No regrets. This is the right time to start over, I tell myself as I descend the curved staircase into the hall, my footsteps echoing in the empty silence. Counselling sessions have helped me rebuild my sense of identity, my sense of self that had dripped away during forty-five years of marriage and motherhood. I didn’t even notice it happening and I can’t blame anyone else but myself. My favourite window seat beckons and I make myself comfortable and flick through the photobook in my hand, a birthday present from my grandchildren.
Patrick’s brown eyes stare out at me from our wedding photo, his arm around me as I stare up at his face, with such love. It was a wonderful day, full of joy and happiness. I could still smell the fruity scent of the freesias in my bouquet and feel the intensity of Patrick’s dark eyes smiling into mine. My parents were so proud of me.
“Patrick has great prospects,” my parents said to anyone who would listen as they fussed over their only daughter, “Our Linda has married well.”
And I had a good life with Patrick. I just lost myself somewhere along the way, became smothered by my duties as a wife and mother. Most women my age lost their identity when they married. The first step was taking my husband’s name. I signed the register as a young bride and that my last time to use the name given to me at birth. From that moment on I became an extension of my husband and was ecstatic to do so, happy to change my name, delighted to be Mrs Montgomery.
I had to give up work of course. Married women couldn’t work in those days. Work was for men so that they could provide for their families. Women looked after the home. It had not occurred to me to question that indisputable fact. It hadn’t occurred to any of my colleagues.
I shake my head, biting the inside of my cheek, turn the page and study the black and white image of that young girl, newly married, smiling into the camera. It was the photo Patrick had taken of me just before he had carried me over the threshold. My first time to see this house that would become my home for forty-five years. It was an imposing house set on an acre of ground, a fitting residence for a rising star in the Irish professional classes.
“Now, my dear, home sweet home.”
He had kissed me before depositing me in the hallway just inside the front door. I had spun around and frowned with dismay at the orange carpet and the mahogany panelling, my nose wrinkling at the musty smell of past lives. But then I saw the staircase elegantly winding up from the hall and across the upper floor showing enticing glimpses of doorways and light. Patrick had thrown open the doors into the drawing-room and sunshine flooded the hall. I danced into the room and twirled around before flitting from room to room with Patrick beside me drinking in my excitement.
“Patrick this is lovely. We can make this a home.”
My new husband had taken me in his arms and led me upstairs. I still remember the anticipation and the joyful abandonment.
Later that night Patrick brought me into his study and sat me down in front of his desk.
“Now my dear, finances are my responsibility. I will make sure you have a generous allowance out of which I expect you to run the household and to cover any personal expenses.”
My hand shook but I said nothing as Patrick handed me a hard-backed ledger.
“I want you to keep track of your spending in this book so that I can monitor it.”
He pointed out where he had noted my first monthly allowance in the income column and then the various columns listed under outgoings. I bite my inner cheek again as I remembered how happy I was that at that moment. How I had walked around the desk and showed Patrick my gratitude. “Tut, tut, how times have changed,” I can’t help but grin at what I thought was my brazenness at the time, “and for the better, although Patrick wouldn’t have thought so.”
I turn another page and smile at Patrick’s beaming face standing over me as I held our first-born son in my arms. Such pride etched in his handsome face, such joy written all over mine.
“Well done, my darling.”
He had kissed my hand and stroked the baby’s downy cheek, pronouncing him a fine son before passing out cigars. Two weeks later we had their first argument when he introduced me to the nanny he had hired without even consulting me.
“But I don’t need a nanny, Patrick. I am perfectly capable of looking after my baby myself.”
“Nonsense Linda. You need to understand that as my wife you have a certain standing in the community. I need your presence at certain events and you cannot do that while caring for a baby. You are in a very fortunate position that I can hire a nanny to look after our son. There are women who would envy your good fortune.”
I reluctantly acquiesced and when our second son was born twelve months later I was grateful for nanny Lilly’s assistance. Although my gratitude turned to anger within months, after I found Patrick and nanny Lilly in a passionate embrace in his study. Nanny was quickly replaced by an older woman with less obvious attributes.
The following year, and once again pregnant, I returned home from a mid-morning function at the Golf Club, to find a strange woman in my kitchen, rooting through my cupboards, while humming quietly to herself.
“And you are?” I queried.
“Rose Jones, your husband told me to start today. Perhaps you could advise me on your family’s preferences?”
