I've been away too long, a busy life has dragged me away. But just to let you all know that I am still alive and kicking, here is a simple little story. No sex in this one.
I was sitting at the bar of the Holiday Inn in Eindhoven, Holland. It was about 9:30 on a Thursday evening in November and I'd just come out of the restaurant, and was sipping my beer and watching the world go by. A guy came and sat on the next bar stool, I glanced his way. He looked the average travelling businessman. More handsome than many I had to admit. I would guess he was a couple of years younger than me and probably an inch taller, which would make him around 32 or 33 and 6'1". The really sickening thing was that he was not only about 50 pounds lighter than me, but he was one of those slim loose limbed individuals who can wear rags and make them look Savile Row. I used to be like that once, but in the last few years I've spent too many evenings in the bar, too many beers on those evenings, and too much fast food when I needed to eat, so I wasn't loose limbed and graceful anymore.
I went back to staring at my beer and wondering if I was brave enough to tell my boss exactly what he could do with his job when I gave him my trip report on Monday morning. And whether giving up this job would be the first step towards building a new life that I so desperately needed. Damn bloody Dominic Taylor, that was the name she'd said, that was the name of the man she was about to marry. That was the name of the man who had dashed any hopes I had for happiness.
But then my neighbour caught my ear: "Just for change, Dunk, I'll have a beer this evening" he said cheerfully to the barman.
The barman smiled, "Just for a change!" and he drew a glass of amber liquid and placed it in front of my neighbour. "And just for a change you want it on your room tab, Sir?" I could hear the nasal twang of Australia in Dunk's voice.
"Why not? Just for a change!" said my neighbour.
I turned to him, "You're a regular then?"
He turned to me, "I have been. Every other week for the last two months, but this is my last week. How about you? I haven't seen you in here before."
"No I usually stay in the Crowne. I have done for one night every four months for eight years. So I thought I'd stay here - just for a change." I replied, with emphasis to echo his phrase.
He smiled at my acknowledgement of his little joke. "One night every four months for eight years? It sounds as if the change was long overdue. What do you do that brings you here on that sort of routine? My name's Nick, by the way." And he held out his hand.
I shook his hand, "Thomas." I introduced myself.
We both sipped our beers, and then I answered his question, "Street furniture. I work for a manufacturer of street furniture. Lamp posts, traffic signs, traffic lights, you name it. It's a pretty basic commodity and the orders are fairly steady, but every now and then there is a big project. We have to look after our clients, who are usually local councils and road contractors, and my patch is Holland; Germany, that's the big one; and Belgium. So once a month I come over from London for a week. The first month it's North Germany, next month it's Holland, next it's back for South Germany, and then Belgium in the fourth month and I'm back to the cycle with North Germany after that. One day in a big city, part schmoozing, part telling them what we've got coming up and checking on their thinking, and the next day onto the next city. Today it was Breda and tomorrow it will be here in Eindhoven. What about you?"
"I'm in computers. I've been installing a system here. But the client has accepted it, all the training is done, so my job's finished and its over to the maintenance and client support people from Monday." He paused and looked at me, "I've only been doing it for a couple of months, I don't think I could do it for eight years, I guess you enjoy it."
I smiled and shook my head, "I used to, but I think I've just about got to the end of the road."
I drained my glass, and caught the barman's eye as I pushed my glass forward. As Dunk took it I glanced around at my new friend, he was staring at a pretty girl, blonde about 25, who was sitting reading a paperback in the corner. I knew what he was thinking; there was a time in my life when I'd have been thinking it too.
I turned back as Dunk delivered my new glass of beer. He looked at Nick and noted where Nick was staring, and then glanced at me with a knowing look. "And another one for you Sir?" He asked crisply, demanding that Nick take his eye off the girl.
"Oh! Er ... Yes please, Dunk." And Nick turned to me, obviously trying to gather his thoughts before he had been distracted, "Had enough then? Time for a change?"
