The Other Mrs Jones
It’s not like me to keep my mouth shut, so it must’ve upset me. I must’ve thought to not let anything spoil my day, so I didn’t say anything to him about it and then I’m suffering in silence all week with it sat there on top of the box, glaring at me. I’d made a vat of tzatziki, but apparently she wouldn’t have been able to eat it anyway ‘cos she doesn’t eat dairy– not can’t, doesn’t. I stashed that nut roast in the freezer, then when she told me... when I took it out of that tin foil and put it in the bowl for Fifi, I had to have a cry.
We’d never had a cross word, so why wouldn’t she sign my card? His mates all call me Mrs Jones, they sing it at me “Me and Mrs Jones...” I remember saying to her when we had that barbecue, bank holiday – I’d had a few, but I wasn’t being out of order: ‘If I had a figure like yours I’d be flaunting it, not wearing long skirts.’ I dug out this old photo of me in my swimsuit. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I was a size twelve once!’ I said to Paul, ‘you remember, don’t you, when I was a size twelve?’ He shrugs his shoulders, so I go as if to clap him round the ear hole and of course his drink goes flying, had to spend half an hour trying to convince Elaine she hadn’t wet herself. ‘I’ve still got the same bust,’ I told her, ‘it’s never deflated like most women’s do.’ Alan gives me this look – well, I wasn’t talking to him so I couldn’t give a toss. He can’t stand to see me having a good time. He ended up having pineapple rings and quorn in his packed lunch all week, he doesn’t dare moan anymore.
I can remember when I used to pick Paul up and cuddle him, lifting up his little vest and blowing raspberries on his tummy. Ever since I can remember, he’d always push me away – a baby! He used to break my heart like that. I remember that time he disappeared, then I see this man at the gate. I remember my heart sinking, ‘cos I was just sitting down to have my tea and I thought it was the god squad. He leaves the gate open and I’m thinking, ‘what good’s Jesus going to do me if he can’t teach you to close a gate?!’ Even when I opened the door I barely recognised him - sun tan, long hair. He sits down, dead casual, turns out he's been travelling around Mexico. ‘Oh right,’ I say, ‘do you want some tea?’ I wasn’t going to let it faze me.
I knew he was serious about this one. When I went round and met her the first time I think I’d caught them at it. There was this pair of knickers stuffed down the side of the sofa. I go through to the back room and they’re looking like they’ve both just farted at the Queen’s garden party. I say to him, ‘is this the one you were telling me about with the good job?’ ‘I finished with that one,’ he says. ‘Oh right,’ I say, a bit embarrassed. ‘What do you do then, love?’ I ask her. He answers for her; ‘she’s on the dole but she makes jewellery.’ I go and put the kettle on seeing as no one’s offering. He follows me in, ‘Mum, I’ve got something to tell you.’ I look at him and I want to knock their heads together, but what good would it do? I say, ‘You daft bugger, you’ve gone and got married, haven’t you?’ She comes in, I give her a cuddle – well, what can you do? I tell her ‘you can call me mum from now on.’ She goes on calling me Sue. It would have been nice, a white wedding. She never changed her name, neither. I hated my maiden name, Pole, couldn't wait to change it. I used to get called names in school: beanpole, lanky beanpole, North Pole – it didn’t make much sense, that one, but that’s kids isn’t it? I say, ‘we’ll have to have a do, you can meet all the family'. So of course, that never happened.
I used to call it Esther Rantzen, my cancer. Well, that’s life! I used to talk to it, looking at my bald head in the mirror. At least I could switch the real Esther off. He walked in on me once, Alan, while I was talking to it. He didn’t say a word, got his shaving foam from the drawer and went. I wanted to get a blonde wig, only he said it wouldn’t suit me. I’d always wanted to go blonde, though I doubt they have more fun really when they've got cancer. I knew I’d get through it, I always knew, ‘cos I would never let any Esther Rantzen beat me in a scrap, I’d smash her bloody teeth in.
You just end up with someone, don’t you? I had on this baby blue chiffon frock with feathers at the shoulders when we met – more like a nightie, really. He was always a dancer, most of the lads just stood around looking moody. I was too busy enjoying myself with my mates, but he comes over asks me for a dance, I thought, ‘this’ll give ‘em a laugh.’ And here we are, thirty years on: joke’s on me.
I knew something was off, that trip to Marseille. He normally gets randy in the sun. We were getting ready to go down to the buffet. I’d bought this shiny red dress, rouched sleeves - it was lovely! I go and stand in front of him, give him a twirl, ‘Well, what do you think?’ I say. He doesn’t even look up from his paper, he says ‘I don’t think you’ve got the figure for those kind of outfits anymore.’
I didn’t mind him going out dancing, thought it was a way for him to take his mind of what was happening with me. I must have been fool. God knows what she saw in him, I’ve never known anyone so boring! I said to him, ‘it’s just sex! Are you really going to sacrifice everything we’ve got, your family, for that?’ He came to his senses in the end. She was deluded, she’d be ringing me up, saying they were in love with each other. I said to her, ‘look, I’ve done you a favour, in a few years you’d end up like me - now piss off!’
So, it's out of the blue this Friday night in June that I get a call from her. She’s never rung me before, so I knew something was up. ‘Is Paul there?’ ‘No,’ I say, ‘are you alright?’ Of course he’s gone and left her, hasn’t he. Twenty minutes later she’s sobbing her socks off while I’m trying not to flash my drawers at her on this bean bag thingy. That’s one of the reasons he’s leaving her, ‘cos she doesn’t keep a nice house. She says he’s disappeared, just left his wedding ring on the dresser with a note saying it’s over.
I asked her about my birthday card – she said she didn’t know. He didn’t even tell her she was invited round. She’d handed her notice in at her job, they were meant to be going backpacking. Why do they do that, men? Promise you a cruise on the Nile then lead you up shit creek and twat you round the head with the paddle? I told her all about what happened with me and Alan. I told her, marriage isn’t just a struggle, it’s a bloody battle. It’s war! You have to know how to fight and fight dirty! A lot of people said I shouldn’t have taken him back, but he’s my husband. I felt sorry for him. He’s no good at playing the game, it never would have lasted with that silly tart. At least you know what you’re getting with a man like that. I forgave him, ‘cos I know what I’ve done to him, and I know that I’ve won. That’s what she’s got to learn, play it well enough and you’ll get to enjoy it in the end. And they say football’s the beautiful game.
We had a nice night in a funny way, except she puts on the telly for a bit and who’s on the box but bloody Esther Rantzen! I thought I’d got through, shocked some sense into her. I was hoping to see a bit more of her, be like a proper family, only when he’s back on radar he tells me she’s filing for a divorce. It’s a shame – first time we’d ever really hit it off. That’s life, isn’t it?