She pressed herself harder against the cold train window as his arm brushed against hers. She wanted him away from her, as far away as possible. But the train was crowded and there were only two remaining seats so she had no choice but to put up with his body pushing against hers for the next six stops. She stared firmly out of the window, trying to concentrate on the blur of scenery shooting past. The train sped into a tunnel and she caught a fleeting glimpse of her reflection; she looked angry. Good, she felt angry. The morning had been unpleasant and awkward enough before this humiliatingly uncomfortable train journey. They had spent the weekend together, as usual, but during it, she had finally made her decision. She told him it was over that morning as they ate breakfast. Of course, he had been confused at first but all too quickly the confusion had turned into anger. Insults were flung back and forth over a table laden with eggs and bacon. She had kept most of hers back though she could feel them burning on her tongue, begging to be spat out as his complaints moved towards her housekeeping skills, or better yet, her lack of. When she felt the tears well up her eyes she knew she couldn’t take his tirade anymore. She ran to the bedroom to pack her bag and as she ran to the door to flee, he didn’t try to stop her. She waited in the wind and cold for an hour for her train home forgetting that he would also be catching the same train to work. When he turned up at the station briefcase in hand they pointedly ignored each other. Neither was the type to air their grievances in public. It was only as the boarded the train and both inwardly groaned at the seating available that she realised; he had never asked why.
Their relationship had never been anything special and many claimed it would never last. It felt different to them though, as most relationships seem to the people involved. They had met at a coffee shop, as cliché as it was. He sat at her table with his espresso as she worked on her latest novel. She had liked him from the start, with his rugged good looks like an old Hollywood movie star, and his quick and charming banter. They talked from three hours, ordering countless cups of coffee and she did something she had never done before; she let him read her work. It was only a rough first draft but he had made her blush with his praise. Glancing at her watch she realised she was an hour late for dinner at her parents’. Hastily gathering up her stuff and stammering her apologies, he made her promise to have dinner with him that weekend; she agreed without a moment’s hesitation. The date was as perfect as any date could be and they saw each other five more times over the course of the month. During this time however, she found out that he lived three hours away and spent most of his time working from home, only visiting the office once a month. He was going out of his way to travel up for their dates; something he would bring up on the morning of the train journey. Months passed and they both felt it was time to make their relationship official. Friends and family from both sides asked awkward questions. ‘How will it work with such distance between you?’ Neither one was willing to move; she had her reporter’s job at a local newspaper, and her parents. He didn’t want to move closer to the office for fear of not being able to work from home. She thought even then that she had the better excuse. So they compromised, a weekend at his place, a weekend at hers and so it went for months, neither one willing to budge. It was perfect at the start. Only seeing her lover at the weekends made her long for him more, made it feel like a secret tryst and it was exciting. However, the rush soon wore off. Before even a year, excuses started being made; he had work to do and couldn’t leave home for the weekend, could she come to him? She had work to do too however and couldn’t keep going to him all the time, she’d start to say but then he’d sound disappointed and every time she caved. It got to the stage were he had visited her apartment once in five months and instead of feeling anticipation at the thought of visiting him, she felt only irritation and resentment.
Things steadily grew worse and worse. He spent more time working during her visits and instead of cuddling up with a movie and Chinese food, or going out to dinner, she was expected to cook for him. She’d arrive to his apartment and it would be filthy. He wouldn’t clean during the week, as he knew she would do it when she arrived; she couldn’t abide dirt. Her friends couldn’t understand why she didn’t leave, they claimed he was taking advantage of her and although deep down she knew they were right, she still held out hope that things would return to how they used to be. He used to take her out to dinner; they’d drink a bottle of wine with their meal, and then return to his apartment to have each other for dessert. Or they would lounge around the house all day eating junk food and watching cheesy b-movies on the TV, laughing at the special effects. She longed for the return of the mornings they would lay in bed for hours talking about the future instead of her having to silently creep out of bed for fear of waking him; he refused to get up before noon. The longer this went on the more angry and resentful she felt. She knew she was being used and taken advantage of but yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave. She had always thought of herself as an independent woman. She had her career, her friends, her own apartment and although she had had boyfriends and lovers in the past they would have been thrown out on their ear if they’d had treated her they way he was now. So, what was happening to her? Why was she letting him do this? It couldn’t be the sex as her friends jokingly claimed. When he routinely climbed on top of her every Saturday night she just felt bored. He had even given up the pretense of caring about satisfying her. She just counted the minutes until he’d let out a groan and fall down onto the bed beside her; thankfully, she never had to wait that long. Maybe it was just her stubbornness. All of their friends had said it wouldn’t last. Even as a child she would never admit defeat, why would she do it now?
