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Flanagan. Rachmaninoff. The Dog.

22 Nov

Richard Flanagan may well be the only writer in the history of the prestigious prize to win the Man Booker, and be nominated for the worst sex scene in fiction in the same book by the London Literary Review, in the same week. The scene is in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and involves “circumnavigating” lovers being interrupted in their coitus by a dog with a dead fairy penguin in its mouth. I have to agree, it isn’t one of the book’s best bits.

Flanagan is interested in desire, the myriad ways in which it might manifest, the unforeseen consequences when it is lost, repressed or denied, and when it is fulfilled. I first felt the impact of the author’s reflections on this topic when I read his 2008 novel Wanting in which he dissects the complex desires of Lady Jane Franklin and her explorer husband Sir John, as well as those of Charles Dickens for his mistress, Ellen Ternan. I thought the link between Dickens and the Franklins a tenuous one on which to hang the novel, but Flanagan has such insight into the human condition I can forgive him almost anything.

In The Narrow Road, protagonist Dorrigo Evans enters into what is to become a long, unsatisfactory but absolutely binding marriage that creates in him “the most complete and unassailable loneliness, so loud a solitude that he sought to crack its ringing silence again and again with yet another woman.” The presence of the absent woman he deeply loved and lost has shaped his life and his marriage: “As a meteorite strike long ago explains the large lake now, so Amy’s absence shaped everything, even when – and sometimes particularly when – he wasn’t thinking of her.”  Yes.

It takes determination to stay with the descriptions of life in the Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma railway, and yet it would be cowardly to turn away from knowledge of what humans perpetrate on one another, what can be survived, and how desperate the desire for survival can become in conditions where one would imagine death to be a better option. Oh, he is a fine, fine writer is Flanagan.

Narrow Road to the Deep North


It’s been about ten years since I last listened to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. I came across the CD this morning, put it in the player and lay down on the floor to listen. It’s a big, dramatic concerto with surging melodies, rhapsodic in nature, and has at times been dismissed by critics because of its “gushing” romanticism and alleged lack of subtlety. It’s been used in a remarkable variety of films, including David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, and Japanese anime. I don’t know how it became so familiar to me, but when I listened again after so long, I knew it as well as if I’d been listening to it every day. It is, I think, quite beautiful. There was a tosser in the seventies who used one of the themes for his popular song, All By Myself, for which he should have been hung.




And finally, today has been a very sad day. Our vet Terry, Mrs Chook and I decided it’s time to say goodbye to our old Big Dog. He’s fourteen, almost blind, full of arthritis, deaf as a post and Terry says his lungs are fucked. I did tell him to stop smoking but would he listen? We have him till Wednesday, and after that he’ll be under the mango tree in the back yard. He’s a ripper dog, Terry always says. I don’t quite know how we’ll get used to being without him.

The smiling dog.

How to say I lub you

21 Nov

If you want to read these posts in order start at the last one in the category Adultery titled: Certain Dark Things. Or “Infidelity” at the top of the home page.

Lub you

Speech Acts: verbal assurances and promises which seem not only to refer to a speaking relationship but constitute a moral bond between speakers.  Judith Butler


 The three-year-old sat on her lap and said he was going to teach her how to say “I lub you” without using her words. He pointed to his eyes. He folded his small hands across his heart. He took one hand from his heart and held it palm up towards her. See, he said. Now do it to me. She pointed to her eyes. She folded her hands across her heart. And then she handed him her heart in the palms of her hands. Do it again, he said. Lub me again. Pease.

Her lover has said I love you more times than she could ever count. Oh, Lordy yes I love you, he says if she needs reassurance. Sometimes he writes ditto when she tells him she loves him, but he stopped that when she told him it wasn’t very appealing. Instead he wrote, and I you. I adore you, she wrote and he always replied, and I you. Every bit of me loves every bit of you, she told him. Aaaah, he sighed. And I you. You know I love you, he says. I told you. She has to explain to him that although she knows, she likes to hear it because they aren’t physically together and can’t show their love. They have to say it. Ah, he says. I see what you mean. Sometimes she thinks he is a little slow in these matters. Though willing.

Her husband told her he loved her about ten times a day. And every single time it had meaning. How did he manage that, she wonders.

I love you is a speech act. It constitutes a moral bond between speakers.