I smiled wryly, "I should never have started. Accepting this job was the biggest mistake of my life. But I thoroughly enjoyed it for the first five years. Once a month I had a week away from home, good hotels and travelling on expenses, the taste of another life. Great. For the last three years I just haven't had the will-power to actually quit."
Nick was still surreptitiously glancing at the girl. Dunk returned and stood squarely at the bar looking at Nick, "Are they giving you a leaving party tomorrow, Sir? Or are you sneaking away back to your girl? After last weekend you two must have plenty to plan and talk about."
Nick turned and looked at Dunk, and then he smiled sheepishly, "I think it's my big weekend last week that might be making me want to forget about it for a couple of hours tonight."
I didn't understand this conversation, but I could hazard a guess, and it was obvious that Dunk didn't want Nick to stray tonight.
Dunk looked at me and there was urgent desperation in his eyes, "Why don't you tell him your story of travelling, Sir?" and then he turned back to Nick, "You should listen to this tale, I can recommend it."
Nick looked at Dunk and then at me, "I thought this was your first night here. Do you know Dunk from somewhere?"
Dunk was looking at me with even greater desperation, so I said, "Sure. Didn't you know that Duncan did a spell behind the bar of the Crowne before he came here?" I lied, praying that Dunk was a Duncan.
Dunk smiled with relief, and Nick seemed to accept both my explanation and his fate, and he sat back on his stool. He sipped his beer and then looked at me, "OK, so what's the story?"
I sipped my beer, and I wondered if I was meant to make something up to put him off chatting up girls in bars. Maybe I should make up some story where I declare myself HIV positive or something and all the result of picking up a girl in some bar. But actually my true story might work and at least keep his attention long enough for the temptation to go up to her room or for her boyfriend to arrive or something.
I took another sip, and turned to Nick and smiled, "My story is returning from a trip like this three years ago, only it was from Belgium and it was in September. I was 33 years old; I had been married about seven years by then to the most beautiful, sexy and intelligent girl in the world. I adored her." I paused and smiled, thinking of Penny, and took another sip of beer, "I'd had a pretty good bachelorhood, quite a few notches on my bed post, and then I'd met the girl of my dreams, and God, had I fallen? She was my one and only true love, she still is I guess. And by luck she'd fallen in love with me. We had a really wonderful seven years. Two years into it I'd been promoted to this job, and I was travelling one week every month on expenses, and I was loving it. Everything in my garden was rosy, very rosy. I was earning good money, so was she. We were agreed that we'd move soon from our apartment. It was a nice place, right in the centre of Winchester, if you know Winchester." Nick nodded his head in some vague acknowledgement that he had at least heard of the place, "Anyway, we planned to move to something a bit more family orientated out in the country and then start a family. We were even agreed that we wanted the first one to be a boy, then a girl and number three could be pot luck."
"How old was she?" He asked, probably for no reason other than to keep the story flowing.
"Five years younger than me, so she was 28 at the time all this happened. She was 21 when I married her and I was 26, and it was the right time for me to settle down. And so I was 33 when my story took place."
"So what happened?"
"Well I've told you how much I liked doing this job in those early years. But there was a time when I really wondered if I should give it up. I knew that Penny, my wife, seemed to be having some worries or doubts about it. But, as I say, I was enjoying it, so I told her that I loved her, that she was the only girl for me and that she had absolutely no need to worry about me and she had absolutely no reason to doubt me. I reminded her that we needed the money, and that I enjoyed the job and the career opportunity." I paused to look at Nick, "I guess she had been a bit nervous and stressed about it all for a couple of months, and maybe I wasn't sensitive enough to her needs and whatever she was thinking."
Nick smiled reassuringly, "What man ever knows what a woman is thinking?"
