Vive la Diffidence
These days, when she watches films at all, the malaise is almost overpowering. The stories they tell, real or imagined, good or bad, merely highlight for her how her own seems to have come to an abrupt end. It would be the same with books she imagines, if she had the drive or the desire to read them anymore. Her partner senses this growing dissatisfaction, but tempered as it is by her equally increased apathy and his unconscious feeling that he might be more of a cause than potential salve, he says nothing. It has been referenced, tangentially and only by accident, once or twice, but the prickly anger of his wounded pride, his fear, and her underlying frustration has made it and any similar topic verboten by tacit consent. Things had been better, much better, at the start, their coupling seeming inevitable between those who knew them both. They had sparked off one another, each more alive as they sparred, debated, then eventually kissed. Simpatico, their ambitions and interests had complemented one another almost perfectly, and jarred interestingly where they did not. As friends on their respective courses and later colleagues retired to their homes at each and every opportunity they had struck out, travelling the world dispensing good will and charity with easy charm. They looked, to the more cynical, to have the aspirant quality of a carefully designed and focus-grouped advert couple, equally beautiful and glowing with an impossible contentment whether they were reading the paper together on a Sunday morning or greeting one another in the kitchen after mutually fulfilling days. Worse, they tended to acknowledge their own luck and happiness with good grace and humility, which ought to have pushed them firmly into the realms of the insufferable but instead served to make them more likeable. People talked to them of marriage, children, pets (probably dogs), and they smiled at the expectation of it all.
Now, separated from the people they had been close to, ostensibly a pragmatic move in both their burgeoning careers and further up the still-wobbly property ladder, something had gone, gone wrong. A light shut off without explanation. It was performative, perhaps, some element of their drive, their many happinesses, and without an appropriate audience the staging quickly lost importance. He has buried himself in work and its related sociability which, if not excluding her categorically, at least makes it harder for her to feel welcome. Her overtures at creating a similar niche for herself feel oddly hollow, forged in some way out of necessity and revenge, and make her feel lonelier. It is the same for him, poor friendships that he has merely retreated into, but she isn’t aware. This shared contretemps feels endless. Each of them, separately, makes attempts to redress the situation, reparations for crimes they can’t understand and don’t feel that they’ve committed. Tonight she feels like the only one who cares as they sit watching another pointless film, its most impressive special-effect being the way it papers over the cracks in the crumbling artifice of their once-great love. They haven’t had a substantive conversation in weeks, their love-making has slowed to an occasional, mechanical and perfunctory exercise that satisfies and edifies neither of them, but which each feels keeps the other somehow unaware of how little love or human feeling there is between them now. The occasional meal in company passes with long and awkward silences they cover will forced jocularity, alcohol-fuelled laughter and feigned displays of affection which would seem badly stilted to anyone who knew them at anything close to their best. Her occasional business trips are a welcome relief for both of them, though they profess, overly ardently, to miss one another. Neither cheats, they think that maybe love is supposed to feel like this over time, comfortable discomfort, easy unhappiness.
A couple of years later, as the silences and the sadnesses build to a crushing crescendo, they have the fight that they ought to have had a long time ago. After hours of back-and-forth, weary from hollow imitations of the playful forms of argument they used to delight in, she is left with only one thing left to say.
“Do you propose to be the cure?” She asks.
His sigh is a whole body affair, a sign of both their exhaustions, bone-tired all-through. Then he weeps. Then they both do.