 It is September. She’s in the pool. It takes perhaps fifteen minutes of swimming laps before she feels completely at one with the water. This is why she does it, for the sensation of pushing effortlessly through aquamarine liquid velvet. Lifting her head to see the thick bush surrounding the pool, the blue sky streaked with high white cloud. The weightlessness and grace of the human body in the foreign, watery element. The aquamarine is her birthstone. She has a ring she can no longer find, a pale blue gem with a small diamond either side of it, set in white gold.

As she swims she thinks of her lover, he has written to her that morning telling her he has begun the process of encouraging his wife to go away on trips without him. They usually do everything together, he’s told her, like everyone else they know. His wife is reluctant, he says, and he has faced much opposition, but he needs this to happen so that it will not seem strange to the family when he wants to go away alone to be with his lover. What a pity the timing doesn’t work for his lover, they could have spent the days his wife is absent together without fear of arousing suspicion, but it was such short notice, and she has already arranged to be with her family and their babies.

“This was a sudden thing,” he writes. “It only happened at all because I strongly encouraged it over opposition and great reluctance, thinking that it was a first step to establishing the idea of doing things alone. At least,” he writes, “we can have phone calls at nice and unusual times like early morning and bedtime, while my wife is gone.”

He has recently persuaded her to be sexual with him on the phone. She’s not at all sure about it. It’s exciting at the time but when the call ends she feels an aching loneliness and a sense of having done something she didn’t really want to do. Not long after they’ve begun this experiment she stops it. It would be different, she tells him, if they were living together and separated for a while and the phone was an interim measure. But they are separate most of the time. Being separated from the man she loves more than she is with him is an entirely new experience. She is used to being a wife.

He can feel her, he tells her. It is her hand holding his cock, not his. Her hand stroking his nipples, her finger tracing the ridge between his balls. She is his first thought when he wakes, he tells her, his last before he falls asleep, and when he wakes in the night she is there.

You say you’ve gone away from me but I can feel you, feel you when you breathe…

As she swims she thinks two things. She thinks how glad she is that he wants to be with her so badly he will instigate long-term plans to change the whole pattern of his married life. The other thing she thinks is how manipulative he must be to be able to convince his wife it will be good for her to go away without him, when his real motive is to re-educate her so he can take time away to be with his mistress. She allows the first thought to push the second off the edge of an escarpment, into a bottomless abyss.


 Once she knew a man who taught her to use all her senses from her heart. She learned to see with her heart, feel, taste, smell, and hear with her heart. It’s not always safe, he warned her. There are circumstances in which the heart ought to be left out of things. While she can tell if a situation is obviously not one she wants to experience so fully, she’s not very good at judging the more subtle scenes.

When she first met her lover her heart was feeding all her senses, and she thought nothing of it. The sight of him leaning against the wall waiting for her, the shape of his body, the height of him, the pull of him, were all noted by senses rich with her heart’s energy. Long before she knew anything with her mind, her heart and all her senses whispered, I lub you. She handed him her heart in the palm of her hands, and she didn’t even know she’d done it. A moral bond. I lub you.


 For months, a year, and for more months, she protects him. She does without most of what she would really like to have, in order to protect him. She has no idea why she has entered into this agreement to protect him. Sometimes, she loses patience and threatens to tell his wife. She knows she never will. He knows she never will. He trusts her absolutely to protect him. She gives him the great gift of absolute trust in her. Because I love you is a moral bond.


 She tucks the three-year-old into his bed. Giddy, he says, that’s what he calls her, Giddy, will you sleep in my bed for a little while? He scoots over to make room. She lies down, and curves her body around his. In moments he’s asleep. She lies with him for a long time, listening to the night birds, watching the full moon rise over the mountains, hoping his small, strong body can help her heal herself. In her worst moments, when she wakes into terror, she thinks of her lover and then she thinks of this little boy. He has her smile. He has her scowl. He has their hearts in the palm of his hand. Lub me again, Giddy, he says. Pease.

Remember that words, the right and true words, have the power of deeds. Raymond Carver.