I smiled, "Well, on the fateful night I got a good flight for once, and we landed a bit early. Everything went perfectly. I came out of the terminal and for once there was a car park bus waiting. My car was actually in the bay next to the bus stop. I even got a clear run home, which was unheard of on a Friday night. So I guess I was probably home just a bit early, about 9:00 in the evening. And guess what? There was a BMW on my drive that I didn't recognise. Husband comes home early and you can guess what I found."
His eyes started flickering towards the girl again, I was losing him. It was too clichéd a story. But he was still talking to me, "I'm sorry, that must be horrid. Did you actually catch them in bed? I can't think of anything much worse."
"No, thank God. I was at least spared that. As I came in through the front door, they were in the hall. She was completely naked, he was dressed and they were just having their farewell kiss. My stomach heaved at the sight. It still surprises me that I didn't actually throw up all over the hall carpet."
Nick was still watching the girl, and he began to stand. I looked around at Dunk who was heading our way. In desperation, I actually put my hand up on his shoulder and gently pushed Nick back down on his seat and said "You should hear this, it gets better. Before you do anything, let me tell you I know what it feels like to be betrayed by the one you love, and it is the most gut wrenching pain anyone could ever feel. If you've got a girl back home, then think twice. Let me buy you another beer or a whisky if you like."
Dunk took our glasses and said very clearly "What will you have, Gentleman?"
Nick sat back, defeated, "Just another beer, please Dunk." And I nodded.
I waited for our beers, just buying time really. When they were served, I started, "Let me tell it as best I can remember in our actual words..."
Lover boy glanced round as I came through the door and said "Fuck! I knew we shouldn't have had that third time. Sorry Babe; gotta fly." And he did, straight out of the open front door. I'd like to say I had the presence of mind to trip him up, or knee him in the balls or something, but I didn't. I hardly saw him leave. All I could look at was my darling wife.
She stood there, naked, lipstick smudged, hair tousled and a mess. The image of a well fucked woman. She sort of cringed before me, tears welling up in her eyes and her lips quivering. I fell against the wall, leaning on it heavily for support. I just stared at her, no words seemed to come.
She found herself before I recovered. She just quietly said "I'm sorry Tom." and turned and walked upstairs. I don't know how long I just stood there, leaning against the wall, but eventually I found my way to the kitchen and a glass of water.
I was sitting at the kitchen table when Penny came down and found me. She had obviously showered and was now dressed, in a simple sweatshirt and jeans.
"I'm sorry Tom. For all the world I wish ... I wish you hadn't had to see that. I wish today wasn't happening. I really do. I'm sorry." She came and knelt at my side.
I looked at her, "I loved you, Penny. I loved you with all my heart. And you betray me. You betray us. How could you? ... Why Penny? Why?"
Now she was crying, "Oh! I've asked Why so many times. What was wrong with me? I don't know, Tom. I don't know. I wish I did." She crumpled and collapsed downward in defeat.
As she crumpled downwards I felt my anger rise upwards, "You fucking whore ... you slut ... How could you? I loved you, you were my life and I come home to this ... You whore. You immoral little whore." And as suddenly as the anger came now tears took over.
I sat there on the kitchen chair sobbing like a baby, everything was lost. There was no way back. I couldn't accept her screwing around on me. I loved her, but she had to be all mine or not at all. Eventually I calmed down, and looked at my once loving wife. "You fucking cow! I thought we were happy. I thought we were on course. A couple of years of you still working, getting our finances right, and then children" I paused "Thank God we never got as far as actually having kids. I wouldn't want kids with you. Not now. No child of mine will have a slut like you for a mother."
Penny looked up at me, "I'm sorry, Tom ... Oh God! You have no idea how much I loved you. What I've been through these past few weeks. Finding that I need a guy like James. I really am so sorry."
"Sorry? Sorry for fucking what? Sorry you were caught? Sorry for pissing all over our marriage? Sorry for declaring to the world that my love was not enough? What are you sorry for Penny?" I paused and then added in bitter defeat, "You're not sorry for any of it."
Her blue eyes, the eyes that once had told me that I'd found the love of my life, looked at me, searching my face, and filled with tears.
