LET HIM HAVE IT
My wife blows hot and cold. She’s canny, has the measure of me. She knows me as if I were a model plane or boat with a remote control. That’s how she is. She knows me.
I look solid enough. In a motorway service-station you see lots like me, joshing their mates, a bit bull-necked, with solid legs and short-cropped hair. I’m one of them, but I’m not; I pretend to be strong.
I must have been born with weak nerves. She knows. She used to come up behind me and drop a metal tray on the kitchen floor to make me jump. I can’t help it. Sudden loud noise makes me jump. In the cinema, I leap from the seat if there’s an unexpected appearance on the screen, a monster’s eye is shown peering through dense foliage and the creature in a burst of energy breaks out; the villain strikes from a hiding place; the unsuspecting hero is attacked from behind without warning.
There’s places I don’t like. Underground car parks, concrete and gloomy and some of the lights don’t work, with plenty of hiding spots between parked cars. And cabins in woods surrounded by trees where there are no neighbours, and someone could be inside as I unlock the door. I hate subways under roads deserted at night when just one person walks towards me. I go faster, close against the wall to get past. I hate the empty lift in an almost deserted building which stops at a floor to let one person enter; I hold myself in, make no eye contact, lower my head.
In the summer with the sun behind me if I walk alone on a pavement, I see my shadow stretches out in front on the surface. Then I hear someone walking behind, and their shadow is now parallel to mine but grows longer as they begin to catch up. Are they coming to attack me? I can’t help it but it scares me. The footsteps add menace. Often I stop and turn to face them and let them overtake. They looked puzzled, and sometimes walk on faster, scared of me.
Those are the sort of things which must be imprinted in my mental circuits. I can’t shake them out, even though I’m physically quite strong. My body isn’t afraid. Hit me and I’ll hit back, I can stand up to a fist, I can shove, take a man by the lapels and put him up against a wall face up to face, see the sweat on his forehead. I’d never hit a woman though. I’d never hit her, she knows it. With a woman I’m passive.
Here’s my shame. I let my wife bully me, hit me, tear at my hair, throw plates at my head, lock the door against me. Inside the house she can be a monster.
The house is tall, quite old, on three floors, dark inside, a lot of brown paint. There are landings and stairs and gloomy half-landings and heavy banisters. There’s just a yard at the back with a semi-derelict old privy and coal shed.
I’m an investigator with the Inland Revenue. I look at high-earning self-employed accounts. They’re the people most likely to avoid tax if they can. It’s paperwork and picking up clues from newspaper articles, even Twitter or Facebook. Those sorts of people boast a bit. It’s detective work. It’s obsessive. They say I’m obsessive. When I was posted to the office here I looked for digs. I don’t come from round here. I’m from Portsmouth.
I got digs in the house at first. My wife, before we got married that is, was the landlady. That’s how I got to know her. I rented the first floor and she had the top floor and we both used the sitting room downstairs and the big kitchen. At that time, she had a boyfriend who came and went. I should have taken note. She despised him and he looked hangdog. She soon made it clear that she was interested in me. She’d come to the door of my room to ask if I needed anything. In the evening she’d sometimes be in her nighty. She’d ask me downstairs to share a drink, watch telly with her. She’d share the settee with me.
I’m on my own; don’t know anyone in the town. I hadn’t got a woman. While her bloke was still around, one evening she said, “He’s not much use. Pays the rent, that’s about it. I’ve got plenty to spare if you know what I mean.”
I did know. That’s how it started. Then her bloke stopped being around.
“He’s gone off. Can’t say I miss him one little bit. Besides, you and I are coming along nicely,” she said.
She’s an attractive woman. Not a Marilyn Monroe type, she’s more Madonna, powerful without the glamour. She’s sturdy, like a Scandinavian, stands solid with a big bust, stocky thighs, and short blonde hair. Might throw the hammer in athletics. I’m six foot, she’s five foot eight. She’s physically inevitable as far as I’m concerned. Practically from the first moment.
I suppose it could have gone on like that. It was pretty good and she seemed to like it a lot, and often. Her fetish was to make love out of doors. There are some woods a few miles away where we would go when it was warm. I’d be very unhappy in there alone, frightened where unknowns could be hidden under the clustering trees, the foliage cutting out the light. But we had a special place in a small clearing and if she was there with me I was all right.
After some months there was a to-do. She was in a frenzy. It turned out she didn’t own the house, she was just a tenant. She’d never told me that. Perhaps I should have guessed. The landlord wanted to throw her out and sell the place with vacant possession. It was worth a lot. I’d be kicked out as well. We’d both be homeless. She went on bended knee to me. “Buy it. Go on, you must have good credit.”
I’ve never thought of owning a house like this. She said, “I’ll be your tenant and your housekeeper. Just a change in title. We can go on like we are.”
I should make one thing clear. When she wants to be, she’s a fantastic lover. Strong appetite. I didn’t want to give her up, and I could afford the house. It seemed a good idea. Then.
I should have remembered her former man upstairs. As soon as I had the deeds so to speak and all the keys, she turned on me. We hadn’t had time to change the living arrangements-she still had her rooms on the top floor and she went up there and locked me out.
I raged and banged the door. She started to attack me. Opened the door and threw a plate at me, and then a jar which broke on the wall and showered me with strawberry jam. I controlled myself, I wouldn’t retaliate. If I threatened to throw her out she’d shout that I’d bought the house with her as a sitting tenant. It was obvious: all she wanted was to keep her rooms and she’d got her way.
