The Single Sisters

Among your grandmothers and great grandmothers there were many that wept their eyes out.

This line from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own refers to women’s opportunities to better themselves, but every time I read it I felt the contrast between present and past generations and decided to explore just how much crying there might have been.

The novel is set in the 1980’s when successful PR consultant Kate discovers her partner has been unfaithful. When she moves into her elderly aunt’s house she begins to understand why her two maiden aunts stayed there all their lives.

1

Kate
Saturday, October 26, 2002

“I fear for Edith’s well being, but feel I must act with the utmost discretion for fear of drawing unwanted attention to her fragile state of mind.”

These handwritten words, formed with the slopes and loops that spoke of strict schoolrooms in another age, were intriguing and disturbing. The ink was still crisp and clear, but the bindings of the diaries were faded from the years and years of light that had penetrated this long locked room. Standing neatly side by side, the diaries were asking me to read them to discover why they had not been destroyed by their writer, but had been shut away in a room without a key.

I have never thought of myself as someone who easily pries into private thoughts and personal affairs, but now, for the first time, I was holding a diary written by someone I knew well, or at least thought I knew. And because Aunt Florrie was no longer here and because the events covered in these pages happened so long ago, it seemed as if I had been granted leave to read, to understand and maybe even begin to make amends.

And as I looked at the tired, faded volume in my hands and flicked through its closely covered pages, I told myself that I should not be afraid to read its story. This time I could not be hurt and shocked. This time there would be no pain. This time I could just look on and observe. But as I started to read, I felt the ache once more. Twisting, churning agony deep inside me, reminding me how I felt the day I discovered what David was really like.

2

Kate
Thursday, July 10, 2002

Sometimes I curse myself for prying, other times I congratulate myself for uncovering the truth, on seeing what others had probably known for some time. My wonderful lover, my soul mate, the man I had thought I would marry, the future father of my children, had betrayed me and I could neither forgive nor forget.

The day had started as it often did with David half awake in bed, groping my breasts and feeling between my legs. “Not till you’ve done your teeth,” I said, rolling over. He went back to sleep and so I was the first one to brush teeth and make the tea. But there was nothing to suggest that it was other than a normal working day, beginning with the usual early morning conversation that all couples have.“What time are you back tonight?” he asked after draining his mug of coffee.

“I’m not going in today, remember? I’ve got the dentist first thing, then I’m working from home.”

“Meet me at the office about six then? We can get a drink and try that new tapas bar.”

He bent to kiss my head as I read the paper. He smelt nice and I would have liked to kiss some more, but it was time for him to go and sell more overpriced flats and rake in the commission he so greedily anticipated. I made myself another slice of toast and spread it with thick peanut butter.

Usually I was away early every morning without breakfast and I was rarely back before eight in the evening. Many nights I had to attend events connected with my job as a public relations consultant. Working from home was a treat. I opened the door to our little balcony overlooking the gardens of neighbouring flats and houses and sat there finishing my tea. The sun was already warm and the pots of pink pelargoniums I had planted with nemesia were flourishing. A neighbour’s black cat was stalking a thrush on the lawn below, but otherwise the world looked perfect and I was content.

Having reached the age of thirty five, after living with David for five years, as well as enjoying a demanding career in a central London PR consultancy, I thought I had got it all. Everything was falling into place. We had a lovely high-ceilinged flat in Islington and a key to the residents’ gardens in the square. We had a great social life, with wine bars and restaurants a short walk from home. We had good salaries and enough money for our mortgage, holidays, dinners and high heels. There was no warning on this particular Thursday that a life of relative success and contentment was about to change for ever.

So I was wholly ignorant of impending disaster that day. And then suddenly, a switch was thrown and I experienced that single ghastly moment of catastrophe in which everything was irrevocably changed. That is, of course, the nature of catastrophe. ‘A great and usually sudden disaster’, to quote the dictionary definition. But it also offers an alternative meaning: ‘an event producing a subversion of the order of things’. And that was how it felt.

Modern technology was partly to blame of course. It has so many advantages but then so many pitfalls; it is fast and convenient, but when it comes to covering your tracks, it presents problems for those less than thorough. Once I realised what he had done, I found the evidence was everywhere, in fulsome, sordid detail. How could he not have thought of that? How could he have been so careless? Even in my state of shock I cursed his stupidity and inefficiency when I read the emails that alerted me to the truth and inaugurated my trail of discovery.

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