She still remembered when they were courting. James wielded words the way great swordsmen danced with their weapons. Instead of roses, his flowery prose decorated her room and he had encouraged her love of reading in ways that no one else ever had. It seemed like her life was made perfect with him in it. He had finally proposed, after almost three years of courting. She had been more than ready, but even at the altar, she could find doubt. At the time, she brushed it aside.
Mary Barrie was a woman who knew herself. She knew when she was in denial, knew when she was deluding herself and knew when it was time to come clean, at least in her own mind. She and James had what most considered the perfect marriage. They were happy, in love and she thought that they could stay that way forever.
Looking back at it now, she wondered what had happened to the two of them. When had their love turned to listlessness? Passion into indifference? There was no one point to pin it on, but they had drifted apart over the years. Mary turned to social gatherings to feel something again, even as she desperately wished to connect with James as they used to. He spent more time in his mind than he did talking with her, nowadays.
She found his journal a few years into their marriage, one rainy day in April. The worn leather felt smooth and loved, even the crease in the spine. Flipping through it, she felt delighted to find that she still graced many of the passages. In between the scribbled ramblings about his day, and potential plays, the woman found herself among the pages, when he wondered about her apparent love of gatherings, if she still loved to read, if her skin was still as pale as when they had first gotten married.
After that, Mary went out of her way to talk to James. She rambled about her day, asked him questions, and listened as their marriage of six years was rekindled. They were happy once again, spending time with each other and those they knew. All of their friends – for all of his were also hers – had been married and handed their children off to nannies. Though no one said anything, they all wondered the same thing: when would the Barries bare children?
But it was not to be. After months of trying, she had gone to the doctor who told her that she wouldn’t be able to give her husband children. She sobbed out apologizes to him, begging for forgiveness even as he comforted her and dried her eyes. No matter how much he claimed he was fine with the truth, she could see the pain in his eyes. James was a just like a child himself, eager to explore the magic of the world and he would have been a perfect father.
After that time, they still tried to make their marriage work. He presented himself elegantly at the dinner parties she made him attend, and she sat at each of his plays, praising them and making sure others did as well. But no matter how much they worked together, something had been irrevocably broken between them.
Mary continued to read her husband’s journal, every so often. She read as she started to fade off the pages, appearing less and less in her husband’s thoughts and entries. Every time made her heart break a little bit more, so eventually, she just stopped reading it all together. More parties, more gatherings, more people; that was the way to overcome her heartbreak until she could try to make James love her once more.
Then that woman came into their world. That woman messed up everything, with her four rowdy boys. That woman was all James would talk about anymore. Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. The name sent shivers down her spine and not good ones. A widow and a married man, roaming though Kensington Gardens, with four boys, as if they were the ones married. She wanted to cry again.
It was the dinner party though, that truly wrenched her heart in two. She and James sat opposite of each other, and she spent the entire meal watching the game that was happening right under their noses. That woman, her four, admittedly adorable boys, even the servants were all in on it, but the ringleader, the captain to this madness, was her own husband, James, who seemed more in his element than he ever had with her.
She grit her teeth behind her smile. She gripped her glass too tightly. She curled her toes in her shoes. She blinked back tears that formed. To anyone else at the party, she played the perfect wife. After all, what good were all those years as an actress if she couldn’t even fool strangers? James’ banishment to the guest bedroom was more for her own good than his, since surely he would enjoy being away from his shrew of a wife, enjoy being able to think about that woman in peace, while she cried for their broken marriage.
The next day, when he went out as usual to the Gardens to play with that woman and her boys, Mary once again hunted for his journal. She was everywhere, on every page. Her words covered the lines. That woman had taken over her place in James’ life.
It hurt that her worst fears were confirmed on that afternoon because it meant that she wasn’t a part of his life anymore and that some other woman, some other person had taken over and it destroyed her to know that all his fears and secrets that she had to read through his journal to find would be willingly and freely given to this stranger instead of his wife and she sobbed over their bed, the bed that they’d shared for nearly eleven years, over the time that she had given him when she had just been fooling herself the whole time.
She cried until someone knocked on the door. Emily peeked her head around and quietly informed her that Lord Cannan was waiting to see her downstairs. Mary nodded, and sent her out. With shaking hands, the woman wiped her tears, her face and reapplied her make-up. Lord Cannan seemed to be a good man, who wouldn’t want to cause a scandal. Maybe it was time to show James that she was still a beautiful, desirous woman capable of love.
It had all gone wrong though, over the months. James continued to spend time with that woman, completely ignoring her actions even though Lord Cannan continued to call on her. She was beginning to think that maybe, she should just let James go before she nearly doubled over from her body’s own negative response to the idea. She wanted to make this marriage work, but she couldn’t do it on her own.
Friends stopped inviting her to their gatherings, not wanting to be involved in her scandal-laden life. James was still ignoring her feelings, coming home to ramble to the servants about the boys and how their ideas and playtimes had given rise to a brand new play. Mary wanted to scream out to him, demand he see what was in front of him. She still loved him! Why couldn’t he see how much he was hurting her?
He did eventually find out. Lord Cannan had stayed longer, and longer these days, helping her stave off loneliness. James had come in, looking defeated, and she sprung away from the man sitting beside her. Lord Cannan left and she stood in a tense silence with her husband. He didn’t say anything, and something bubbled up inside of her.
She screamed at him to scream at her. Just say something, she begged him. Just say something and then they could figure out what went wrong with their marriage. Just say something and they could work out everything again. Just say something, anything!
But he didn’t. Or at least, not the words she desperately wanted to hear. She didn’t hear him trying to fight for her heart again. She didn’t hear him begging her to stay with him, to love him again. She didn’t hear any of that, only the words of a man who didn’t care anymore about what she did.
So she raged at him. Her eyes burned with unshed tears as years of pent-up frustrations and anger spilled out and over them both. All of her pain and her hurt were ripped into the spotlight as she demanded answers from him. Why wouldn’t he share his mind with her but he would with that woman? Why had she taken over his thoughts and actions when she was the one married to him? Why didn’t he care anymore?
The night had ended with her storming out, letting the doors close on his half-hearted attempts to bring her back. She wiped away tears, walked to a nearby inn and slept on a different bed for the first time since she was married. The pillow held her tears, her pain, and more importantly, the sounds of her agony. In the morning, when she knew that he would be gone, she went back and the servants helped her gather up all her stuff. She bid them good-bye and watched when they waved.
When she next saw James in the park, it was bittersweet. He was single again, didn’t even have time to marry that woman before she left him. Some small, bitter part of her wanted to laugh in his face. If you had just stayed with me, this wouldn’t have happened. But, a larger part of her, the part currently heading towards her former husband, said that he would be happier taking care of that woman’s boys, than with her.
When he spoke to her, shaking her hand like acquaintances, she hated herself when her heart skipped a beat at the sound of his accent, when she realized that he would always have a place in her heart. She smiled politely when he pointed out that she was now married to a man who never pursued flights of fantasy, who couldn’t weave her poems of love, who had no imagination beyond what was for dinner.
She hugged James, desperate for one last touch, before controlling herself and stepping back to wrap her hands around her new husband’s arm. The couple walked off, and she turned to see four boys and one overgrown child sitting on a bench playing under the watchful eye of that woman’s mother. She sighed and turned her back to them.