Saturday, 16 November 2013

We Were Going Out to Dinner

     Mumsnet Bloggers' Network are currently running a competition to win some books. Lot of books. Bookilly, wookilly lots of books. Taking our cue from Lionel Shriver's favourite first line 'We were going out to dinner.', we have to blog something. Anything, just use that first line as our starting point. Here's my attempt.

    We were going out to dinner.


     Bloody facebook.

     I don't know about you, but I don't often hear people say 'Facebook has caused me no end of joy' or 'Facebook has made my life so much less complicated' or 'Do you know, I've never had any problems arise as a result of facebook.'

     My anger with facebook is more than simple annoyance at 'u ok hun lol x' and 'Like and share if you wish bad things didn't happen'. Facebook ended my marriage.

     After two years of long hours, networking and seriously hard work, my husband Nick had been nominated for an award. And not just any award either, an ‘Excellence in Innovation’ award at the regional tourism organisation’s annual ball. I was just a lowly mobile bookkeeper, but apparently being married to a genius like Nick meant that I was allowed to tag along for the evening too, and wear a posh frock.

     I’d got home from work later than I’d planned, tired and sweaty after a panicked drive home in the rain, stopping to pick Serena up from her friend’s house. The friend’s mum cheerfully told me that she hadn’t given Serena any dinner ‘because they were playing so nicely, I didn’t want to interrupt them.’ I seethed inwardly, thanked her for her hospitality, drove home, made beans on toast for Serena’s dinner and let her eat it in front of CBeebies so I could dash upstairs and have a shower. I was frantically drying my hair in front of the mirror when the front door slammed and Nick came upstairs.

     ‘You’re not ready? Jesus, Polly, you know we have to be there for half seven! What have you been doing?’ He shrugged off his suit jacket and began unbuttoning his shirt, becoming annoyed when he realised he’d forgotten to take his tie off first. ‘This evening is so important to me, I can’t believe you’d jeopardise it by not getting ready in time. You’re just piling more pressure on me, you do realise that, don’t you? I don’t need this, not tonight.’

     ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, rummaging in the drawer, looking for a new pair of tights. ‘I had to finish up in the office, and then collect Serena. I thought I’d left enough time, but the traffic was bloody awful, and then I had to make dinner…’

     ‘That’s just a list of excuses.’ Nick kept his back to me as he got dressed. ‘If you really cared about this, and how important it is to me, you’d have made sure you had enough time.’

     ‘I am sorry, I really am!’ I risked putting a conciliatory hand on his shoulder. ‘Honestly, I do understand how important this is for you, and I want to support you.’

     ‘You can start by getting ready.’ Nick kissed my hand to show that he knew he’d been unreasonable, and smiled, slightly shamefacedly. ‘You look beautiful, Pol. I’m going to be the envy of all the other blokes there.’

     I skipped downstairs to grab my evening handbag, and check on Serena, who’d turned off the telly and was playing with her Disney Princess dolls. My heart swelled as I watched her, her face scowling ferociously as she concentrated on whatever story she was acting out with them. Oh, to be five again and be able to lose yourself so wholly in make believe. ‘Sally will be here in ten minutes, darling. Are you going to get your pyjamas on now?’ Serena ignored me, as she tends to do when asked a question that isn’t to her liking. I carried on down the hall, putting my earrings in, hooking my high heels on, and rummaging through my work bag (sturdy, plain, indestructible) for the essentials to transfer to my evening bag (sparkly, pretty, impractical).

     The flashing of the answerphone caught my eye. Strange. Someone must have phoned when I was in the shower. I hit play, and a breathless, squeaky female voice filled my ears.

     ‘Hi Polly, it’s Sally. Um, I’m really sorry and everything, but I can’t babysit toni…’

     Shit. Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. This wasn’t the first time Sally had let us down – she’d done it only a few weeks previously – but it would definitely be the last, I vowed. Nick is going to go absolutely batshit.

     ‘Did we have a message? Is everything ok?’ Nick leant over the bannisters, his short blond hair neatly parted, his blue eyes sparkling.

     ‘Sally.’ I gave him The Look. The Look that said yes, I know. And we have no back up plan for tonight. No one else we can call. No favours we are owed.  Briefly, I considered taking Serena with us to the awards ceremony, and immediately dismissed the idea. ‘You’re going to have to go on your own.’

