Through a Glass, Darkly
Why did you do it, Mel? I’ve been sitting at my desk trying to puzzle it out, while the shadows seep from the corners, and swirl around my legs like flood water, until I’m marooned on an island of computer and black swivel chair, with only the light from an angle-poise to save me from drowning. What made you lose it totally? Was it something I did, or said? Or was it inside you?
You used to keen like a demented seagull, wail, “You’re driving me mad,” and I’d think, God, women are so neurotic. But perhaps that’s what happened. Perhaps you did go mad. It’d explain a lot. Such a stupid, mindless piece of vandalism. A beautiful old mirror in shards. And all you achieved is seven years’ bad luck.
I always liked that mirror. I’d come in through the front door and see the light flood into the dark hallway, and the walls glow white and the mahogany banisters shine up both sets of stairs, real and reflected. Then I’d close the door, and see the shadows gather in the glass, and only a fainter glow of shiny wood take the stairs up out of sight.
Light outside. Darkness within. Reflection of shadows. A sad epitaph for our marriage.
And then you disappear. I can’t believe it – I come home to find you’ve packed bags, uprooted the children, and scuttled back home to mother. Why? You know I can’t just drop everything and rush after you, all the way down to Cornwall. The people who like my work are up here in the Midlands, and I have to earn a living. For all of us.
Well, I have your letter, such as it is. You say you told me perfectly clearly why you lost your temper, before you left, and I do remember what you said. Except that it didn’t make any sense then, and makes even less now. I’m completely baffled. Nothing you’ve told me explains why you became hysterical and started smashing up the place. What’s got into you, Mel? It worries me. I think you should see a doctor.
I can’t believe you really want to break up our marriage. Think of the children. Susie and Davey need their father. And we all need you to get better. I told your mother, I think she should find you a psychiatrist. Please take this seriously, Mel. We’re all relying on you.
Of course I remember that night. With absolute clarity. You seem to be claiming it all comes back to that, but I don’t see it. OK, so you were annoyed because I happened to wake you up when I came in. I thought you understood that writing for the theatre sometimes means working all hours. Rehearsals tend to go on and on into the small hours, and then, even after we leave the theatre, discussions can be necessary. Actors are night people. You just have to accept that. I thought you had.
Let us examine your supposed ‘explanation’ of the madness that took hold of you that night. ‘Explanation’ is not, in fact, the Flaubertian mot juste. ‘Confabulation’ might be better. I was there, remember? I know what really happened.
I’m the fiction writer in the family, but I swear you could take over. Your version of events would make quite a decent farce. Let me write the trigger scene for you, using what you claim to remember. If I understand you correctly, it goes something like this.
|SOUND EFFECTS ON DARK STAGE. DOOR OPENS NOISILY, BANGS AGAINST HARD OBJECT. HERD OF HIPPOS RAMPAGES AROUND THE BEDROOM, ROCKS FURNITURE, CRASHES A CHAIR TO THE FLOOR. LIGHTS UP. ALL LAMPS SWITCHED ON.|
|MELANIE||LIES IN DOUBLE BED, ASLEEP.|
|HARRY||PLACES A CLOCK ON THE MATTRESS BESIDE HER PILLOW. HE THEN HOLDS UP HIS SHOES ONE BY ONE AND DELIBERATELY DROPS THEM TO THE FLOOR. HIS SHIRT FLIES THROUGH THE AIR, DRAPES ITSELF OVER HER SHOULDER, FOLLOWED BY HIS TROUSERS, STILL WITH BELT ATTACHED, AND A SOCK LANDS ON HER FACE.|
[What really happened, of course, is that as I tried to creep in like the proverbial mouse, doing my best not to wake you, I tripped and fell against the door which then did bang against the wall. Obviously I had to turn the lights on so that I could see where I was going. The rest is pure fantasy on your part. I admit I was tired so I might have been a bit clumsy as I undressed. My clothes did get a bit scattered about. But your account is, as I said, farcical.]
|MELANIE||(RELUCTANTLY PRISES OPEN HER EYES, LOOKS AT CLOCK.)
