COUNTRY WALK, AND TALK.
When Sue opened her eyes onto the new morning she found herself alone. She could hear vague sounds of movement from around the villa.
Throwing on her dressing gown she rose and padded out to the kitchen, to find her husband, already dressed, packing up a tote bag.
"What on earth are you doing?"
He turned on hearing her enter, and gave a slight smile.
"I'm making a picnic. It's a nice day, I thought we could walk into the hills, where it's cooler, it's not far, enjoy the scenery, have a picnic......" His voice tailed off as he saw her face change.
".....you don't want to." He continued, dejected.
Sue Dawson was about to confess he was quite right, but something about his mien changed her mind.
"No, no. It's a good idea. Okay. I'll go get dressed." She turned away without further words.
It was still fairly early, and the heat of the day had not yet reached its peak. The sun warm but not broiling.
They wandered through the scrub, heading vaguely in the direction of the wooded hills, which were a mile or so from the villa.
Small birds twittered and flitted around them. A green lizard darted out from behind a rock.
The air was fresh and clean and pine scented.
Sue wore her wide brimmed hat low, with her sunglasses. Her shoulders covered for fear of further sunburn. Jim in his regulation uniform of khaki shorts, check shirt and sandals, but also sporting a peaked cap, which he hoped looked jaunty, but actually made him look more like Charlie Brown.
The silence between them was deafening, and they walked separated from each other by several paces.
"I'm sorry Sue." He said, suddenly.
"Why?" She replied, taking a sip from a water canister.
"For what I said yesterday. I'm sorry for everything, okay? I know it's all my fault, I accept it, I'll try harder. Really........I will. I said hurtful things. I know it's been difficult for you, the kids leaving, me working all the time, everything. But I AM sorry. I was just biting back at you that's all."
"Jim! Stop a minute.....okay!" She caught his arm and tugged him to a halt.
"Listen, I'm sorry too. This isn't all your fault, and you mustn't keep saying that. It isn't. And, Christ! I said a lot of horrible things too....and you hadn't said a word back.....not until yesterday. And you have as much right to say stuff as me. Except you don't usually, you just take all the flak and keep schtum. So I'M sorry.......truly. Let's start again....eh?"
Shuffling his feet in the dust, head down, he nodded agreement, and they continued as far as a shady ridge. Here they halted and he pulled a blanket from inside the tote bag, spreading it on the ground, gesturing to her to sit.
Beneath the shade of the cork trees and pines, they rested. The scent from the fir trees was fresh and pleasant. The air here cooler, with a light breeze.
Jim produced bread and cheese, fruit and a bottle of chilled rosé wine.
Sue sat, gazing back across the valley the way they'd come, and sighed.
"This is rather pleasant!" She admitted.
As if to shatter the mood, at that moment the bag began to tinkle with the insistent ringing of Jim's mobile.
"Ye Gods!" Sue gave an eye roll. "I can't believe that bloody thing still works."
Jim answered but to her surprise he was brusque.
"Keith! I told you not to keep ringing me. I'm trying to have a couple of weeks holiday. No I can't talk now! No I don't want to talk later! I don't want to talk at all. Whatever happens between now and the end of next week you can handle. Now don't ring me again or I'll sack you and bring in someone who can cope alone for a fortnight. Goodbye Keith!"
He rang off with a flourish and replaced the phone in the bag.
"I read somewhere if you dry them out in a bowl of rice, it works....apparently it does." He said, sheepishly.
"He won't ring again. I've told him."
"Good! That bloody firm treats you like dirt, and you own it!"
"That 'bloody firm' pays for our lives. I can't just abandon it completely! But I'm doing my best."
A chill seemed to settle over them again. Jim reached for the bottle and a cork screw.
"Let's have some of this, it's nicely chilled." He opened it and they drank from the bottle.
Sue lay back on the blanket and he propped himself on one elbow next to her.
"She fancied you, that little pixie face." Sue remarked after a few moments.
Her husband frowned.
"No she didn't. She was using me to try to make Felipe jealous, and it didn't work. If it hadn't been me it would have been some other poor sap."
"You fancied her too! Like crazy! I heard you.......tell her you had a little crush."
Jim rolled onto his back and lay on the blanket staring up at the sky.
"Where is this going Sue? What do you want me to say? Yes I fancied her, yes she was far too young for me. No, I wouldn't have done anything, I'm married to you!"
"You haven't looked at me the way you looked at her for years!"
Jim sat up with a jolt, suddenly angry.
"Oh, here we go again! I look at you plenty. You're lovely to look at, you have a lovely figure, and you've looked after it. Christ! I fell in love with you when I was seventeen years old! And I've never been with anyone else. But you don't stop noticing. What about you and Felipe?"
"He didn't fancy me! He treated me like I was his mother! I didn't see Esther treating you like you were her dad!"
"She was a little tease......and I was drunk.......and flattered.......and I'm not very proud of myself. Why did you have to start bringing all that up again? It's like you can't resist it. Were you jealous? Because there was nothing to be jealous about, nothing happened whatever!"
"You were jealous of Felipe!" She took another hefty swig of wine.
"Damn right! Stupid Latino prick! I wanted to punch his lights out, but he would probably have floored me. Just as you said you wanted to smash that guitar into Esther's face!"
"Do you regret marrying me, James? I mean, we were young, I was up the duff....we were kinda shoe horned into it."
"No! I don't regret it. I told you. I love you. I always have. It's just that you don't feel the same about me any more. And I don't know what the hell I can do about it. Because the mere thought of being without you makes me feel sick and you're so cold and hard sometimes that I'm terrified of going near you."
Jim struggled to his feet and began to walk rapidly away. This time Sue ran after him.
"Jim! Stop. Please. Come back."
He turned to face her, and his expression was one of pain and anguish.
"You see, you didn't marry the MDF King did you Sue? You married a young idealist, who wanted to travel, go to college, had opportunities. Then the kids came and I had to work.....work and work....to build something......to take care of my family......."
His finger jabbed at her chest.
"........and you......you.....were smart and funny and everyone liked you, loved you. Far, far more than me. Because what am I ? I'm boring Jim who reads shitty history books.....because he finds them interesting.....who deals in a timber substitute! Who wears special socks and who never gets laid because his wife pushes him away every time he goes anywhere near her, and yet says she might have dozed off during sex once or twice.......yes Esther did tell me!"
Sue's eyes widened, and her mouth hung open, Jim, undaunted, continued his rant.
"......And YES.....oh yes.....I opened up to her! Why the bloody hell not! Cos I can't damn well talk to you about it can I? Because every time I do you either shout at me, tell me it's all my fault or start crying. So yes, I was bloody attracted to her.....because she took notice of me.....even though she was just playing stupid mind games.....and I talked to her......because she was there, and there's no one else to talk to......is there?"
His anger abated as suddenly as it began. He seemed to diminish, shrink and fold in on himself.
"There. So are you happy now? Have you heard what you wanted to hear? I wanted to try and introduce a bit of romance.....really try.......really try.......but no! You just have to poison it. So fine,
I'm going back, and I'm going to wallow in my own self pity, about what a boring, lonely, miserable sod I am, and get completely and totally shit faced. I'll see you later."
He didn't notice as she gathered up the blanket and the bag and trotted meekly after him.
One more evening spent in painful silence, ignoring one another.
The usual night sleeping on each edge of the bed with their backs to each other.
Sue sniffled noisily. Jim pointedly pretended he didn't hear.