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Sometime in late 1976.

“So, what are you doing?”

“Eating yesterday’s takeaway.”

“That sounds thrilling.”

“It is! It truly is. But I’m usually too hungry to wait for Robert to get home. So, yesterday’s takeaway.”

“Did you do anything interesting today?”

“Not really. I thought of planting some perennials in the back garden, but I’ll have to ask Robert.”

“He’s at work, then?”

“’course he is! Where else would he be?”

“Home?”

“Not until this evening.”

“Does he know that you sit around eating takeaway? Are you dressed?”

“In pjs, yes.”

“For fuck’s sake.”

“I’m not going anywhere!”

“I know you don’t mean to depress me.”

“I don’t mean to depress anyone.”

“You’re sitting in your pjs while eating yesterday’s takeaway.”

“And I need to start Robert’s dinner in an hour.”

“What?”

“He’ll be home in a few hours and I need to make him dinner. I won’t be sitting here forever.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I’m sure you know what to say.”

“I’m stunned.”

“Go on.”

“You’re killing me, Al.”

“Go on.”

“You’re—do you remember how old you are?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“You give yourself takeaway and make actual food for your boyfriend.”

“Yes.”

“You sit home while he’s out at work and then when he comes home you give him dinner.”

“Just say it, Mallory.”

“It’s pathetic.”

“I know it’s pathetic!”

“It’s pathetic.”

“I know! I know it’s pathetic.”

“It’s pathetic.”

“I know! Okay! I know! What more do you want me to say?”

“That you’ll fix it. You’re an adult.”

“Thirty six. Don’t remind me.”

“Four years off from forty.”

“I can do maths!”

“Life ends at forty.”

“Stop.”

“I just want you to be clear that you’re going to do something about this. You can’t go on like this forever. I’m amazed you lasted as long as you have. You’ve been together longer than most of us have been married.”

“And with what to show for it, hm?”

“That’s my line.”

“You think I don’t think—I think about this all the damn time!”

“But until now I feel like you rant at us and that’s all you do! Vi rings when you phone her and we talk about how pathetic you are.”

“Oh, thanks. I always knew it was too much to ask that my oldest and best friends support me even when they think I’m being pathetic.”

“Oh, honey, we’ll always support you. But you’re a grown woman. You’re thirty s—”

“I know!”

“Thirty six. You’re too old to fuck around like this. Just take him by the shoulders and shake him and say, ‘I’m bored and lonely and I want you to listen to me’.”

“I’m not bored.”

“You’re bored.”

“I’m not bored.”

“You’re bored.”

“I’m not—”

“You’re bored! You’re sitting there eating takeaway from last night and trying to decide what to make your boyfriend for his dinner when he comes home in god knows how many hours!”

“Frustration isn’t boredom. I’m not bored. And half the problem is myself, you know. I never had the motivation to get a proper job and now it’s biting me in the ass.”

“Not financially, I hope.”

“No, of course not. The only thing I ever liked to do was sing and perform and maths. And two of those things I’m far too late to get into.”

“So go get some maths degree and do something mathy.”

“I don’t think I want to sit behind a desk teaching students maths, either. If that was my calling I would have known. I did a lot of soul-searching when I was in my twenties. I’m around people whose careers are the most important thing in their lives. They define everything by their work or the work they once did. Daddy’s diamonds and jewelry. Mummy’s performance career. Robert’s goddamn hospitals and faking his way back to the top. Dawn and her drugs and Sully and his mental care—which is still beyond me to reconcile, and I’ve known him for nearly twenty years. You and Vi and your nursing. My aunt and hers. My big brothers have the company now because they were good at art. Charlie designs such pretty things and Scott is a craftsman like Daddy. Oh! And Winnie’s pregnant again! Again!

“You’re joking.”

“And she tells me—she always sends out these little announcements. She has them embossed. She’s unreal. And she wrote on the back of mine—it was addressed to me, of course, and not Robert. She wrote, ‘This will be our last one. Last chance to share the experience!’ Last chance to share the experience? As though I’d want to share any experience with Winnie. But that wasn’t the worst of it. There was this smiling face drawn at the end of the sentence. This passive-aggressive punch to the end of the passive-aggressive slap.”

“Does she think you just don’t want children, or?”

