Saturdays were abrasive. He and she scraped against each other constantly, like two pieces of sandpaper. It was as if, at the end of each stressful work week, they needed a day apart to recover their equilibrium. When forced to interact they’d carp over minor things, causing the children to roll their eyes and fix their teenage attentions on screens of some description.
So they tried to stay apart. He would lounge on the sofa in front of TV sport broadcasts. She would go to movies or coffee with friends. They would nap or read in different bedrooms. By Sunday, they were usually able to communicate like two rational adults – unless a Saturday disagreement had been so bad that it had spilled over. Then she would not speak to him unless absolutely necessary – briefly. She was a sulker.
“Are you going to clean the pool today?” Instructions, pretending to be questions. That was all. And always involving the fucking pool in some way. God he was sick of it.
It was usually on one of these Sundays, (often when vacuuming the pool), that he’d drift into what he privately called his ‘divorce fantasy’. He’d start by sifting through their accumulated possessions in his head and deciding who would get what if they split. He’d get the cds – because he’d bought them. She could have a few – their musical tastes were different.
She would be devastated by his departure and he determined to be kind to her – remote, but kind. He’d be generous with the furniture and fittings. She liked flouncy, cottagey, oregan pine stuff that he couldn’t stand, so she could have it.
His new place would be a light-filled apartment on the Waterfront. Minimalist modern lines, leather couches, glass-topped tables, open plan, granite counters, blinds – all monochrome. He’d keep the flat-screen TV. She and the kids could have the other one, it was still perfectly good. He’d keep his music centre – she hardly used it anyway.
The kids would visit him every second weekend and they’d do fun things. They’d eat out nights. They’d go on boat trips or horse rides. He’d play Playstation games with his son, dispense welcome, masculine advice to his daughter. They’d moan privately about their mother and he’d urge understanding. He’d be a port in a storm. Holidays – he’d take them to his parents. Spread the load.
He’d meet another woman, dark and sultry. Too independent to live with him but they’d spend nights together. Sex would be amazing. She’d be adventurous and appreciative of him (at this point he’d suck his gut in). He imagined himself trim and fit – he’d ‘gym’ regularly and his membership would never lapse. They’d go to art movies together, have coffee and browse bookshops. She’d pay her own way.
Here he’d remember that he’d have to pay maintenance – at least while the kids were still dependent. Financial reality caused the divorce fantasy to fizzle out, leaving him feeling faintly cheered and slightly superior.
This Saturday he’d been unable to avoid a petty confrontation. She’d pushed all his buttons and he’d been driven to respond. Things escalated to a point where he heard himself suggesting separation.
“It’s obvious you’re not happy with who I am,” he said. “We don’t seem to have much in common any more. Perhaps it would be better if we called it a day.”
Strangely, she didn’t cry at this point, simply looked at him calmly.
“We can work something out if we sell the house,” he said. “We both work so it should be financially possible. The children would probably be happier and of course,” he looked at her kindly, “I’d make sure that you got fair monthly maintenance.”
I don’t recall saying that I would take custody of the children,” she said.
All the air disappeared from his lungs.
“What d’you mean?” he croaked.
“Well, you earn more and your hours are better, so it would make more sense for you to be primary parent. We could share weekends and holidays.”
It sounded as if she’d worked it all out! “I’d pay you maintenance. In fact, you could stay here and I could get a flat somewhere,” she said.
Modern furniture, clean lines, bookshop browsings were instantly sucked away, as if into a disposal unit.
“Maybe we’re being too hasty!” He had a new vision now. One of relentless school lifts, teenage bathrooms and hormone-fuelled arguments. “I think we should consider this more carefully. I mean one doesn’t want to throw away eighteen years.” He ran a shaking hand over his head, feeling, for a disconcerting moment, a small, bald patch on the crown. He sat down, avoiding her cool, opaque eyes, and picked up the paper.