Injunction by Dan Brotzel
You start off being better than expected. A bit too good to be true.
The story is larded with your altruism, but you agonise about not having done enough. (‘But it sounds like you couldn’t have done any more,’ she says. ‘You mustn’t punish yourself. Carers always do this! I’ve seen it so many times!’)
When it turns out you have heard of ‘validation therapy’, a special interest of hers, it’s as if the whole pub can hear the sound of a box being ticked. It’s all embarrassingly easy, somehow, or is this just what right feels like?
On the first date, you are compassionate, courageous, candid. And endearingly eccentric.
Later that first night, you intervene on behalf of a harassed waitress when a group of boozed-up lads in football gear start to get a bit lary. There are four of them and one of you. But they are men, alive to the nuances of violence and its portents. There is an edge in your voice that they hear but she doesn’t, and they leave you alone.
What it looks like to her, though, is chivalry of a sort that’s generally considered extinct. And looking at yourself through her eyes, even you feel a touch in awe of yourself.
You go large on the gifts.
She loves to watch that Choir show, and you spend fruitless hours emailing and calling the show’s office to see if Gareth will come and do an impromptu sing-song for the dementia ward. It doesn’t work out; something in your grim persistence, you sense dimly, seems to put them off.
You learn to love arthouse. More gifts.
You come across a limited-edition print of the cinema painted by a local artist. You buy it for a few hundred quid – quite a statement for a fifth-date purchase. She is shocked at your emotional audacity, with the shock of one who has met their destiny.
And suddenly, you know all about foreign cinema. You bluff your way through Bunuel and Truffaut and Kirosawa, you whose favourite film is secretly Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. (She must never know, you decide, about your Dungeons and Dragons past.) Only when you laugh at one of her friends for thinking Renoir a painter is there a moment’s awkwardness.
In bed, you try very hard to please her.
Later, much later, you wonder if she wished there was less pressure on her to have the perfect experience every time, and if your experimental efforts felt too much like a ticklist you were working through.
You wonder if you should perhaps have instinctively known how it was for her without having to grill her every time.
And you forget how often she told you she just wanted a hug.
Even at work, you are there for her.
When your boss (a man) questions you next day about hanging up on a client call without explanation, you cough discreetly, look him straight in the eye, and utter the single word, ‘dysmenorrhea’. No more is said on the matter. She loves you for this.
Such fastidiousness soon wears off, of course, and she tires – perhaps quicker than you realise – of being asked to ‘pull my finger’ every time you need to let one go.
You try with her friends, you really do.
(A bit like when, later on that night, you take to lying on the dotted line in the middle of the road, for reasons that are unclear even to you. You earn some attention, but probably not the right kind.)
Out and about, you see something unexpected.
After you are spotted trying to take a picture of them on your phone, you’re only left with the latter option really.
You’re not totally blind.
Come to think of it, she never initiates anything any more. It’s like she’s just waiting for you to tell her what should happen next all the time. This infuriates you, and leads inevitably to you raising your voice again.
She’s changed, and so you change.
You have to win every conversation, you have to have the last word, you have to know. It’s an old friend from her old work, she says. She must have mentioned him before, you know, Pete. Don’t be silly, she says when she sees your expression, he’s not even straight.
But she hasn’t mentioned him. And besides she could turn anyone straight. Just look at her.
You make a choice.
It’s toughened glass, and you only break one pane. This, you say, shows how silly a little thing it all is. But she is already on the phone, sob-dialling. Better not to talk to anyone till we’ve all calmed down, you say, with a restraining hand.
You love someone, you set them free.
But you’re always with her, she knows that. It’s what she wants.
You like to sit outside her house in a car.
When she’s ready to come and talk, you’ll be there. Just need to get things back to where they were, back to where they should be.
The neighbours are a different matter, though. And it’s not so easy when one of those cunts calls the police. ‘How can I “harass someone in their own home” when I’m not even in their home?’ you keep asking. ‘And anyway, it’s my home too.’ Well, it was.
You learn how to let yourself in and out of a car boot.
You reflect, you grow, you wait.
There’s a woman in here who’s helping you to talk about your feelings. Get perspective on your pain, she calls it. It helps. You can see how things must have come across now. And you’ll be a better person for her when you’re done.
Because what can never change is what you and she mean to each other. You know there have been issues, you know you did wrong. But you’re dying in here, and it wouldn’t kill her to remind you just once that she needs you as much as you need her.
Otherwise, what’s the point of you?