I missed her body. If we passed on the stairs she raised her fist. She kept in her room and went out at night a lot.
I told her quietly one morning, “I’m going to see a solicitor. Where’s your tenancy agreement and where’s my rent? You paid rent to the old landlord. You’d better pay me.” We were in the kitchen. She picked up a chopping board and, holding it with both hands, slammed it down on my head. I just managed to put an arm up to cushion the blow.
“I’ll have you out,” I said. She ran out to the cupboard under the stairs and cut the power at the fuse box. There wasn’t much light. She knew of course that I would be weak with fear, the sudden darkness, the sounds of footsteps, hers, the occasional silhouette on the wall as she crept round. I was paralysed. Oh, she knew me all right.
“So, you don’t like me now.” She was close by. I felt her warm breath. Then the pain as she gripped my crotch and twisted her hand. “You’d like me back in your bed? Then you’d better marry me. Man and wife, I’ll give you your conjugals.”
I refused the first time. But she took out the main fuse. We had no light, no power and in the dark she stalked me, jumped out at me on the landing, kicked me when she could, or found something to throw at me. I went to work with bruises.
I refused the second time. She threw a bucket of cold water over me outside the front door, then later rushed me at the top of the stairs in the dusk and I fell down a flight.
The third time I agreed. We had a registry office wedding; she changed completely. She was as loving as one could imagine. The reception was a bit of a rough house -I don’t know where she got her friends from. I invited a few people from my office; they soon saw what was what and left after a polite interval. But that night she gave me a repertoire. I didn’t care about the rest; she was back in my bed and was kind. For a while. The she began to go out on her own again.
She started to bully me a bit. She refused to cook. She’d get the ingredients and leave them on the kitchen table with a recipe. She’d wash the clothes and my sheets but never did the ironing. Then she stopped sleeping in my bed and went back upstairs. She locked the door against me. She stayed out all night, leaving me to fend in the house on my own. All my fears of dark corners, unexplained noise, the creaks of the woodwork, nagged away at my stability. Was this a marriage?
Now, if we’re in the same room she shouts at me. “Fucking wimp you are.” Then she comes over and slaps me. Or she tries to trip me, or kick my shin.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“I want a share of the house. We’re married but it’s all yours.”
“I paid for it. What did you do? Never paid any rent.”
“Wives don’t pay rent. Now I want a share, and if you want my fanny you’d better get to your solicitor. And you can make a will at the same time. You can leave me your half.”
I know a firm of lawyers. I deal with them through work. They owe me one. They’ve drafted me a document giving her a half share in the house and a will. I’ve shown them to her. Only this time I said, “I’m not signing them unless you come back properly, cook for me, and promise to stop attacking me.”
I’ve delayed the signatures. She’s suddenly as docile as a kitten, and as lively. I think we have a start again. She’s asked me if she can go out in the evenings, but just once a week. Things are so good, I agreed. Then she said, “Why don’t you sign those papers now, darling?”
I’d been waiting for her to ask. I knew she wouldn’t let it go.
“I’ll take them in to the solicitor; they have to be properly witnessed. I’ll bring you copies.”
In fact, as soon as I signed the will I revoked it with the connivance of the lawyer. And I’ve told her that the conveyance of her share in the house has to be sent away for stamp duty. Of course, it’s not going anywhere and I haven’t signed it. But I gave her a phoney copy. So, this time she hasn’t got her way. I’ll stick with it and see if she’s turned over a new leaf.
When I gave her the copies she kissed me and gripped me and pulled me to the floor and got on top and our clothes were everywhere.
When we rolled over and lay beside each other breathless, she turned to me after a few minutes and put her hand on my cheek. “Why don’t we celebrate in the woods like we used to? It’s warm enough now. Shall I fix a day? Let’s play one of our games. I’ll go there first and you can come and find me and I’ll be naked, sunning myself, ready, and you can have me. Just like old times.”
We’ve agreed. She’s fixed the day and the hour. “You must be there on time darling. I’m not sitting around waiting in the buff.”
So, today’s the day, it’s just after twelve. There’s no one around. I must admit that going alone into the woods opens up all my weakness. It requires a superhuman effort to go on with it and not to stand semi-paralysed. I stop and wait at the edge of the woods. For me it’s like a dive into a pool, I can feel the cold before the plunge. I’m truly fearful. I clench my fists and slowly push on into the undergrowth towards the clearing.
The trees grow thickly here. The sun filters patchily through the leaves high up, but down here at my feet is dim and damp. My hearing is tuned to the constant rush of breeze through the branches and the crackling in undergrowth and brushwood. I hear my own breath harsh in the throat.
I look at my watch. I’m on time. It’s very warm and though shivery with the fright I’m also physically excited by what I’ll enjoy in her body; there’s a noise in the brushwood which makes me nervous and jumpy. A bird breaks out of the vegetation near my feet and flies upwards with a flash of wings, making me jump and catching my breath. I must get to the spot ahead.
In the distance, I can see an opening in the tree cover, and the sun breaking through. That’s the open place where she’s waiting. I push on and see her at the far side, on a rug spread over a fallen tree trunk. Just as she promised. Legs apart; God, she looks good.
The sun’s behind me as I walk over, urgent, savouring the sight. My shadow falls in front of me. But then I see another shadow moving forward alongside. There’s someone behind me. I feel a chill. Over there she’s smiling, beckoning. I’m taut with desire. But I have to stop and turn, and see who.
A man in a hood watches me, holding a knife.
She shouts, “Go on. Let him have it.”