Suddenly a thought struck me, "How long's this been going on? There's been a change in you for the last three months, maybe more. I tried to ignore it, to just make you feel safe and loved. I thought that was all I had to do, because our love, our marriage was so strong. I never actually doubted you. God! What a fool I've been. It was you slowly and carefully killing everything we ever had; wasn't it? You and Loverboy. What's his name, Penny, and how long?
"I told you his name. That was James you saw, but I only met him on Wednesday. Let's talk, Tom, we need to be honest with each other and talk. Let me at least try to help you understand. Let me get a bottle of wine and let's talk."
She'd only known him since Wednesday and he's screwing her in some triple fuck marathon on Friday? I've only done it with her three times in one day about ten times in seven years! And if she's only known him since Wednesday, how many others have there been in the last three months, while I've been the loving and supporting husband, giving her reassurance of my love and commitment whenever I thought she needed it?
I stood up, "Talk? What about? How you need more than me? How he's a better lover than me? How our marriage vows don't mean a damn? What are we going to talk about, Penny? What's the motion for debate on nights like this? Prick sizes? Nymphomania? The pain and hurt of adultery? The lack of respect? The female ego? That sex and love are different things? What shall we talk about, Penny? You tell me."
There was an empty silence between us, which eventually I filled, "I assume you had your little fuck fest in our bedroom. In our bed. So I'll be in the guest room. I'm certainly not sleeping in what used to be our bed ever again."
"Please Tom; please let me come to you there. It needn't make any difference between us. I can still make you feel loved and wanted. It'll be good I promise. Let's at least try to put it together. Let's give ourselves and our marriage a chance, let's accept who we are and what we've done and build a new life. Please Tom, it isn't meant to end like this. I don't want this and I hope you don't."
I stood and walked out "You must be fucking joking." I went into the dining room where there was a decanter of my best whisky and a glass. As I came out carrying them and walking towards the stairs Penny came out of the kitchen and just stood and watched me.
I looked at her with disgust, "Why Penny? Why? Wasn't I good enough for you?" And I went upstairs to the guest suite.
I took a sip of my beer and looked at Nick. He looked horrified.
"What had happened to her? Was it some mental breakdown? Why would a good and loving woman suddenly turn into some sick and sad nympho? You poor guy. Did you stay and get her help or just walk out? I wouldn't blame you for just walking away."
I smiled, "All I did that night was go to the guest room with my whisky and sit on the bed and drink. It's not a good solution, and actually it doesn't work. I must have drunk the best part of three quarters of a bottle. If I tried doing that tonight, I'd be passed out and on the floor long before I got that far. But that night, I sat there and it was like water. It certainly didn't block out the thoughts; the questions; the images of my beautiful Penny with other men. I imagined tall men, short men, hairy men, smooth men, older than me, younger than me, just men. Men with cocks, all and every one of them fucking my wife."
I took a long draught of beer and pushed my glass at Dunk who refilled it and gave Nick a fresh one queuing.
"You know until that moment, that night, I'd never imagined my wife with any other man. She loved me; she'd given herself to me; she'd pledged herself to me in Church for God's sake. Suddenly she was sharing herself with others. She wasn't all mine anymore. She wasn't the girl I'd loved and wanted to grow old with."
I turned and looked at him, "Nick isn't it?" He nodded, "Well, Nick. If you take anything from my story, take this. Don't ever make anyone feel what I felt that night. It was a sheer hell of emotions. No one deserves to go through what I went through that night."
I sipped my beer and looked at all the bottles displayed behind the bar. "You know, when stressed three quarters of a bottle of whisky might not make you drunk, but it can still give you one hell of a hangover the next morning. I don't know when I fell asleep, but I woke up at about eleven o'clock the next morning. And God did I feel rough?"
"So what happened?" Nick asked.
I smiled that I now had his attention; he was sitting listening, "Well..."