18 Nov

There was a message for her when she arrived home from her swim. The sea that day was Caribbean blue with indigo blooms. It reminded her of Isla Mujeres, off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Before she met him she was a woman who travelled alone to Mexico even though her oncologist advised against it, a woman who took the ferry to Isla Mujeres without having booked accommodation in advance, a woman who when she arrived at the island of women strolled through the hot midday streets looking for a place she might stay and found one, as she knew she would, an apartment above a shop that sold beaten tin images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and postcards of women who fought with the Zapatistas. She had a life before him. A big, rich beautiful life, full of the love of her family and its babies, and her husband before he was stricken with illness.

Hey, lovely lady.
Hey, my love. I’ve been swimming in the sea.
Have you showered?
Not yet.
Good. I want to lick the salt from all your secret places. I want to taste your salty juices. I want my tongue in you. I want you to come on my lips… 


Early in their relationship he said, we mustn’t make comparisons. He surprised her. She didn’t want to know anything about his sexual life before her, and had no intention of sharing hers. It would be odious, she agreed, to compare.

But then he wanted them to have their list of “firsts.” And it didn’t occur to her immediately that anything either of them claimed as a first revealed some of their history. When she realised this, she felt guilty. Her ill husband would never again be her lover but still she felt guilty, that she was betraying him, that she was perhaps indicating he had not been satisfactory, which was far from the truth. She wrote to her lover, saying that she had not meant to imply that her sexual life with her husband had been lacking or unsatisfactory because that would be dishonest, and he replied that he understood.

Likewise, when he told her he had not experienced this or that, she knew his history and wondered how he could reveal such things while still in his marriage, even if they no longer shared a bed and sexual intimacy. Her inside voice set up a minor clamour. Don’t trust him, it said, look how he is betraying his wife, don’t be so foolish as to think he wouldn’t betray you too. She knows he will. She has written to him, you will leave me if your wife finds out, won’t you, and he replies, you can’t know that. You can’t know that. His reply feels like both a rebuke, and an appeal that she not make assumptions about how he will behave.

Then he tells her he is working out how they can be together, he’s making a concrete plan he’s doing all the financials and she is startled, and says, you are thinking like this? I’m not thinking like this. I haven’t even considered this. She doesn’t know him, she hasn’t even spent a night with him, this isn’t like any other relationship she’s had when people have time to know one another, to fall asleep and wake up together, they haven’t done that and she’s not ready to leave her life for him and besides, her husband is still breathing and there is no way on this earth she will throw in her lot with another man as long as there’s breath in her husband’s body.

He is with his wife as he works out the financials and plans a new life with his lover, and his wife is with him, in complete ignorance of the future he envisages without her. How, she wonders, is it possible to plan a new life with another woman when you haven’t made any mention of it to your wife? What will he do? Walk out one day? Leave a note? She imagines doing the same thing when she lived with her husband, when he was well. She imagines an abyss separating them that never existed in reality, but would have to be there for her to secretly plan to leave him for somebody else.

Again and again it will come between the lovers, the difference between her knowledge of marriage and his. She thinks they would not do well together, that she would expect the intimacy that is marriage to her, and he would expect the distance that is apparently marriage to him. He tells her that he is not allowed to close his study door when he works because that hurts his wife’s feelings, and she marvels that he cannot close his study door but he can plan a new life with another woman, won’t that hurt his wife’s feelings? She asks him how he works if he can’t close out distraction and interruption. He says he’s learned to work around it. When she works she needs solitude it was the same for her husband, they always closed their doors. Would you object to me closing the door when I wanted to work, she asks him, and he laughs and tells her of course he wouldn’t, but she is unconvinced.

There’s a cause and effect, she thinks, between the distance in his marriage that allows him to plan a new life under his wife’s unsuspecting nose, and the fact that he can’t hurt her feelings by closing his study door. I have no privacy, he tells her, only in my thoughts. I will always have my secret thoughts, he says. She tries to imagine what it would be to live without privacy, and knows she would go mad.

She talks to her friend about her marriage. You know it was very unusual, don’t you, her friend tells her. No. How could I know that? You two, the way you loved each other was extraordinary. Don’t ever expect to find anything like that again. And anyway, lots of couples live without privacy, you know.

Ugh, she says, I never want to know everything about anybody. How boring. And she remembers how she loved the ultimate unknowableness of her husband, of any human being but especially him, the impossibility of possessing him, his otherness, his alterity, the absolute not-me-ness of him. The delight when he emerged from his study or she emerged from hers, and he took her in his arms as if they’d been behind closed doors for days. Oh, you, he’d say. You.

