issue 213 - November 1990
Sex. What sex? There isn't any for Fred. Not at the moment, anyway. He's going through a lean patch, a bit of a drought. Beth doesn't want to know. Fred is afraid to know why she doesn't want to know. He gets a pain in his heart if he thinks about sex, and a pain somewhere else if he doesn't. And she's out again.
Anuradha Vittachi eavesdrops on a private conversation,
finds envy disguised as contempt, and a fair bit besides.
I hate going to bed alone.
You're not alone, you've got me.
I don't mean you - you're just a voice in my head. Monica was telling me during the coffee break yesterday that she has her mother's voice in her head, nagging and criticising her from morning till night, poor girl.
Most people don't have such interesting, friendly voices as me.
What about when you run the same old tune round my head all day?
Oh, that's my fault is it? Typical - you're always blaming someone else.
Funny, that's just what Beth said to me at breakfast.
You spend an awful lot of time whingeing and blaming other's, rather than getting on with it.
Getting on with what?
Oh for pity's sake ,,, You know.
Oh, that. I can't do that.
'For better, for worse, keeping us only unto ourselves', or whatever the line is. I made a vow, remember?
So the next time you see Monica, and you pass her the sugar, and what you really want to do is to.
I was only going to say, to ask her out for a drink after work.
I'm a married man. I can't.
Not allowed, eh? And she's only half your age, which is not allowed either. Though plenty of your colleagues do it.
Exactly. That's why you were so sour on Thursday, wasn't it? Because Jeff took her to the pub. And he's married. And he's married. And he's two years older than you. Not fair, is it? That's why you feel such contempt for Jeff. It's really envy, disguised as contempt, because he's breaking the rule you want to break.
No! Well, yes, in a way. Up to a point. Well, no, actually. I don't really want to be with Monica. It's just difficult at the moment. I'm so bloody fed up with Beth refusing to.
Blaming Beth now?
All I mean is, it's not surprising if I'm feeling frustrated, if.
Well, why shouldn't you have an affair, if Beth is?
Don't, don't, don't. Beth's not having an affair. She's not.
But you think she is.
She's not. I can't bear it.
Just because you can't bear the thought it doesn't mean she's not doing it. Sorry.
But why to me? I did everything to be a good husband. I've kept my job, I've been faithful, I've done my share of the damned laundry.
You've been such a good boy, so you should be rewarded with an A-plus, like at school, when you did all your homework like the teacher said, Come on, you know real life doesn't work according to school rules.
What's so wrong about being a good husband?
Maybe Beth wants someone who can admit to a little genuine wickedness.
Oh, I can't win, then. If I'm good, I'm no good, and if I'm bad, it'll be my fault she's ditched me.
Whingeing again. So you think she's ditched you?
She's just back late. She's just back bloody late, and for the fifth time in two weeks. Oh lord. What is she playing at?
So what about Monica then?
Monica has nothing to do with Beth being late home. It's not a question of retaliation.
Of course not. You're far too high-minded, aren't you my friend? Revenge isn't included in those nice little rules you believe in - forgiveness is more the line, isn't it?
What's wrong with forgiveness? You could do with feeling a bit more of it yourself.
Nothing's wrong with it, If it's real
It is real.
Not when what you really feel is revenge and hate and bitterness, but you can't admit honestly to being the sort of person who has these blacker feelings, so you wallpaper over them with 'forgiveness' and 'compassion' and..
And under the pretty floral wallpaper the phoney forgiveness starts rotting and stinking.
Couldn't have put it better myself.
For someone who's supposed to be a friendly voice, you're doing a pretty good job of being crushing.
Sorry; but a little honesty does seem to be called for around here.
Now I'm dishonest as well. Tell me the worst.
Okay. Let me spell out your sexual 'shoulds'. Rule one, women shouldn't be approached as sex objects. Therefore (rule two) you think you are not 'allowed' to have deliciously sexy thoughts about them, much less act on these thoughts -unless (rule three) these thoughts cluster around the one woman you're having a relationship with: having a relationship makes the erotic' thoughts okay. How am I doing so far?
Not bad. Except I do sometimes think of other women and.
And pay penance by feeling guilty afterwards. You're always so depressed after you masturbate. No-one could ever tell that thinking erotic thoughts could be fun. Anyway, rule four goes like this: since you have no justification for chatting up other women, you have to wait for your woman to break the rules first. Then you become what is known as The Injured Party. Then you have permission to do the same as your erring partner without incurring the blame that she incurred, An eye for an eye, a screw for a screw.
Are you suggesting I've not stopped Beth looking around because then I can make a guilt-free pass at Monica?
If the cap fits, dear boy ... I must say Monica is a good deal more luscious than Beth: when she bent down to mop up.
