I even had a fantasy about the moment of separation. David and I are looking through travel brochures; he wants to go to New York, I want to go on safari in Africa, and -- this being the umpteenth hilarious you-say-tomayto-I-say-tomato conversation in a row -- we look at each other and laugh affectionately, and hug, and agree to part. He goes upstairs, packs his bags, and moves out, maybe to a flat next door. Later that same day, we have supper together with our new partners, whom we have somehow managed to meet during the afternoon, and everyone gets along famously and teases each other affectionately.
But I can see now just how fantastical this fantasy is; I am already beginning to suspect that the wistful evenings with the photograph albums might not work out. It is far more likely, in fact, that the photographs will be snipped down the middle -- indeed, knowing David, they already have been, last night, just after our phone call. It's kind of obvious, when you think about it: if you hate each other so much that you can't bear to live in the same house, then it's unlikely you'll want to go on camping holidays together afterward. The trouble with my fantasy was that it skipped straight from the happy wedding to the happy separation; but of course in between weddings and separations, unhappy things happen.
I get in the car, drop the kids off, go home. David's already in his office with the door closed. Today isn't a column day, so he's probably either writing a company brochure, for which he gets paid heaps, or writing his novel, for which he gets paid nothing. He spends more time on the novel than he does on the brochures, which is only a source of tension when things are bad between us; when -we're getting on I want to support him, look after him, help him realize his full potential. When -we're not, I want to tear his stupid novel into pieces and force him to get a proper job. I read a bit of the book a while ago and hated it. It's called The Green Keepers, and it's a satire about Britain's post--Diana -touchy--feely culture. The last part I read was all about how the staff of Green Keepers, this company that sells banana elbow cream and Brie foot lotion and lots of other amusingly useless cosmetics, all require bereavement counseling when the donkey they have adopted dies.
OK, so I am not in any way qualified to be a literary critic, not least because I don't read books anymore. I used to, back in the days when I was a different, happier, more engaged human being, but now I fall asleep every night holding a copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, the opening chapter of which I still haven't finished, after six months of trying. (This is not the author's fault, incidentally, and I am sure the book is every bit as good as my friend Becca told me it is when she lent it to me. It's the fault of my eyelids.) Even so, even though I no longer have any idea of what constitutes passable literature, I know that The Green Keepers is terrible: facetious, unkind, full of itself. Rather like David, or the David that has emerged over the last few years.
The day after I finished reading it, I saw a woman whose baby was stillborn; she'd had to go through labor knowing that she would produce a dead child. Of course, I recommended bereavement counseling; and of course, I thought of David and his sneering book; and of course, I took a bitter pleasure in telling him when I got home that the reason we could rely on our mortgage being paid every month was that I earned money by recommending the very thing that he finds contemptible. That was another good evening.
When David's office door is closed it means he cannot be disturbed, even if his wife has asked him for a divorce. (Or at least, that's what I'm presuming -- it's not that we have made provision for precisely that eventuality.) I make myself another cup of tea, pick up the Guardian from the kitchen table, and go back to bed.
Reprinted from How to be Good by Nick Hornby by permission of Riverhead, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2001 by Nick Hornby. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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