I don’t understand him, she thinks of her lover, I don’t understand what he means by love. She struggles to grasp how he does what he does, her, his wife, the secret life, the power of his desire, if she felt like he does about someone else she could no more be in the same house as her husband than fly to the moon. She couldn’t hurt her husband like that, even when, especially when, he didn’t know the damage that was being done to him, the denial of him, of the life they’d had together. Her lover seems to be of the “what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her” school, but she’s never believed that, people know stuff, even if they don’t know they know, and it wreaks damage and havoc and they can’t understand why.


Bluff Beach


Every day while the weather held, she swam in the warm sea, usually naked unless strangers wandered onto her deserted beach. She was golden brown all over.

Send me photos of your golden breasts.
Aaaaah, he writes when she does. When I look at you the juice from my cock flows down my thigh, like it does when I hear your voice, or read what you’ve written. When you come for me, strong and long, I feel such joy that I have touched you so deeply. I want to suckle from your salty nipples, let me lick up your juices then kiss you so you taste them like the sea on my tongue. Oh Lordy, yes, I love you. You know I do.


When she was alone on Isla Mujeres she was happy, and occasionally lonely. She’d left her husband behind, much to his annoyance, but she knew it was essential for her to do this without him. He’d cried at the airport and she almost gave in, but her family in Mexico were expecting her so she boarded her flight and forgot about him almost immediately. She did this again when she went alone to Stockholm, and he was savage about her intending to fuck some Lars or Sven. That’s projection, she told him. You’re imposing on me what you are likely to do. I hate it when you talk psycho babble, he’d told her, and walked off. She wonders what he would think of her lover and the relationship she has with him. Apart from being insanely jealous that she had a lover at all. Fuck him if you must, he’d say, but don’t love him. I never loved anyone but you. Don’t you love anyone but me. Anyway, he’d conclude, he’ll never know you like I do. Then he’d sing something, like, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about her.


The island of women is where Caribbean pirates kept their mistresses, imprisoned by the turquoise sea, unable to leave. The pirates took whichever woman they fancied at any particular time, but the women had no say in who they would lie with. When the pirates left for work, away for weeks, months at a time, the women were free to be with themselves, each other, and their children. She lay on the white sand of Isla Mujeres, her feet in the shallows where tiny striped fish nibbled her toes, and thought about the pirate women, and about love and because she has a cancer that will only ever be in remission, death. When she returned to her apartment above the shop she wrote to her husband. I’ll be home soon, she told him. Keep a candle in the window.


Her lover writes to her, several times a day for months and months and months. All the while his wife is there and he may not close his study door. When his wife goes out, they speak on the phone. His thigh is wet from the juice of his cock that leaks as soon as he hears her voice. They are perfectly matched and they should have met decades ago, he tells her from the house, the rooms, the home he shares with his wife.

There is one thing, and one thing she knows for certain about him. That he is capable of the most awful betrayal. Not only will he desire her, he will love her and want her in his life forever, and tell her, you are my second wife. And in spite of that love he will leave her, in the most cruel of ways, without a goodbye.

He was living a life that was unknown to his wife. Why is she shocked when he does this thing to her?

“The end is in the beginning, and yet you go on.” *


Isla Mujeres One



*Samuel Beckett

Desire, and good men

17 Nov



My lover writes to me: So, we discover another everyday thing that we charge with sexuality. I would love to soap you all over in the shower. Your back, your legs, your arse, your cunt, your belly, and linger long over your breasts…

There is an erotic book by Cameron S. Redfern titled “Landscape with Animals,” that tells of her affair with a married man. Redfern is the pseudonym of Sonya Hartnett, author of novels classified quite wrongly in my opinion as young adult fiction.

The affair is initiated by the single woman who is described as unashamedly predatory, and utterly determined to have him. This is both a subversion of the heterosexual dance of infidelity in which the woman is pursued by the married man, and a repetition of the myth of woman as sexual temptress who, like Eve in the garden, brings the man to ruin by offering him knowledge neither of them, according to the rules of the culture in which they live, ought to have.

The married lover in the book is portrayed as a good, gentle, honourable man, who loves his wife and children. He succumbs, but not before he announces to his mistress and to himself, “I am doomed.”

