It was uncanny. We both started talking at exactly the same time, saying exactly the same words.
"I think we need to talk."
We had finished the cereal and coffee. I had started on my toast and marmalade. We looked at each other and out it came. We both found the synchronicity amusing and I began choking on my toast as I laughed. After I regained my composure I looked at her and almost did it again. I put out my open hand to her in a gesture for her to start.
"I've something to say to you, Frank. It's not going to be easy and I don't know how you'll take it."
"Why don't you come out with it? I'm a big boy; I can handle whatever it is."
"Okay. I want—I want you to stop seeing Mary."
I gasped and coughed to avoid inhaling toast crumbs again.
"I'm sorry, Frank, that came out wrong. Of course you can't just stop seeing her, that would be unreasonable, what with your mutual interests and all. No, I just want you to stop—you know."
"No, Caroline, I don't know. Suppose you spell it out for me."
"I want you to stop—I want you to stop taking her to bed. There, I've said it."
The silence that followed seemed to last forever. My wife of twenty-five years had just told me to stop having an affair with her friend and more recently my business associate. Then it hit me again. She asked me to stop; that meant she knew it was happening. It was Caroline who spoke first.
"Look, I know it's my fault. I remember what I said to you a year ago. I'm not blaming you, either of you, but things are different now and I'd like you to stop."
A year ago? Could that have been a similar breakfast conversation when I brought up the problem of my forced celibacy? I'd got to the point where I couldn't ignore it any longer. I hadn't had sex for months and when I did get any it was the "lay back and think of England" type. I soon found out we both had completely different ideas of what our married life was like and how it should be. It wasn't the first time we'd had this discussion, the conclusion was always the same, no conclusion.
I remembered us as newly-weds, not being able to get enough of each other, making love every day and twice on Sundays. My recollection was that she used to get wet when I squeezed her breasts and played with her nipples. One day we drove eighty miles down the motorway with the fingers of my left hand teasing her clit and in her pussy. It's true to say Caroline never initiated sex, but I put that down to her upbringing, Nice girls didn't do that kind of thing.
Caroline remembered things differently, she said she had never had much of a sex drive. She told me I was imagining things when I told her I thought she had gone off me after I had my vasectomy. It seemed I had an over active imagination. I told her she used to like having her breasts fondled or her nipples tweaked. I reminded her of the period when she needed a drink or two before she'd let me make love to her. When I'd asked if she realised how that made me feel she flatly denied it had ever happened. I pushed it that day. I knew she was menopausal, but I was getting desperate. It wasn't just the sex that I missed, it was the closeness it brought and the touching. Once upon a time she loved my touch, but now anything remotely intimate could only be done through at least three layers of clothing. I suggested she think about hormone replacement therapy but she refused to even consider it.
"It's my body and I'm not filling it with unnecessary medication. You seem to want a woman who will lay on her back for you any time you feel like it. Well I'll tell you now, if that's what you want you'd better look elsewhere because that woman isn't me."
That must be what she meant when she spoke about what she'd said a year ago. I must admit I remembered it. I'd analysed the statement several times and every time I still wasn't sure. Was she telling me that if I wanted sex I should find a mistress? It took two frosty weeks to get over that little chat and it didn't change a thing.
A month later I met Mary. I attended a fund-raising event for the charity Caroline managed. I'd noticed her as soon as she came in. Her red hair made her stand out from the crowd. The dress she wore didn't reveal a lot but it certainly didn't conceal her figure. I didn't dream she could be on her own, I thought she must be waiting for someone.
All the great and the good of the local area were there. I even had a short conversation with our Member of Parliament. I tended to try to keep out of people's way and played the wall flower, while the good people and the sleaze balls charities attract were busy with their networking. I found myself corners to hide in and every time I did I'd look up and see her across the room, still alone.
When you are totally bored you look for things to do and since the only thing for me to do was eat and drink I made my way to the refreshments. I was just picking up another glass of orange juice when I heard a voice behind me.