She felt him press harder against her body but there was no escaping. She was as far away from him as she was ever going to get. She could swear he was doing it on purpose, trying to make her as uncomfortable as possible for the remainder of the train ride. Well, she could do it too, she thought. She pushed into his body as hard as could; enough to jolt him leftwards. He looked shocked and hurt as if he couldn’t imagine why she’d do such a thing. Maybe he wasn’t doing it purposely after all and she had the grace to feel a little ashamed of herself. He shoved himself against her arm and spread his legs as wide open as possible so now she didn’t even have a bit of leg room on this cramped train. She hated couples that argued in public but she couldn’t restrain herself now.
‘Could you please stop doing that?’, she said politely, but anyone could have heard the anger in her voice.
‘Doing what?’ he said sweetly, his lips widening in that smile she had fallen in love with. Now it just looked sly and vicious.
‘You’ve been shoving into me the whole journey and you know it!’ she spat back at him. He reeled back in mock effrontery.
‘Why, I would never do such a thing!’ he exclaimed loudly. The whole carriage turned and looked at them, some even craning their necks in their seats to get a decent view. She glared in the general direction of the majority and they quickly returned to what they were doing; however, she could still some passengers staring at them from the corner of their eyes.
‘Could you keep it down! We don’t need the whole train to know our business.’ she said, as nicely as she possibly could.
It was hard trying to keep this amicable. She could feel the rage burning inside of her; she longed to lash out at him, to scream insults at him the way he had done to her this morning. Did he not realise the reason she had done this? Did he not realise it was entirely his fault? He had been treating her as a housekeeper for too long; theirs was not the way relationships were supposed to work.
‘I don’t care about the whole train knowing our business’ he snapped back, ‘you’ve ruined my day entirely so it’s only fair I ruin yours!’
‘Oh grow up! You’re supposed to be an adult. Have you never been dumped before?’ she whispered furiously.
‘No, I’ve always been the dumper’. He smiled as if that was some sort of triumph. She rolled her eyes and turned back to the window, pointedly trying to ignore him, but it was hard to ignore the press of his body against hers. Once upon a time, the feel of his body touching hers made her quiver with excitement for what was surely to follow; now it just made her feel frustrated and sick. He had been so kind, so gentle, so perfect, now he was mean and cruel. Had she done something to make him change or was it just the way he was and he had been hiding it from her? The question would eat at her for the rest of her life if she didn’t get an answer from him but there was nothing she wanted less in the world at that moment than to talk to him again.
An image flashed in her mind as she watched the scenery flicker past her eyes. It was early in their relationship and they were attending one of the many dinners thrown by her friends. He had said it would be awkward for him if he didn’t have people there too and so he had brought along three friends of his own. His friends were all loud and rowdy whereas hers were sophisticated, single, career women, who talked about art and politics. His friends talked about genitals, ‘sexy’ women, and what they’d like to do with them in great detail. This drastic difference in friends should have been a hint that things wouldn’t work between them but she was freshly in love and blinded to all of his faults. All of his friends acted as if they were still in college and every social engagement should be a frat party. They were loud, they were obnoxious, they were vulgar, and they drank way too much for a simple dinner party. She could see her friends roll their eyes whenever he laughed a little too loud at yet another rude joke one of his friends had slurred out. The dinner had been uncomfortable from the beginning. Sheila, the hostess, had prepared a French menu of mussels and Coq au Vin with Portobello mushrooms. His friends picked at their food, claiming that they didn’t eat foreign food, demanding to know what was wrong with a plain old hamburger. They had no culture or taste but he seemed different to them. She remembered thinking that the must have college friends that he couldn’t get rid of, that he wasn’t anything like them. In hindsight though, if he didn’t really like them, why did he invite them to that dinner? It had been his first time meeting her friends; surely, he had wanted to make a good impression? If he had, bringing along those three had not been the way to do it. The talk at the table had started off as it always did, her friends liked to talk about current events although with his friends it quickly turned into heated debate. All three were staunch conservatives, something her friends, and herself included, couldn’t stand. She had never bothered to ask him his political views; it didn’t really matter to her. She learned at that dinner though so his beliefs sided with his friends, not her. He was adamantly pro-life where she was steadfastly pro-choice. He disagreed with gun regulations, he thought poor people were the cause of the countries financial problems and was a firm supporter of the war. If it had been any other man she would have argued and then ran but with him she could look past it all. Why? What was so different about him? Even after all this time she still couldn’t put her finger on it. After dinner as him and his friends were drinking too much in the living room she helped wash up with Sheila and Debbie; neither a good thing to say about her new boyfriend or his choice of companions.
