfectly justified enquiries about where he was when once or twice he didn’t come home at night, worries, or dutiful questions, or anxious questions - and this is not even to touch on any fears about him seeing other women - all these questions had become very twisted up, unaskable. His answers, his belligerence, honed to a fine polish through many hours of practice, had made it impossible for her to start. Though there was a concession - that he would normally ring her to say he was 'working late', or had been 'invited to dinner' or had 'missed the last train' or he'd 'be back tomorrow evening', and this gave him complete leeway to do what he liked, and allowed her time to work her own schedule more flexibly. With luck, the call would come while she was still in the office. This was altogether more dignified, and led to fewer of his dinners being tipped into the rubbish bin directly from the plate.

Her colleagues also learned that it was usually safer to ask her what her plans were only towards the end of the day, when she had a better chance of knowing what Jack was planning to do. School offices are robust places to work, but there are more than enough domestic tragedies mulled over there for all the staff to be quite sensitive to pain, however well-masked. So they waited till Jack's call had come in, as it did more often than not, apologetic for interrupting her at work, laying out his blithe schedule. Then they could ask her "Gym tonight, Marce?' or 'Going to see your nephews, aren't you, this evening?' and she could give them an honest answer and a sardonic smile. 'Yeah, I'm off the hook, thank goodness. No shall we-shan't we tonight,' and they'd all have a laugh. Outwardly, anyway.

Inside, it was less funny. Marcie was lonely. No kids. No pets. And more often than she'd ever imagined, no husband. Even when he was around, they kept out of each other's way, stepped out of each other's path, in a painful kind of slow, slow, quick-quick slow. She wondered why on earth she stayed, but it was confusing. At what point could she say, this is over? She felt as if she was waiting. Waiting for something definite to happen. But she also knew things were gradually changing, the rift was deepening. During the summer, last summer, when she had so much time on her hands, she had redesigned the garden, installing some decking and a pergola with a pyramid roof, and it was a satisfying project but when the long evenings were stretching out lazily, warm and catlike at the end of the bright days, she felt more alone than ever. And at last he seemed to notice and he began to make a bit more effort.

He'd say, 'Look, I think I will cut down a bit. Not to drink during the week. Just have the one on the way home, or the other idea is, just to drink cider, as it's not so strong. And it's cheaper too, come to think of it.' Sometimes he'd actually be home early, to look at her work in the garden, pat her on the back, open a bottle of Chardonnay ('Look Marcie, Mal's given us a bottle with his new label on it. What do you think? Great guy, Mal'). They'd eat out in the golden light of the garden, and he'd be content and telling her about the bulldozer business, and she'd be thinking it was all a sham.

Anyone looking at us now, she'd think, anyone would think what an ideal couple we are. Lovely house, lovely garden, almost. Young, healthy. Good jobs, no worries. Blonde and brunette. Holidays. New car. Not even thirty yet. What more could we want? And she'd hear an answer from somewhere inside herself. What about love? What about spending time together? Why does he always have to drink so much?

And when he raised a glass, looked her in the eye like some stupid old romantic, and said 'Here's to us, Marcie, here's to you and me. I love you, sweetheart', she'd want to believe him, but at the same time she wanted to run away up to her bedroom, to cry in the bathroom, to smash him over the head with his stupid bottle and Mal's stupid pale pink label.

And when he took her up to her room, smiling, with one arm around her shoulders, shepherding her along, pulling her down onto the bed, nuzzling into her neck and taking possession of those soft parts of her which no-one else had ever touched, kissing her with his tongue, pulling her bra off her anyhow, pushing her back onto the pillows, getting one hand up her skirt or into her pants, crumpling everything, focussed, careless, pushing on to get himself into her, ignoring her cheeps of discomfort at being pulled around, or her dismay if a zip came apart, when all this was happening, mostly for him, she was somehow outside it all. He might be able to get it together, really get something going, which was extraordinary and almost wonderful, because it wakened up all her own longing and heats. The roughness or impatience might become a form of passion and she could not help responding, or starting to respond. But only rarely could he sustain this act of giving, and it would all be over, in a few seconds, leaving her with a sort of bleary mess and disappointment.

