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Told, Chapter One
I stood waiting in the back garden for him. No one would see me behind the garden shed. The back wall of it was etched in cobwebs but it was too dark to see if there was anything trapped inside them. I leaned back against the seat of a rusty bicycle that looked as if it had been here for years and tried to listen out for his voice calling me to come out so he could take me home. A few drops of rain fell into my hair. It was as if I were no better than them, hiding myself in someone else. That person was Seán Keane, a married man I had been seeing for the past six months. I wondered desperately why he hadn’t found an excuse to come and get me. His wife must have fallen asleep by now.
I drew circles in the stones with my feet but it was tricky in my high heels. I always wore heels to meet him. They were the only ones I owned and were so high that pain usually kicked in after a few hours. Nevertheless, it was a sacrifice I was willing to make so that he didn’t have to bend down to kiss me. At least with a few more inches it was easier to kid myself that I was ready for him.
Barbara, his wife, had come home early that night. She was meant to be having a Saturday night out with her friends and staying at one of their houses for the night. So Seán and I were very relaxed at around midnight, lying down together on the living room couch, his arms around me and our feet tangled clumsily together. We were watching a box set of his favourite tv series when we heard the front door open.
“Seán are you home?” Barbara had called and I jumped up from Seán’s arms as I heard her take her shoes off and fumble with some keys.
Her voice had been like an alarm clock on the morning of your execution. We were always so careful. My nightmare of her finding out could so easily have been realised. I froze everywhere with coldness and hollowness in seconds as the idea that she would come in and see me with her husband consumed me. It wasn’t just that I knew it would cause her so much pain and hurt, but also because there was no way Seán would carry on seeing me if she found out the truth. After all, the only justification we could ever give one another was that what Barbara didn’t know couldn’t hurt her. My brain turned to mush and my stomach seemed to burrow itself right under the ground in those deadly seconds.
Seán, however, had been quicker to react than I had. While Barbara called that she was going upstairs to get changed, he grabbed my arm without a word and led me through to the back of the eerily dark and clean kitchen. I caught a glance at his rigid, expressionless face with his eyes firmly fixed away from me right before he shoved me out the back door. I told myself again and again that it was panic. That he hadn’t meant for his grip to be so strong or for me to be left forgotten behind the shed for what must have been an hour by now. The side gates were locked and there was no way for me to get out without causing a rattle.
My heart drummed on, heaving loud and uncomfortable. Pins and needles started to kick in along my feet and I shook them violently as I reluctantly began to realise that Seán had fallen asleep or was too occupied with his wife to come get me.
I tried to think of something else - anything other than my role as one of countless, cheap, slutty girls worldwide hiding from an innocent, unknowing wife. But the only other thing I could come up with were all the different ways Barbara would react if she found me, a freezing teenage girl she didn’t know dressed in dark clothes that were ridiculously old and boring for her age, trapped in her garden in the middle of the night.
A dog barked aggressively a few houses down, breaking my train of thought. I crossed my arms and tried to keep warm. Eventually I accepted that nothing was going to change. Seán wasn’t coming, I was left to my own devices to get off his property and make the half hour journey back to my house. I had no money for a taxi and no one to call who would understand, except for Seán.
I counted backwards from a hundred, just in case. After that, I stepped out from behind the shed into the back garden and looked up at the house. All the lights in the were off and the faint moonlight was enough for me to see that Seán and Barbara’s bedroom curtains were closed.
Feeling lonelier than I had ever since Seán and I started seeing each other, I managed to climb over the gate without making enough noise to wake anyone up. But I hurt myself all the same.
Mum bustled into my bedroom the next morning with some clothes straight from the wash. I heard her humming to herself and peeled my eyes open just in time to see her jump back, startled at the sight of me in bed.
“Sorry,” I said, rubbing my eyes wearily as I wondered what time it was.
“What happened to sleeping over at Lisa’s?” Mum asked, sounding concerned. The events of last night suddenly threw themselves from the back of memory right to the most unavoidable part of my mind. I pulled back the covers of the bed and sat up to face Mum, knowing I didn’t deserve her concern
“She…” I rattled my brain, searching for an explanation. I had spent days begging Mum to let me spend the night at my friend’s house. Lisa was my official cover for all things Seán related. “We had a fight.”
Mum raised her eyebrows in surprise because Lisa and I never fought. “What about?” she asked curiously. Mum never felt comfortable unless she knew everything that was going on in my life. If only she knew.
“Oh nothing.” I sighed, afraid to say too much because my imagination was wearing thin lately. “I’ll text her later and make up.”
“Well if you’re sure.” Mum creased her forehead, hungry for more information, but didn’t say anything else. She would question me later, I was sure. She put some clothes on my desk and left, shutting the door after her. I exhaled loudly and sank back under the duvet for one single moment of relief.
