Monday 7 January 2013

Flat White

Flat White

Alison Peden

Lemonade – no bubbles

Him: We first met during our second term at University – through a friend-of-a-friend kind of thing – but only became an actual couple a few months after we had graduated. She got a job in the town where I was living; we met for a drink and our relationship developed slowly from there. I wouldn’t have picked her out of a catalogue, but she was certainly pleasant enough on the eye. She had long, dark hair that she tossed about as she talked, using it to emphasise important points. I liked that. She would have looked better with a few less pounds on her. In fact, I did mention that in passing once.  Big mistake. She went ballistic, ranting on and on about the pressure on women to conform to impossible masculine ideal of female beauty. We had a heated discussion about society’s expectations of women, which I seem to remember ended in some pretty passionate sex. I enjoyed that part of her; her strong personality and her feminist ideals.
We were both at the foothills of our careers, so were knocked sideways when we discovered a few months into our relationship that she was pregnant. After much discussion, we decided to go ahead; that was when I asked her to marry me. We agreed that both of us would continue to work and that we would find a way of sharing the childcare.
The news that we were going to have twins made that idea less practical. So, we decided that for the time being she would take on the traditional female role of looking after the children, on the understanding that she would resume her career once they started at school. Then, my career would take more of a back seat.

After the boys arrived, we felt blessed and enjoyed a happy family life. My fondest memories are of our annual seaside holidays to Cornwall: long, sun-filled mornings on the beach building sandcastles with the boys and splashing together in the water; afternoons, all four together devouring cream teas in the village. I worked hard during the week but most weekends were crammed with fun: entertaining family and friends, trips to the zoo, kicking a ball around the park.  Good old-fashioned family times.

By the time the boys started school, my career was well-established; I was several rungs on a ladder and I didn’t intend to step off until I reached the top. My hours were long and I frequently had to bring work home with me. I had a succession of promotions and was earning a lot of money by anybody’s standards. When the subject of her returning to work arose, we agreed it was better for everyone if we carried on as we had been doing. The discussion was a little heated and she was a tad emotional, but that is how she is; eventually, she saw reason and accepted that it was the best thing for us as a family.

Life passed by quickly. As my star ascended, there were often corporate events at the weekends that I had to attend if I wanted to get on. Anyway, the boys were getting older and more interested in spending time with their friends or on Facebook. She wasn’t too happy about it at first, but after a few arguments she seemed to accept the logic.

Her: I met him through a friend when we were at University. He seemed okay: funny, a bit arrogant and self-assured, but then again no different really from most of the other men I knew. We socialised in a group from time to time. It wasn’t until I moved to his home town for my first job after graduation that we started spending time together, just the two of us. Old friends at first. He wasn’t my usual type, but then again maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing considering the poor choices I had made in the past. He was fairly good looking, in a boy-next-door kind of way, but it was his attitude to life that convinced me that there might be a future in the relationship. He appeared to respect my views and he seemed to value me as a person. He said that he liked me as I was, didn’t try to change me, and seemed content to listen to my requests and to negotiate elements of our relationship. We were both happy with how things were going between us, even if they could get a little heated at times.

The relationship was moving in a positive direction when I fell pregnant. The timing wasn’t great – only a few months into my new job and before we had even moved in together – but we decided to commit to each other and we worked out a plan that suited us both.
The first five years were hectic; twin boys were a challenge, to say the least, but I loved our time together as a family. It was so different from my own childhood in which women were the only caregivers, and children were expected to be seen and not heard.
I’m not sure when I first noticed the subtle differences between us, when I no longer felt that I was being heard, and at what point my need sand aspirations simply faded away in the face of the greater good of the family’s financial security and future wellbeing. Family times – all four of us together, having fun or just being – were increasingly sacrificed at the altar of his career and independent social life that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the drive for success. 

All of a sudden, the boys had become much more independent, spending less and less time with me and instead doing whatever testosterone-fuelled teenage boys do. I mourned a little as they moved away emotionally, sure, but I tried to be positive and looked at it as the ideal time to dust off the cobwebs of motherhood and revisit the me that had long been buried under the needs of my husband and children. This proved more difficult than I’d ever imagined. I felt ill-equipped to handle the new technological age, and my self-confidence fell to an all-time low.

Them: It was their wedding anniversary and they had decided to go for a meal to celebrate all those years spent together. The restaurant was dimly lit and the sounds of jazz hummed gently in the background. The food was delicious and the surroundings were relaxed and pleasant, romantic even.  But the relationship between them was strikingly incongruent with the ambience; eye-contact was fleeting, and the conversation was stilted in a way better- suited to an awkward first date than to a celebration of fourteen years of marriage.
She looked at him long and hard whilst he spoke to the waiter. She didn’t recognise him anymore. Gone were his boyish good looks; the warm feelings he had once stirred in her had long since evaporated into the ether.
He glanced up and caught her staring at him; she immediately averted her gaze. It had been a long time since he had properly looked at her, really looked; but he took the opportunity to absorb and to compare her to the woman he had married. There were subtle changes that he hadn’t noticed before: the greying of her hair and the lines around her eyes. But more than the physical changes of advancing age, he was struck by the defeated slump of her shoulders as she stared blankly into her half empty glass of wine. She looked up.
‘You’ve changed’, she said.
‘I was just thinking the same about you’, he replied.

Author Bio
Alison Peden is a writer of short stories. She lives in Manchester with her husband, her teenage daughter, and one of her two adult daughters. 

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