“Oh, that’s most certainly what she thinks. We did that family portrait earlier this year and she was bouncing Kevin on her hip the entire time and between every take she looks at me like I’m some sort of alien. I knew she was trying to think of some way to tactfully call me a waste of space, and then she said to me, ‘It’s going to be so difficult to get everyone together the older the kids get.’ And I said, ‘I suppose that’s normal.’ And she says, ‘So I hope you get your little ones in before we’re all too busy.’”

“She did not.”

“She did. She just says shit like that. All the time!”

“Did you smack her?”

“I said, ‘I didn’t know there was a time limit on seeing family.’ That pissed her off. And she says, ‘Well, there’s a time limit on having children.’”

“No.”

“Yes!”

“What business is it of hers? Women are having children into their late thirties now. I’ve seen women come in at forty. It’s much safer now.”

“That isn’t even—Winnie’s a housewife the same way I’m a house… girlfriend. Only she’s happy that way. That’s what she wanted. If Scotty didn’t love her I would assume she was a deceitful gold-digging old shrew.”

“That doesn’t mean she isn’t. It just means Scott’s a little confused.”

“It’s too late. They have six kids. Going on seven.”

“She’s an ambitious one, then.”

“Winnie judges anyone in her situation who doesn’t behave the same way she does as some sort of injury to her own little bubble. Scotty’s days aren’t nearly as long as Robert’s, and he doesn’t often work every day of the week, especially with so many kids. The twins are starting secondary school next year. Anyway, Winnie doesn’t even have hired help outside of a nanny. She cleans and cooks—though I’m much better in the kitchen—and makes little craft projects and does all of this shit that she says a good wife should do. Then she always looks at me and remembers I’m not married and I can see the judgment gleaming in her beady eyes.”

“Have you ever thought of asking Robert to marry you? You know, just fucking with the establishment and doing the damn thing yourself.”

“Every day.”

“Really?”

“Every day. But you know, he’s so old fashioned that I don’t think he’d take me seriously, and more than that—we had a talk. We had a talk about a decade ago. Well, I call it a talk but it was just—everyone was having kids. My brothers, you and Vi. We were all getting older and everything was shifting but I still felt like the same stupid brat I always had been. Trailing along behind Robert. Happily not growing older until I realized I was almost thirty and our relationship was staying exactly the same. And marriage and kids came up and he said, and I’ll never forget this as long as I live, he said that these things ‘weren’t in the cards’ for him. A wife and kids.”

“Who says that?”

“I just smiled and nodded and it wasn’t until quite a few months later, and then not really until Dawn and Sully suddenly married that I realized he wasn’t kidding. And I was too afraid to push him. But I did tell him that he would have to provide all the birth control for as long as he was interested in having sex, because I couldn’t take the pill and want children at the same time.”

“And what did he do? Flip?”

“Did what he always did. Got a little flustered and appeared to forget about it an hour later. The implications, I mean. He’s the one who buys condoms. I never do.”

“For a smart old man, he’s quite a moron.”

“The thing is that I don’t know if he actually got what I meant the first time. He tends to ignore things that make him uncomfortable, if they’re outside of medicine. And that’s really only me. So he tends to ignore things that make him uncomfortable if it’s because of me.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It’s not as bad as it sounds. Sorry.”

“Alice.”

“I’m thirty six years old. I want to have children more than anything else in the world. I’ve kissed big poofy wedding dresses goodbye. I feel like it would be terribly trite for Robert to marry me now, you know?”

“Why trite? I think it would be logical. Or at least better than mucking about with patients and their needs more than he mucks about with yours.”

“My needs aren’t really needs.”

“Oh, for god’s sake. No wonder it’s so easy for him. I thought you were more of a hard ass than this.”

“I don’t want to scare him away. I love him a lot. More than a lot. I love him enough to be happy when he comes home and happy when we’re together and to sometimes forget that he’s denying me this thing that I want.”

“This thing that you want? Al, he’s not denying you tickets to the World Cup! He’s telling you that you can’t have children while he goes off and completes his life’s work.”

“I know, but—it’s only when he’s gone that I sit around and think about how pathetic I am. I have absolutely nothing to show for my existing. Nothing. I have contributed absolutely nothing to the world, Mallory.”

“Well, with an attitude like that…”

“I don’t want to poke holes in his condoms. I don’t want to trick him into having a kid. I don’t—I’ll know if I’m pregnant and he’ll hold it against me.”

