I met Jane in the Dog and Duck one evening. She was a nice, middle-aged lady, and she seemed to be on her own and she’d had more than a few drinks. I really wanted to go home, but her other friends had left, and in her drunken state she seemed to want to tell me her troubles. She took a large swallow of her gin and began talking in a low pitched, angry voice:
“Well I like it.”
“It’s awful. It doesn’t suit you.”
“Well I like it and I’m going to buy it!”
Standing in the middle of the floor of the charity shop in the High street, watching my husband Gerald looking absurd, striding about wearing the bright scarlet jacket he was determined to buy, was very embarrassing.
How could I possibly tell him that I didn’t want him to buy it because it was the very same jacket that my lover John had been wearing a fortnight ago when he’d died on stage?
But once Gerald makes up his mind there’s no stopping him.
You see Gerald, my husband, is a very very predictable, boring man. He’s an accountant. We have a lovely big house, I can buy anything I want, and I live a life of luxury without lifting a finger.
The downside is I have to share my existence with the most boring man on the planet, who makes me yawn when he comes into the room, and with whom I have absolutely nothing in common.
My aunt Eve described Gerald as a ‘baked bean’. “You don’t wanna marry him, Jane, he’ll stifle you, with boredom,” she’d advised me. “After all, you’re a lively, vibrant, sexy young woman, full of zest for life. He’s one of those ‘baked beans’ men – exactly like all the others in the tin!”
We’d been unable to have children, and after 25 years of marriage, Aunt Eve had turned out to be right. Now totally bald with spectacles, a fat belly and a pronounced ‘old man’s stoop’, my rich husband Gerald was like thousands of other boring looking men the world over.
Which was why John had seemed so exciting when I’d first met him, a year ago. John had been everything Gerald wasn’t. He had no money – he lived with his ghastly shrew of a wife in a high-rise council flat, and he never had a job and signed on for benefits, so of course I helped him with the odd wad of cash now and then. Why not?
John’s life revolved around his music, and he performed as lead guitar and singer with an unsuccessful rock band. His attempts at repairing his electric guitar had caused a hundreds of amps of current to surge through him on stage, and his final performance of ‘Light my fire’ really had been an apt swansong, since sparks flew out of his head.
I knew I’d never get over his death. John had provided the liveliness in my life, a glimmer of hope from the stultifying tedium of my existence with boring Gerald, with whom I never even talked these days.
And to tell the truth I’d been astonished in the charity shop when Gerald had insisted on buying the bright scarlet jacket with the black edging, that John used to wear on stage (it was too tight for Gerald anyway). I pictured John’s horrible wife shipping out all his clothes to the nearest charity shop, and I cringed at the thought.
I also cringed at the sight of ugly, boring, fat Gerald decked out in my John’s gear.
It made me want to cry.
But oddly enough in the weeks that followed, to my surprise Gerald made some changes to his life. He had a hair transplant, so that his bald pate that I’d known for fifteen years, now had a fine mass of dark hair sprouting out of it, and he told me that he’d decided to wear it in a ponytail when it grew long enough. The gold-framed spectacles had been replaced by contact lenses tinted a racy blue colour, and he’d grown a rather dashing Zapata moustache, very similar to the moustache John used to have – one of the things I’d always liked about him. And Gerald’s visit to a cosmetic dentist had given him sparkling white teeth. Hours in the gym had got rid of his pot belly, and the Pilates classes meant that he now he stood up taller and straighter than I ever remember.
Frankly I had to admit that he really did look twenty years younger.
To my amazement I occasionally saw other women checking him out when were out at the supermarket, something that’s never ever happened before.
And, strangely enough, I found we had more things to talk about. Our relationship had really taken a turn for the better. We chatted together now, we actually had long conversations and laughed, we found we had things in common at last. History, politics, religion, you name it. We chatted away at the drop of a hat, and life with Gerald was actually fun, and for the first time in years we laughed a lot.
I’ll never forget the night he first took me to the comedy club in town.
