Author: Munro PM
Jenny looked older, sitting on the sofa while Andrew was still standing in the door to the kitchen not looking at anything at all. He was holding the dishcloth; it looked as though he had come out with it to surrender. A relationship unravelled. MM FMRated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 2 - Words: 5,269 - Updated: 09-09-08 - Published: 09-07-08 - id: 2568939
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The day Jen's mother phoned to tell her she had cancer it had rained. It must have been a Thursday, because that Friday Jen had met Andrew. She had been caught red eyed by her boss. It was the second time before lunch she had gone into the bathroom to cry, she had not put on any mascara that morning because she knew she wouldn't be able to keep it on. He cornered her on her way back to her desk and insisted she take the afternoon off.
"I'm so sorry" she'd kept saying, "I can keep it together honestly, it's just a shock. I'm really sorry." She hated him to think she was weak in the workplace. Other people wouldn't be so weepy. None of men would. They'd all think less of her now.
But she hadn't minded leaving.
She hadn't wanted to go home. She would feel useless in her apartment and the next flight out to her mother's was that Saturday, which she'd already booked. She walked around town thinking about driving out that evening, but couldn't face the car journey. The rain had started up again, although it had looked clear that morning, and so she ducked into a coffee shop and ordered a pot of tea which she didn't drink.
The inside of the windows had fogged up and it was claustrophobically warm rather than comfortable. By now the rain was gushing down. The coffee shop was full. A man sat at her table.
"It is alright to sit here?" he had asked, he was about her age and seemed dazed, his hair flopped in his face and made him look like a kindly spaniel. Jenny had not assumed she would fall in love with him. They were sitting in the window which was streaming with condensation. Jenny's tea was still cooling on the table. And they started talking.
They talked about how you could never get good tea in coffee places because you make coffee with cooler water than you use for tea, so the tea tasted bad since the water was heated for coffee.
"It's like being in a thought bubble, isn't it?" Andrew- she now knew his name was Andrew- had said looking at the steamed up windows. And even though Jenny did not think it was like being in a thought bubble, she liked that he'd said it. It just seemed sweet. And when the rain stopped they had swapped phone numbers.
Jenny walked back to her apartment still feeling drained, but a little bit lighter. The street smelled of rain, which was just the smell of dirt and clean water. It was comforting the way the smell of bleach and hot water was comforting; a good clean smell. She could face her mother tomorrow. And it would be later before she'd have to face her mother dying, facing her alive could be difficult enough. She fixed herself dinner, packed a small bag and set her alarm for the early flight.
It was time to stop acting like a child.
That weekend with her mother wasn't as bad as she'd thought it could have been. No-one cried very much, no-one picked fights. The doctor hadn't said not hope, but made it plain the odds were against any real recovery. A course of treatment had already been planned; she was booked in for surgery and then started chemo that week. The health insurance covered everything. The doctors were all very helpful. Jen's mother would stay with her sister while she was ill. It was all surprisingly simple.
When Jen's mother asked Jen if she was seeing anyone, she realised she was going to lie. She said she was seeing someone called Andrew and it might be serious. The lie had come out spontaneously. She was not generally a liar, but every now and then a lie would pop out and she could never explain them. She had once told a friend she wanted a Leonard Cohen album for her birthday. She had never liked Leonard Cohen and when the friend had bought her the album she hadn't known what to do with it. Then the friend bought her another Leonard Cohen album for her birthday the year after. She had been able to exchange that one for something more cheerful.
"I hope you're not giving him what he wants right away Jen," said her mother sagaciously, puffing on a cigarette like a jowly old bullfrog, "No man ever bought the cow when he was getting free milk"
Things are different now, Jen had said. No-one thinks like that anymore.
She flew back Sunday night feeling stronger and responsible. She was twenty four. She was grown-up. She was capable. Monday morning she was back work, back wearing mascara. If anyone had noticed she was out of the office on Friday nobody mentioned. Instead people made their own sympathetic little faces at her when they saw her around. She was grateful.
Later that week, almost on a whim, she found Andrew's number. They went for coffee.
Jenny was late. He was sitting at the same table they had sat at last time. The café was almost empty, doubled in the window like a ghost of itself. She arrived and he'd ordered for her. He was apologetic about it.
"I didn't get you tea this time," he said, "I've got you a normal coffee, but I didn't know if you took milk."
Early on in the relationship Jen viewed Andrew's Christianity as a quirk, like his comment about the speech bubbles. She had always believed vaguely in some sort of higher power. If she had to think hard about it she saw something cloudy and benevolent, draping itself over the universe. And of course she thought Jesus was right about the things she assumed Jesus had said, but she'd never really read the Bible. She had gone to church as a girl and heard the same things everyone hears in church, but she'd never really listened.
She liked Andrew to talk about faith; he was knowledgeable but not passionate. He was like a sleepwalker; he seemed to have sleepwalked into believing. He suggested she come to church with him.
The Living Word church was a small, white freshly painted building. It had a rather prissy public garden and a community hall that smelt of damp carpets, like every other community hall she'd ever been in. At first Jen had been taken aback by how conservative some of the sermons were; among the usual loving thy neighbour and the forgiving of sins were beliefs she'd only ever actually heard satirised. The teenagers wore purity rings. Jen was not a virgin and she hadn't known any virgins since her first year at college. Likewise, loving the sinner and not the sin only seemed to apply to homosexuals especially the ones who wanted to get married. That was the sin they always named anyway- adultery got a mention, but only Jen sensed, for balance. She didn't think she had any gay friends, but she knew there were some at the office. She didn't think anything bad about them, she was sure they were very nice people. The pro-life sermons she found she liked listening to. Abortion had always made her uncomfortable- her friends were all pro-choice and whenever the topic came up she tended to keep quiet. She could sympathise with both sides, but in her mind life was life as long as it was innocent.
