The wife looked over at her husband appreciatively, tinged slightly with disgust. They had known each other, in a way, long before their marriage. They revolved around the same circle. Everyone the wife knew revolved around this circle. It was a small, but international and quickly revolving circle. She could feel at home and call up friends, if in the right season, in New York, Paris, Somerset, Val d’isere, many places aside from the Kensington house in which she was currently sitting. Though, for the most part, as she had been beginning to sense, the group was really rather small.
They’d ‘known’ each other since youth, but they had never found themselves alone together. Until a summer 3 years ago – they had been married for two – in Monaco. He had sparkled all night, making everyone laugh, looking impeccable. He always looked impeccable. Right now he looked artfully apathetic – this was his usual look – handsome, well structured cheekbones and seriously joking duck egg eyes. Sitting across the room from her, regarding his book with what looked like sly amusement. Tapered grey cord’s crossed one over the other; one fine dark leather Berluti boot hung supinely off an orange sock, in mid-air. Yes, he did dress well, and he had done then. Not that ‘then’ had been particularly long ago.
Everyone she knew loved him. Or said they did. She found it hard to tell, but everyone did seem to flock to him, and always appeared to be laughing around him. When he’d directed attention towards her, it was flattering, it made her feel like the centre of attention. She had two older sisters, and a younger brother, and had been at boarding school since 10. Always sensible, liked, but never loud or brash, she had never really been the center of attention.
Now he sat across the room. 10 years her senior. Smoking disspationately and turning the pages of a Churchill biography her father had brought him for Christmas. His eyes would occasionally lift from the page, as his fingers turned them slowly. Before they had married, the young wife would have looked away when she saw his eyes begin to rise from an activity, while she was watching him, for fear of him catching her glances. He hadn’t looked far enough up to meet her eyes yet. He would look at his cigarette – Malborough Blacks, from Israel – admire it, put it to his lips, and return his gaze to his book. He was very much like her father. (Her father very much approved of this.)
His lips were full, for a man, and for a smoker. They had been one of her initial attractions to him, along with his confidence. Now they unnerved her, in their fullness. They were too sensual. They pouted without effort. Not quite masculine. They lingered too long at the cigarettes base. As they sat, in their library on the 3rd floor of their Kensington town house (well, his parents), the blue grey smoke spread across the room. It followed the slice of light from the room’s one window, lingering near it, in a roundabout way. The young wife had been pretending to read, but she knew he wouldn’t catch her looking, and had given up this pretence half an hour ago. He hadn’t noticed.
Didn’t people say that one can sense if someone is staring at them? Her Daddy had told her once that, in the army, and covert ops and such, one was trained not to watch a stealth target during ones approach. It was believed, supersticiously, her Daddy had said, that the target may feel it. The army generally didn’t seem to be very susperticious in other ways, particularly the many officers she’d met who were friends with her father, so she had felt it must have some basis. Her experiments on her husband, on long week nights such as this when they found themselves only with each other’s company, showed contradictory results. If he could sense her, her didn’t care to ask the reason for her attention. He’s used to being stared at, maybe he’s immune. He breathed the smoke out laboriously slowly. Obscenely slowly. Fat, pink, lips relaxd into a loose ‘o’. Held that way for what must be minutes.
A couple of the wife’s friends had dated her husband in the past. Brief things, from school most of them. Her closer friends Matilda and Clarisse had dated him. All of them said he was ‘a perfect gentleman’ and ‘such a character’, but very little else.
The book she’d been pretending to read over the last few months is his. She’d found it in the library. It’s a collection of stories by Kate Chopin. The one she had almost finished was called ‘At Fault’. It was bothering her. She knew he would have read it, but didn’t want to hear his interpretation, as she imagined that would either bother her or disturb her. There was this girl in the story, Fanny – ridiculous old fashioned name – who she despised. She was some old soak, a failed half character whose slatterny got under the young wifes skin in the most aggravating manner. Fanny also reminded the wife of her husband. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but she could hear Fanny suckling as she drank as she read in the same way she could feel a cold finger up her spine when she saw her husband suckling on his Malbouroughs.
She had come to an idea over this dragging afternoon. She wasn’t sure when it had formed as since it had started forming she had been trying to get her brain to ‘look the other way’, as it were. They were both traditional in their company, he had his boys, she had her girls. Both of them had attended single sex schools, so this was natural and inevitable. They had separate worlds – kept within the small world of their group, but different nonetheless – and she used to like how such a suave man still had his boyish pursuits. It reminded her of her Daddy.
The wife watches her husbands lips caress the butt of his black again. Near the end, the smoke rises closer to his face. It spreads itself liberally across his passive visage. She recalls walking into her Daddy’s office, a kind of blurry half memory, she was, maybe, 8? He was getting up off of the floor, too far from his chair, and too awkward a position to be have been doing things other than kneeling. Daddy had been helping his friend Gideon adjust a new suit. Gideon didn’t look as flustered as Daddy. He only had to stand there while Daddy helped him. Upon seeing her, Daddy had snapped. She wasn’t even allowed in his office. The bit that had come back to her now, that was new, was that she had looked back. Gideon and Daddy had been lighting each others cigarettes.
Her husbands face looked licentiously passive. He dropped the butt into the ashtray without a look. She prayed he wouldn’t have another. She smoked socially, but it was entirely different. His smoking affectations annoyed her beyond belief. He seemed to love it, made it look exstatic. He got far more from smoking than he did from her. She felt herself blushing for him, all over. She wanted to punch the obscenity off his face. The young wife considered dropping her drink. Would he look?
The ‘o’, the long inhale, the tired exhale stretched like a sigh. Smoke all over him, clinging all over him. Disgusting. Salacious. Repugnant. Who is this man I live with? This wasn’t the first time she’d thought this. But Daddy loved him. Why?
‘I want a divorce’
It sounded like it hadn’t come from her body. It was her voice though, just thin and stretched.
He looked up. Incrementally he looked her up, and down, and she felt the rage rage rage fizzling in every pore. LOOK. She screamed inwardly. LOOK at your wife. It lasted minutes, the silence filled with internal screams. He took another drag. He walked over, and blew it in her face.
The young wife’s mouth fell into an ‘o’.
‘O.k darling, have it your way.’
He put his cigarette out in her drink.
‘I’m surprised that didn’t catch fire’
He walked to the door.
There he turned, and looked straight into her eyes. His eyes were beautiful, she involuntarily considered. Rage still tingled, now mixed with nerves.
‘Oh and darling? Clarisse and I have been fucking for a while now. I thought you should know’
The hard wood dense clunk of the door rang in her ears as she sat. He was not like Daddy then.
 except for that boy she’d met at the Barns Folk Festival when she was 20. He’d been a plumber. They’d seen each other a few times over a year. It fizzled out, though, as these things do.
 She hated this room.
 The only on she had read.
 As with her mothers, and grandmothers, friends, they would remain ‘girls’ until death when in one anothers company.