Fey stood looking out of the window. ‘How had what seemed so right gone so wrong?’ she thought—
She and Andrew had had a good life in London. They lived in a flat at first, tiny, but all they needed. She remembered—He had pulled her close, whispering—‘all we need is a bed to love in’, then adding, ‘and maybe a kettle.’ Then the good jobs, a bigger flat, friends, social life and holidays. (The holidays of their student days, it was hitchhiking across Europe and island hopping in the Mediterranean. In the first-years of their married life, it was staycations, friends and families. The mortgage, the bills, the jobs, ate into both time and finances.) But things eased, promotions and a move for him to a better job. Money was easier; the world expanded—now package holidays and then more expensive long-haul ones. Andrew was a snob, and so the holidays needed to be cultural and enlightening, or strenuous and adventurous. He liked to boast to their friends about the museums and galleries, the concerts attended, or the peaks scaled and hardships overcome. She loved him, so enjoyed culture and enlightening holidays, and endured the strenuous and adventurous, and said nothing. She let him decide where they went and when. After all, his career was far more important than hers. She would sometimes watch as her friends looked at her while he expounded some story about their latest holiday—the treks to high altitude, the wonderful tenor at the opera. She could almost hear their thoughts—wondering about her, about the two of them, wondering ‘what he was doing with her’.
They had met at university. She was the first member of her family to go to university. Her roots were ‘working class’, her background in Northern city. She came from a family of intelligent, hard-working people. She never went short as a child, but there was no money wasted, either. He was from a different background. It had all been so easy on campus. The new situation had levelled everything out. They were making new friends, new networks. She had somehow fallen into his group, simply by being second from last in a philosophy lecture. She had slipped into one of the few seats at the back. He was even later, so had done the same and sat next to her. A few whispered comments, and that was how it had all started. She had discovered the strange world of the back rows of a lecture.
School had always seen her at the front of class, ready to be seen, to ask and answer questions, to prove she was intelligent, hardworking, all the things that her teachers loved. She was now in a quandary. Andrew, that was his name, liked to sit at the back, where he could ignore most of the class. She had become infatuated with him, and so had sat at the back of the class, and at the front, when she was on her own. The day the degree results came, she had to come clean. A double first (he got a 2:1) caused him to be annoyed with her. They had stayed together, and moved to the city, and started on the career path, Andrew always climbing higher, while she took openings where she could balance her career and her conscience.
One evening, after a very expensive meal, Andrew had just been talking about his close encounter with a black mamba—one of his many stories about the latest holiday. He leaned back in his chair and sipped the very expensive wine he had ordered. Fey looked at the group. Esmerelda (was that really the woman’s name?) cooed at him. She knew he secretly fancied Esmerelda; she was thin and had long fine hair of the palest blonde. Petite, she wore designer clothes and worked as PA to some Russian magnate. She was all bones, heavily made-up eyes, draped silk dresses and very wide belts cinching in her tiny waist. The core remained constant, Andrew’s friends from school or university, and respective partners. But there were always some new members appearing, and tonight, one gang had bought a new friend along. Hamish MacSomething—she hadn’t caught his full name. Andrew, confident that Hamish couldn’t beat a two-metre black mamba on the holiday front, had asked—‘where did you holiday this year?’ Hamish looked at him and smiled. ‘Oh, I always just go home.’ Esmerelda turned her enormous eyes and simpered. ‘Home? Where is that?’ Fey watched. She could expect the snide jokes about ‘home’ and felt sorry for Hamish. Then Hamish smiled and said: ‘You won’t have heard of it, it’s a tiny island in the Outer Hebrides. My family has lived there for over a thousand years. My uncle is the clan chief.’