When I read those words I remembered how my married lover (who pursued me, then accused me of the crime of “irresistibility” thereby having it both ways) told me, “I am ruined,” referring to the effects of our affair. And yet, torn, he writes:

Being with you gives me pleasure, gratitude, happiness, amazement, delight, wonder, excitement. It gives me succour and strength and a new lease on life. I need to see you. I need to be in bed with you on a Sunday morning…

The doom and ruin are offset by the extraordinary knowledge found in the discovery and exploration of sexuality and sensuality that at the same time seriously threaten the established order of marriage and family life. Freud was onto this in his “Civilisation and its Discontents” in which he explores the conflict between what he calls the pleasure principle and the reality principle. It is necessary, he argues, for the desire for pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, to be repressed in order for civilisation as we have constructed it to survive. Desire realised for anyone other than the partner will cause destruction to varying degrees, threatening the foundations of monogamous relationship on which our culture rests.

Is it morally wrong for an individual to desire the expression of sexual and sensual aspects of him or herself that have been repressed and unrealised?

I’ve long held a theory that the rule of monogamy, as with many other societal restrictions, is enacted in an effort to bypass difficult emotions, in this case jealousy and deep hurt. Morality is merely the sign language of the emotions, Nietzsche argued. That is, we construct our moral codes not from our rational mind but from our feelings, reactively. I do not like the way this makes me feel therefore it is morally wrong. Infidelity may bring pain, discord and even destruction, but why do we declare all of these uncomfortable experiences to be morally wrong?

He writes before we meet: I want to fuck you physically so badly it hurts…

The fear of doom and ruin expressed by both men is complex. Goodness, gentleness and honour are qualities both identify and value in themselves. The deceit and betrayal of an extra marital affair will make it difficult to maintain that self-image. “I was a good person,” my lover told me, “I want to go back to being that good person.” But of course it was much too late, and one can never go back to the person one was before significant events. The whole point of significant events, it could be argued, is to move one along and if one stays stuck, the universe has done its best.

Both men fear the doom and ruin of their marriages and their families, as well as of themselves, as if their personal ruin must terminally ruin the lives of those who are close to them. Yet none of this prevents them pursuing their goal, so powerful is their desire to experience themselves, to discover who they are in the bed of the other woman.

We are so deep in such complexities, he writes. I could (and do) desire you an infinite amount but still be mentally ravaged by guilt feelings about my wife and family. You are my second wife. That sums it up. I so loved hearing your voice. Don’t have any idea how to deal with this terrible tangle we are in…

Whenever my lover spoke to me of his distress at having ceased to be a good man as a consequence of his love for me, I would tell him that none of us is entirely good or bad, that we find a temporary point on a continuum, move further towards one end or the other, then back again, and again, and this is how we live out our lives on earth. I had no interest or belief in his self-described goodness. If we are indeed “good,” we will never deny the capacity for “badness” that resides within every one of us and may emerge at any time, given the right circumstances. To define myself as “good” limits my human potential. Inside me, there is the possibility of everything.

I would rather you were real than good, I told him.

Then I thought of Freud. Sexuality unconfined by monogamy is bad because it risks the destruction of civilisation. Reality, which demands repression and denial, is good and will enable civilisation as we have constructed it to continue. I don’t think Freud was necessarily in agreement with the way society is constructed, given how he laboured to uncover and defang repression, but I think his observations are accurate. Desire is the most powerful of all the transgressors. It will not be denied without inflicting terrible individual and collective suffering, and it may not be expressed in our monogamous culture without risking the infliction of terrible suffering. I was his second wife, he said, but there is no place for a second wife in a monogamous society.

Do you love me? I ask

Oh, Lordy, yes, I love you. You know I do. I told you.

DCF 1.0



The end of the affair

9 Nov


(Posts on this topic can be found consecutively in the page “Infidelity”)

When the ending came, it was brutal.

She went to bed the night before as usual, with their goodnight messages of love: Night night, lovely lady with the beautiful breasts. And their rows of kisses. The next morning he rang. She was waiting for me at 2 am when I got up for a pee, he said. She said, I know what’s going on. I’ve known from the beginning.

