This story has been translated into Spanish.
I was sitting alone on the living room floor paging through a photo album, floating through the happy days of yesteryear. There were photos of Derek, friends from London, parties, then the wedding. Derek looked so dashing in a suit, the way it hugged his square shoulders and embraced his thick neck, although it was the only time I’d ever seen him in one.
I knew he was having an affair, I was certain of it, a woman knows. He was never one for foreplay, his lust would overtake him in bed next to me and he would pressure me for sex, rubbing my back, kissing my neck, and I used to like that, used to succumb to his demands and allow him to carry me off to a land of exquisite pleasure. But the stress had rubbed out the desire in me, and his demands had become a source of frustration, I’d given in from habit, and later I’d stopped altogether, pushed him away, until suddenly he’d ceased trying. That was certainly when it had begun.
I couldn’t have believed that he would fit in better here than me, if anything it was one of my greatest worries before we sold everything and left London, that he would hate it, unable to learn the language, and that ultimately would force us to leave, to return. But no, he’d taken to it like a duck to water, his French was better than mine now, he spent all his free time down at the village bar drinking pastis and playing petanque out back with the men. He’d taken my reproaches and turned them around: so what if he spent all his time down there, he needed company, he wanted to fit in, the men helped him out like the time Henri helped him find parts to fix the car, and besides it had been my idea to come here, not his, and why wasn’t I fitting in, this was what I had always wanted, what I had always dreamt of? And it was true, for when I was working late each night as a human resources consultant the only thing that had kept me going was the idea of getting away from it all, never again reading a Guardian newspaper, never again taking the tube, living in a quaint stone cottage with blue painted shutters in southern rural France.
The house was beautiful, and the countryside too, but the life I’d imagined hadn’t materialised. I’d met an American couple, Sue and Hank, Sue became my first friend, but alas no sooner had we met than they left for Michigan and I was alone once more. I could hear the children playing upstairs, they had taken to speaking French to one another, they were going native despite the fact that I spoke English to them every day. They’d say things that I didn’t even understand. It certainly didn’t help that I’d always liked France more than the French people, and the people more than the language. Why wouldn’t the words stick in my head, I kept forgetting the meanings, it was all so blurry, like looking at the world through bent glass or a heavy veil.
I’d met Anne-Claire in a bookstore in Carpentras, she was gentle and kind and had seen me leafing through a classic English novel. We’d gone out for coffee a few times, and she introduced me to François, her on-again, off-again lover, who divided his time between Paris and Provence. François was everything Derek was not, he was tall and slim and always wore a suit and tie, he was well spoken and had a deliberate calm, he smoked slowly and had good manners. We’d gone to Paris together and he’d bought me shoes, bright red heels that I’d seen in a window on the Champs d’Elysées. “He likes you, you know”, Anne-Claire had said, “you can sleep with him if you like, I’m not at all jealous.” And under the influence of some very good red wine, I let him seduce me, and in bed all his casual demeanour had been stripped away, he had been violent with me and I had liked it and had been violent back, digging my nails into his back until they drew blood and biting his neck while he drove deep inside me, letting all the frustration pour out, my self-imposed celibacy broken in one moment of supreme passion.
Afterwards the doubt had crept up inside me, the guilt, the frustration. Why had I done it? I arose from the floor, closed the album and placed it upon the shelf. I mounted the steps, pushed open the bedroom door standing ajar, and looked at the slumbering form of Derek illuminated by a pool of light spilling in from the landing. I pulled aside the bed sheet and slipped in next to him, pulled his body close to mine and lay awake staring at the ceiling, thinking, wondering what to do now?