And sometimes his ardour only survived until the moment of exposure to oxygen’ and then all the promise and sustenance softened into humble nothingness, leaving her detached and even more alone. Usually, in these circumstances, he would be apologetic and concerned about her, still able to act out some sort of romance. She thought, he's angry with himself that he cannot, and this was almost worthless consolation to her.

And she gradually formed the impression that he was doing all this deliberately, coming home to have 'special' meals with her from time to time, making love or trying to make love. He had a purpose despite his impotence. Once he even brought her flowers. 'They were on offer at the station,' he said. And indeed the price ticket was still stuck on the cellophane, nine pounds reduced to four, with some drooping rosebuds among the lilies to show why.

And then once, he was talking about Charlie, one of the guys on the train who'd often given him a bed for the night, and he had said 'she' and not 'he' when talking about how Charlie was the one who had had the great idea of getting one of those machines which jam mobile phones in railway carriages, so they wouldn't be constantly annoyed by people's ringtones beeping and cheeping all down the line. Marcie said, 'She?' and Jack blanked her and said 'Did I say 'she'? I meant 'he'. But she didn't believe him.

Towards the end of summer they took a week's holiday at the Red Sea where his dad had a timeshare apartment in Paradise, an amazing brand new complex built in the shape of a pyramid, and both lay in the scorching sun beside clear blue water, with the Anubis bar close at hand, and all the aches and pains of their cold northern bones melting out of their limbs and joints. The plan was, one week now and another at Christmas when the English weather was so demoralising. With such a brief vacation, they agreed they would both do their best to have a wonderful time. Marcie relented and drank a little more, and Jack in his anxiety to please, drank a little less, and pointed out to her what heroic behaviour this was. 'Look at the prices, Marcie, I can't believe I'm not indulging, but I did promise you sweetheart. And you look gorgeous in that bikini. Come on, let's go up to the apartment’.' And Marcie, praying the maids had finished cleaning the suite would agree, and then, in the heat of the day, and fuelled by sunlight and the glamour of the shining white architecture and the smiling courtesy of the dark-eyed staff in the lobbies downstairs, they'd make love as if they were movie stars, and it was all nearly as good as their honeymoon, six years before.

Heat. Heat. Love and heat. The heat of the Red Sea holiday is still vivid in her memory as she sits and eats toast alone in the kitchen on New Year's Day. She is thinking about how the autumn came early, chilly and dark, and Jack stayed away more often, and sometimes came home in clothes which she had never seen before but which he no longer ascribed to someone else's ownership. Once she had asked him whose they were, and he said they were his. 'I thought I should keep a change of kit at the office, for when I play squash,' he said, and once again she saw that blaze of anger in his eyes, such as you might see on the face of a cornered animal. Her tendency to ask questions sometimes led her into these dangerous places. But the thought of him playing squash, never mentioned before, was another little warning sign. Squash. Squash? What sort of squash? she thought to herself.

By the end of the Christmas term, things had got pretty bad. Jack came home to wash, make a mess, eat, grumble, search angrily for lost papers, grunt. He had that horrible smell about him, all the time. He never came into her bedroom. Her work had been exhausting - the school had had its OFSTED inspection. Everything in the garden looked droopy and dead, she hadn't been out there for weeks. Jack was away working a lot, rang her from Germany, sounding tired. When he did get home, and was settled in front of Time Team with a bottle of Rioja this time not labelled by Mal, she asked him about their second week of holiday in Egypt, their Christmas week: he was the one making the arrangements. And as they say, all hell exploded.

For his part, she was a whingeing, complaining, lazy cow who expected to be waited on hand and foot, a stupid bitch who had no idea how hard he worked and who had had her holiday back in the summer and what did she expect him to do about it? His dad wasn't running a free hotel service, he had the apartment because he loved diving, not so she could please herself, and in any case he happened to know it was booked up, by Charlie as a matter of fact, who was learning how to scuba-dive. His dad wasn't some endless bottomless pit of generosity. So what was she going to do about it?

