‘We will shortly be landing at Los Angeles International Airport. Please ensure your seat is in the upright position, that you weigh less than a hundred pounds and that you have excellent teeth.’
I’d always lived a fairly blameless life. Up until the day I left my husband and then ran away to Hollywood, I’d hardly ever put a foot wrong. Not one that many people knew about, anyway. So when, out of the blue, everything just disintegrated like wet paper, I couldn’t shake a wormy suspicion that this was long overdue. All that clean living simply isn’t natural.
Of course, I didn’t just wake up one morning and skip the country, leaving my poor sleepy fool of a husband wondering what that envelope on his pillow was. I’m making it sound much more dramatic than it actually was, which is strange because I never used to have a penchant for dramatics. Or a penchant for words like ‘penchant’, for that matter. But ever since the business with the rabbits, and possibly even before that, things with Garv had been uncomfortable and weird. Then we’d suffered a couple of what we chose to call ‘setbacks’. But instead of making our marriage stronger – as always seemed to happen to the other luckier setback souls who popped up in my mother’s women’s magazines – our particular brand of setbacks did exactly what it said on the tin. They set us back. They wedged themselves between myself and Garv and alienated us from one another. Though he never said anything, I knew Garv blamed me.
And that was OK, because I blamed me too.
His name is actually Paul Garvan, but when I first got to know him we were both teenagers and nobody called anybody by their proper names. ‘Micko’ and ‘Macker’ and ‘Toolser’ and ‘You Big Gobshite’ were some of the things our peers were known as. He was Garv, it’s all I’ve ever known him as, and I only call him Paul when I’m extremely pissed off with him.
Likewise, my name is Margaret but he calls me Maggie, except when I borrow his car and scrape the side against the pillar in the multi-storey car park (something that occurs more regularly than you might think).
I was twenty-four and he was twenty-five when we got married. He’d been my first boyfriend, as my poor mother never tires of telling people. She reckons it demonstrates what a nice girl I was, who never did any of that nasty sleeping-around business. (The only one of her five daughters who didn’t, who could blame her for parading my suspected virtue?) But what she conveniently omits to mention when she’s making her proud boast is that Garv might have been my first boyfriend, but he wasn’t my only one.
We’d been married for nine years and it would be hard to say exactly when I’d started to fantasize about it ending. Not, let me tell you, because I wanted it to be over. But because I thought that if I imagined the worst possible scenario, it would somehow be insurance against it actually happening. However, instead of insuring against it, it conjured the whole bloody thing into existence. Which just goes to show.
The end came with surprising suddenness. One minute my marriage was a going concern – even if I was doing strange stuff like drinking my contact lenses – the next minute it was entirely finito. Which caught me badly on the hop, as I’d always thought there was a regulation period of crockery-throwing and name-calling before the white flag could be waved. But everything caved in without a single cross word being exchanged, and I simply wasn’t prepared for it.
God knows, I should have been. A few nights previously I’d woken in the darkness for a good worry. Something I often did, usually fretting about work and money. You know, the usual. Having too much of one and not enough of the other. But recently – probably longer than recently, actually – I’d been worrying about me and Garv instead. Would things ever get better? Were they better already and I just wasn’t seeing it?
Most nights I didn’t come to any conclusions and lapsed back into an unreassured sleep. But this time I was afflicted with sudden, unwelcome x-ray vision. I could see straight through the padding of the daily routine, the private language and the shared past, right into the heart of me and Garv, into all that had happened over the last while. Everything was stripped away and I had a horrible, too-clear thought: We’re in big trouble here.
It literally made me cold. All the little hairs on my skin lifted and a chill settled somewhere between my ribs. Terrified, I tried to cheer myself up by having a little fret about the amount of work I’d have to do the following day, but no dice. So then I reminded myself that my parents were getting older and that I’d be the one who’d end up having to take care of them, and tried to scare myself with that instead.
After a while I went back to sleep, scratched my right arm raw, ground my teeth with gusto, awoke to the familiar sensation of a mouth coated with bits of grit, and carried on as normal.
I was to remember that We’re in big trouble here when it transpired that we actually were. On the evening in question we were meant to be going out for dinner with Elaine and Liam, friends of Garv’s. And who knows, if Liam’s new flatscreen television hadn’t fallen off the wall and on to his foot, breaking his big toe in the process, so that I’d gone out instead of going home, maybe Garv and I would never have split up.
The irony is, I was praying that Elaine and Liam would cancel. The chances were good – the last three times we were supposed to meet up, it hadn’t happened. The first time, Garv and I had bowed out because we were getting our new kitchen table delivered. (No, of course it didn’t come.) The next time, Elaine – who’s some bigwig in pensions – had to drive to Sligo to make a load of people redundant. (‘The new Jag arrived just in time!’) Then the last time I’d managed to come up with some spurious excuse which Garv had agreed with all too readily. This time it was their call.
Not that I didn’t like them. Well, actually I didn’t. Like I said, she’s a bigwig in pensions and he’s a stockbroker. They’re good-looking, earn tons of money and are unkind to waiters. They’re the sort of people who always seem to be getting new cars and going on holiday.
Most of Garv’s mates were lovely, but Liam was a glaring exception: the problem was that Garv was one of those types who went around seeing the good in people – most people, anyway. This is a great quality in theory, and I’d no objection to him seeing the good in people I liked myself, but it was a bit of a pain when he persisted with the ones I didn’t. Himself and Liam had been friends since junior school, in the days when Liam had been a lot nicer, and, even though Garv had tried very hard for my sake, he’d been unable to shake his residual affection for him.