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Author's note: I was inspired to write this piece because what people show themselves to be is not always what they are. There is always so much lying beneath the mask of every day life. I hope people can see further into others through this story.
I want to fly away with the birds in the sky
‘Oh John, I’m so pleased.’
I ought to care. He is my husband after all.
‘I really can’t believe it. I did it, Susan!’ The happiness in his eyes looks familiar; like an echo of something I once knew. He believes he’s got it all. As he takes me in his arms I know I should feel regret. Regret for this pang of irritation I get every time he succeeds at something. As we stand there for a few moments in an embrace, I can’t help but notice the plants in the garden need watering and that Dave forgot chop the hedges again.
‘Go and get dressed, tonight we’re celebrating with everyone at work. You know I couldn’t have done it without your support.’ He’s modest enough to give me some of the credit. And I try to love him, I really do. I smile using all my face muscles.
‘It’s all you, John. I’m so proud of you.’
I walk into my room and decide that I will wear my purple dress with the gold necklace John bought me for our last anniversary. As I open the wardrobe I feel a sense of reassurance. I climb inside and close the door behind me. It is so dark and silent I could almost be somewhere else. The idea of somewhere else gives me hope that it’s not all over yet. I press my back against the wardrobe’s wooden side and just begin to breathe. A tear rolls down my face as I run my finger over the floor. I feel so frustrated. I can’t seem to draw the line between good and bad, right and wrong. I’ve been told so many times that my life is simply perfect. And it’s like listening to the same lie over and over again. My husband is now the manager of a shipping company ... We have two children; apparently they’re beautiful...we own a yacht...I have so many dresses...
‘Susan?’ John has entered the room. I’m not going to answer; I won’t let him ruin this. This is my time now. The closest I will get to freedom.
Laughter erupts around the table. I can’t even remember what my real laugh sounds like. It can’t have always been this controlled, this robotic. Yet nobody realises. The jokes told are not the slightest bit entertaining but we are dining with John’s boss and colleagues; One must make an effort. Mr. Coutts, his boss, has a fat face. His cheeks puff out like meringues and folds of skin sag beneath his jaw. His eyes are fine lines scratched across his face. When he laughs, his entire head lights up like a red Christmas light. I glance at the buttons on his shirt clinging on for dear life. He disgusts me. Then I glance at John. He’s such a good man but what’s stopping me from believing it? He grabs onto my hand under the table. It is cold and moist and I long to wipe my hand on the napkin.
‘Are you alright?’ he asks gently. I look at him. He has a piece of lettuce stuck between his teeth. It’s so irritating that a man just cannot look after himself. I wish he knew how disgusting he looked right now. I smile and caress his hand.
‘Of course, darling.’ I tell these lies every day. By putting in that little bit of effort, things can continue to be perfect. No questions are raised.
The woman next to me smiles a Chanelle smile.
‘I must say, you and John make the most marvelous couple!.’ I stare at her for a minute. How can she think that? How can anybody think that.
I suddenly realise I’m not smiling and correct matters quickly.
‘Thank you, that’s so sweet of you. How are you, how have things been?’ I think I’ve met her before but I’m not too sure. Either way, I know how these situations work. I laugh in all the right places, I look into her eyes; she thinks she has my fullest attention. As she tells me about what a terrible time she had getting to this restaurant, I glance at John. We must look like a marvelous couple. He is tall and dark, wearing a sharp black suit. I am blonde and beautiful, in my wonderful purple dress. We scream success. Yet nobody knows that his tummy sags a little, or the fact that he used to have a uni-brow. Nobody knows that he bites his nails and flicks them everywhere. Nobody knows that I can’t bear to touch him without wanting to have a shower. The same way that nobody knows this is not the life I wanted, and that there is no trace of real love in my life.
‘Susan!’ Mr Coutts roars. ‘The night’s all about John. You must know a couple of embarrassing stories you’d like to share with us!.’ I cannot stand these moments. I think about far away islands. Dark and silent. You see, my story is one of isolation. But no, now is not the time. I already know which anecdote I’ll tell them. Its one most of the people here are already familiar with. We’d been queuing up for simply ages at the airport and we get to the front when John realises he’s forgotten our passports...I recall at the time I laughed and even praised him for being so adorable when he forgot things. I said it didn’t even matter, we could take the next flight. Inside I was furious. Everything had gone according to plan and something had to happen, it always does. Of course, John always thought I was patient, loving, kind and the woman any man could wish for. But nobody at the table needs to know how I felt at the time, for all they know, I am the woman any man could wish for. So I smile at them all and speak with my air of confidence. It appears to be so natural. I am dreading the end when everybody will start spitting with laughter, clenching their fists, hitting the table. This whole situation is hysterical. So I speak slowly.
