Another month begins. And still the impasse continues. We continue living our lives under the same roof, polite, friendly even on the surface but both of us carefully avoiding the enormous unmissable psychaedelic elephant in the room who waves her trunk and bellows at us that she cannot be ignored for ever: at some point we will have to acknowledge her presence, preferably before we are drowned in the ever- growing mounds of elephant shit.
Tom has been hopelessly devoted, unfairly supportive, thoughtful, kind and loving. How can I end a marriage which has survived the agonies he has inflicted on me, even survived my pleadings to him not to leave me, only for me to turn on him and throw him out just when he is making such superhuman efforts to put things right? How can I turn on a man who is now suggesting romantic dinner dates and bringing flowers home, and tell him I no longer care whether he loves me or not, because I am not in love with him? It seems too cruel, like kicking a faithful dog. And yes, I know his previous disregard for me was cruel, deeply so, but he is trying to make amends, and as Mum has always taught me, two wrongs do not make a right.
I have had another consultation with Brenda, and spilled all my feelings out to her, expecting her to advise me to summon up the courage to leave Tom. To my surprise, she didn't. She said I have to make a decision in my own time, it has to be the right thing for me and I will know instinctively when that is. She advised listening to my inner voice. I'm not sure I have one, but Brenda poo-pooed that.
'Everyone has a subconscious mind,' she explained, 'which is always looking out for what's best for them. Sometimes it makes the wrong decision, but always it will make the decision based on what it truly believes will be best for you. But so often, as now, your brain is so fogged by thinking that it can't hear that subconscious voice - it gets drowned out by the cacophony of thoughts. Sometimes you need to clear your mind for the inner voice to be heard.'
The best method of doing this, it appears, is meditation. Now I had always equated meditation with gurus who practise yoga, bend their supple bodies into strange shapes, chant weird mantras and achieve Nirvana. Or something. Brenda's version, thankfully, does not involve the Lotus position, standing on your head or chanting, although the idea of the mantra, a single sound which focuses the mind, can be of use to still the thoughts that intrude, she says.
Otherwise, it seems to be not much different from a daydream: go somewhere quiet, she advises, sit comfortably and think of a pleasant landscape. Imagine yourself walking through it and sitting down away from the world. Let your mind still and go with the flow. If any irritating thoughts come into your mind, release them gently and return to your landscape. Spend ten minutes or so a day doing this, and your true instinct about what you should do will eventually come to you. Sounds simple enough.
Until I try it in the solitude of my bedroom. As Brenda has suggested, I sit comfortably in an upright but supportive chair, and let the world drift away. I am floating above my own head, down a country path which leads through a broad expanse of forest. It appears to be summer: the trees are in full greenery and wild flowers bloom at their base. I can see ahead of me a large green meadow with a stream flowing through it. As I approach, I see a stile giving access to the meadow which is otherwise surrounded by a low hedge. As I walk towards the stile the memory that I have not yet bought anything to cook for dinner intrudes. Obedient to Brenda's instructions I pause and let that thought disperse. Then I'm worried I'll forget. So I open my eyes, search for a notepad and write down a shopping list. OK, I think, you have the pen and pad beside you in case of more thoughts.
I start again, following the same path. I am about to reach the stile when I wonder if Julie has tried to contact Tom recently. I checked the no-longer-secret phone regularly before going to Rome but have only bothered to look once since we got back. Does it matter? I ask myself. She can try all she likes - I have the mobile. But she might have given up with that one and be back in contact with Tom via his Blackberry. Surely he would have said something - he is so eager to prove himself trustworthy. Yes, but what if he's not as trustworthy as I think: he could be double-bluffing, letting me think he's trustworthy by reporting his movements and telling me who he's seeing, leaving his phone lying around to show he has nothing to hide, precisely because he is still seeing her and thinks this is the best way to cover it up. But why leave his phone around if she might call? Or maybe he's told her to call only during working hours, or he always calls her first. But if I no longer love him does it matter? Yes - no one likes being taken for an idiot......
STOP! My meditation is ruined.
And each time I try to meditate either I get sidetracked by thoughts like that, or I hear Tom moving about in the house, or playing his guitar, and the mood is broken. I never get over that stile, and I know that is where I want to be. I don't know what is the other side of the meadow or where it will lead me, but I dearly want to reach those pastures.
Later, I meet Mary in the wine bar. I know it's unfair, but I almost disregard Tom's need for company in the evenings now. I could contend that he had little thought for my needs when he was living with Julie or even when he came home late because he had been with her, but it is not out of a spirit of revenge; more, I am, I think, subconsciously avoiding spending any quality time with him. Is this because I fear the intimacy this may bring, or because despite my conscious mind I am deliberately starving him of companionship? Or, perhaps most likely, because I want to live my own life unhindered and I no longer see him as an integral part of that life?
Over a few wines, I spill my thoughts to Mary, and as I would expect, unlike Brenda she positively advises me to take the plunge and either tell Tom he has to leave, or even pack and go myself.
'After all, exactly what in the way of a marriage do you have? You sleep apart, you spend as little time as you can get away with in the house with him, and when you are both at home, most of the time he's playing his guitar or you find an excuse to be wherever he's not. You may as well be living in different houses - you're as separated as you can be under the same roof.
'Yes, I know. But actually moving out, or asking him to go is a big step. I know the life I have now, whether I like it or not. What would I do without him?'
'Er, find someone you actually want to shag? And be free to do it?' Mary's eyes swivel to a table in the corner where two men who, it has to be said, are rather attractive, if clearly a decade or so younger than us, are in deep discussion. Yet for all her talk, I know Mary has been celibate since Robert left, and I point this out.
'Yeah, but you're different from me. I've never rated sex anyway, and I have Lee to think of - I can't bring home a succession of men while he's still living with me. Wait till he goes to Uni though, and I plan to sow all those wild oats I missed out on when I was in my teens and believed the old 'nice girls don't' crap. God, the chances we missed out on then. Wouldn't it be fun to relive our youth, you and me out on the pull?'
I can't deny the attractions of this proposal, irrespective of the consideration that we are in our thirties, not our teens, and any available men are likely to be too young to give us a second glance, married (and my name, I think ruefully, is not Julie) or dragging a cartload of baggage behind them in the shape of exes and children who they have access to at weekends and who are the focus of constant wrangling with said exes.
Too much trouble thanks. The attractions of just staying put with Tom, even in the shell of a marriage we seem to have at present, become clearer.
The conversation turns to what I would do, apart from following Mary's suggested plan of shagging my way round the neighbourhood, on my own. I am settled in the life I lead now, however unfulfilling, and the idea of change is scary. Yet, when she probes, the desire to be creative and work from home surfaces again. I admit that I have let the aim of selling craft items online drift, and Mary encourages me to start thinking about this again. She reminds me I used to do amateur dramatics before I met Tom.
'Why did you give that up? You really enjoyed it and we're very good. I remember coming to see a couple of plays you were in.'
'Too much commitment. You have to rehearse at least once a week, more when it gets close to the play date, and of course you are committed every evening while the play is actually on. Tom likes me to be home to cook the dinner.'
'That's just it. Stop giving a toss what Tom likes. Do your own thing. If he cares about you he'll be happy you're doing what you want. If he isn't, he's trying to control you and you need to get out of there, quick!'
The more I consider Mary's advice, the more I agree with it. Maybe I should have taken a stand on this many years ago. Why didn't I?