R is seeing someone. As I read the last message I’m overcome with an aching sense of loss and powerlessness
At 3am, a little drunk, tired and already feeling the early effects of a hangover, I discover that R is seeing someone. I’m not purposefully nosing around for clues of his extramarital shenanigans; I’m buzzing with joy after a friend’s party and have neither the energy nor desire to rifle through R’s coat pockets for signs of deceit and desperation. I arrive home singing with love for my friend Emma, the party host, who was still dancing when I crept out of her house and into my taxi. I want to say goodnight and thank her for a great evening. I look in my bag for my phone but realise I have left it charging in her kitchen.
This is why I creep into the bedroom where R is sleeping (he has been babysitting) to use his phone to message Emma. I scroll down his phone contacts for her number and see the call history – they have been speaking recently and regularly. I look at a recent text message that suggests she is far better acquainted with R than I had imagined.
Emma, my close friend, flirting with my husband? It seems bizarre that she is calling him “mon amour” and sending him strings of kisses to sign off. When I read a couple more messages, I realise that the Emma I think it is, is not that Emma at all. She is another Emma, a woman I’ve never met.
Trembling, I take the phone downstairs to the kitchen and sit at the table. The dancing fairy lights around the mirror bathe the room in hostile blue, flashing frantically in sequence. They seem to mimic my feverish compulsion to stab the phone screen with my finger, as I open message after message from Emma to R, and R to Emma. There is so much to read and I am surprised, because R is usually so scrupulous about deleting old stuff.
It is wrong, it is wrong, it is wrong to be doing this, I say, through tears.
But I can’t stop. There is something rather exhilarating about being faced with all of this information, the truth and the secrets, the stuff I had absolutely no idea about – a seductive desire to discover what has been going on. And yet I know what the ending will be for me: when I read the last message the whole exercise will feel nihilistic and sad.
There are sexy texts, caring texts, scheming emails that talk of R and Emma’s special understanding of each other; messages that say they would like to run away together. “Aren’t we bad doing this behind our partner’s back?” type conversations.
There are whole paragraphs dedicated to extreme flattery – all the sentences sting my soul. And when I read a couple of lovely things that R writes about Emma, I think of the times he has said similar things to me. In one message I am the subject. They mention a time when they held hands in the back room of a pub and talked about me.
“Me!” I cry with disbelief, in my echoey kitchen. A woman holding my husband’s wedding ringless finger, talking about me? I really do start massaging my eyelids hard because if you’ve ever done this, you will know that the discomfort is distracting.
The once happy night is swallowed up whole and replaced with an aching sense of loss and powerlessness. I want to bang my head against the wall, but I don’t. I put the phone down and walk upstairs. I enter the room where R is and touch him on the shoulder. My mind is already full of cliches: “We need to talk.”
“Tomorrow,” he says, crossly. “I need to get up early for work.”
Then I say, “I know about you and Emma.”
Moments later, he follows me downstairs to the living room.
“How much have you had to drink? Don’t do this to yourself now,” he says.
“Why? Why didn’t you tell me about this when I asked you all those times if you were seeing anyone else? Does Emma know that you tell me you love me and that you don’t want anyone else?”
I can’t work out whether I want to throw something heavy at his head, or crawl into his arms.
“I am just so, so sad,” is all I can say.
R turns to leave the room almost as quickly as he’d come in, saying: “We are separated and this has absolutely nothing to do with you. Just get some sleep.”