Sketch by Jacqueline Ann Winter
Her nervous toes danced under the table. She thought, on this dismal day in South West London, the time had come to confess her state of tangled affairs. She could, given the spotlight for long enough, call attention to quite a few issues plaguing the Longley family dynamic. She thought it best, however, to focus solely on the emotional affair she had been having with her parents’ neighbors’ 33 year-old son, Kingsley Stone, whom she had met three years prior at an equally dismal Christmas dinner.
The families had come together in their typically matte fashion. Her husband Bill had his shirt ironed crisp and wore a smile only she seemed capable of forgetting. Everyone complimented the two on how well Bill was doing. The over-used “Oh fabulous, Bill” was tossed around as his extended family sucked the words dry that fell from his mouth. The compliments were usually followed with a glance over to her, as if to signal that she, too, deserved an accolade for being, well, his wife. Then came the how-slim-you-look and the how-grown-up-the-kids-are comments until she couldn’t take it any longer. So she swiftly and quietly shuffled into the kitchen where she folded napkins into the origami shapes she taught her primary school class. This time, though, her hands shook terribly. She moved around the napkin in the way one peels a label off a beer bottle on a first date: slowly, panicky, unaware.
She glanced at her watch three or four times per origami shape created. Laughter came from the other room. She checked the oven clock to make sure her watch was right. “Margaret! Margaret!” she heard, shaking her out of a daze. She paced from stove to pantry, pantry to stove, ignoring the calls, checking her watch again in between the shouts and murmurs.
“Margaret, you must come sit down. We are all waiting for you and the lamb is getting cold!” cried her mother from the adjoining room. She put her origami down and slid her feet like a child across the kitchen floor and into the dining room. Seeing that her kids were distracted, playing in the other room, she pulled out the seat next to Bill. It’s the right thing to do, she thought. If I confess, I’ll feel better. Confess and feel better, confess and feel better.
Kingsley lived in Sheffield, too far for her to visit. He came back when he had the time off. Their infrequent emails turned frequent, and before long their texts turned into phone calls. Their very occasional touches lingered yet crossed no boundaries. They’d never even kissed, but their relationship filled emotional pockets she didn’t know were empty. It was Kingsley in whom she confided; it was his opinion she would seek, his texts she looked forward to. And the more successful her husband became, the less she thought he noticed her discontent.
But as is typical of stoic English culture, emotions were noticed but swept under the rug. Bill already knew about the long distance phone calls. He knew every cigarette break she took outside was to call her “friend.” Bill patiently waited and waited. He waited for her to bottle up her secret so tight she wouldn’t even be able to let a little air out without bursting. He understood the confession was for her own redemption. For her sake, not his. So, as good husbands do when they find out their wives have sought attention elsewhere, Bill sat there silently and watched her fret. He loved her, but he let her fret. In fact, he found her floundering so delightful, he just leaned back, smiled his great, dashing smile, and watched her nervous toes dance under the table.