“The thing is, Jane,” he told me, “I’ve always wanted to be a stand-up comedian, but I never believed I had it in me. To tell you the truth I always thought I was such a dull kind of person, that no one would ever listen to me, or even notice me on stage. But I think it’s all about confidence. So one evening I just thought I’d ‘go for it’. And after a tricky start, I found I could actually do it! People laughed. I could really connect with an audience. They liked me. They really think I’m funny, that I’m a live wire!”
To my amazement it was true. When we came through the door, a lot of people rushed up and glad-handed him, hailing him as ‘Gerry mate’, and it was clear he wasn’t deluded as I’d imagined. He seemed to evince affection from everyone he chatted to: men’s handshakes lasted longer than a perfunctory squeeze, and people clasped him warmly on the shoulder. A couple of people even enveloped him in ‘man hugs’, while several women kissed him on the cheek. All the people who’ve ever known us have always called him Gerald, and this glad handing brightly popular ‘Gerry’ was quite a surprise.
As I sat in the crowd watching my husband wow them with risqué jokes and lightning observations on life that had them rolling in stiches, I suddenly realised that my husband Gerald wasn’t a boring man at all. All these years I’d totally misjudged him and now, in a sudden flash of clarity, I could see that he really was all I’ve ever wanted in life.
Why had I wasted my time dating a loser like John, when the man I was married to was all I’d ever wanted and more?
What had I ever seen in John? Gerald, my husband, was actually a much more interesting, lively exciting personality than John could ever have been. And all these years I’d simply never seen it.
What a fool I’d been.
That evening Gerald had seemed extra excited, and I realised it was because he’d found his true personality and was happy at last. I thought back to how Aunt Evie would have regarded my dynamic lively husband now? No longer a baked bean, more like a rather splendid aubergine: shiny bright, individual, unique!
“Jane,” he told me at home after we’d had a couple of bottles of wine. “I’ve never been so happy as in the last few weeks, since I semi-retired from the firm, and became a stand-up comedian. My life has suddenly come together at last. I feel as if I’m really me, do you understand what I mean?”
“Yes,” I agreed, “life is wonderful. I’m really happy with you, Gerald. I honestly couldn’t be happier.”
He looked at me and a frown crossed his brow as he stood up and took a few paces. “Oh, err, sorry Jane, what I meant was, my life is happier. Not our life.”
His cheeks flushed. “Truth is, my life is better ever since I met Arabella.”
“She’s wonderful. She was married in name only to this musician called John, who was always having affairs with lots of bored rich housewives to con them out of their money. He had an accident and died onstage recently. I actually met her when she was taking his clothes to that charity shop where I bought that red jacket you hated so much. She tripped up and dropped them on the pavement and I was there to help her and we got talking. It was like fate.”
“Arabella is wonderful,” Gerald enthused, oblivious to my discomfort. “Despite putting up with a useless, cheating turd of a husband for years, she’s taught herself to be a contortionist. Do you know, she can fold herself double so that her toes touch her nose, she can twists her hand straight back on the wrist. She can even have her body facing forwards and twist her head around to look backwards! I’ve never met anyone like her!”
“A female contortionist?”
“Do you see? I realised, that if she can learn to do all those astonishing things with her body, then why shouldn’t I do astonishing things with my life? I can turn things around – be the person I’ve always wanted to be! And I’ve done it! Arabella has made me see life in a completely different way. Since I met her I realised that all these years I’ve spent with you I’ve simply been going through the motions of life, treading water, not being myself at all.” He paused and looked serious. “Jane, I think we should get divorced.”
“Divorced?” I stammered, “but why?”
“Oh Jane. Why couldn’t you have found yourself someone else years ago? You obviously weren’t happy with me. You should have, I don’t know, had affairs with sexy men, climbed a mountain, done a few daring things instead of sitting around the house like a pudding. You could at least have tried to do something original. Sorry but the truth is I can never be happy with you.”
“Frankly, because for you’ve bored me stiff for twenty-five years.”