For her part, she had a list as long as her arm of the nights he hadn’t come home, the money he wasted on drink, the promises he'd made and broken, how they never made love any more, how he couldn't even get it up, how the second week's holiday was his idea, not hers, how she had paid for her share of the costs all the way through, how this marriage was a failure and Christmas was ruined, he hadn't written so much as one card let alone get a present for his mother or anyone else, and perhaps, yes, really the best thing would be for them to Get A Divorce.

So he was screaming at her, really shrieking what a bitch she was. Then he threw his glass of wine all over her, and then threw the bottle at the wall, and then he smashed his way out of the house. He got into the car, revved it up so loud she could hear the engine screaming even though the TV was still on, and she could hear as he drove away, away, away. Then silence.

She went to bed, and the phone rang in the morning, 5 o'clock. It was Jack. He said, 'I don’t want us to get divorced. This is terrible. I need to think about everything. Don't start, don't start. Give me some time.' And that was the last she heard from him. Six days before Christmas.

She bought a tree, which he usually did, and set it up and put their special Chrismas lights on it, and opened all the cards their friends had sent, and wrapped and delivered the presents for her nephews, and for Jack's mother and sisters, and made a cake, and cooked a large chicken on Christmas Day, and did the whole thing completely alone. She rang no-one, smiled to the neighbours, read the papers without interruptions, watched what she wanted on television, went to the sales and bought a new coat, and waited. New Year's Eve had been solitary and fine, and here she is, still waiting, eating her breakfast on New Year's Day.

The sun is burning through the kitchen window onto her face, and shining brilliantly on the garden, and she looks again at the great bees flying, and the other insects, and it draws her outside, even in her dressing gown.

She wanders down the pathway listening to the loud hum of the bees as they cluster and buzz round the hedges. She is squinting into the fierce light as it streams down over the triangular roof of her new pergola. There is some dark strange thing lumped onto the cold ground, and she sees that it must be Jack, absolutely still and drenching wet, lying with his head on one side, and holding a pathetic little Christmas tree in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other, and she knows at once that he is quite, quite dead. How long has he been here? The whole twelve days? She creeps nearer. His face is actually half eaten away, by something - rats, a fox perhaps? His feet are sprawled apart. It looks as if he had tripped, hit his head perhaps on something. The decking? Maybe. His whole body looks collapsed, as if he were melting into the dark damp ground. There is a horrible smell too, even in the cold air, even though he seems already to be partly taken into the earth.

The sun is burning down onto her neck, unnatural, hot. The noise made by the bees is too loud in her ears, and she can hear flies spinning past, sent by Anubis to escort her husband down to another realm.

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Comments by other Members

Earl Grey at 12:18 on 07 February 2006  Report this post
1st thought - For some reason, not sure why, I just assumed Marcie was old - 50+. Was surprised when i learnt of the couples' real ages.

And when he took her up to her room, smiling, with one arm around her shoulders, shepherding her along, pulling her down onto the bed, nuzzling into her neck and taking possession of those soft parts of her which no-one else had ever touched, kissing her with his tongue, pulling her bra off her anyhow, pushing her back onto the pillows, getting one hand up her skirt or into her pants, crumpling everything, focussed, careless, pushing on to get himself into her, ignoring her cheeps of discomfort at being pulled around, or her dismay if a zip came apart, when all this was happening, mostly for him, she was somehow outside it all

You've captured her disappointment brilliantly here.

you've really captured Marcie's numb stoicism well. Although at times I wondered why she wasn't more confrontational with such a disaster of a husband, it was very believable.

This is an excellent piece of writing Griselda - I'm very impressed.

Griselda at 12:41 on 07 February 2006  Report this post
Thank you Earl.

I wrote this quite a long time ago, and then tinkered about with it once I had put it up on the site, as the process of posting it suddenly revealed a lot of weakenesses to me. Another reason I am glad to have started to use this site.

