The Way We Lied

“Are you sure of that Simon, are you really sure? Did you ever ask her how she felt? Did you ever ask her what she wanted to do with her life?”
“Don’t talk to me like that. I know Helen better than you do. I know how important her family is to her. Her home, the children and me. We are what matter to her, not all this other sodding stuff.” He was drumming his fingers impatiently on the table and she just stood there, head on one side, looking at him with that tolerant smile as if he was a badly behaved child having a tantrum.
“Oh dear, Simon.” She shook her head. “You really don’t have any idea, do you? That sodding stuff, as you so charmingly call it, is Helen’s art. It’s her life and her very soul. You have been so blinkered for so long, you have not seen what has been happening right before your eyes. Helen has blossomed into a serious artist. And now that she wants to be independent and do something of her own for once, you just can’t accept it, can you? Oh it’s too inconvenient, it’s too daring! It just doesn’t suit you and your narrow view of life, that’s the trouble.”
Simon thumped the table with his fist. “No! That’s not true! I tell you, Helen was happy till you came along and started interfering. And now all of a sudden she wants to travel, go abroad, leave us! She can’t go! I won’t let her!”
He put his face in his hands, shaking his head. “Why can’t things be the way they were? I didn’t mind her doing her classes and selling paintings at the gallery. She still had plenty of time for her painting and she didn’t want to leave us then.”
Mary poured the tea into large enamel mugs and brought them to the table. She sat opposite Simon, spooning sugar into her cup. “Look, I know it’s hard for you, but believe me, if you can accept Helen’s need to progress her work and make it a priority, it will be better for you both in the long run. It’s not like she can’t afford to go away. Her new work is selling extremely well and she will be able to develop important new material if she can take advantage of wider experiences outside her home and this small community. Don’t you want that for her? Don’t you want her to be even more successful?”
In a tight, angry voice, he said, “I want her here, with us. She should be here with us, not roaming around on her own.”
“But Simon,” Mary spoke in a reasonable, calm voice, “the children are growing up. They’re no longer at home. She does not have to be there for them all the time now. And your work is flexible. You could go with her some of the time, couldn’t you?”
“What the hell do you know about my work? What makes you think you can tell me when and where I can work?”
Mary sighed. “I just meant that you might be able to think of this as an opportunity which could enrich the two of you as a couple. Maybe you would benefit from broadening your horizons as well as Helen.”
Simon’s face twisted in an ugly grimace. “What the hell are you talking about? I design brochures. I have clients to deal with. I can’t just go swanning off for weeks on end and hope the business will run itself. My clients aren’t going to thank me for lazing around in Greece or Morocco or wherever. It is totally irrelevant to what I do!”
Mary shrugged. “If that’s the way you see it, okay. But I think people can gain a new perspective by having time away from their normal routines. Surely you would agree that you feel recharged after a holiday or a weekend away from home?”
“That’s different,” Simon snapped. “Holidays are relaxing because they are planned well in advance and everything is organised properly. And we don’t like having weekends away. Weekends are for catching up at home. Going away disrupts our routine. And I’m certainly not interested in doing the kind of hippy hoppy back pack travelling shit that Helen is talking about.”
“Oh yes, wandering free as a bird,” Mary said, fluttering her fingers under his nose. “That’s not really you, is it Simon? You’re more the package holiday adventurer; everything ticked off, everything pre-booked, nothing unexpected. I’d forgotten that you were quite so unadventurous, so very scared of things new.” She emphasised these final words with a deepened voice and wide open eyes.
“That’s not true. I do new things all the time. I learnt to scuba dive on our last holiday. I took lessons.”
Mary responded by laughing with great gusts of hilarity, rocking her head back and forth as she gave herself to her laughter. “So you had lessons! Big deal!”
Then her laughing ceased suddenly and she said softly, “ Scaredy Simon. Simple, scared Simon.”
“Stop it. I came here to be reasonable with you. I just want you to talk to Helen. Persuade her.”
“Scaredy scaredy Simon.”
“Talk to her! Tell her not to go!”
Mary shook her head, laughing, then continued her taunting in a voice from the school playground. “Simon’s scared. Simon’s scared to be alone.”
“Stop it, I tell you. You’ll be the one who’ll be scared when I show Nick’s wife this!”
He pulled the photograph from his pocket and waved it at her, then held it out so she could see exactly what it revealed. It was the photo he had taken the day he had first seen her, coming out of the show house at Dover Court with Nick.
She frowned and peered at it for a second and then she began laughing again, almost hysterically, gasping out words of contempt. “Oh my God. Whatever are you thinking? Did you honestly think I would care about that? It’s nothing! And even if I had been having an affair with him, I wouldn’t give a damn! You really are such a bloody stupid fool!”
“Stop it! You are being ridiculous!” He stood up abruptly, jolting the edge of the table and then sent his mug of hot tea flying across the floor with the back of his hand.
“Ooh dear, Simon’s angry! Maybe Simon isn’t so scared after all!” Then she started laughing again and would not stop.
So Simon hit her hard. One slap on the left side of her face, then one on the other side, and she fell backwards. The chair tipped over, crashing onto the stone floor. Then she stopped laughing. She was still and quiet.
He bent over her for a second, his hand hovering near her dark hair but never quite touching. And then he ran. He ran out of the house, across the yard and through the woods, never looking back, but always hearing her, always hearing those mocking words.

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