“So why is it that you’re okay with him poking holes in your goals but you won’t challenge him?”

“Because a kid is bigger than that! You know! He could leave me if I do this to him! And if he truly doesn’t want kids, what sort of father would he be?”

“He’s always been a sweetheart to people. Always. I don’t see him forcing you to choose between your kid and him.”

“I don’t want to find myself in that situation.”

“You should talk to him when he gets home.”

“He’s always tired. I’ll have his supper on the stove and I’ll sit with him while he eats and then he’ll take a bath or a shower and he’ll read some medical journal and he’ll go to bed.”

“Today you should interrupt him mid-dinner and tell him that you have a problem.”

“I don’t want to scare him. He gets funny when he’s scared. It took him five months to sleep with me and he only did it because I was immature and overemotional and couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want me. I thought he didn’t want me. He only did safe things. Kiss and touch and he’d turn red and I felt like I was hurting him but he was hurting me and that’s probably the last time I have ever been assertive about my desires.”

“You were twenty two.”

“He’s not a normal person.”

“Well, we know that.”

“He has all of these old-fashioned ideas about things. He’s slow, and he’s always told me that he’s slow and I need to be patient.”

“So you’ve been patient. Good for you. Now fucking make him realize that you have to change when you’re in a damn relationship. You can’t function like you’re single!”

“I’ve made plenty of changes!”

“I know! I’m talking about him.”

“If I tell him that I want to move closer to London and to my parents, and that I want to have a kid and to be married so that the kid can have legal protection—and so I can have legal protection if something happens—he’ll do his, ‘you can have someone better’ speech and I’ll be forced to—”

“That’s emotional blackmail!”

“I hardly think he thinks it’s emotional blackmail.”

“But it is. You can’t say that to someone who loves you.”

“I know.”

“I’m serious, Alice. That’s wrong.”

“I know.”

“Next time he does, you tell him that the first quality on the list for someone better is someone who doesn’t say shit like that!”

“I know!”

“Don’t make him dinner.”

“What?”

“Don’t make him dinner. In fact, go to the cinema. Time it so you’re not home when he gets there and you won’t be home for hours after.”

“That’s so passive-aggressive.”

“Well! You earned it. It’s harmless.”

“It won’t be much of a punishment. He knows how to feed himself.”

“But you won’t be there. His problem is taking you for granted. You go where he goes and support his career and give him food and warm his bed and offer emotional support and in return he works all day and gives you a split-second of time while telling you that these two things you want are things he doesn’t want, so you don’t get them.”

“I’m sure he’d be quite supportive if I worked.”

“Yeah, but has he asked you why you don’t? Has he sat with you to talk you through ideas?”

“Not really. Not seriously. He assumes that if I seem happy, I am happy. I think.”

“For two people who have been together for fourteen years—”

“I just don’t rub this in his face. It wasn’t there to rub until I started getting older. And Daddy got older. And I was babysitting my nieces and nephews and driving hours and hours south just to see the people I love. I feel cut off here, but he’d hate to know that. This is his home and he loves it.”

“Christ. If I wasn’t in Spain with Violet, I’d probably fly north and club him. Do you let him get everything he wants?”

“Well, who should have priority? Me? I don’t have a job or a goal or a life!”

“Because he took away your goals and moved you to the middle of nowhere.”

“I’m not a victim. I’m not a victim, Mal. How can he be blamed when he doesn’t know?”

“How can he think, as an adult of his age, that you’re happy babysitting yourself alone all day every day? How could he look at himself after telling you that a wife and kids weren’t in the cards? How could he ignore hearing you say how you won’t provide birth control? How many hints does it take?”

“The hints are few and far between and he doesn’t act unless I beat him over the head.”

“So beat him over the head.”

“I think I’ll just see a film.”

“How much time do you have until he comes home?”

“Oh, an hour or two if he’s not late. Which he could be. It’s as possible as his being on time.”

“I’m going to hang up, you’re going to pretty yourself up and go, and when it’s over I want you to ring me again.”

“Will do, commander.”

“I’m serious. If you don’t contact me again I’m going to ring you.”

“I won’t forget! I won’t. All right?”

“All right. I mean—”

“I will! Stop nagging me.”

“Somebody has to.”

“I’ll talk to you again in a few hours.”

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