‘Seriously sweetheart, what are you doing with him’ Sheila asked, her voice full of concern.
‘Oh, don’t judge him by his friends Shay, he’s not like them at all when you get to know him’. Even from the start, she had been making excuses for him although to her they weren’t excuses just yet; she genuinely believed what she said.
‘You can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps’ Debbie retorted, ‘it was you who told us that’.
‘Yes, I know I did but there’s exceptions to every rule, and he’s one of them’, she snapped.
‘Well, no offence, but mark my words, this will end in heartbreak’, Sheila warned, her eyes narrowing as a burst of rowdy laughter emerged from the living room. He had complained about her friends all the way back to her apartment. According to him, they were snobby, sly, and nasty. They had treated his friends as if they something they had dragged in on their shoes he claimed. This lasted until she got to the front door when finally she couldn’t take it anymore and retaliated. She retorted that his friends were crass, obnoxious and had no class. It was their first fight and it was a bad one; an omen of things to come.
As she shook her head as if to banish the memories of that fight from her mind her surroundings came back into focus. Industrial lots and warehouses had replaced the country scenery, and his arm was still pressing against her body although it felt as if he had let up on the pressure he used to push into her. Her muscles were aching from tensing up so as not to relax against him and still there were three more stops to go. That fight had been their first and the biggest. As their relationship went on, they stopped having big arguments; it was replaced by small and petty bickering over the tiniest of slights. They had made love after that battle and it was one of the best times she’d ever had in bed with a man. But she certainly did not want to recall that memory; those times were definitely in the past. She had met many men who did not really care about her pleasure but they were like that from the offset. To be with someone who was so considerate and incredible, and for them to then stop trying and focus solely on themselves, that was a disappointment she had never experienced before. At first she faked it because she thought it was just a few bad times, no one could be perfect in bed all of the time, but then she realised he didn’t know something was wrong, that he thought she was climaxing every time as usual and so she stopped pretending. She had hoped this would make him acknowledge that it was no longer good for her but if he did, he didn’t care, he just kept going the way he had been. There were times when he didn’t even bother trying to warm her up; he just kissed her a few times, spread her legs and thrusted himself inside, not even asking if it was what she wanted. If one of her friends had told her that their partner was doing this to them, she would have told them it was rape but she refused to use that word in conjunction with herself. She told herself she was just being frigid; of course he wanted sex and so did she. Looking back now she realised that the past year had been the most miserable of her life. He would constantly belittle her; he would make fun of her ‘housewife’ skills as he called them, meaning her cooking, her cleaning, and her laundry skills. She would snap at him that she never wanted to be anybody’s housewife. Ever since her teenage years, she knew she was not the kind of woman who would be a homemaker; she had never wanted marriage or children. She never dreamt of a house of her own with a white picket fence, three kids and a strong husband who brought home the money. All her childhood friends had thought this weird of her; they spent every spare minute talking, dreaming about what kind of husband they would like, and planning their dream weddings. She instead dreamed of a glittering journalism career, a bookcase full of books with her name in the author’s place. She wanted a minimalist apartment, friends who talked politics and culture, she wanted theatre visits and wine tasting. She wanted to be everything her parents had shunned. When she first met him she thought that this was what he wanted from life too, and that they would have a romantic partnership, they would be lovers but never husband and wife. She soon learned though that this was not what he wanted at all. He had led her along. He wanted a woman who would look after him, who would clean his house, cook his meals, iron his shirts and at the end of the day open her legs to him without a moment’s hesitation. He wanted her to be everything she had sworn she would not become but yet she had became it for him. On the weekends, she had acted like a timid little housewife; she had acted just like her mother. Of course she had got her own back in little ways; she wouldn’t iron his shirts properly, she wouldn’t cook the food the way he liked it, she would deliberately not clean something thoroughly, but these incidents always just angered him and besides they always felt like hollow victories to her. That sort of petty behaviour had never been her style. She had seen her mother do it for years and hated it; she never understood why her mother didn’t just stand up for herself, why she didn’t just stomp her feet and tell her father no. She had never been one to run away from confrontation. She had learned to do the opposite of what her mother had done and stand her ground but yet she felt unable to do so with him. He angered her, he frustrated her, she hated him, but yet she could not leave. Because deep down inside she wanted him to love her, to want her and she hated herself for it.
