Napoleon's birthday. On this day the sun shines directly through the Arc de Triomphe. A fact Mary informs me of when I phone her for a lunchtime chat.
'Now if you want a control freak, he was the ultimate,' she opines.
'I don't want a control freak,' I say. 'and whatever you are trying to imply, Tom is many things but I don't see him as a control freak.'
'Victims never do', she assures me. 'Does he insist on doing anything you don't like when you have sex?'
'None of your business!' My tone is light, but it hides the reality that I can hardly remember what we do when we have sex - it hasn't happened for so long. And that's just fine with me. I don't need sex to feel good about myself. I know, despite his mistakes, that Tom does love me. And when you've been married over ten years, you're long past the stage of not being able to keep your hands off each other, aren't you?
I change the subject to report that I have, as agreed when we last met, restarted my craft work and signed up for an eBay account so that I can start selling items. I have also taken some of my cards into the local craft shop in town, and the owner said that she may be interested in selling some, especially if I can produce some Christmas cards at the appropriate time of the year, as this is their busiest time for such stock. So I feel that I am in some small way beginning to make the changes I need to make to move my life along towards fulfillment.
I bring my meditation problems to Brenda at our next appointment.
She sympathises and says my mind needs to be cleared of anxiety. She tells me to focus on the corner of the painting on the wall opposite my chair. It is a rather lovely print of Constable's 'The Hay Wain', a rural scene which somehow fits perfectly in this room. But I am not allowed to look at the painting: I have to look solely at the corner of the gilt frame. Gradually, through constant staring, the frame goes out of focus, which apparently is the whole point of the exercise. Because once the world is unfocused I become aware of everything simultaneously.
Following Brenda's verbal guidance, I am conscious of the feeling of the chair under my body, pressing into yet supporting me. I know there are sounds coming from outside the house but I don't have any inclination to listen to them, and while I know what is around me in the room - don't look at anything, just keep your eyes trained on the point of focus - it is all somehow separate from me. I am here but not here, and that is fine. The voice, seeming disembodied, asks me to reach inside myself for a time when I knew I was important, worthy of love, when I felt valued and loved. Without hesitation I recall my Gran teaching me to knit, and the moment I showed her a doll's coat I had made. I felt so proud, I knew I was grown up enough to make things like Gran did, which meant I could look after a family like Gran looked after us. The voice tells me to hold on to the feelings I have and to bring them back inside the core of me, to cherish them and bring them into the present, into the room as I return.
I open my eyes, feeling truly as if I am reborn. I know what makes me feel fulfilled, proud of myself, able to achieve. I know what gives me satisfaction. Without knowing it I find I am softly crying. Brenda hands me a tissue and I take it, almost surprised to find her still in the room with me. It felt like an intensely personal, secret realisation. As I start to tell her about it, Brenda puts her hand up to stop me.
'I know something's happened. You may want to tell me another time, but right now, it's your experience. Just internalise it, let it take root, and you will find it will help you see things as they are, rather than as you tell yourself they are. And that exercise is very valuable, because it dispels anxiety. When you are unfocused like that it is impossible to be worried. So try it yourself at home whenever the fears and anxieties strike.'
Brenda gets up, suddenly brisk, her gentle, almost hypnotic tone vanished.
'Shall we have some tea?'
Back at home, we eat as usual in front of the TV, which minimises the need to talk. We are still fine as long as we keep to safe subjects, either impersonal such as some current news item or critiquing the drama series we're watching, or mundane day-to-day issues like when the rubbish needs to be put out or whether the car needs washing, but we still studiously avoid any mention of the state of our relationship or Tom's affair.
But this evening, after I have taken our pudding dishes into the kitchen and brought through two mugs of coffee, Tom leaves the armchair he normally lounges in all evening and moves to sit next to me on the sofa. For some reason this makes me feel edgy. Why should sitting next to my own husband make me feel like that, I wonder? And when he slides his arm around me and pulls me towards him, my body involuntarily stiffens and resists. He feels it of course.
'What's wrong? Don't you like me touching you?'
The honest answer is clearly no, but I find myself unable to give it, so the best I can do is give a slight nod, which is enough to satisfy him. He draws me closer.
'Good. It's ages since we had a nice cuddle in front of the TV.'
I want to retort, 'That's probably because you decided to go off and cuddle that slut in front of the TV instead', but I am conscious he is making an effort and this remark would be churlish in the extreme. So I force myself to relax against him.
Then I feel his hand on my leg, stroking upwards under my skirt. I know what that means - he has never been varied in his sexual approaches. Why does he have to go straight for the knickers, I wonder? Why can't he be more romantic, more loving? A kiss, a caress? Better still, he could woo me with words. But that has never been Tom's style. He has always gone for the grope, and his idea of a romantic verbal come-on is 'How about it then?' or 'Up for a shag?' I wonder if Julie was disenchanted with his approach. But then she isn't the most verbally able of people, as her texts showed. Perhaps he was more of a Casanova with her. Perhaps he did take time to kiss and caress her, and say the things he claims no man says outside a romantic novel.
These thoughts are not conducive to the response I know Tom is expecting to his advances. But it is so long since he has demanded any form of sexual response from me, not only do I feel out of practice, but I fear the urges he once elicited with one raise of his eyebrow across a crowded room are now dead. Over.
I am not sure I will ever feel sexy again. I want to pull away, to redirect his attention to the TV, where suddenly the issue of whether the patient in the hospital drama will survive the risky operation he is about to undergo seems a matter of life and death to me, as well as to the character.
Tom, however, persists and takes tacit assent as licence to go on. He is massaging the top of my thigh now, and I know where he is going next. It's no good - I can't continue. I stand up, and he looks at me, surprised. To cover the awkwardness I offer to make more coffee. It puts off the moment when I will have to either let my husband make love to me or address the fact that not only do I no longer love him, I don't find him the least bit attractive. Being held was like hugging a rarely- seen uncle. How do I tell Tom this? I flee to the kitchen to be alone with my thoughts.
Standing by the kettle, I stop to catch my breath, and am conscious that this is not the first time Tom has tried to initiate some kind of sexual contact, it's just that on each previous occasion I have shied away at the first touch, and he has read the message I am instinctively sending. This evening I have tried to overcome my reluctance and given him false hope, only to dash it away as soon as he tries to take things further. If I am going to continue in this marriage, I have to subdue this instinct to recoil whenever Tom touches me intimately - or at all, I inwardly acknowledge.
Now Tom appears in the doorway: he has clearly followed me into the kitchen to find out why I have withdrawn from him yet again. I make myself smile and reach out for him.
'Sorry love,' I apologise. 'I'm very tired. How about we go to bed?'
His grin broadens. 'Just what I was about to suggest,' and he takes my hand to lead me upstairs.
Quailing, I follow obediently.