I can’t see you anymore, he says. I can’t talk to you anymore. She says I either end it with you or leave. I can’t leave. I can’t lose my family. If I lose my family I won’t be the man you fell in love with.

She is having trouble taking this in. She hasn’t slept for the three nights since her husband died after a prolonged illness, in the nursing home. She’s taken any number of sedatives, and drunk a fair bit as well, and nothing has even hit the sides. She keeps seeing her husband when she goes down the street. She’s on the brink of stopping some bloke in jeans and a flannelette shirt and throwing her arms round him. She’s ill. She’s in about as bad a shape as anyone can get, and still be on their feet. So if he expects her to comprehend weighty matters such as the ones he’s putting to her, he’s dreaming.

Don’t, she says. Don’t, not now I’m grieving my husband, don’t.

She hangs up on him.

Later that day or maybe the next day, she can’t recall the days, the nights, he phones again. She begs him again not to do this. Relationships end, Jennifer, he says. You’re strong.

What seems like five minutes ago she was the centre of his world. If he didn’t hear from her for a few hours he’d message that he was worried about her. If she didn’t respond he’d write: more worried. Getting anxious. Until she replied and reassured him she was all right, they were all right. Now he’s telling her, relationships end, Jennifer and her husband is dead but she keeps seeing him in the street. The combined shock is indescribable. She is numb, but not numb. She is feeling but it is chaotic, unfocused pain, like babies when they hurt one small part of themselves and feel it in their entire bodies.

She listens as he lurches between two seemingly opposed personalities. On the one hand: Relationships end Jennifer. I can’t lose my family. On the other: I love you, I miss you, it’s impossible, I don’t know what to do.

When he says, I can’t lose my family, she thinks, but they’ve been here all along. They didn’t just appear. They were here at the beginning. Why didn’t you think that then?

This is brutal, she tells him. What you are doing is brutal.

Brutal? he replies. My radical change of circumstances, getting caught, is brutal?

She begins to understand he has unquestioningly assumed that he was entitled to everything he had with her, and entitled to walk away unhampered when it became necessary. He has assumed that he was entitled to have this affair with her long as he wanted, and when he was caught he was entitled to say, relationships end, you are strong, and walk away.  The privileges accorded to him by marriage give him that entitlement he believes, without even thinking about how or why he believes it.  It’s just there. Like the sun rising and setting.

His marriage neutralises the importance of anything she might feel, because it is his marriage. Relationships end. They end four or five hours after you’ve told someone you how much you love them and their beautiful breasts. This is not brutal. This is an expedient adult response to the radical change of circumstances in a married man’s life.

She remembers this is one of the things she has at times despised about some married people, that they believe anything and anyone can be sacrificed to keep their marriages intact. If it’s that important, she’d often thought, why risk it in the first place. She sure as hell didn’t risk hers with betrayal.She abhors the way marriage can be used to justify all kinds of lousy behaviour that causes anguish to somebody else.

You aren’t the man I fell in love with anyway, she tells him. I have no idea who that man was or if he exists or ever existed. Then she hangs up the phone.

When weeks later his wife tells her he’s done it before, she begins to understand his sense of entitlement, and privileged assumptions. Obviously, he has got away with it who knows how often, his wife won’t tell her that. Obviously he has told other women I have to end it I can’t lose my family, and they’ve buggered off without much, if any protest, his wife’s taken him back and now he believes that’s all he has to do.

Then out of nowhere he rings her up and tells her he won’t leave her, not while she’s sick, not while she’s in this awful state grieving her husband. He’s told his wife she’s having a hard time and they’ll be “staying in touch.” I am being circumspect with her, he says. In this situation, she replies, circumspect is just another word for lies of omission. You are being forensic, he says, you’re making me anxious.

His wife has not reacted well to this news. She cries every morning and evening, and it emerges later that she feared every contact the lovers had would result in her husband leaving her.

At the same time, every phone call she has with her lover she expects him to tell her again he’s had another ultimatum and relationships end, Jennifer. He now has two women in a state of appalling distress.

