Saturday 16th September
15) The Arrangement…
They were sitting in the kitchen, the morning after the discovery; the awful truth that their mother had been carrying on with Uncle Ted, and right under all of their noses too, that was almost the worst part. June was trying to be all cool and modern and to explain rationally how these adults, these clearly inadequate parents of theirs, were going to sort everything out. Harriet was fidgety and restless (missing her drug no doubt) and Jane was having the day off school, possibly in case she indulged in playground gossip – no danger of that, she would be far too ashamed. Their father had somehow gathered enough composure, or whatever it took, to take himself off to his office, trying no doubt, to act as if nothing had happened to shatter his happy little home. Their mother, the sainted heroine of this sad little tale, though on reflection it was poor Aunt Julie who was the real heroine, had asked the girls to come down when they were ready, as she wanted to talk to them both.
* * *
Phil was still in a daze really, the morning after June told him. In a funny way it hadn’t really stuck in his brain until then. The whole of yesterday had been so unreal, so impossibly unbelievable that he had simply refused to accept it. It was like a game, some sort of a test he was being set. “Now Phil, try and sort this little conundrum out; what would your reaction be if you found out that your wife was sleeping with her sister’s husband? I know it sounds a bit far-fetched, but how would you deal with the situation?” But heaven knows this was no conundrum, no imagined scenario, this was real life, this was happening to Phil. Right now. He just couldn’t quite get it into his head – that was all. And all of last night, despite the shouting and the crying and his anger and despair, he had been so shell-shocked, so stunned, that it hadn’t really sunk in that his life had changed irrevocably. It was never going to be the same again.
For far too long he had been wrapped up in his own problems and he hadn’t dreamed that June was in any sort of trouble; she had always seemed so reliable, so dependable, that he had never dreamed she might be unhappy. Or unhappy enough anyway to do something daft like this. And what sort of craziness could possibly have driven her to it. He knew he had been a poor husband in some ways but how could he possibly be responsible for her doing this. No-one could really expect that the romance and passion in a marriage should last forever, we all had to learn to deal with the mundanity of life overtaking us sooner or later. So, why had June been so unhappy with him? She had a lovely home and her own car, so what had driven her to be unfaithful. And with her sister Julie’s husband of all people, Phil simply couldn’t understand how she had been so foolish.
He had so many other problems this was just too much to bear. He was sinking fast both into debt and, he supposed, criminality, though he hadn’t really hurt anyone at all. The sums he had misappropriated were fairly small in the scheme of things. Not that the Law Society would see it that way of course. If any of his wheeling and dealing had come to light he was sure to be struck off. He had somehow gotten away with it because nobody had ever suspected him. He was respected, and so, above suspicion. But he knew what he had done. And even though no fingers were pointed, no accusations or even questions had been raised that almost made it worse.
This wasn’t the way it was supposed to have turned out, not the way they had planned it, Dad and him. His poor old Dad would be turning in his grave if he knew how Phil had let him down. Actually – he had let everyone down, his Mum and Dad, June and the girls, of course – but mostly himself; it was him Phil, that he had really let down.
Every time he caught himself in a mirror he saw what a disappointment he was. He had had every chance in the world, a good education, devoted parents, a kindly employer and he had thrown it all away. And why, why had he done it? It was no use now blaming June, he had been the one who wanted the big house and the Bentley. It was him, completely on his own, who got myself so overstretched with money. It was him who decided to do bits of business outside the firm. It was him who got involved with those crooked little business deals, who put his name as guarantor to schemes that were nothing short of dishonest. It was like a house built of sand on the beach, as the tide came in and kept eroding a wall here, a turret there, Phil had to keep heaping bigger and bigger buckets of sand on top just to keep the whole thing, and of course him with it, from being swept away.
* * *
How on earth was June going to tell the girls. Jane deserved better than this from them, and as for Harriet, she would probably just laugh in her face. June felt she had been laughing at her for a few years now anyway. Any parental authority she might once have relied on had been eroded by Harriet’s constant disregard for any feelings she might have at all. She had truly got the upper hand, and worse still, June had let her. It had just seemed too pointless to fight her; she never felt she had really won any argument with her anyway. She always had the last word, and it was often half-mumbled, half-sniggered behind her back. No point in answering her, June would simply walk away knowing both that she had lost and that if she dare look back Harriet would be sitting there with the sickliest of smirks on her face. June felt she had been a hopeless mother and now she had to admit as much.
So much for the great Mum she had once dreamed of being, and so much for the great meeting of last night. They had resolved nothing, the four of us. Nothing at all. Phil had been by turns dumbstruck, then angry, then apologetic; as if it had somehow all been his fault. He was far too rational to begin to understand what had happened. He was looking for reasons why, when the reality was it had happened and no amount of talking it over could make sense of it now. June had never begun to make any sense of her feelings, so why should anyone else understand them.
Ted had said little, staying in the background, keeping his head down, trying not to look June in the eye, and letting Phil and her do all the talking. And her sister Julie had said even less. , But her looks had spoken volumes; a mixture of resigned bitter determination and controlled anger, she had sat, mostly silent, but quietly glaring at June, through it all. Her sister Julie had always been a mystery to June; she had never shared anything with her when they were children, not even her thoughts; that three year age difference might as well have been twenty. She may have been her sister but June had no idea who she really was.
They just kept going round in circles. Circles, which to June seemed more and more pointless. Her offer to leave the house, to run away she supposed, had been met with horror by Phil, he insisted that she should stay. In fact it was Phil who said we should do nothing rash, do nothing at all until we had all had time to digest things, to see if we could somehow get over it. He was most insistent that no-one outside the four of us should know what had happened. June realized that he was concerned about his reputation, his position in the town, what people might say. He said that we should just carry on, and try to get over it, give ourselves a bit of time to think things over, to come to terms with the situation. And because no-one had any better ideas, because this seemed the easiest solution, because they were all so tired and miserable and desperate for the evening to be over – it became the accepted answer. June was not sure any of them, deep down though, really believed in it, but she, like everyone else, went along with it, because putting things off is always far easier than dealing with them.
Ted and Julie seemed relieved and she got the feeling that Julie had had some sort of inkling all along, maybe not that June was the one Ted was seeing, but that he was certainly seeing someone. Ted had never looked so cowed before and she saw something in their eyes, some knowing looks that passed between them, some unspoken communication, something almost intangible but unmistakably there, where between Phil and June there was nothing, even their words seemed to miss each other. June realised that in a strange way they understood their relationship and each other far better than Phil and she ever had or would. Of course all she really saw were daggers of pure hatred from her sister towards her, and who could blame her.