My thanks go to LadyCibelle, and my friend SH for proofreading, sorting my foul-ups and editing this tale for me. But ... well, I've been fiddling again, so there could be all kinds of cock-ups that have slipped in since they saw it last!
God! That was a day to remember I can tell you! To all intents and purposes it was a normal Saturday evening dinner. Even young Rachel was there, staying with us for the weekend, as she most often did.
Oh, I suppose I'd better explain up front about Rachel being there. Rachel's mother, Andorra - who by the way, I'd never laid eyes on at the time — was a widow and she worked some pretty horrendous hours as a controller for a taxi company most every weekend. Otterley and Rachel had become best buddies at school and somewhere along the line it had become commonplace for the two girls to sleepover at each other's houses.
Eventually it had become standard procedure for Rachel to sleep over at our place Friday and Saturday nights whilst her mother did 12-hour night shifts and grabbed a few hours sleep during the day. Marge (Otterley's mother and my onetime wife) had obviously gotten to know Andorra quite well, but quite honestly at the time I'd never laid eyes on her. Not for any particular reason that I can think of, - unless Marge thought the lovely Andorra would turn my head - it was just how things had worked out.
I was on the road a lot back then; the company I worked for was young, and we were busy trying to grab our own chunk of a market that had been pretty well sown up by other suppliers for many years. It just so happened that Marge did all the dropping off and picking up. Although Rachel was often picked up from our place on Sundays by any of the Taxi's who were passing.
I think Rachel enjoyed being spoilt by those taxi drivers arriving armed with sweets and ice creams etc. when they came to collect her; come to that, Otterley didn't mind when they called to collect Rachel either, she normally got the same goodies as they gave her.
Anyway where was I? Oh yeah, that infamous Saturday evening meal. So there the four of us were, sitting around the table eating. Marge had just served our sweet and I think I'd just returned to the table after putting the main course dishes in the kitchen. Anyway without a second thought about the two girls' sitting with us, and with no prior warning or build up whatsoever, Marge suddenly announced.
"Pete I want a divorce, I'm leaving you!" Then she tucks into her sweet like she'd not dropped just about the biggest brick she could come up with, on my head.
"Sorry?" I believe was the extent of my reply. When your wife of ten years, drops a statement like that into the conversation completely out of the blue; your first reaction is wonder whether your ears have just deceived you.
"I said that I want a divorce. I've found someone else and I want to spend the rest of my life with him."
Yeah well, what the soddin' hell could I reply to a statement like? Remembering of course that there were two impressionable eight-year-olds — one of whom was our daughter - sitting there at the table with us, to witness my every word and/or physical action.
I do believe that under the circumstances I showed outstanding control that day and the patience of a saint. On reflection I have always been very proud of the restraint I displayed.
For some considerable time I sat there and played Marge's words back over in my mind. That is until I convinced myself that I hadn't gone gaga and she had just told me that she wanted me out of her life.
I think I must have made some stupid statement like "If that's the case, I'll go flat hunting tomorrow." Or something like that anyway.
Remember, I suppose I was in a state of shock at the time, so my recollection of the details is probably a bit faulty. Whatever, I did say something about moving out of the house, but Marge came back the real humdinger.
"No, you'll have to keep the house, I won't be needing it and you'll need it for Otterley."
I stopped pretending to eat the rapidly melting ice cream on my dish and stared at Margery.
"We're going on a trip around the world, and Otterley can't afford to miss all that schooling at her age." Marge nonchalantly added, not even looking up from her dish.
"You have to be kidding me!" I replied in a rather louder voice than I'd intended.
Look, I wasn't keeping my emotions in check for Marge's sake, but for the two impressionable young girls sitting at the table with us. On reflection Marge had probably chosen to make her announcement during the meal, because she knew full well I'd restrain myself in front of the children.
"I want to see the world whilst I'm still young enough to enjoy it!" Margery responded. Completely failing to see the irony in her statement.
