A note from Kate: After the last episode, I thought Oliver should be given a chance to explain things, so this episode is told by the man himself.
In the last episode, Libby waited up for Oliver, wanting to confront him about her recent discovery. Before she could make her presence known in the darkened house, she heard him on the phone making murmured plans with someone she could only assume was another woman.
Here he is, at the other woman’s house.
* * *
I ring the doorbell, and after a couple of seconds the door opens.
“You took your time,” she says. “It doesn’t take fifteen minutes to get here.”
“Diversion to the liquor store.” I hold out a bottle of Pinot Grigio. “For you.”
I know how to get round women. A good bottle of white never fails.
She takes it from me. “We’ll open that later.”
I follow her along the hall and into the kitchen.
“And Libby doesn’t know you’re here?” she asks. She opens the fridge and puts the wine inside.
“She was asleep. The house was dark. She doesn’t even know I came home.”
“That makes things easier.”
She reaches into a cabinet and gets out two wine glasses, ready for later in the evening.
“Have you eaten tonight?” she asks.
I try to think. To be honest, I’m not sure when I last ate. I tell her this.
She shoots me a disapproving look. “You need to look after yourself, a young strapping man like you. I was about to have a tuna sandwich. Care to join me?”
I hate fish.
“Perfect,” I say.
She starts rattling baking trays and tin openers around, and I lean against the doorjamb, watching her.
“How long have you lived here?” I ask.
She stops banging stuff around long enough to think about the question. “In this house? A couple of years. In Woodhaven? Pretty much since 1976, give or take.”
She opens a tin of tuna and mashes it with mayonnaise. When she finishes with it, it looks like cat food.
“I’m going to make tea,” she says. “Could you get me one of those teapots from that shelf?”
I cross the kitchen and reach up to the high shelf above the window over the sink. “Any particular one?”
“The ginger tabby.”
The shelf is crammed with teapots shaped like cats. I’ve never seen anything so hideous.
“What’s the story with the cats?” I ask. “That’s quite an impressive collection you’ve got there. You must have an eye for antiques.”
Wrong thing to say. She’s not fooled for a minute.
“You’re so full of it,” she says. “They’re awful and you know it.”
She gives me a stern look that makes me feel as if I’m back in my junior school headmistress’s office, hauled onto the carpet for dipping Cheryl Atwood’s ponytail in red paint during art class.
“You’re not going to charm your way into my good books that easily,” Maggie says.
* * *
Oh, come on. Give me some credit. You didn’t think I was going out to meet some fancy woman tonight, did you? I saw Maggie this morning while I was out early walking the dog, and she asked me to come here tonight. Said she had something to tell me, but not to say anything to Libby.
If it was any other old biddy, I’d have told her to keep her nose out, but this is Maggie, and she’s not someone you can just say No to like that. Besides, she’s been good to Libs, so I supposed I owed her this much. And I thought I might get some decent food. Wrong again.
Now I wish I’d gone with my first instincts and told her to mind her own business. I’ve got a feeling that all she wants to do is give me a bollocking.
Can’t blame her, either, to be quite honest. If I’d been a fly on the wall of this house these last couple of months, I’d be thinking, “Oliver, you bastard” too. Any reasonable bloke would just sit down with the wife and try to sort things out, right?
But it’s not as simple as that.
Things never are.
* * *
“About this morning, when I saw you walking Fergus,” Maggie says, when we sit down in her living room, a plate of tuna sandwiches between us on the coffee table.
“What about it?” I ask. The smell of the fish makes me want to throw up.
“I asked you to come round here tonight because Libby told me something that I think you should know.”
I wonder what it could be. Perhaps Libby’s arranged an entire family reunion party at the Holiday Inn.
“And the thing is,” Maggie says, “it’s difficult for me to tell you because I promised her mother I wouldn’t interfere.”
I can’t help it. I snort, although I manage to turn it into a kind of sneeze. Again, Maggie isn’t fooled, and she fixes me with another of her headmistressy stares.
I straighten my face.
“As I was saying,” she continues after a pause, “I did promise her mother I wouldn’t interfere. But it seems that her mother, by not interfering herself, is just as much to blame for the circumstances you and Libby are currently in.”
She puts down her old-lady china plate decorated with gaudy red and orange roses, and starts to pour two cups of tea.
My headmistress never gave me tea after I’d dyed Cheryl’s ponytail.
Maggie passes a cup to me. “More sugar?” she asks.
I sip, then shake my head. This situation is bizarre. I wonder when she’s going to get the cane out. If Maggie ever needs a bit of extra income, she could always go in for private S&M sessions. She’s one scary lady.
She smiles at me. “Good.”
Sips her tea.
“She knows all about it, Oliver.”
The room, still warm from the heat of the day, suddenly feels icy cold.
“Knows what?” I ask, although it’s a rhetorical question. I’m only playing for time, putting off the moment.
“You know what,” Maggie says.
* * *
“I wanted to tell her,” I say after a few minutes have passed. Maggie’s a master in the art of silence, and eventually I had to break it. “But you see…that would have meant breaking a promise to my mother.”
“She made me promise I would never tell anyone about what really happened to my father. As far as anyone else was concerned, he ran off with a librarian when I was five.”
“Is your wife ‘anyone else’?”
I open my mouth to answer, “Of course she isn’t” and then stop.
Because if I haven’t told her what really happened to her father-in-law, then that’s what she is, right?
* * *
Most married men have two women in their lives. A wife and a mother. Some manage the two together without any problem.
The others have to make a choice. I thought I’d made my choice the first time I met Libs. She literally took my breath away. Every time I saw her, I had difficulty breathing. She’s the one, I thought.
Now, as Maggie tells me every last thing that Libby has found out from our hitherto unplayed wedding video, I realise I’ve been fooling myself for the last ten years.
More to the point, I’ve been fooling Libby.
This was originally published on July 8 at the Woodhaven Happenings site, a blog where you can find extra posts by other Libby’s Life characters. Need reminding of the characters? Check out the Who’s Who.
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Img: Map of the World – Salvatore Vuono