Five thirty? God, where have you been?
|HARRY||(SATISFACTION THICK UPON HIS TONGUE)
|[That’s a pretty snide comment of yours, by the way. Naturally I was gratified to find the beautiful actress playing the lead in my new play appreciates my company.]|
|MELANIE||Oh. (SHE TURNS AWAY FROM HIM, HOPING TO RETURN TO SLEEP.)|
|[And why feign indifference? So unconvincing.]|
|HARRY||There’s a woman who knows how to treat a man. (HE CLIMBS INTO THE BED, JABS HER WITH A SHARP FINGER.) You could take lessons. (HE SHAKES HER SHOULDER.) You hear?|
|MELANIE||(LIDS HALF OPEN, RAISES AN ARM AND MOVES THE ALARM CLOCK TO THE BEDSIDE TABLE.) You mean, you’ve been sleeping with her. So go away. I don’t want to know.|
|[Just make a note of that, Mel. I tell you the simple truth that I’ve been with an actress who is playing the key role in my play, and what do you do? Jump to conclusions. Why can’t you trust me? As I say in the next line – ]|
|HARRY||Of course I haven’t. She’s a married woman.|
|[But is that enough for you? Oh no.]|
|MELANIE||(SITS UP.) Her husband was with you?|
|HARRY||Don’t be stupid, Mel. Don’t you know anything? He was away, of course, or how could I have spent so many hours with Jayne? He wouldn’t have liked it. MELANIE SLIDES OUT OF BED, PULLS ON HER DRESSING GOWN.|
|HARRY||Where’re you going?|
|HARRY||You fucking well stay right here.|
|[That’s another thing, Mel. According to you, I can scarcely open my mouth without swearing. That’s hurtful, you know. I’m a writer, for crissake, give me some credit. I might use the f word occasionally, when you piss me right off. But not all the time, as you’d have it.]|
|MELANIE||I’m not staying one more minute in bed with a man who’s just been sleeping with someone else. And doesn’t have the decency to keep quiet about it.|
|[Which, you have to admit, is a weird way to respond. You want me to deceive you?]|
|HARRY||That’s fucking typical of you, Mel. [See note above re language.] Jump to conclusions. I haven’t been sleeping with anyone.|
|MELANIE||So what were you doing all those hours?|
|HARRY||Talking, of course. She’s a very interesting woman, Mel. You’d like her.|
|MELANIE||And what were you talking about?|
|HARRY||The play. And life. And you. She’s very interested in you.|
|[This bit is absolutely true, you know. We talked about the play, of course, that’s why I was there. But Jayne’s interest in the author spilled over into interest in the author’s wife. Naturally. Makes sense to me. You need to try and understand how artists’ minds work.]|
|MELANIE||I see. You talked about me. My wife doesn’t understand me, that sort of thing. (SHE WALKS TO THE DOOR. QUIETLY.) You’re a rotten bastard, Harry.|
|[Note that: You definitely said those words, and they are most offensive. Completely undeserved.]|
|HARRY||(SHRUGS, LIES DOWN, PULLS THE COVERS UP TO HIS CHIN.) Have it your own way. I’m tired. (HE TURNS OUT THE LIGHT.) You’re a fucking bore, Mel, a fucking bore.|
|CUT TO STAIRS|
|[This will now have to be a TV play as we can’t have the vital event take place off stage.]|
|MELANIE SLOWLY WALKS DOWN THE STAIRS.|
|HARRY||(OFF) Fucking neurotic bitch.|
|[Which I may say was a reasonable summing up of the situation.]|
|A SURGE OF LAVA FLOWS UP THROUGH MELANIE’S ARMS AS SHE REACHES THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS, WRENCHES THE BIG OLD MIRROR OFF ITS BRACKETS IN THE FRONT HALL, SMASHES IT TO THE FLOOR. SHE IS SURROUNDED BY SPLINTERED WOOD AND SHARDS OF SHARP SILVERED GLASS.
