Polly believed she now moved across a slippery, unreliable surface.
She was newly married to Hugh and missing her oldest friend, Suzy.
Suzy would understand feeling you were slipping, or at least she’d be quick to say “that’s interesting.”
Suzy said that too readily yet Polly still felt appreciated if it was her own comment Suzy called interesting.
But Suzy and family were left, when she moved abroad with Hugh, and phone calls to her friend were far from walking side by side with easy talk and laughter.
It was annoying to have burnt her arm while preparing their dinner.
Was she growing more careless?
Though what was this care she might have less of?
It wasn’t until the months before her marriage that Polly started paying such attention to words. Her father had long advised she think twice before speaking, and perhaps he did, which might account for his giving away so very little. But Polly was not like that.She gave readily as a girl and words tumbled out.
Her tongue was not cutting yet both parents began remarking on any sharp edges.
“Since you can’t take critical comments, better not make any,” was repeated.
Even if Polly accepted her father’s request for only considered remarks, at seven she was sure her teacher waddled rather than walked, and that Peter Bendon brought the smell of his pigs to school.
By seventeen she had learnt caution.Only alongside Suzy would she be startled by what popped out of her own mouth at times.
Some inclination to please created a fat funnel through which most sentences surfaced. But there was this freer channel which allowed surprises and Polly usually liked what she heard herself say to Suzy, when it made them both laugh.
Such remarks were sharp edged and not considered.
When Hugh asked her to marry him Polly said an easy yes.
But did it come through her ready to please throat, or only from her heart? It was meant to come from there, wasn’t it?
She definitely wanted Hugh to want her and was afraid he’d find someone better, but she had so little idea of what being married might mean.
She said yes and it was not until having to say I do was nearly in front of her,that Polly faltered.
A low level hollow in her gut became an emptiness. She might fall right into it sometime. Eventually she could get hold of doubt to ask if anyone could be quite certain as they swore an oath?
Loving in sickness and until death was not what Polly had ever witnessed.
Her grandfather’s illness irritated almost everyone, himself as much as his once gentle wife. A stroke proved hard for an active man and he made sure his family shared the misery. His wife and daughters failed him if they did not ease his suffering.
Having never liked the look of decline, Polly began to resist visiting and shrank from the burden of his gloom.
It seemed he resented being the one incapacitated, rather than his wife. He would willingly carry her, instead she struggled to get him into bed.
Gradually, her kindness shrivelling, his wife began erecting a wall of separation and moved to the spare room.
She wouldn’t dare move right out of reach, even though it seemed to Polly that hatred was breeding like mould in their once bright home.
Perhaps it was poison – for something killed her grandmother without warning.
Then, to everyone’s amazement, her widowed grandfather became grateful for his daughters, Polly and staff in the care home.
After showing no gratitude to his wife, he took up thanking everyone.
Was she expected to do better than her grandparents?
Suzy sounded interested but said she had only learned how not to be married. Her parents made no effort to mask mutual dislike.Convinced they could not afford divorce they lived as caged creatures and Suzy vowed she wouldn’t ever get herself trapped. She would never live with emotional blackmail from someone else’s mother, or with another’s bad taste in wallpaper like her own mother.
Polly’s mother and aunt expected to banish her questions by the reassurance that all womenhad nerves before they married, and Polly should not take hers so seriously.
But it seemed wrong to promise to love unto death; even the thought that Hughcould die on her was enough to make her want to run far,far away from loving him.
Her father’s younger, pretty sister was desperate to escape her husband’s cancer.
Polly overheard this favourite aunt asking how you could stay loving a man threatening to desert you – it was just too much to ask.
Though that uncle hadn’t died; or not so far. Brutal treatment went on and on, and his wife found ways to withdraw without packing her bags.
“What if I don’t have the right genes or character to love Hugh through trouble?” And how were you to know this before you swore to what you might be incapable of fulfilling?
“Stop thinking of yourself as special. Just do it like everyone else,” might have been advice Polly could consider, if it wasn’t offered with such impatience.
She did do it.
Polly said “I do” and all the rest. But misgiving, remaining inside the bridal white, slowly moved into further queries.
What of herself was to be entirely trusted?
How much of what she said would stand up to serious scrutiny?
Not that Hugh seemed to doubt her word. Worse he liked the idea of a wonderful wife, that added to himself. So if Polly embellished her past, the better version obviously pleased Hugh.
He, too, created an image of himself and polished it.Sometimes a little.Occasionally rather a lot.
They were presenting themselves to new colleagues and possible friends. Some of whom were doing a similar line in self-promotion, as interesting and decently on the right side of current issues.
Polly’s tentative attempt to draw others to this concern over where words might be anchored, fell flat.
Only on the phone with Suzy did Polly risk self-deprecation and laughter. Yet even those briefly pictured absurdities of herself, weren’t fully believable.
“Perhaps I should become a fundamentalist,” Polly said, as she walked with Suzy on a visit back.
“Where else are there certainties?”
“Forget that – obedience never became you.”
“But what if we wake one day and it’s clear everything we said, or thought we understood, was right out of kilter?”
“Let’s hope we do – that would be interesting.”