"I'd be careful if I were you. That's the third one of those you've had tonight."
I turned and looked at her. I noticed her striking blue eyes and prominent cheekbones. She gave me a beaming smile.
"Hi I'm Mary Entwistle. We appear to be the only people here on their own and you look as fed up as I am."
"Frank," I said offering my hand. "Frank Burns, but I'm not here alone. I'm Caroline's husband. Between you and me, Mary, I am bored to tears. Caroline insists I come to these things to support her. Who is she trying to kid? She doesn't need my support; she just needs a chauffeur."
"I'm sure you mean much more to her than that, Frank. She often talks about you."
"So you know Caroline."
"Yes, I am a trustee. My husband and I always supported this charity even when it was struggling. Caroline has breathed new life into it. There was a time when we thought it was doomed but she took over, shook up the organisation and got everyone pulling in the same direction. Now look at it. Even our sleazy MP wants to rub shoulders with her. You must be very proud."
"I am, really proud. She doesn't believe it, but I'm pleased to see her showing everyone what I always knew she could do. I was the person who pushed her to apply for job, though sometimes I wish I hadn't."
"Then why aren't you up there beside her?"
"Because I don't think that's where she wants me. Well, that and the fact that I would have to be sociable with your chairman."
"So you're not keen on David. You don't strike me as man full of prejudices. What has he done to you?"
"Nothing at all, not to me personally. but I know he tried to undermine at least one of the other trustees because the guy wanted the organisation to be more democratic."
"Would Jonathan be the man you are talking about? I remember David calling me asking for support. He alleged some sort of financial impropriety. He even suggested Jonathan might be having an affair with the bookkeeper. I told him to bring his evidence to the board meeting and we could decide there. Funny thing is it was never mentioned again."
"No, it wouldn't have been. You see, David tried to use his connections to delay payment by county hall in order to put pressure on Caroline and the board. He wanted Jonathan to stand down or be voted off. I like Jonathan, he's a straight up kind of bloke, so I made my own enquiries at county hall to see where the rumours were coming from. If David had been a younger man Jonathan would have taken him outside. As it is the only thing that prevented him taking David to court was the charity's reputation. From a personal viewpoint, ever since he became chairman and wanted to micro-manage everything, I never get to see my wife"
"Perhaps it's time we got a new chairman."
"Won't happen unless you enlarge the board. He will fight that of course, and his little harem of lady trustees, who fawn all over him, will ensure he is not defeated."
"I hope you're not including me in the harem."
"Of course not. I can't imagine you in anyone's harem. More's the pity."
I felt some embarrassment at giving voice to my thoughts. As I was struggling to find something to say that would salvage the situation, Caroline joined us.
"What are you two talking about all huddled up in the corner?"
"Frank was telling me how many hours you put in, and how proud he is of you."
"Well he's got a funny way of showing it, all I ever hear are complaints about my working too late. Poor little Frank doesn't get enough attention."
"Frank had no right to discuss our private life with strangers, but I'm glad you two are getting to know each other. I had intended to introduce you. Mary has an old motorbike in her garage, Frank. I thought you might be interested in helping her do something with it. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to work the room, as they say."
With that she was gone again. Mary looked at me.
"Everything not sunshine and roses in the Burns household I take it? Sorry, I didn't make it any better did I?"
I just stood there looking down at the floor. My wife had firmly put me in my place in front of everyone. Mary placed a card in my hand.
"My number is on the back. Call me--about the bike"
She put one finger under my chin and lifted my head so I was looking straight at her. She gave me a smile that warmed me through to my toes.
"Hmm, I might have to give the harem idea some thought," she said as she turned to leave.
I watched her all the way to the door the swing of her hips, the tightness of her arse and the way her hair bounced as she walked. I took it all in until she was out of sight.
.... There is more of this story ...