Chapter 30: Isla
Isla was glad that Dee was able to join her and Milly at the café this afternoon. It made her feel less isolated having another adult to share her life with. She was not used to adult conversation and realised that she had a long way to go before she had perfected the art of small talk. The day they had flown the kite she had talked far too much about far too little, but Dee had not seemed to mind. Dee was quiet and seemed to just like to take it all in.
Isla was aware that she needed to be careful not to talk too much or she may deter the friend she was making. She also feared that she may inadvertently share details of her life, both present and past, which were better left unshared. She had never spoken to anyone about her relationship with Simon and didn’t feel ready to start now. She used to have a small group of friends with whom she would share everything, but that was before Simon. Those friends were a very distant memory now.
Like so many of love’s young things she had instantly dropped all of her friends, even those with whom she had felt very close, when love had come along. In the early days, her relationship with Simon had been so passionate, so all-consuming, she simply couldn’t get enough of him, nor he of her, and so they spent time together at the exclusion of almost everything else. Conscientious Isla had even taken to calling in sick to work in order to be able to spend more time with Simon. Simon seemed able to dictate his own hours without any issue so despite the lazy afternoons they spent in bed whilst the sun filtered through the bedroom window he was still able to fund all the little things that made life such fun – he’d often arrive with flowers, pastries or a new film for them to enjoy lazily together.
Her entire world had consisted of Simon, whilst her girlfriends had moved on, each eventually finding partners of their own and becoming subsumed with their own families. Years later, Isla would see them at the park pushing their children on the swings or whooshing them down the slide. She would hurry past – she felt unable and unwilling to even try to rekindle or sustain relationships from her past. This risk of running into old-time friends was one of the reasons she had become so familiar with the parks in Clapham where there was little risk of meeting ghosts from her past.
Her friends had tried to warn her, of course, they had said Simon was no good, that it was not normal to be so consumed by a man and that a good man would not encourage her to leave her job and would not sabotage her prospects of remaining in her job by keeping her in bed when she should be serving coffees. But she didn’t listen. Mistaking concern for jealousy, she disregarded their advice and their invites and planted herself firmly in Simon’s world, and his power. He encouraged her to cut off her friends – he never said he didn’t like them nor did he directly tell her to stop seeing them, but it was not hard for her to interpret his thoughts and actions, so frequent were his belittling comments and so quick was he to suggest an alternative plan any time the possibility of a meet up with her friends arose for Isla.
And so she became increasingly isolated. It was just her and Simon – and now, of course, it was just her and Milly. Simon was still around but he terrified her and chipped away at her little remaining self-esteem so readily any time she was around him that she tended to entirely avoid him wherever possible other than to fulfil her wifely duties in the bedroom when she felt she could avoid it no longer or when it was demanded of her. So she and Milly were constant companions.
The hours when Milly was in school, Isla spent alone at home cleaning, cooking, ironing and keeping the house to the standard which her husband had grown to expect. She had learnt the hard way that it was not worth getting this wrong, that her husband’s standards were high and she needed to adhere to them if she were to protect her physical and emotional wellbeing. In the early days she had thought Simon’s demands reasonable, after all, he was paying all the bills and providing her with a place to live so it seemed only fair that in return she should play the wife and keep house beautifully. But as the years wore by and the demands grew ever more stretching, obscure and outright ridiculous, she began to doubt whether this was indeed a fair relationship.
When Simon started to invite his friends home and would expect her to play the maid, she grew especially frustrated. She found herself catering for a group of men who did not welcome her conversation. She was not sure quite what Simon had told them all about her but she had certainly observed over time that not one of them seemed willing to exchange more than a couple of words with her. If she were pouring a drink for someone or helping them to meat or vegetables from a serving platter, she would feel Simon’s eyes on her and on the offending man, as if calculating whether there were any risk here, any chemistry. As if Simon were analysing whether this was a man with whom she would cheat – he had always been somewhat paranoid about the idea of her cheating. She never had, of course, and never would. No matter how difficult things were between her and her husband she believed in the sanctity of marriage and besides, she was absolutely terrified of what Simon would do if ever found out. Besides, where would she meet a man? She wouldn’t know how to begin talking to one let alone flirting with or wooing one and Simon had seen to it that her self-esteem was so crushingly low that despite her beautiful looks, she believed herself to be entirely unattractive.
In Dee though, Isla could see a potential companion. She was not someone that Simon needed to ever know about, she was a woman and therefore not a threat so far as he was concerned even if he ever did find out. Isla tried not to get too excited about the prospect of friendship with this professional woman, after all, she may still just be humouring her or pursuing the relationship because she had rapidly built what seemed like a very special bond with Milly. However, Isla felt hopeful. Perhaps for the first time in many years, she was going to have someone to talk to.
As they entered the café they were blasted with a jet of hot air from overhead heaters positioned above the doors. Milly delighted in it spinning enough to enable her skirt so swirl, giving her the appearance of a winter fairy. Dee and Isla exchanged a knowing look, both equally delighted by the joy exuded by this magical creature through whom they each lived vicariously.
Isla wanted to learn a little more about Dee and had been thinking on the train about the different questions she should ask her to try to learn something about her. Dee was clearly either shy or stand offish and so Isla was aware that she would need to lead and guide the conversation if she was to learn anything at all about the other woman. At first she thought that there was no hope of ever breaking through Dee’s reserved and professional shell. Her first questions went almost entirely unanswered until she asked Dee about her work – and then it was as if the floodgates opened.
Dee spoke eloquently and comfortably about her senior role within recruitment. She was bandying around company and individual names of people that Dee had never heard of but which were clearly very relevant in Dee’s world. Milly felt almost like Dee was trying to show off – but the effect was lost on her as the world of which Dee spoke was so alien. She enjoyed hearing about Dee’s career though, about her rise from a most junior position to one of the more senior positions within the company. Dee spoke so eloquently and passionately about her work that Isla felt like she’d been there each step of the way. Isla found herself wondering what it would be like to have such a fulfilling life, to have a career which demanded so much but also gave so much in return.
Dee seemed truly at peace when talking about her work and it was clear that she was very gifted in her chosen field. When she was younger, Isla had had no yearning to pursue a particular career, but now, with Milly at school, she found herself comparing her life and choices to those of the other Mums and she found her own life left wanting. She had really very little in her life that was worthwhile other than Milly. But as she looked at Milly, spooning the cream from the top of her hot chocolate straight into her mouth, she thought that she had not done so badly after all. It was hard to find any regrets in a life that resulted in her spending much of her time with the very best little girl in all the world.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.
I found myself wondering when Isla talked about refusing “Invites” (would invitations have been better — tho invites does work alright), she also speaks of Simon having friends over but they appear to be all men. Would a sentence indicating that Simon rarely invited other couples over have provided clarification?
I also find myself wondering how Isla found herself pregnant with Milly though I expect that will be dealt with later.
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Is the pregnancy not already explained by Simons brutish behaviour and demanding his husbandly ‘dues’ ? Isla as I see it is regularly used by him, she is a chattel, a servant to his demands…..I feel so sorry for her just writing this. The accidental pregnancy could easily result in a missing contraceptive pill. The hard story would be the conversation when Isla tells him she is expecting. He still beats her and didn’t stop through despite Isla being pregnant,a real ugly personality.