She is not grateful for his decision to stay with her. She has lost all trust in him, she knows he can say again at any second what he has already said. She doesn’t actually want him to stay with her. She wants him to have a conversation with her in which they say goodbye. The conditions he has outlined for staying with her are outrageously selfish, and she wonders how any man could think a woman would find them acceptable. They may only have phone contact a couple of times a week when his wife is out, she must ring so it doesn’t show on his phone bill, and they may not refer to any of their former intimacy, or say anything newly intimate. They must be friends, he says, although he has just spent an afternoon telling her they can’t be friends because it’s all black and white with them, there’s no grey, it’s all or nothing. She has never understood this notion of a nano second’s transition from passionate love to just friends, and bridles at the utter dishonesty of it. He will remember everything about her, he can’t turn his head off like a tap, he will think about her just as obsessively as he always has, but they must not say anything. Nice for your wife, she says. You thinking about me every minute while you’re repairing your marriage. How will that work then?

At least he will get to hear her voice on the phone he says, and that will keep him going.

It fucking well won’t keep her going and he can get fucked, is pretty much the short version of what she tells him.

She wants to end it as well as it can be ended, because they love each other, but she is incapable of coherently conveying this, and shouts at him instead. She can’t clearly articulate what she wants at that point, but she knows it isn’t what he suggests. He tells her he can’t bear not to know what happens to her. He cries when he thinks of never seeing her again. He will keep it staggering on like a mortally wounded animal, bleeding over everything and in terminal agony before he’ll agree to say goodbye.

She does not convey her wishes to him well, because she is governed by excessive emotion and she can’t work out if her awful grief is for her husband, her lover, both, neither, and she is now running fevers every morning and evening.

I’m risking my marriage staying in touch with you, he tells her. She realises she is supposed to feel grateful that he is staying with her on his terms, as he always bloody well has.  She becomes increasingly recalcitrant and objectionable. I can’t lose my wife, he says. Relationships end, she tells him.

I don’t care about your fucking marriage, she tells him. I’d like to blow it to smithereens. Which isn’t exactly true, because if she did she’d feel she had to look after him, and she isn’t at all sure now she’d want to do that.

All she wants is a face to face conversation in which they say goodbye. She doesn’t want him to lose his wife and family. She just doesn’t want to be treated like a piece of shit he’s trying to get off his shoe so he doesn’t trail it into the marital home. He has spent countless hours poring over photos of her naked body, and now he can’t even look at her face and tell her goodbye?

No, it would seem that he can’t, and there follows months of silence that she can’t see him ending.

There is perhaps no more powerful way of staying enmeshed than refusing to say goodbye. Once you’ve said goodbye you’ve closed the book, there’s no reason to go back. Being too angry, too hurt, too mean, too afraid of the sorrow to say goodbye means you’re still there, in the worst possible way. And it’s poison.

With all the marital mess he’s got to clean up you’d think the very first thing he’d want to do is say goodbye to her, close the book, and try to put his marriage back together. If she was his wife, that’s what she’d need him to do as a sign of his good faith. If she was his wife, she’d be wondering every time she looked at him  if he was thinking about his lover. Because he has refused to say goodbye, and a wife would want to know why.

And he still hasn’t told her if he’s destroyed her naked photos.

Words of love

9 Nov

Several people have asked me, is it ethical, what you’re doing, writing about the affair, publishing his words of love to you, have you thought about the ethics of that?

Yes. In principle it could be argued that it’s unethical, even though I don’t identify him. It is a breaking of his trust, making public words of love he meant for me alone.

As long as I kept the shared secret I was joined with him in events the extent of which no other person was aware of. I did not want that bond. I won’t keep any secrets for him. I won’t allow him to think there is anything left between us that binds us.

He said, we will always have this secret, we will always have these magic memories. He said, even after he’d been caught, we can have phone calls, you can ring me when my wife is out so it doesn’t show on the phone bill but we mustn’t speak of anything intimate. We can only have one another’s voices. We will both know what we want and what we are thinking but we mustn’t say it to each other. I will still have my secret thoughts, he said. I will always have my secret thoughts.

It’s the one thing, the only thing I had left to refuse him. He’d had everything else of me. I could take nothing back.

It’s tempting to make comparisons: what he did to me versus what I can do to him, which of us is the least ethical. But that isn’t the point.

All there was left was the secret. And I’ve refused him that in the most public way available to me. There is no secret anymore. I will not give him that.

Is this ethical? Frankly, I don’t give a damn.

There’s a lot more that can be said about the ethics of writing private experiences. That’s for another post.