I bite the inside of my cheek as I remember that sick feeling in my stomach. Even now my cheeks flame at the memory of my puzzlement, my embarrassment.
“Yes. I have taken the liberty of preparing some menus,” and Rose handed me a notebook.
Seething with anger I excused myself and went out to the hall to telephone Patrick. Even after all these years, I still feel overwhelmed by his dismissive attitude.
" I have told you before, Linda, I would prefer if you didn’t ring me when I am at work. I simply do not have the time to deal with your petty domestic issues. I hired Mrs Jones to keep the cupboards stocked and prepare evening meals. I simply forgot to tell you, and while I think of it, there is a cleaner starting this morning as well, her name escapes me, but no matter. I really must dash, my dear.”
My smile returns as I flick the page to photos of my children. Four boys in five years and Patrick still expected me to accompany him to social events. At the peak of his career, Patrick did a lot of business on the golf course and expected his wife to attend functions with him and make friends with the wives and girlfriends of his business associates. I grew to enjoy the social activities, provided they didn’t interfere with my children.
“For God’s sake woman, you don’t need to be there to pick them up from school. You have staff to do that for you,” Patrick had roared at me one night when I told him I couldn’t attend a weekday function.
No matter what I said he couldn’t seem to understand that I loved spending time with our children. His only interaction with them was when he felt he had to discipline them, which he did on a regular basis.
I stare at the next photo, a copy of the portrait that had hung above the fireplace. I study the boyish faces, all grinning for the camera as they posed beside their parents, Patrick beaming down with such pride at his sons and there I am, my arm through Patrick’s, smiling straight into the camera. We appear happy, the boy’s smiles masking the sting from the last punishment, the marks kept invisible from public view. Patrick had certain expectations of his family, demanding strict adherence to his rules and regulations. He ruled with an iron fist and a birch stick. We didn’t know there was any other way.
The next photo was taken at the Health Centre. Our youngest had left for university and I needed an outlet. He had been against me taking the job, but I had persevered until he reluctantly agreed to allow me to earn my ‘pin money’ provided it didn’t interfere with my social engagements. In the photo I was behind the reception desk nearly hidden behind a huge bouquet, a present from Patrick on my 10th work anniversary, well that’s what the card said, but I know it was to assuage his guilt over his latest affair.
I made some good friends at the centre, including Alex. I needed those friends when Patrick died on the Golf Course. A massive heart attack with no warning. It had been such a difficult time. Patrick had been such a large character; his personality permeated every aspect of my life. He looked after our finances, paid the bills, looked after all the legalities. He had always been generous with my allowance. I had even squirrelled away a little every month, my ‘running away money’ as I called it. Not that I would have ever run away. My husband and my children were my life.
When Patrick died I was lost. The boys were adults, career-driven and hard-working. Patrick had left them all well provided for, although I was a bit annoyed with the codicil to his will, requiring our eldest son to monitor and control my income. Funnily enough, that had been the last straw. Alex helped me retain and instruct my own Solicitor and put my affairs in order. As my friendship with Alex grew, so did my independence.
That weekend I celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday, the boys and their families all returned home for the party. It was then I dropped the bombshell. I wasn’t surprised when the boys voiced their objections.
“You can’t sell. It’s our family home,” Michael said.
“It’s our inheritance,” James said.
“This is Mam’s house to do what she likes with,” Anthony said, “Dad provided well for all of us. We already got our inheritance.”
“Dad would never have anticipated Mother wanting to sell this house,” David argued, “It’s our home.
Disappointed, I looked at each of my sons in turn.
“I am not asking for your permission. I am informing you of my decision,” I told them, “Alex and I have paid a deposit on a cottage by the sea. This house is going on the market on Monday.”
I was glad I had left it until after my party to tell them. At least we had that night together before the argument, which still has not been resolved. I have thought a lot about Patrick today. I have no doubt that Patrick loved me, but he had loved the idea of me, his idea of his wife, not the actual living, thinking person that I was. I have no doubt that my sons love me too, but they love Linda the mother, they have no idea that Linda the woman has other needs. That thought brings a smile to my lips and I relive the tenderness of last night’s kiss. I hadn’t even known I had other needs until Alex. At least when Alex and I set up home together we will be equals. I can’t wait to spend my twilight years with this wonderful woman.
I open the front door and give one long look back at my past before stepping into my future. Alex is waiting to pick me up.
“Ready?” Alex asks with one eyebrow raised.
“Ready.” I lock the front door for the last time and drive off to my new beginning.
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