There’s probably a word for it in the Complete Oxford English Dictionary. An obscure word that only makes an appearance on Radio 4 intellectual game shows. Something like:
Tri-gami-matri-taci-filial (noun, Old English) — the silence of a son regarding his mother’s marriage to a serial bigamist after the father’s third marriage.
Then people like Stephen Fry and Paul Merton would make clever, rude jokes about this word, and you’d wonder why the English language possessed such an item, because such a situation was unlikely to exist.
Except the situation does exist, and consequently I’d like to know the word that has this definition:
“The pissed-off feeling after realising that your husband of nearly seven years has accidentally-on-purpose forgotten to tell you that his estranged father was a serial bigamist and didn’t run off with a local librarian like he and your mother-in-law had always led you to believe.”
I mean, it’s not as if it would have mattered, is it? If Oliver had told me on our second date, “Oh, by the way, Libs, I didn’t grow up with a father because my mum found out that he was married to a couple of other women at the same time” — I would hardly have stomped out of the restaurant before he could ask me out on a third date.
Did he really think I would have said, “God, Oliver, I’m glad you came clean with me now because obviously, there is no way I could marry the spawn of such pond slime”?
I know what you’re thinking. If it wouldn’t have been such a big deal on our second date, why am I making a fuss now?
Because it’s gone past the point of being an unfortunate fact about Oliver’s ancestry. Ten years ago, before our engagement, I could have processed the knowledge and said, “Poor Oliver. Your poor mum. What a terrible thing to happen.”
Now, although I still think that way, pity has been overtaken by hurt that Oliver couldn’t see fit to tell me.
I am being treated like the criminal, but why? The real criminal is Oliver. He has known about this all along, and in the ten years we have known each other, has never told me this story, although it’s obvious that he knew. Why did he not feel he could tell me, his girlfriend, his fiancé, his wife, his soulmate? Has he so little faith in me? I feel bereft, my faith in Oliver plundered.
But self-pity inevitably mutates into anger.
Today, I am angry, and everyone knows it.
Well, nearly everyone. Jack knows it, George knows it, and Beth knows it. The only person who is oblivious is Oliver himself, the object of my anger, and as usual he’s out, avoiding the issue. Avoiding me.
Meanwhile, rage swirls around my head and seeps out through my ears, filling the house with noxious atmosphere.
I’ve been passive too long.
I gather up the twins and strap them into the double stroller. Jack peeps cautiously at me from behind the sofa where he is quietly playing with Lego bricks.
“Put your sneakers on,” I say. “We’re going out.”
* * *
It’s a long time since we’ve been out. Nursery school has finished for the summer. After the first couple of weeks when the Coffee Morning Posse delivered freezer casserole after freezer casserole, no one has been to visit — not even Maggie. I suppose they think I’ve got enough to do without catering to visitors. Even my mother has been quiet, phoning only once since she got back home. For the last few weeks, I’ve holed myself up in the house, seeing no one, ordering groceries online, too depressed and timid to put a foot outside.
But today is a beautiful, sunny day, my anger is invigorating, and I’m tired of being a hermit. I make Jack hold the handle of the stroller, loop Fergus’s leash round my wrist, and off we set, along Juniper Close. We are walking to Main Street, to a place of busy-ness, to be with other people who will only coo at my babies and won’t see the rage and hurt in the back story.
Fergus, however, has other ideas. He crosses the street docilely enough, but as we turn right towards the road that leads to Main Street, however, he lags behind and his leash pulls on my wrist. He wants to go the other way.
I tug on the leash. He sits. I tug again. He lies down.
It’s an impasse. Fergus and I stare at each other. He usually wins these stare-down contests, but I’m in no mood for defeat. Today, I’m determined to win, so I don’t break my gaze, not even when I hear footsteps on the sidewalk behind me. Whoever it is can step onto the road and walk around us.
The footsteps slow, then stop.
“We first met,” I hear Maggie say, “when there was another drama going on between you and this dog. I haven’t seen you out with these children for weeks. Were you coming to see me?”
I continue to stare at Fergus so I don’t have to meet Maggie’s eyes. She’s right. I haven’t seen her since the twins were a couple of weeks old. How time flies when you’re having fun.
“If I hadn’t seen you today,” she goes on, “I’d have come to visit. I don’t like to intrude, but…”
“It’s been difficult,” I mutter. “The twins — they’re a lot of work.”
“I’m sure they are,” she says. “And from what I hear, so is your husband.”
She has my attention now.
“How do you know?” I demand. “What do you know?”
Maggie places a hand on my forearm and takes Fergus’s leash from my wrist. She gives the leash a gentle shake, and he gets up to stand by her, as docile as you please.
“Your mother and I became pretty good friends while she was here, you know. We made an agreement. I would be there for her daughter in America, and if the need ever arises, she will be there for mine in England.”
Mums’ Army. The Maternal Foreign Legion.
“Come on, Jack,” Maggie says, taking his hand. “Back to Granny Maggie’s house.”
With difficulty, I turn the wide stroller around to face the other direction.
“‘Granny Maggie’?” I ask. “Does that make you my mother, then?”
Maggie smiles, just a little.
“The next best thing on this side of the ocean,” she says.
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