“You are so capable,” I remember saying.
I remember exactly where I sat when I said it, that tatty armchair by the gas fire that had the middle bar missing. That was my seat. The other seat was your seat. A small black and white TV on the carpet – miles away, it seemed. It was around that time, twenty-one or twenty-two, when I began to suspect I needed glasses.
It was cold in that room because the ceilings were so high. What heat there was from the broken gas fire went straight up and lingered way above our heads, an invisible, ineffective fug. Our flat was on the third floor. It had once been servants’ quarters.
How soon it became winter that year. We married late in the August, a boiling hot day, so hot that my Nan, in her navy blue suit, almost fainted. But by the November winter had set in, dreich and damp.
I remember having no money to speak of but walking down to the shops for something to do; something to get me away from you, already. I stood and stared into shop windows at various desirable objects and imagined buying them. I went home and wrote a poem with one and a half good lines in it – ‘And my green ghost stands behind me/ Spending money’. ‘Poem in November,’ it was called. No idea what happened to it.
“You are so capable,” I said, in that cold armchair, on the day I suddenly found I simply couldn’t move for misery.
“You don’t let me cook, you don’t let me clean. You watch me all the time so that you will be able to put right what I am just about to do wrong. We go to the supermarket and you remove from our shopping trolley every single item I put into it, substituting your own choice. You make me feel useless.”
“You know, what you need,” you said “is a hobby, or a purpose in life. Some sort of challenge or crusade. Keep your mind active. Stop this sort of thing keep happening.”
“Tell me one thing I can do, that you can’t,” I said. “Anything at all that I can do even fractionally better than you.”
You thought for a while. I could see you were uncomfortable. The silence stretched on and on, like our future together.
“I’ve noticed you always answer letters promptly,” you said at last.