She had spent two hours on that godforsaken train and she longed to get off, to be able to run away from him forever. She wished to never have to speak to him again, to never have to see him again, to never have him inside her again. She ached for her life to return to the way it was before she met him. Thankfully, even through everything, her excuses, her snappy retorts when they expressed concern, her friends had stuck around. His friends faded away for a while when they realised that she wasn’t leaving and he would be spending most of his time with her. She could get off the train and run straight to Sheila’s apartment. Sheila would let her shower, give her a change of clothes, and console her when she cried on her shoulder. Of course, both her and Debbie would be delighted to hear the good news. They would help her drown her sorrows in wine, listen to her rant about his disgusting habits, like the way he would pick his nose and then flick it across the room; something that had always nauseated her. They would comfort her and then tomorrow she could work on getting her life back on track. She would continue working on trying to get her last novel published, something that she had no time for since she met him. She was still on the rough draft of the novel she was writing that day she met him. Her whole life had been pushed aside to make room for him, now it was time to rectify that. He had never done that for her. He still worked all day, he still watched his sports on the weekends while she sat in the armchair bored and counting the minutes until it was over, he still went out with his friends on weekdays; nothing had changed for him except that she was always hovering on the perimeter of his life. He had enveloped hers and she had let him. He finally pulled his body away from hers and after five minutes she felt confident enough to relax in her seat. After two hours of tensing her body, her muscles groaned in pain but a nice hot shower could solve that when she got to Sheila’s.
‘So, are you ever going to tell me why you’ve decided to end it after all this time?’ he whispered beside her.
Finally, there it was, the question she’d been dreading. Now, she would have to no choice but to vent out all her problems, her insults, and her frustrations. Still, it amused her that he chose to whisper when their carriage had emptied itself as opposed to earlier when it was full and he chose to raise his voice so that everyone could hear. She would have to brace herself because once she began to explain his tirade would surely start again and she didn’t want to cry in public. So, she tensed her muscles again and began; she explained it was because of his attitude, because of how he treated her as a housewife, because of how he belittled her, because of the sex, because of how of he never tried and most of all, because he had changed. As she furiously whispered her reasons, she watched as his faced changed to show a mixture of emotions. There was confusion and anger of course, but she could also see surprise and sadness, nevertheless, she did not let up, she did not stop and she did not feel empathy for him. To his credit, he never once interrupted her to viciously snap or deny something she said and she tried to hold back all of the insults that had been building in her since that morning. Of course, a few slipped out and she seen him flinch but they were nothing compared to what he had subjected her to that morning, when he had even stooped so low as to compare her appearance to that of a pregnant sow. He was only being cruel because at thirty-two she was still as slim as she was at eighteen but her slightly upturned nose had always been the body part she was most self-conscious about and he knew it; she had told him one morning as they lay in bed talking in the dusty sunlight that streamed in through the blinds. During her rant of her frustrations about their relationship, the only time she saw fury on his face was when an ill thought out insult about his manhood slipped from her mouth. Granted it was in poor taste, and a lie, but the remark about her nose was still fresh in her mind and she felt vindictive. For fifteen minutes, she unleashed her fury at him, still talking in as low a voice as possible. When she finally finished, panting for breath he just looked at her and said in a steady voice ‘Are you done? Is that it now?’ Shocked at his calmness there was nothing she could do but nod.
‘Well, I’m glad you’ve got that all out of your system now and I’m sorry our relationship turned to such shit’, he said, ‘but from the sounds of it, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything to fix it’.
‘You could try, well, I don’t know, acting the way you did when we first met?’ she suggested, angered by how meek she sounded. She wanted to sound angry, she was still angry with him. Wasn’t she?
‘Honey, this is the real me, the man you’ve seen for the past year is who I am’. He shrugged nonchalantly, as if to say take it or leave it. Well, if that’s who he really is and that is his attitude, she’d be more than happy to leave it.
‘But, why did you lie to me?’ she asked, ‘why did you pretend to be someone other than who you are?’
‘So, that you’d like me of course!’ he laughed as if this was the most obvious answer in the world and in a way she supposed it was.
‘I’m sorry but that’s just not good enough’ she snapped, her voice finally rising. ‘You’ve treated me like complete and utter shit for the past year and your attitude about it is “oh well”!’.
‘Well, I don’t see what else there is to say about it’.
The train screeched to a stop and he stood up to gather his things. Noticing that it was her station too she did the same. They departed the train and as they stood on the platform together, he turned to her and smiled.
‘Well I guess this is goodbye’, he said, ‘goodbye Julie’. With that he walked out of the station and out of her life for good.
‘Goodbye Harry’ she whispered under her breath, and as cliché as it was, she walked off into the sunlight, ready to get her life back on track.