LesiaDaria writer

Forty OneAn extract

She stops. Certainly there didn’t appear to be an ultimate solution; from the beginning, only tactical manoeuvres to take chunks out of the void. Get a cleaner, Harry advised, but she refused because others didn’t have one, and if Jenny could manage so could she. Besides she hadn’t grown up like that, with help, not like him. Later the rebuttal was for different reasons, checkmate in an argument: aren’t we trying to save money, Harry, isn’t that the point of the Plan? Cleaning is one of those duties of a stay-home mum – keeping house tidy, cooking meals, caring for sick ones – part of the overall picture and in every detail. Might as well embrace life, what you are. That was indisputable because throwing money at a problem was not a resolution, even if at times one could regret standing on principle. But she’d meant it ironically too, sarcasm eroding belief in teleology, that everything might be determined by its ultimate purpose. No, whatever its design, the success of the Plan simply rested with Harry. Her role was to wait it out.

Moving to lower shelves, pulling out books one by one, Harry’s, hers, side by side since their first integration. Her scattering of literature and philosophy, his honed acquisition of business and law, which somehow complemented each other in breadth and scope until they coalesced into a single collection. But when his work began to take him away it became harder to feel something communal was at stake. He didn’t seem to understand that. That this inability to embrace shared duties was like being frozen in hurt. Nothing to snap the chain of sadness, prevent bleak memories from snowballing. Being alone, life rolled back so easily to those early baby years: the fragility, exhaustion, feeling illogical but hopeless to stop it, breaking down at the dishwasher, that symbol of mindless repetition. Then she’d remember how lucky she was not to have to wash up by hand, so always the guilt. This terrible guilt, weighing heavily on the dissatisfaction, erupting into terrible rows: you don’t understand, Harry, I have university degrees too, I was successful in my career though it didn’t pay well, I was someone at the journal, now plunged into this world of chores and crying and endless nappies.

She didn’t ever remember saying hideous dependency but other big words had been thrown about, like complacency and selfishness and frivolous spending.

A puff of a sigh escapes, almost inaudible, dissipating like the particles crinkling in a fleeting sunbeam. Eventually she had resurfaced. To what the English call a better place. It was hard to assimilate such a metaphorical way of speaking, the phrase making it sound as if you could actually arrive somewhere quite trouble free. But you couldn’t – not in real life – even if occasionally you might banish cobwebs, let in light, the underlying situation often remained the same. And sometimes it looked worse for being illuminated. Godless universe of dust, where was she in it? Maybe the only solution was to look for justifications: in the future, there might be other options. In a few months, Christophe would be in school full-time like Katya, and next year, Harry back for good. Maybe instead of desperation some renewed purpose and satisfaction would spontaneously spring up. Or perhaps it would take this long slow toil. In the meantime, though, as Jenny said, having evenings to yourself wasn’t such a bad thing, less work at any rate.

Piles of books lying on the floor, a mess made trying to make things better. Work that might be at cross purposes anyway, because the barrage of being either in incessant demand or on permanent stand-by would eventually turn into the ennui of an empty house: everyone gone all day. So in the future she’d be another mother cast adrift, but what would her options be? Jenny, a talented cook, now steadily launching a catering business, but how to resume a career if for years you’ve been doing just this, picking up the pieces of everyone else’s day? Harry, ever the provider, another decision taken long ago when they agreed to split duties, all those responsibilities that had to fall on someone. Then his work and travel expanding to fill time and space until it became logical for her to stay home – permanently. Just the nature of the legal profession, his oft-used excuse. Life’s growing more expensive in every direction you look. And then the big one: it’s an uncertain world, Eva, we have to look after ourselves.

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