I see what you mean about Marcie seeming to be older. I could alter that.

I know quite a few people who are in alcoholic marriages and it amazes me how they stay in there - I mean, why do they stay so long when (from the outside) it looks so worthless. I wanted to explore what that felt like and also to think about alcohol as a sort of premature embalming fluid.


Earl Grey at 13:55 on 07 February 2006  Report this post
A premature embalming fluid? Yeah - i guess it is, (along with drugs, t.v etc).

On reflection I think it was her extreme resignation/passivity that made me think she'd lived with & slowly come to terms with her husband's behaviour over a couple of decades.

It makes you wonder though - why someone young, with money & a wife, would want nothing more than to drink. It really is bloody amazing how messed up some people are. Your piece raises such Q's but it's prob. better that you didn't answer them - maybe best to leave them dangling...

Griselda at 14:22 on 07 February 2006  Report this post
I also wanted to get the honey in as a motif for the same reason.

Maybe I need to make her/them older, as I did want to have this sense of being worn down, maybe it does take that amount of time.

Do you know why I get ?marks in random places? My other postings have odd things in them too, not in my original texts, but I can't get rid of them. You have to read past them in the text.

Earl Grey is a great name, btw.

Becca at 08:37 on 10 February 2006  Report this post
this is good. I like the way the tone doesn't change at all at the end, as if she has, because of Jack, become a zombie. I found hardly any typos, except a comma needed after '...divorcing him...'(divorcing him the cow).
I thought the section about him trying to make love was fabulous, although maybe a fullstop or two would be pertinent.
I've made the assumption that you've changed the title, because a title with Anubis came up in my email, yet here Anubis comes in.
This story does feel very 'real'. It's got a long quiet tiredness about it that reflects exactly the kind of state the MC must be in. Well written.

Griselda at 08:46 on 10 February 2006  Report this post
Hallo Becca

Thank you for this. It quite exposing, doing this. I am finding that posting things up here makes ME look at them differently! So I did change some things including the title.

It is partly a study of how we are dying while we are alive, a process, and all on a journey from young to old, whether we know it or not.

I will look at the punctuation again, too, thank you. It is very encouraging hearing that people like my writing.


Sibelius at 16:53 on 10 February 2006  Report this post
I think this is a great read, the feeling of numbness, melancholy and disappointment nicely evoked.

I must admit the first time I read the first couple of paragraphs I was hesitant about continuing until you realise that this is the stylistic voice you have chosen to use throughout - I don't know whether there is any room for adjustment there.

I think sometimes the slight sense of dislocation is hindered by too much detail - the mention of Time Team as the TV programme and OFSTED reports I found a bit jarring. Maybe that's just me.

I like the end, but I wanted even more of the sense that she's hardly shocked to see him lying there dead.

And I definitely agree that they should be older to get a sense of the pickling of their relationship over time due to the attritional effects of alcohol.

Griselda at 17:02 on 10 February 2006  Report this post

Can you say more about this comment:

I must admit the first time I read the first couple of paragraphs I was hesitant about continuing until you realise that this is the stylistic voice you have chosen to use throughout - I don't know whether there is any room for adjustment there.

What sort of thing do you think is needed? Different framing or labelling? or something concrete?

I think what you are all saying about the age thing is right...I had seen them as outwardly so young and beautiful with the inner life all empty and dried up, but maybe realistically it would take much more time to get to this stage of inertia for Marcie.


Becca at 18:35 on 10 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Griselda again,
I agree with the time frame problem, - they could be forty without being elderly though, and that would be enough time, I think.

Sibelius at 21:14 on 10 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Griselda,

In answer to your question about the first couple of paragraphs, it's partly to do with the use of so many conjunctions, especially in the first sentence and partly to do with the repetitive rhythm of the clause length.

Also the authorial voice seems very stylised, as if you are looking at a tableau and describing each element of it to someone.

Hope that helps.

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