Make-Believe Annie Pennington August 4, 2014 Creative Writing, Short Stories The Greene family were perfect. Honestly, truly perfect. Everybody in their safe, secure gated community felt privileged to know them, and anybody that saw them going about their daily business in their hometown of Barnet, near London, was either incredibly jealous or suitably impressed. “Pass the salt, darling?” Rita was a housewife. Her husband had insisted that his loving, faithful spouse did not need to work; their two perfect children were more important than any job or amount of income. “Of course I can, my love.” Paul Greene, whilst being a full-time exemplary husband and father, also found time to teach at the esteemed boarding school Totteridge Academy. It was the business of nearly all of Rita’s friends to tell her how lucky she was, what a wonderful husband she had. She couldn’t help but agree, she’d told them. “This roast beef? Good God, Mother! Amazing!” “Completely agree!” Sarah and Jason’s mother frowned – at her teenage children using the Lord’s name in vain, of course. Nothing to do with the overly-sweet, almost saccharine compliments of the pre-roasted, rubbery supermarket meat she’d bought an hour ago. Rita desperately beat away her suspicions, quickly rearranging her face into a humble smile. “Thank you, children.” The Greene family really were perfect. The Greene family is a lie. I’m ashamed to be a part of it: this “family”. This facade that we’ve upheld for so long? This exterior that the rest of the world sees? Well it’s cracking. And soon everyone will see what The Greenes have all been looking at for so long. It’s what’s driven me to this. I can’t cope anymore; I need out. This constant, all-consuming despondency is too much. This make-believe wife and mother role is too heavy to shoulder for much longer. Apparently nearly a fifth of people suffer from depression. But surely they can’t all feel like I do; the world would be ready to collapse, ready to fall off the edge at any second. The world would be constantly ready to give up. “Marking all done, Paul? You were ever so behind. I dohope you’ve got it done, it would be a pity to keep the sixth formers waiting another week for their essay marks. Please do try to get it done, Paul, you’ll only get further and…” Paul tried to ignore Totteridge’s resident moaner. He really was trying to focus on the essays in front of him, thank-you-very-much-Mrs-Twiney. But he’d been so distracted lately, what with teaching inspections and exam season coming up… And the arguments with Rita were getting worse. She insisted that the boxers he found were his. She’d just bought them, she said. But why was there no record of it on the MasterCard? Well, obviously, Paul, she paid cash. But Rita never buys him new underwear, why start now? He’d been stressed, overworked… Weren’t silk boxer shorts the obvious solution? Pretending to be mollified, Paul tried to act like the suspicions weren’t still whispering, constantly, always in the back of his head. He ignored the number flashing on his wife’s mobile screen, since Rita did too. “Just the florist. I’ll call her back later.” She insisted. He smiled and nodded blankly as his wife stuttered at dinner over what she’d done throughout the day, her answers barely coming together, barely covering the gaping holes in the truth. It’ll be fine, Paul kept telling himself. I’ll be fine. The kitchen floor gleamed. The windows were sparkling. The carpet was steam-cleaned to perfection, the lines from the hoover all parallel and organised. She was the perfect housewife. The cushions? Plumper than a botox-addict’s lips. Rita smiled to herself at that. She smiled to herself a lot these days. For the majority of her day she was alone, in the house, cleaning. Is this really all my life is? The housewife contemplated that thought for a moment. No. Not anymore. Now Rita had a vapid, air-brained toy-boy to play with during the day. She’d met him at yoga. Yoga. God, I’m so clichéd. Rita sighed, her breath hitching on a sob hidden in her throat. I’m a horrible mother I’m an even worse wife. But she couldn’t fathom a way out of this mess. So Rita turned a blind eye, pretending to see less than the blatantly obvious. I’m fine. They’ll be fine. It’s strange, in a family that spends so much time apart, that everyone feels so suffocated. You can see it in all our eyes. Maybe not everyone can. But we all look at each other, across that God-forsaken dinner table – barely a metre wide, appearing so traversable but leaving us all so emotionally stunted – and we all simply ignore the pain we see in each other’s eyes. I feel suffocated by my loneliness. So that’s it. I really am done. With this family, with this life. We’re all so unhappy. And what can I do to change that? Nothing. So there’s no need for me to stay. I’m gone. I’ve finally realised that this idyllic, Utopian family is better off without me. I’m gone. “Kids? Will you… Well – just – come here a minute?” Paul’s heart was hammering, louder than the rain. His thoughts careening, even quicker than those poor defenceless leaves caught up in the wind. The storm was condemning, spiralling out of control. Sarah and Jason walked into the dining room together, their smiles falling short as they noticed their father’s tear-streaked face and body wracked with sobs. Paul’s shoulder slumped. He’d dreaded doing this since the police officer left two hours ago. “I’ve just been speaking to the police. They – your mother, well…” “Dad?” Jason’s eyes were filled with worry, Sarah’s with a grim kind of recognition. Her father noticed. “Wait… Sarah, what is it?” A lone tear ran down her face, as if jealous of the raindrops freely weeping down the windowpane. “I found her diary entries; just sitting on her dresser. ‘I’m gone’… I can guess what that means, Dad.” She took a deep breath, looking at Jason. “Mum’s killed herself.” Paul tuned out the sound of Jason and Sarah’s sobs, their strangled cries and wailing questions. Their tears had no meaning. Their questions no answers. His mind was upstairs, frantically searching his and Rita’s bedroom. He stumbled to his feet, still shaking, exhausted. His children would understand him leaving; they would think that grief had overtaken him… They would leave him to mourn for a while – alone, surely? Memories, everywhere. The kitchen. All those lovingly prepared meals – lots of love meant lots of effort, Rita said. The kitchen. Home to all those plastic ready-meal packets. Lots of love indeed. Passing an open door. The bath. All those patient, caring washes when the children were young. Laughter and splashes. The bath. Filled right to the top, thoughts spilling over, taking over. Drowning your troubles. The bed, finally. Paul couldn’t think straight now, his mind overflowing with images of Rita’s infidelity, here. Once passionate and loyal, the epitome of a marital bed. Now tainted, infected with lewd acts. His children’s whimpering rose up the stairs to fill his ears, to crowd his thoughts. It was her fault, really. Everything just added up. Those silk boxer shorts, taunting him. The dusty house, the meals put together in twenty minutes. She didn’t care anymore. She was going to run away with him. Paul found the diary entries under the bed… She texted him. Meet me at our hotel, the one on the A1. So Paul intercepted. It was lucky, really, that Rita was waiting for her lover in a romantic bath. His wife’s eyes had never looked so honest before, when he was forcing them underwater. They were finally regretful. Paul almost had no need of the kitchen knife concealed in his coat pocket. That is, until he came in. His eyes weren’t so honest. They were so self-assured, so mocking at first. Then, as ribbons of scarlet blood twisted out of him, they were appropriately fearful. Paul had expected more of this man that ruined his marriage. But he was surprisingly unimpressive – especially when weighed down by 6 feet of earth just off the A1. Now, sitting on his and his wife’s bed, Paul contemplated his options, absentmindedly stroking his knife over his dark denim leg. He could confess. He could run. With footsteps on the stairs, Paul Greene quickly decided. As his children enveloped him in their arms, they looked curiously at his face, devoid of any tears. “Children?” He looked back, clearly resolving to say something. “Your mother was not a very nice woman.” And he quietly tucked the knife even deeper into his pocket.