I loved it when my mother brushed my hair. We would sit on the threadbare carpet in front of the fire for what felt like hours. My father would be sitting in the lopsided armchair. He always said he would fix the leg that had fallen off but somehow it never happened. It grew on us eventually.
My father worked canning cocktail sausages. As a result for ten years we very often had the same meal. Somehow it never frustrated us. One evening it would be sausages and mashed potatoes, another evening it would be sausages with a special spice. My father and I were always curious what recipe my mother was going to use next.
‘You will make something of yourself Susie. One day you’ll get us out of this mess.’ I never knew what mess they were talking about because we were always happy. There was perfection in this life of simplicity. I didn’t know that something better existed. My father worked in a factory, my mother cleaned houses, I could barely play the cello...our car had been taken away...i never owned any dresses...
For my 18th birthday, my parents bought me a silk scarf. I had never held anything more beautiful in my life. It was green; A deep, glittering, sea green which swerved into blue towards the edges. I knew this scarf marked something important. I was not sure what, but I knew as of this moment things were changing. Soon after, I met John and my parents faded from the picture. I could never bring them the happiness I wanted to; One can’t bring happiness to the dead.
They are all straining themselves not to let go and admit that they are utterly drunk. They are laughing using all their strength, grabbing on to one another, pouring more alcohol. Everything begins to speed up and I need to get away. John says something to me but I can’t even hear him. I hear a rustling noise and darkness begins to ominously spread from the corners of my eyes, overpowering the room, making it smaller.I pretend to answer my phone, excuse myself from the table and collapse on the grass outside. I wish I could spend time outside my own body. Carry on as normal, but at the same time be somewhere else, off to the side. Then all could go on without me. Is this what it means to make something of yourself?
Above our mantelpiece, there was a picture of me aged about ten. I’m standing in front of our block of flats, eating an ice cream. I’m smiling wildly at the camera, unaware of the chocolate smeared around my mouth. I remember when we took that picture. It was just after my first day in year six at school. I had made a new friend- Katie i think her name was. My hair is scraped into two plaits and I’m wearing an orange jersey. My mother always said it was my imagination, but everytime I looked at that photograph, I liked to think I could see her reflected in my eyes. It always made me feel tranquil looking at it.
At home, John falls asleep straight away. He mumbles something about a good evening, a good evening, and falls into the world of oblivion. He is so peaceful. Again it irritates me. Will I ever get to feel that serenity? That pure state of mind? A part of me knows I am being ridiculous, but it’s not fair. I stare at him for a moment, observing his perfect jaw line, angular cheek bones, his long eyelashes, his shiny hair. What more could I wish for? I know that I could brush him off my life in an instant, like a piece of dust on my shoulder. He almost means nothing. When I first married John, I prayed that I would never lose him. He was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. He was rich, handsome, and clever. The man my mother and I always dreamed I would marry. But gradually, the jungle of success and riches began to drown me. I always wished that John would have an affair and give me an excuse to leave. But he was always too honorable for that. It was ironic that I had always been so afraid that he would change his mind about me. I had a fear of not being discovered, of just being left in the dark corners of poverty. John gave me a place in the world. A place with success, fame and respect. But there is something so cold about it all. Like bare feet first thing in the morning on an icy day.
I stand in the kitchen and stare out of the window at the moon, pale yet luminous. I can’t find fault in anything in my life yet everything is horribly wrong. I decide to open a can of cocktail sausages. They weren’t the same brand my father used to package. They were far better quality and used for ordeuvres at our drinks parties. I fiddle with the lid, considering sliding my finger round the sharp edge. Can I catch a glimpse of my past in there? I want to remind myself of the life I used to treasure so much. I watch them bobbing around in the puss coloured oil for a moment. No, things will not go back to how they were. They are like the fingers of dead babies. My life of perfection has blinded me.
I look into the room of those little children and watch them as they sleep. Their faces are so angelic, so pure. I feel puzzled at the fact that they ever believed I was a good mother. They never knew I was screaming inside. Nobody ever knew. They are beautiful, clever, kind, like their father. But DNA aside, they will never grow to be mine.
Dawn is breaking. So i put on my scarf, pick up my suitcase, and close the front door behind me ever so quietly, so as not to disturb the perfect household.