Millie’s Death

They had divorced amicably hadn’t they?

Surely, after so many years, Frederick, though Freddy back then, couldn’t still hold grudges?
She’d reached out to him recently, since he was the one who knew what Millie once meant to her.

Everyone would recognise that, as Millie’s brother, Frederick was grieving, but she had no one else who’d witnessed her long friendship with Millie.

Others who mattered had died and she and Frederick were both now widowed, but there was something indigestible about Millie’s death.

She wrote to Frederick formally, immediately she heard, and then tried again a month later.

She didn’t write that once the two of them had shared loving Millie and her infectious energy or that this death had sliced into her.

She was careful but did say Freddy had seen that close connection while she and Millie were school girls, arm in arm for years.

She didn’t expect Frederick to cut her loose.

He did it with dignity – a polite brush off as if she had no place now in Millie’s life or his.

He left her with no opening to weave what she had once lived into any exchange with him – left her with a tangle from a severed, intense friendship and the sense that the long ago marriage kept some sharpness at its broken edge.

Yet she and Freddy had both gone on with another partner, though in her case not with Brian, the man she had fallen in love with at the time she and Freddy separated.

The divorce came several years later, when Freddy wanted to have a child with his new partner, Mary.

By then he seemed happier than she was and certainly not at all cross when they had a drink after jointly signing divorce papers.

Her great love for Brian had already floundered.

Despite his many selfish ways Brian was generous as a lover.

He was sensual as well as self-indulgent and with him she found herself sexually freer.

He made it explicit at the start that he didn’t believe monogamy made sense, unless you were set on maintaining stability to raise children.

How could she have heard the words and not been able to consider them?
The sex was compelling and that seemed enough.

Or did she assume that, because she couldn’t imagine desiring anyone else, he would feel the same?

Brian did not see himself as father material but to her surprise the prospect of having his child began recurring to her each menstrual month.

She slowly started to notice Brian’s expectation that she listen to him, while rarely giving anyone much attention and her only if they were having sex or heading there.

Brian met an old lover for lunch and they had gone to her flat for sex.

The hit was devastating.

Looking back on that week it never made sense how she reacted as if Brian’s rekindling of an old flame was something she would not live through.

It was nearly the end of everything.

She rushed to the underground with desperation in possession of her.

There was no thought.

She did not know who the woman was, only someone in a bright red coat, who came up to her as she paced by the tunnel.

She didn’t answer when asked if she was alright, but that jolt of intrusion was just enough to send her running back to the lift.

She ran out of being driven to end pain.

How had Brian reduced her to that?

She didn’t understand what had gripped her and just hoped it would never again leap into life and take her over.

After she gave birth she vowed to avoid such intensity – her overriding need must be to stay alive for her child.

By then she wondered if that urge for self-destruction held a detonation of rage – “you did that to me, now look what I can do!”

She met Brian from time to time now they were both old and occasionally saw him in the years after they parted.

They met first going in to a film and one other time in a park.

The current between them was not entirely gone and Brian had seemed set on proving what he once told her, that whatever had been alive between people could be revived – it was never quite gone, just denied.

People like to make their love story simple and neat, he said, and so they trim off messy ties.

He had a succession of lovers during the period she married and had two children.

There being no child to tie her to Freddy, they didn’t stay in contact after the divorce, though she heard when he and Mary moved to Scotland and had a son.

She first met Freddy as the older brother and only sibling of her closest school friend from when they were eleven.

Over the years she went on holiday with Millie’s family and was often in their home. It was easier than being in her own, where her mother seemed wary of the close bond with Millie.

It would take a decade or two before she considered that if things back then were as they became, whether she and Millie might have been adolescent lovers.

There was an excitement in the friendship – with Millie, quickly decisive, usually leading the way.

Millie generated fun and energy for activity but, equally, as if a seal on a rock, she liked to bask and the two of them spent languid hours stretched on Millie’s bed.

Freddy might come in to play them music and he sat on the floor.

Millie was bridesmaid at the wedding and continued to join her and Freddy on outings.

Many evenings ended with her arm in arm with both Millie and her brother, and Millie ready to sing and dance.

She began to wonder if Freddy was turned on more if the three of them had been together, sharing Millie’s vitality.

Then Millie suddenly announced her engagement to a friend of Freddy’s and a buzz carried the four of them for several months.

She was matron of honour and Freddy the best man.

It looked as if their trio was to be a harmonious quartet.

But the new groom disrupted that. Without any discussion with Freddy he took a job in France.

He organised a holiday with only Millie at the exact time Freddy had leave and expected the four of them to be together.

Things between herself and Freddy began to seem flat but at the same time he changed jobs and became very engaged with work.

It was as if he was swallowed by ambition and the shared life was where he recovered from long hours.

She rarely felt desired.

It was nine months after Freddy threw himself into his new job that she met Brian. It was at a party Freddy was too busy to attend.

Brian’s sexual energy was palpable and she was flattered, though made it clear she was married.

Brian persisted and she did not continue to resist after many weeks.

She told Freddy Brian was in pursuit, hoping it might spur him to claim her.

But that failed to make impact.

It was inconceivable that she might lead, taking Freddy and herself into loving better.

Instead she went with Brian to his flat on her day off.

His place was glamorous and she had not experienced such fluid sexual chemistry.

She rarely found herself as sensual with Freddy and certainly it had never occurred to her to lick him all over his buttocks and balls.

She could not muster the strength to stop seeing Brian, even if she occasionally felt sure she should and Brian, who worked freelance, seemed available any time she could meet.

It was when the marriage finally fell apart, after Freddy insisted he could not live with infidelity, that Millie turned up from France.

She entered the room in a fury.

How could she have done this to Freddy!

It was too cruel to her hard working brother!

As Millie continued at high volume it became clear that her own sex life was a disappointment but she had found ways to accept what had been passed to her.

That was what marriage meant and how dare her friend, her brother’s wife, feel entitled to more excitement.

Millie was adamant she could not forgive the betrayal of Freddy and kept her word.

Over the years several attempts at reconciliation were soon rejected.

The bitter judgement remained and replayed again and again after Millie’s death.

Although her friend’s angry words had some truth they were too harsh and she squirmed with protest.

What of Freddy? Didn’t he have any responsibility?

She would invite Brian, with his gout and walking stick, to lunch.

He would probably lighten the hurt.

Not that he ever met the once feisty Millie, who grew fierce and fixed in her accusation.

Even if Brian was unlikely to listen well, he’d be amused that ungenerous Freddy who, like almost everyone, failed to love as well as he once hoped, still felt fine about blocking her attempt at an opening.

And Brian might appreciate assumptions that, yet again and even dead,  Millie was there between her and Freddy.