Saturday, 16 July 2005

Cheating by Kate Smurthwaite


In my early twenties despite, or perhaps as a result of being a well-educated woman with a good job and all the customary trimmings I was frequently temped to be violent. Sometimes I was. It felt so good to land a punch, smack, in an eye-socket and see the surprise, the fear and the pain in the reeling face, to feel the hatred flowing out of me and the power in through my sore knuckles. Drawing myself up I inhaled, watching for their next move: repent, retreat or retaliate? Safe in the knowledge that I had already inflicted some damage. And breathing out again, breathing quickly, I could feel all the parts of my body, my arms, my legs, my torso, my neck, and I narrowed my eyes and sucked my cheeks in a little without ever taking my eyes away from my victim. It’s called adrenaline and you’re never so much alive as when it’s coursing through your veins, pounding into your heart. You never forget those moments when it defines you. Years later you can picture every freckle, every hair, every pore.

It’s been a long time. I’m not as strong as I was back then, but I always do a few extra on those machines at the gym after my personal trainer has left me. I get out the weights he optimistically asked for a few years back and used once on Boxing Day and never again. Or I use bean-tins in the kitchen while the eggs are boiling. Twenty reps, thirty, fifty. In my head I’m still a fighter, the head is more important than the body. I still wanted to be a fighter all along, but you can’t, you have to face up to your responsibility. Small children, a home, a family, him.

Yes him. The bastard. The last eighteen years of my life. I wanted him so badly I pretended to be a NICE girl. I played the whole role. I quit my job, I did his stinking laundry, cooked his favourite tea, pretended I liked his awful music. I raised his screaming brats and I didn’t complain when he spent his weekends on the golf course and they barely knew who he was. I moved home with him time and again though it took me away from everyone else I ever loved. I cleaned the toilets; did he think they cleaned themselves? I organised our lives, made sure there was milk in the fridge and biscuits in the box for him to grow fat eating. I didn’t get fat, I didn’t get lazy, I didn’t reject him. I didn’t start screwing around with some little trollop client who’s had more botox than the rest of us have had hot dinners.

What does she think she’s doing? Someone else’s husband. She probably says to herself “It’s not me that’s cheating, it’s him.” She shouldn’t have to feel bad about it, but of course she does. She probably imagines me as a quiet mousy type. Of course she imagines that, I’m being walked all over. He probably tells her I nag him, I irritate him; he can’t stand me shuffling about the house, my smell, the noise I make when I’m eating. He tells her he’s too good for me. I wonder if she knows my name. Elaine. Elaine the mouse. I’ve been creeping around like a mouse lately. Or maybe more like a fox, a sneaky fox. I know everything about her.

Her name is Jennifer Warrington; she works as a marketing executive for Bromley Media Associates, 24 Eastcheap, near Bank Station. Her home address is Flat 14, Clove House, North Avenue, Maida Vale. That’s where she fucks my husband. Very nice area, nasty ex-council flat though. She owns it but she has a lodger, called Ruth, who she drinks with at weekends and they both hang their expensive skimpy lingerie out on the balcony to dry and to let the world know what sexual “goddesses” they are. Sometimes she visits her parents at the weekends, they live in Gloucester. When she does they always take her out to a restaurant on the river. The Blue Room it’s called. I go there some week days when he’s out; sometimes her parents are there for lunch. I chat to them. They think I went to the same school as Jennifer. I would have been a few years older than her of course, but they tell me she swears she remembers me. If I ever get away at the weekend she’s dying to meet me. I know where she has her lunch, where she does Pilates, where she goes rollerblading (I think it’s undignified at her age), I know everything about her. She wears size 6 shoes, size 12 clothes and a size 34C bra. She wears thongs and culottes in the summer with wispy floral tops and some strapless support. In the winter it’s dark suits and white shirts and the leather shoulder-bag. She has her hair cut at Tony and Guy near her office, dyed auburn to hide the grey and to betray her true harlot nature.

Once a fighter though, always a fighter. I am ready for her now; I am waiting for my moment. I have it all planned. I want him to see me too, to see how much stronger than her I am, and to realise what a fool he’s been to walk all over me, what a fool she’s been to steal away the only thing that really matters in my life.