At that point words failed me, and, if it wasn't for the seriousness of the situation, I might well have burst out laughing.
You see, when Marge and I first got together I was dead keen on travelling. I'd grown up with the plan in the back of my head that when I finished my engineering training, I'd travel the world for a few years before I settled down.
When Marge had come into my life, I hadn't seen any need to change that plan; I pictured Marge and I backpacking around exotic places together.
Marge however, had seen things a little differently. Yeah, just like me she had been keen to see the world. The Grand Canyon, The Rocky Mountains and those great big redwood trees they have over there. We even talked about places like Ayers Rock in Oz and the North Island of New Zealand with its boiling mud pools and things. A New Zealander mate of mine had told of us about his skiing trips on the south island; that had always sounded like fun; a bit more exotic than the Alps anyway.
But Marge had a slightly different game plan to mine in mind. Whereas I figured we'd get married and lit-out right after I'd qualified with what savings I/we'd managed to stash away. I'd figured, a couple of years or so travelling and then we'd come back to the UK, settle down and have some kids. That's always assuming that we hadn't found anywhere else we'd like to settle whilst on the road.
Marge's plan was to have the children first; ironically "Whilst I'm young enough to enjoy them!" had been her exact words. Was that ironic or what?
Okay at the time I thought I'd understood Marge's stance. Her parents had been quite old when her mother had her and she'd always been conscious of the fact. Anyway Marge's idea was that when the children flew the nest, then we'd travel the world together.
Apparently - or so it appeared - Margery had had a change of heart. Maybe looking after Otterley hadn't been as much fun as she'd thought it would be. I know that the pregnancy and actually giving birth hadn't been to her liking. The idea of having three children had rapidly been removed from the master plan once Otterley had been born, without much of a discussion with anyone; that I had been aware of anyway.
I think that was the moment that I nearly broke, but I couldn't very well laugh out loud; although looking back now, maybe I should have done. I couldn't sit there listening to Marge's crap anymore or I'm sure I would have lost the plot and done something I'd finish up regretting for a long time. I just got up from the table and went out into the garden, where for some reason, — probably out of habit and because it was just a job that had to be done - I started deadheading my roses.
I have no idea how much time passed before I was aware that I had company. It was Rachel's arm - I think - I noticed first as she started deadheading the bush next to the one I was working on. Then I noted that Otterley was working on the bush the other side of me. Neither of the girls had said anything to announce their arrival.
"Mind the thorns girls; you haven't got your gardening gloves on!" I found myself automatically warning them.
"We'll be careful daddy." Otterley replied.
"What's your mother doing?" I asked kind-of absentmindedly. I'm not sure why I asked my daughter that, it was like another automatic response.
"I think she's upstairs, packing." Otterley replied quietly, as if it was an everyday occurrence.
Suddenly I was so very angry again, I couldn't continue deadheading the damned roses. I feared that if I did, I'd pull the fresh blooms off as well. I found myself stepping back and watching the girls continue.
Really, I wanted to rush upstairs and throttle Margery. But not so much for announcing that she was leaving me out of the blue. More because she'd virtually told our daughter that she didn't want Otterley to go with her. I couldn't understand how any mother - let alone my wife — could do that to her child.
"I'm sorry Otterley!" I found myself saying, without any further explanation/
"Why daddy, you haven't decided to leave us, mummy has?" My daughter replied obviously understanding what my apology was all about. "Most of the kids at school; it's their daddy's who have gone. I'd rather stay with a daddy who loved me, than a mummy who..."
Otterley didn't complete her sentence and I wonder to this day what she had been intending to say. I've always wondered but I suppose I'll never know what I'd missed over the years; had Margery somehow given Otterley the impression that she didn't love her?
I thought not, well not that I had noticed; Marge had always seemed to me to be a loving mother to Otterley. She also seemed to dote over Rachel when she was at the house as well. But if I was blind enough not to see that my wife had herself a fancy man tucked away somewhere, I had to wonder what else I had missed?
.... There is more of this story ...