THERE IS A SUDDEN FLURRY OF MOVEMENT AS SUSIE (5), DAVEY (3) AND HARRY COME ONTO THE LANDING. SHE LOOKS UP, SEES A CIRCLE OF STARTLED FACES STARING DOWN AT HER.
|HARRY||Don’t give a fuck about your kids. Fucking cow. See if you can keep quiet for a change. I want to sleep.
HE RETURNS TO THE BEDROOM, SLAMS THE DOOR.
Your scenario. OK, some of it bears a faint relation to the truth. But the distortions are yours. According to you, you gazed up at me from the bottom of the stairs, and suddenly ‘understood’ that I was ‘pleased’. In your version I wanted you to behave badly, supposedly because it would then relieve my conscience and I needn’t feel guilty about spending all night with another woman.
So – not only do you blame some inexplicable ‘surge of lava’ inside yourself for the smashing of the mirror, thereby attempting to absolve yourself of all responsibility, you claim the whole thing was my fault anyway because I wanted you to do something outrageous and destructive. Great. As I say, you should be the fiction writer, not me.
Have you seen a doctor yet? You must. You owe me.
Well, I have your response to my letter, and I can’t say it contributes to the sum of human happiness. Indeed, it seems to compound your callousness. How can you say you gave up worrying about my ‘other women’ long ago? Those are not the feelings of a loving wife. You’re supposed to care, you’re supposed to get mad if you think some other female’s got her claws into your man.
What’s the matter with you that you don’t mind playing understudy to a beautiful actress? A real woman would exert a bit of effort, get her hair done, be a bit more sexy in the bedroom, make it worth her husband’s while to stay home. A proper wife would fight back.
You used to. You used to be exciting. You’d never give in, never lie down and let anyone trample you. You were an Amazon. I could try to get at you any way I liked – criticise your shape, your ideas, your cooking, your abilities as a housewife or mother. Anything. And you’d fight back, give as good as you got. No boring cabbage you. Nothing got to you, you were tough. The original bullet-proof vest. Police could have used you as a riot shield.
Why else did I marry you, for crissake? Ever thought of that? Because I need the stimulation of fighting you to keep alive. To stimulate my creative powers. You are my Muse.
You tell me you broke the mirror because you didn’t want to reflect on my alleged affair with Jayne. What sort of attitude is that? I suppose you think it witty to claim that your act of destruction was to avoid reflection, but let me tell you how it seemed to me. Far from being your oh-so-clever symbolic refusal to acknowledge my interest (note that – interest is all it was) in another woman, I experienced your smashing of the glass as a vivid rendering of the anger you felt and, for some reason, couldn’t express.
I wish you would express that anger. In a different way, of course. In words. I need your anger. And I need you. I need the stimulation of a good fight. Without you, I’m struggling. I can’t write any more.
Well, Mel. Disaster looms. The only plots that come to mind these days involve angry husbands plotting to kill their wives. I sold one to Dan at the Beeb – he interpreted it as black comedy and I didn’t tell him I meant every word. Anyway, one more play on radio, and that’s the lot. Dan won’t accept any more on that theme, and no one else has shown a flicker of interest. See what you’ve done?
Hey, thanks, Mel, for the inspiration. Your last letter expressing some of the anger I had been waiting for gave me a great idea. You fantasised stabbing me with one of the shards of mirror as you picked them off the floor. And I thought, why not? Let the little woman be the killer this time. So my latest heroine smashes a mirror and stabs her errant husband through the heart. Dan loves it for radio, appears to think it’s an uproarious comedy – the guy has a warped sense of humour. But it’s a great plot and I can rework it for any number of TV serials – Casualty, Midsomer Murders, you name it. You’ve saved us. I knew you’d come up with a winner, Mel, you always do. I love you.