The Exotic Woman

6 Nov

Georgia O'Keefe Exotica

The exotic is: …routinely described as feminine, its riches as fertile, its main symbols the sensual woman… Edward Said. 


When it begins he writes, you are exotic, I’ve never met any one like you, you are from a different tribe.

It has never occurred to her to think of herself as exotic. The word signifies not only the foreign (that which is literally outside) but the intriguingly unusual, the excitingly strange, the necessarily irredeemably other. She has never thought of herself in any of those terms. Her adult sons lovingly call her a muppet.

The female body is of course in Western culture implicitly conflated with the exotic, with potential to threaten the normative masculine order. The exotic is nothing if not transgressive.

The sovereign boundaries of his marriage bend and warp under the threat of an invasion he has invited. When he later accuses her of wanting to destroy that marriage, she reminds him that it was he who began the process of marital destruction when he broke out of its confines with his first desperate kiss, like a man who has been underwater too long and explodes to the surface fighting to breathe, terrified that he has by the skin of his teeth escaped death.

She tells him, When you took my hand in the cafe you began the destruction of your marriage. And everything you have done since has built on that initial act of destruction.

She’s noticed he has a tendency to avoid taking responsibility. It’s there when he tells her, You are irresistible, that is why I’m doing this. I wouldn’t do it with anyone else. It’s you. Because you.

And it sounds to her uncomfortably like an accusation, though she imagines his intention is to express how much he loves her.

When his wife finds out, she notes wryly that in a matter of moments, perhaps seconds, he has discovered a way to neutralise her irresistibility.

I want to be inside you, he writes when he first sees the photos of her body. I want to stay there and never have to come out. I want to feed from your breasts, I want you to nourish me, heal me.

We are perfectly matched, he tells her. In our sexuality, our sensuality, our intellect. I have never felt so perfectly matched.

She attempts to internalise his gaze and see herself as he does. She gazes at her photos, wanting to see them as he does. For the first time in her life,  she experiences an awareness of the power of her female body. He writes, I worship you. I worship your cunt, your breasts, every part of you. I love the feel of your shoulder in the palm of my hand. The soft skin of your inner arm. Holding your ankle in my hand while I stroke your calf. Your skin.

His adoration of her body amazes her. She has never thought about herself in these ways, it is like discovering a hidden or repressed self, a rich discovery that floods her with an inner radiance  she feels flowing and pulsing, just under her skin.  She loses herself entirely in his visionary worship, they become lost together in her body and what it can do and feel, and desire.

After they have been together she finds her breast is bruised. His mark. She cannot, however, mark him and he says, don’t scratch me, love. Don’t scratch me.

The exotic is like dirt, or weeds. It is matter in the wrong place. Compared to hers, his life could not be more conventional. He tells her his friends live just like he does, in long marriages, always doing everything together.  He has never, he tells her, questioned the basic structure of his life, a piece of information that leaves her gobsmacked. Ever since she can remember she has questioned everything. Her life has no basic structure, it has always been liquid. He suggests that she is attracted to him because of his stability. She laughs and laughs. She has never in her personal life met a less stable man, she tells him, affectionately. Doing the same thing all your life isn’t stability, she tells him. It’s atrophy! Stability is an inner thing, a platform from which one may take risks, ask frightening questions, instigate big changes if necessary, no, my love, I’m not attracted to what you call your stability. I am attracted to the efforts you are making to break out of it.

The survival of the normative depends on the destruction of the exotic. There are many ways in which to bring about this destruction. Colonisation. Co-option. Assimilation. Shunning. Banishment. Scapegoating. In this instance he chooses to shun her, she who, only hours before he was caught, he told again of his love and desire. She who, the last time they’d met he’d found himself almost unable to leave. I can’t leave you, he said, trembling, his face contorted with pain. I can’t leave you and I have to go. This is impossible, he cried, and pulled her to him and wept into the cradle between her neck and her shoulder.

The survival of his marriage is dependent on her annihilation, that is, he must do everything he can to ignore her existence.  He loves her as he has never loved anyone. He desires her as has he has never desired anyone. He has never felt so perfectly matched.

These truths nothing can annihilate. These truths belong to the exotic.

But he belongs to his tribe.

Thou hast committed/ Fornication: but that was in another country,/ And besides, the wench is dead.



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