They’re going to a Christmas party next week. It’s a client do, for everyone from his office and all the important clients are going to be there. Of course I wouldn’t want him coming back late at night, drunk, and disturbing the children. So he’s oh-so-kindly offered to stay in a hotel. The Wardour Intercontinental, where it turns out the porters take bribes. He hasn’t told me this bit himself but I’ve heard he’s treating her; he’s booked the executive suite. Jacuzzi, marble bath, jet shower, drinks cabinet, balcony, four-poster bed, complimentary champagne, a basket of fruit, lounge room, dressing room, king-sized bedroom, view of the city, oh and one little extra they didn’t know they’d ordered: me.

I’ll be sitting in the back room, I may even open up the champers for a spot of Dutch courage, I shouldn’t think they’ll fancy it when I’m done. They’ll come in and probably start kissing in the lounge, he’ll have the blue and white dress she’s ordered specially off at one shoulder and be cramming his greasy hand down it, grasping his whole hand around her breast, trying to free it so he can start sucking on it. I won’t interrupt them. I’ll wait for them to spot me. Wait for them to notice the smoke from my cigarette drifting through the doorway and shuffle to peer through to see me reclined, champagne flute in one hand, cigarette in the other. I’ve ordered a dress specially for the occasion too, it wouldn’t be right to show up in jeans. Its gold and reaches to the floor but with gaping slits up each side to allow for maximum fighting manoeuvrability. It cost a lot of money but it won’t show up on his credit card bill until next month and he’ll have much bigger things to worry about by then. I’ll be calm and un-moving, my eyes staring at them coldly. I’ll let him start to explain, to apologise, to beg me not to over-react, not to be unreasonable.

Then I’ll get up, showing off the full effect of my dress, a lot more glamorous than her corporate function number. And I’ll throw my first proper punches for twenty years. Her first, left hook. Then him with my stronger right. If the first blow knocks her over I’ll step across her so I can hit him before he stoops to help her. The taller they stand, the further to fall. I doubt I’ll floor him, he’s out of shape but he’s sturdy.

I don’t know what will happen next. I know I’ll be ready for it, breathing deep fast breaths from the bottom of my being. Perhaps she’ll hit her head on the doorframe on the way down and lose consciousness. It’s easier if she does, she might be weak but two on one isn’t a fair fight. Will he decide he’s strong enough to take me on? Or will he crumble, beg me to stop, try to negotiate me out of what he perceives as my insanity but I well know will be the first moment of truly clear thought I’ve had in a very long time. Perhaps he’ll call for help. It might kill her, the corner of the bed-post or the desk, thunk, into the back of her head. How would he handle that? Coming face to face with a murderer? His adoring homely little wife, frumpy nagging Elaine, Elaine the murderer?

He has no idea what he’s up against. Mouthful of bread and I’m looking at my reflection on the back of the cooker, saying “I coulda been a contender”. Nice. “I coulda has class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am”. Footwork, footwork, footwork, backwards across the freshly-polished kitchen tiles. “Float like a butterfly”. Left hook, right hook, block. Keep the neck loose, stay on your toes. I know how to fight, I’ve seen the movies, I’ve read the books, I’ve studied self-defence, boxing, kick-boxing, Judo, Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Capoeira, everything. I have to do something to pass the daytimes when the kids are at school and he’s busy whispering secrets in her overpriced bachelorette pad.

And what if he hits me? What if he hurts me? Don’t make me laugh. What could he possibly do to hurt me from here? I’m as hurt as I can be already. The physical throbbing would take my mind away from the pain it feels all the time, would numb it. I’d be grateful for a good hard clout to start the tears rolling, to burst the swollen balloon of unbearable feelings and let them all come out.

I’d like to kill her. To be sure she was dead. I don’t want to take a weapon though. That would be cheating. I want it to be me that does it, not something I bought in a hardware store. Anyway you take a weapon it’s pre-meditated, its murder. You do it with your bare hands and get a decent lawyer its manslaughter; you can be free in five years. Free. What a stupid term. I haven’t been free for the last eighteen years. I’d love to go to prison for killing her. No kids to look after, no housework to do, leave it all to him. And no possibility of him fucking her in the afternoon while his secretary tells me she’s not sure, he must have just popped out.

What a great thought, him on his own. No me, no Jennifer and just the three kids who hate him anyway and need picking up and dropping off and taking round to their friends houses, feeding and shopping for, organising for, consuming all his time thanklessly. He’d live his life day in day out with no hope of feeling that warmth of human skin against his. The only skin on skin feeling that could ever be better than the feeling of a good punch connecting. The feeling that reminds us we’re human, that we all crave, me as much as anyone. If only I didn’t crave it, I might have lived my life out otherwise, without him, been a great athlete or a fairground boxer. World’s strongest woman.

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