Innocence appealed to her. Walking into that clean, boring little building made her feel innocent. At first she approached Drew's church like an anthropologist, but sometimes she could imagine she belonged there.
The idea of righteousness seduced her. She wanted an ordered universe. It seemed that God's wrath and idiosyncrasies and seeming cruelty was just the price you had to pay in order to have a God at all. Life after life wasn't a small thing to ask for. She knew that she couldn't exactly explain all of this to the other members of the congregation, because they'd think she was missing the point. In her mind virginity and monogamy and maybe even misogyny were just the tariff on heaven, and if it seemed unfair you couldn't blame God for naming a steep price since no-one else was offering a better bargain. It was just capitalism. And anyway Jesus was the one who tried to cancel out the nastiness in the Bible; He just sort of smoothed it over a bit.
She began to pray about her mother and then about other things.
For Jen it had always been as much a relationship with that church as it was a relationship with Drew. Then he asked her to marry him.
She had told him she would think about it. The weekend after he proposed Jen visited her mother. She was doing well, or at least better than the doctors had first expected she would. She seemed to be responding to treatment. She had moved back into her own house, but that was partly because Jen's mother had been driving her sister crazy. For the first time since leaving home Jen had been calling her mother often enough not to feel guilty. She could only sympathise with the sister.
They went out to restaurant, which was unusual in Jen's family since it wasn't an occasion. It had over-starched napkins and overstuffed chairs. Her mother had chosen it.
"Andrew asked me to marry him" Jen said, staring at her breadcrumbs on the tablecloth.
Her mother beamed. She had lost her jowls and looked small. She had cut back on cigarettes and was drinking mineral water. Jen realised suddenly that her mother was an old woman.
"Darling," she had said sincerely, "I'm so relieved"
After they had eaten their starters Jen excused herself and went out to the parking lot. She called Andrew and agreed to marry him. The connection wasn't very good. "I love you" she said, and went back inside to eat her steak.
They'd only been dating for about six months, but it hadn't exactly been a whirlwind romance. They planned the wedding quickly in case Jen's mother took a turn for the worse. As it turned out she went into remission, but that wasn't something they could have known at the time. It was a nice wedding and she liked being married to Andrew. She tried to pretend to herself that this didn't surprise her. Jenny felt more and more like a sleepwalker now as well; that was the most seductive thing about Andrew, she thought. They noticed it at work.
Andrew's best man had been Tom. It repulsed her slightly to think about that now.
She'd always thought there was something strange about Tom. She liked him, but he was so awkward and so obviously shy. Whenever he said something it sounded as though he was speaking English very well as a second language, there was always the sense he doubted his ability to make other people understand. She had been amazed when she found out he was only a year older than she was. He was good looking, but like someone's dad.
She had never liked his wife much. Karen was a natural born bitch forced to be nice to people she looked down on; Jen could tell Karen looked down on her. She had asked Drew how Tom had ever ended up with her. They had married very young, Andrew had said. But it still didn't explain it; it was obvious to her that Karen had been born that way.
The night of the email Andrew had slept on the couch. Jen hadn't slept at all. The more she thought she realised she did not believe two men could actually love each other. She felt bad for thinking it, but the idea that Tom loved her husband was impossible. She didn't like to think about them having sex, although she couldn't help it. She found herself wondering what they did and who did what and wishing she didn't have to think about it. But since she couldn't sleep it was all she had to think about. And at one point, around two in the morning, she could even feel sorry for Karen. But not much.
In the morning they had talked. Sitting at the breakfast table Drew swore that he had not had sex with Tom since the wedding. Jen suppressed a shudder.
"But when was the last time before that?" Jen had asked, from behind the cereal boxes. Neither of them was drinking their coffee.
Andrew did not want to tell his wife that the last time he and Tom had had sex had been the night before they got married. The lease on Jenny's apartment had expired, but they had decided they would not move in together until the wedding and so she was staying with a friend. His house was full of her boxes and bits of furniture. It was almost their house already. Tom had come round like he had done hundreds of times, yes it would have been hundreds by now and sometimes he even stayed over, and Andrew was amazed that Karen never complained. But Karen didn't seem to like her husband very much, never had done.
Considering the circumstances that time had been surprisingly like their other times. Neither of them mentioned the wedding, although Andrew had made it clear the wedding would change things. It was unusual for Andrew to be clear about anything. His world seemed covered in mental cataracts. It was softer than other people's worlds.
He daydreamed his way through school and then college. His parents had paid his way and that suited him fine. They had helped with the deposit on a house which he barely seemed to notice he lived in. He sleepwalked into a decent job which only made him unhappy when he thought about it. Most of the time hurting Andrew would have been like punching a cloud.
So that night Tom came round and they had a few drinks and Drew had cooked and they'd cleared away, and gone upstairs like people who had been married for thirty years. In the bedroom, generally, the clouds lifted. That night it had been as if Tom were trying to prove a point. It had been good.
The sun woke them; the curtains had been left open. Tom was sometimes weird about them waking up together, weird about being with him in the daylight. But that morning Tom had just leaned over and kissed him. They showered, separately and then Drew put on the rented tux and stood in the mirror. He had woken up for the first time in his life. Tom fixed Drew's tie. Drew felt uncomfortable, or at least aware, of how close they were standing. He raised a hand and traced the outline of Tom's jaw and Tom stood very still.
He felt as though he was about to commit adultery.