Enough! Look, you're crazy. It is quite simple. I love my wife. I don't want to be unfaithful but if she is being distant with me I am bound to have ideas about other women. It's nearly midnight! Where is she?
Why don't you ask her straight out why she keeps being so late? Why do you keep avoiding the issue and pretending to be asleep when she comes in?
I wonder if I have the right.
The right? Where do rights come in?
The right to expect fidelity. Although, of course, I suppose it's reasonable for me to worry, these days with AIDS and.
Oh I see, here comes another rationalization, You're giving yourself permission to ask her at last, not because you're feeling frantic, but because of AIDS! I wish you would say what you really mean.
Well, she's a free woman, not a slave. I don't own her.
It's a question of human rights?
Yes - don't laugh!
And you don't want to be an oppressor?
I suppose so. Stop laughing.
Don't you believe in people keeping promises?
Yes, but.things change. People change. I don't want to be inflexible.
Very reasonable, Very rational. Your feelings are screaming for reassurance that she loves you, you can't sleep for jealousy, you're racked with doubt about whether you're sexually desirable any more (that's what all this 'I'm too bloody old' stuff is about, isn't it?) and despite all this torture you're pretending to be very reasonable and using AIDS to justify asking Beth what's going on.
No, listen, I'm serious. Whatever my personal feelings, I have to recognize that I don't own her - or her sexuality. Isn't the revival of coupledom just a response to AIDS? Or do you think she owes it to me to be faithful?
Yuk. 'Owes it'?
I suppose if I don't own her, she can't owe me anything. I don't own anyone, or anything.
You seem very depressed.
I feel dreadfully sad.
Well, that's what you own, then.
What, feeling sad?
Yes. Your sadness.
Oh, great! Fantastic! I own my sadness. What am I supposed to do with that?
Own it. Properly. Stop pretending you're not sad, that you only worry about Beth's infidelity rationally because of AIDS; or that you 'shouldn't' be sad because you're so liberated, Own up to what you really are, a person who is very, very sad about his wife maybe loving someone else, not him. Someone who would like his wife to love him and desire him madly - and maybe have Monica and every other young woman desire him madly too, These aren't the sexual rules you like: these are your real rules, hiding the acceptable ones.
Put like that, it seems very simple - and horribly pathetic.
Not pathetic. Human. Vulnerable. Painful. Ordinary. Egoistic, rather than saintly. Join the human race, Fred! Stop being above it all.
Please come home, Beth. Please come home and say you were delayed because the car had a puncture, or because.because anything. I can't stand this. It's past midnight. Please come home. Or phone. I'm not asleep. You won't wake me.
What will you do if she does?
Enough talk, okay? I feel terrible. Waiting and wondering is a species of torture. It reminds you that you are really alone, when you are jealous. You can't say to friends that you sometimes feel like.I think that if I find a man who lays a finger on her - well, I'll kill him. I'll take a knife and stab him. Plunge the knife in.Are you shocked?
I am. I never thought I could think such things. But you can't, can you, kill someone, wipe them off the face of the earth, just because they are causing you pain? I mean, here I am, proclaiming peace and non-violence, and I want to kill someone just because he might fancy my wife.What a hypocrite I am.
On the contrary, you're showing a bit of honest feeling at last.
Of course I don't really want to kill anyone. I don't really want to get a knife or a gun. I think, if there were another man in Beth's life, he would be a real person; he may have children who love him; he might have fallen sincerely in love with my wife, without having intended to - it does happen and she may love him. How can these be grounds for punishment or death?
No grounds at all.
Sex and violence. I want to break the bounds in both - though I can't admit out loud, frankly, 'I want to kill him' or 'I want to screw her'. I want to do both - and I don't want to.Oh, I want to be good; innocent; that's what I really want. I don't want to discover all these demons in me.
Fred, only babies are innocent.
I always wanted a simple life. To be a good husband, a good father, a good citizen of the world.I have tried to be all these, and yet when something like this happens, everything is thrown up in the air.
It's no wonder you have always kept sex under wraps. Fred, instead of daring to let rip and enjoy it. Love and sex: they connect us so powerfully when they are intertwined into a bond that joins our heart and soul and body to that of another. And when the bond is rugged awry, it seems to pull down our whole world with it. But it's also the doorway, Fred. this pain; your chance to show Beth what you're really like; to show her the depth of your longings. She wouldn't look for it elsewhere if she knew you felt so.
I heard a car! There's the garage door. It must be her. I must switch the light off before she knows I've been awake and worrying.
Fred! Where are you going? Under the covers again. Where has it all gone, the fury and the jealousy, the desire to kill and the passion for connection? All your darkness hidden again in the darkness of the room, now the bedside light is out. Anything for a quiet life - What demon possesses you that you behave so well?
Anuradha Vittachi is a former NI co-editor.