I came out of the guest suite after drinking about three glasses of water. I sort of stumbled into the kitchen, and there she was, the Mrs-fuck-up-your-life-forever-Wife. She didn't say anything, but she poured me a mug of coffee.
As I took it and sipped, and that first sip made my stomach heave, she said "I'm sorry, Tom. I know this must be the most dreadful shock to you, but we do have to talk. I've learned a lot about myself in the last few months, and not all of it is very nice. Nothing seems to be what I thought. But we do have lives to live; the world hasn't come to an end for either of us."
I think I just looked at her, I think I was about to launch into another diatribe of just what I thought of her at that moment, when her sheer beauty hit me. She looked good, and she looked as if she cared. There was both love and sadness in her eyes. And I just sort of crumpled onto a chair at the table.
Just like the night before, she crouched at my side, "We need to talk, but you aren't fit for that yet. You are still hurt and shocked and plain hung over." She paused to check that I was listening to her, "Look, I'm going to Mum and Dad's; I need to tell them some of where we are. I may need them in the coming weeks. Why don't you get some more rest, and some food inside of you and a shower and change of clothes while I'm gone. I'll be back at about eight o'clock this evening and we can talk then."
She leaned in and gave me a kiss, just gently on the cheek and she stood up and was gone.
I smiled at Nick, "At that moment I thought she was the most cold-hearted bitch I could ever think of. She's just screwed up our marriage, and now she's off around to Mummy and Daddy's for Saturday lunch and to book her old bedroom, just in case she needs it. And at that moment I was thinking that she would most definitely need it."
Nick looked at me, "I feel there's a But coming..."
I smiled, "Well I hate to admit it, but she was right. I went back to bed and just slept for about 4 hours. Then I got up and drank a full carton of orange juice and showered. And I did feel better. A breath of fresh air and something to eat seemed to be calling." I paused and looked at him, half smiling; then I asked, "Do you know that a quarter pounder, large fries and a Coke actually can taste good? Well it does if it's the day after your wife has washed your loving marriage into the history books."
Nick smiled and added, "The age of miracles has not passed..."
And I continued, "I remember sitting at that table in that burger joint, and suddenly the enormity of having to face the end of my marriage hit me. Suddenly I didn't know what to think, I didn't know whether to walk out or stay and fight for some reconciliation. After that I just walked, don't ask me where, just the streets. I had my head down and I was just thinking. I'm not some plastered saint. I told you I'd had a pretty good time before I was married." I looked around at the blonde, "And I saw you, you were fancying your luck there tonight. Being wanted by someone feels good. Sex feels good. But I thought that Penny was mine, all mine."
Nick looked a little sheepish, "I know I shouldn't. I've got a fabulous girl at home. My Polly. You had Penny, I've got Polly. I've known her for about six months, and last Saturday I proposed and she said Yes. I think a week away by myself and it's made me a bit nervous. I know I love her so much, but it's an awfully big commitment and I was thinking maybe just one last time..." He paused, and looked round at me, "So what happened when she got home?"
I had been sitting in my chair for the last hour, waiting to hear her come home and promising myself that I'd remain in control. If anything I wanted to enjoy what maybe the last few moments of our marriage. I wanted her to see how she had betrayed us, how she'd destroyed a great love. Let her know that she was losing a great husband. Let her feel some of the pain that I feel. I wanted at least some moral victory out of this mess.
And then I heard the front door open. And a minute later Penny was sitting opposite me on the sofa.
"Tom, before we start, I want a promise from you. I'll tell you the truth, the absolute truth, about me and about what I've discovered about myself and our marriage in the last few months, but you must be honest with me. I don't want you saying things just to protect my feelings. I know you're hurt and shocked. I know we are probably at the end. I still cling to a hope that somehow we can build something out of this. Something that accepts the new me and what I've experienced in these last few weeks, and with honesty and the right commitment maybe we can build something new and better. But I know you are very hurt and think it's all my fault. But promise me, you'll tell the truth of how you feel about all that's happened and all that's been said and done. Please."