Seán phoned me later that morning when I was in the living room. I’d gotten sick of staring at my bedroom ceiling and had searched for more reassurance in the television. But even my favourite songs and TV programmes seemed to judge me. All the conversations, storylines and lyrics seemed in some way related to the importance of honesty, the consequences of lies and the worthlessness of people who slept with someone who was married.
“Did you get home okay?” Seán asked as I pressed down heavily on the mute button on the remote control.
“Yeah it was fine,” I said.
I heard him sighing on the other end because he always knew when I was lying. “I’m sorry. I tried to get away but…”
“Don’t be sorry,” I said, sitting up in the coach so I could talk to him properly. The last thing I wanted was for him to feel guilty. “You didn’t know she was coming home.”
“I’m sorry for putting you through all this.”
“It’s okay I…I don’t mind.”
“Geraldine-” It was never good when he called me Geraldine and not Ger.
“I gotta go. Can I call over tomorrow?” I cut him off before he told me something I just couldn’t deal with. The only thing worse than blaming myself for all the lies was any sign that Seán blamed me too. I needed him to want me. Every now in then I clenched up in fear at the idea that he didn’t.
“Okay I’ll see you then,” Seán said, and then almost as if to put himself at ease as well as me added, “Barbara doesn’t suspect anything.”
Mum came in and pulled the blinds up to let me know I only had a few minutes before the TV would be turned off. She never let me lounge around for too long on my days off when there was a dishwasher to empty, floors to wash and carpets to hoover. Because there were only two of us at home, we shared all the responsibilities and chores. Mum gestured to the windows by way of letting me know it was my turn to clean them and stood, waiting for me to get off the phone.
After many months, I was so used to my code for ‘Mum’s just come in I have to go’ that there was no need to think about it.
“That’s great Lisa. No problem, I’ll see you then.”
Seán made his little huffing sound that always made me smile. I only stopped when he finally said something I never thought he would.
“I love you Ger.”
I hung up the phone and scrunched my eyes so tight that my vision was blurred when I opened them again. Hearing him say those words didn’t make me feel happy like I had always imagined. It was just another stick to beat myself up with, because no married man should be saying that to a girl like me. I met Mum’s gaze and wondered what she would say if she knew. Maybe later it would mean more when my self-condemnation wave drifted off. It usually did after a few days, only to come back heavier and angrier soon later, drowning me more every time.
“Yeah the windows I know,” I snapped, shoving the phone in my pocket before Mum could open her mouth again.
I studied for hours that night. Mum said she didn’t know why I was so bothered. There were still some days left in the Easter holidays and the Leaving Cert was over a year away.
I gritted my teeth and replied the way I always did. “I like to keep busy.”
I wanted to tell someone so badly about the…affair. I could barely even think the word. Twice I’d sat down Mum down and said I needed to tell her something. But it had never come out. Three times, I’d lied in confession by ommitting it from my list of sins. Not that I was overly religious - Mum had stopped taking me to mass after the divorce - but I knew holding back so much didn’t make for a very effective forgiving from God. If a priest could really give me that.
I did write a letter once. To Barbara. I said that I had been seeing her husband for months, making love to him in their bed for weeks, and that I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore. I said that I never meant to hurt her and that she deserved none of it. But no matter how genuine I was about that I couldn’t get it across in paper. Besides, I didn’t know her at all. I mean, I knew her to see, but we had never spoken and the only important thing Seán told me about her was that she suffered from depression. But even that was just some vague notion that Seán said you could never understand unless you had it or knew someone who did. It was more than just a state of mind, he told me, it was an illness. He wouldn’t tell me much else however, and so I could never really get my head around it. I could have looked it up online if I really wanted to learn about it, but always found reasons not to.
Reading the letter back made my skin crawl because I kept thinking how if I got a letter like it I would call the girl a stupid, naïve b***h who had no right to justify her actions just so she could make herself feel better. I ripped the letter up into shreds after hiding it under my mattress for a day.
After that, I held my tongue and hid my pens most of the time. I made up a person in my mind. ‘B***h Geraldine’. ‘Dumb Geraldine’; if I was feeling generous. I lay awake so many nights blaming all this worry, stress and guilt on her. She was the stupid girl, not me.
I was the timid, shy girl who all the teachers liked with only a small handful of friends and about a half a hand worth of individuality. I was Geraldine. But with Seán, I didn’t know myself, or at least the part of me only he could stir. I didn’t understand myself or live by the rules and expectations I set myself to live by in the real world. I was naïve, giddy, irresponsible, passionate, and unrealistically wishful that he might one day commit to me.
So when he told me he loved me, with no promise to leave his wife or build a life with me, it didn’t give me anything but a sense of unease. I didn’t know why I was putting the good Geraldine through all this. I needed to keep Seán in my life because I would fall apart in the void that came with being without him, but the lies and sacrifices it took to keep him were starting to drive me crazy. I turned to studying, because it was about the only part of my life I could keep under control.