     ‘Shit.’ Nick took a deep breath. ‘There’s no one else, is there? Of course not.’ He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. ‘I’ll have to. Bugger. I need to get going now, then.’

     ‘I wish I could come.’ I felt terrible, seeing his shoulders slump with disappointment. ‘If I can get hold of anyone else, I could join you later?’ I knew there was no one else to get hold of, but saying it made me feel better.

     ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll ring you when I get there.’ Nick kissed me on the cheek and was gone.

     After I’d put Serena to bed, I took off my slinky dress, put my pyjamas on and took a packet of pink wafer biscuits into the family room to scoff whilst I wasted another evening on facebook. The contrast between another evening spent like this and the glamorous, sophisticated evening I should be having could not have been greater. My computer pinged with a notification. And another. And another. Nick had been tagged in some photos people were uploading from the awards ceremony. God, he looked gorgeous, eyes crinkled as he smiled at the camera, white teeth flashing. I clicked through the album, smiling as I saw how handsome he looked, especially compared to the pudgy and pasty local businessmen, in their double breasted jackets with brass buttons. Then I stopped smiling. Who was this woman with a proprietorial arm draped around Nick’s shoulder?

     There she was again, a hand on his chest. And again. Holding his hand? Wait, kissing him? Nick in the background of a photo, his tongue down this woman’s throat? A text message on my phone. Nick. He hadn’t won, but he was drunk. Too drunk to risk driving, and there were no taxis, so he’d stay at the hotel.
A wave of cold came over me. I stared at the screen, feeling as though my world had frozen around me, incapable of thinking, moving, responding. 

     I don't know how long I sat there, but one moment I was chilled to the bone, the next I was quietly and utterly filled with poisonous, burning fury. I channelled it, and I got to work. Systematically, I went through Nick’s facebook account, twitter account, his email addresses. Private messages, photos, plans for various rendezvous, checklists, notes on other women. I checked my diary against the dates, and every overnight business stay corresponded neatly with flurries of activity between my husband and other women.

     I thought again and again of all the cancelled trains, the meetings that went on too long, the conferences that had such early starts that he'd needed to stay the night before. Was any of it true? Any of it? Or had it all been a convenient smokescreen for his other activities? Clearly, he was more of a genius than even I had realised, managing to build up his business and conduct all these affairs at the same time, I thought bitterly.

     How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so blind? I hadn’t had a glimmer of a scintilla of an inkling that my husband had been sleeping with all of these other women. Was it my fault? Was I such a terrible wife that he needed to seek solace from somewhere else? Had I not supported him? Why wasn’t I good enough? Why wasn't I simply enough?

     I packed his bag for him, left it outside the front door, and called a locksmith. Only after the locks had been changed did I make the call I’d been needing to make since last night, to my best friend Tom.

     ‘I need you to come over.’

     In my kitchen, coffee pot filled to the brim, pink wafer biscuits to hand, ‘Christ, Polly, you look terrible.  What is it? Are you ill?’ Tom’s face was bewildered and full of concern.

     I took a shaky breath and wondered where to start. How to tell someone that your entire life has shattered in every direction? That your world has fallen apart? Where to begin?

     ‘We were going out to dinner.’


Charlotte said...

Love, love, love, love it!!! You should write a book, if you haven't already?! x

Lucy Benedict said...

Bloody hell! Wow, thank you so much! I'm so nervous about putting fictional stuff on here because normally I just blog my opinions. Fiction seems to be so much more scary because people can read it and think it's terrible = I am a terrible writer. You've no idea how much you've made me beam!

I have to confess this is a tweaked version of something I've been writing for the last month or so. This is only a first draft, so it'll change a lot before I feel really happy with it. Currently at 15,000 words, it feels like it's going well, but then I thought that about a 'book' I wrote last year, that I now see was terrible in parts and needs huge amounts of rewriting.

But seriously, thank you so very much - I'll count you as my first positive review!

Anonymous said...

I want to read the book too :o) Got any more?? x

Lucy Benedict said...

Loads! But so far only in handwritten form, and encrypted by virtue of my appalling handwriting ;)