"So where do you want to start? You can ask me anything you like, Tom."
I felt myself to be close to tears, and I swallowed them back, I didn't want to cry, I wanted her to cry. "I guess I want to know who, and for how long and why, Penny, why?"
"Well, you've already said that you've noticed that something was wrong for the last few months. Well I guess that's about right for the time when I've been doing something actively. But under the surface it's being going on a lot longer than that, only I didn't really know it, I didn't recognise it for what it was. I've been living a lie for years." She looked straight into my eyes, "I haven't been truthful with you, Tom. Not about me, about my life, about some of the things I've found out about me. There's been too many lies, Tom. James was just the end of the line. I told you I only met him for the first time on Wednesday."
"Where did you meet him? At work? Commuting? Where?"
She smiled, "Would you believe on the Internet? He had a personal advert up, and I contacted him. I thought he looked the right type."
I could feel my anger and shock rise, "You approached him because you thought he looked the right type? What looked right to you? The size of his cock? The size of his bank balance? What looked right to you, Penny?"
"No. He was the right age. He said he was a struggling actor, and he was up for escort work."
Now I was losing it, "Escort! He was a bloody gigolo? He fucks for money? And you were willing to pay him?"
"Yes to all three. But I didn't pay him to fuck me."
"Oh No? What does he do? Charge for wining and dining you, but the fucks are for free? That's splitting a very fine hair."
She sat back on the sofa. I could see that something had changed. Then she asked, "Tell me Tom, when was the last time you got back from one of your trips when you haven't fucked some girl you picked up somewhere?"
I was shocked. Where the Hell did that come from? "What are you talking about?" I paused, my mind running over a myriad of possibilities, "Is that what this is all about? Is that why you've decided to turn yourself into a slut? You think I have been screwing around on you when I'm away?"
I paused to look at her, let her read my eyes, "I promise you Penny, on everything that's holy: I have never ever been unfaithful to you and our marriage. Not for a single moment of our seven years." I sat back, satisfied with myself that for the umpteenth time I'd reassured her on that silly idea. "I know for the last few months you have been insecure. I guess that's natural with a husband that travels, but I've told you how much I love you, how much I need you, and how no other girl could come close to you for me. I've never strayed. And in the last few weeks, when you've seemed so uptight, so nervous, I've told you that even more often than usual. Because I wanted you to know just how I idolise you and you seemed to be needing some extra security. Please don't tell me that you think I could ever betray you."
I paused before I added, bitterly and angrily, "But you decided to screw around despite how much our marriage means to me." I paused; I knew we were at the end, "I want a divorce, Penny. I want out of here."
"It was just sex, Tom. James didn't mean anything. Have you any idea how much I loved you, or even how much I love you right now? It doesn't matter whether I screwed James, or anyone else. That wasn't about us. You were away, and so maybe I got some sex ... Well, it wasn't about our marriage, our love. I didn't get love, I didn't betray us. It was just sex."
"You fucking cow! It was just sex? They didn't mean anything? Don't our wedding vows mean anything to you? There's no such thing as just sex. Sex means you are sharing your time, your body and your emotions with someone else. I mean it Penny, I want a divorce."
There was a long pause and I saw her shoulders drop.
"OK, Tom. You win. Have it your way." And she did have tears running down her cheeks. She was broken at last, and I had my victory. "I guess it's inevitable. We are at the end." She said quietly.
There was a silence between us as we absorbed the enormity of where we were. Penny was wiping her eyes and blowing her nose.
"You should know, Tom, I paid James for his acting ability." Her voice was strangely cold and calm, "I didn't screw him. Not once. I kissed him; I had to, it was part of the scene. We'd sat here on the sofa, waiting to hear your car. I was embarrassingly naked, but that was necessary as well. But when we heard you we got ourselves into position for you to come through the door and find us."