Before she is really ill

Something is very wrong with me. The doctor says it’s a mixture of reaction to Daddy’s death, depression and pressure at work. Oh, and he thinks getting used to married life might have something to do with it as well. I wish the doctor was less relaxed about the way I am. I’d like him to do some tests, send me to a specialist or something. I can’t talk to Geoffrey about it, he would just make a fuss and draw up an action plan. Then when the plan doesn’t work, he’ll go into a sulk. Perhaps the doctor’s right about getting used to married life. I thought it would be like before only with company. It is nice to have someone there in the evenings when I come home from work but it’s tricky when I have to work late. Geoffrey seems to take these late nights as a personal affront. I find him in the sitting room with the remains of a take-away pizza on the floor and a half drunk bottle of Famous Grouse beside him. He looks up at me with the same expression my cat used to give me when I collected her from the cattery after a holiday. I had to give her away when I started at Paradise Fashions because I travelled so much. I can’t give Geoffrey away and neither can I ask a neighbour to look after him. He doesn’t get on with Roger upstairs, says he’s a wuss.
Geoffrey seemed so independent when I first met him. Okay, may be a bit bossy but it was lovely after a week of cajoling factory managers, section supervisors and trainee staff into keeping up Paradise Fashion standards, to be told where we were eating, what show we were going to and, well sometimes, what we should think about both of those. He reminded me of Daddy. And with my promotion coming so soon after Daddy’s death I needed someone to lean on. Geoffrey is solid. Getting quite a bit solider now. He blames the Paradise Fashion ready meals I bring home. Thank God for them, though. Before we married Geoffrey used to whirl in with bags of seafood from the market and whisk up a delicious bouillabaisse or he would produce a slow cooked Moroccan stew with lamb so tender it fell off the bone. He hardly ever cooks now. Says it’s not worth the effort if I’m going to breeze in at all hours of the night. It’s not really fair. I can’t always tell in advance when I have to entertain a visiting supplier. I have asked Geoffrey to come and join us but he says he feels like a spare wheel at these business dinners. Funny, because he was absolutely brilliant at the annual Garden Party in Kensington Gardens. Went round chatting to everyone. Even the Chairman said they’d had a great discussion about Somalian pirates. I didn’t even know the Chairman was interested in Africa.
Oh, I shouldn’t complain. How many women my age get a chance at marriage these days? When I hit thirty nine I pretty much gave up hope. I used to look at ugly women on the tube with engagement rings and wonder what they had that I didn’t? Then I would remember my last ghastly attempt at a date and tell myself I was better off alone. I did all the things you do when you’re desperate—speed dating, internet dating (that would be fine so long as you didn’t have to actually meet the real thing as opposed to the carefully constructed online version),evening classes and tango lessons. But work meant I was hardly ever able to go anywhere regularly and sometimes I had so little brain left at the end of a day that I couldn’t tell my ochos from my milongas. Tango really didn’t work well for me because I found getting that physically close to complete strangers (who often smelt of B.O. with a topnote of garlic) stressful. Quite apart from the godawful suspense of wondering would there be enough men to go round this time?
That was one of the things that attracted me to Geoffrey. He didn’t paw me or wrestle with me at the end of a date. In fact after three weeks with no attempt at doing more that kissing me on both cheeks, I did wonder if he was gay but too old fashioned to come out. Yes, he’s a lot older than I am. And I like that, I really do. If people say I’m looking for a replacement father figure, well, maybe I am. And maybe I should have found one sooner. Or have done something about my own father. Sooner. But I did what my mother said and I was too frightened of Daddy finding out to ever relax in his presence ever again. I suppose I should have told Geoffrey. But he was so admiring of Daddy that I didn’t want to spoil things. And now Daddy’s dead.
I met Geoffrey at Daddy’s funeral. He stood out in more ways than one. He’s six foot four and in his naval uniform he towered over the other mourners who favoured waterproof over smartness. I felt like a tart in my Alexander MacQueen forties style suit. I’d forgotten how Edinburgh people allow the East wind and the drizzle to dictate their outerwear. Morag was looking her usual shabby self. I don’t know why her husband doesn’t give her a decent clothing allowance. She was triumphant because his aunty Alice had lent her a ghastly black dress that was two sizes too big for her. So I did a double take through my tears as we followed the coffin down the aisle when I saw Geoffrey in the back pew. Yes, I know, I should have had my mind on other things and I was upset but he is good looking. Think Dirk Bogarde mixed with oh, hell, my memory for names is shit just now—the chap who’s always in these Oscar Wilde films—Richard, Rufus, Rupert—Rupert Everett. Only older and solider. In a good way.
Everybody came back to Morningside Grove after the burial and I was glugging some disgusting Asti Spumanti in the kitchen when Geoffrey came and introduced himself.
“Captain Geoffrey MacDonald,” he said holding out his hand. “I greatly admired your father. You must miss him dreadfully.” I was just about to say the usual thank you so much when one of Daddy’s adoring secretaries dragged me off to meet some of Daddy’s ancient colleagues. Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders and grinned. It was such a warm grin encapsulating understanding, sympathy and regret all in one that it took my breath away for a moment. Then I had to attend to my duties and didn’t see him until the other mourners were saying their goodbyes at the end of the afternoon.
“Look,” he said, “I know this is a bit odd in the circumstances, but would you be free for coffee tomorrow morning? I have a story about your father that you might like to hear.”
I was a bit tiddly by then or I might have come up with an excuse but he was very attractive so I thought what the heck and agreed to meet him. I doubted the story would be any more than yet another naval tale but Morag’s plane didn’t leave until the evening so why not?
We had coffee in the Caledonian, amidst lots of little old ladies and their middle aged daughters. We both scanned the room at the same time and agreed that Edinburgh never changes. I was right about the naval tale—it was dull– but the rest of the conversation was easy and effortless. Geoffrey admitted that he was no longer in the navy but he had wanted to wear his uniform at the funeral out of respect of another naval man. When I say Geoffrey is an older man, he’s not as old as Daddy—Daddy must have just been about to switch from the navy to the law when Geoffrey was entering the navy as a cadet Geoffrey took voluntary redundancy from the navy and works at Somerset House in charge of events there. Or he did until they made him redundant from that and how he just slopes around at home. He needs a challenge. I just don’t want it to be me though. When he starts something he does rather ride rough shod over other people’s ideas. I suppose Captains in the navy have to be authoritarian but sometimes I have to gently remind him that I am not a naval rating. It was not a good idea to say that the garden needed a bit of work when I was tired of finding Geoffrey still in his pyjamas at six in the evening. The next day he was up at five and digging away as though the lost city of Atlantis was two feet under our wee town garden. By the end of the week all my roses (“they were being strangled by convolvulus”) and my beloved magnolia tree (“the roots are too near the house”) had been despatched to a skip and the grass replaced by paving stones and gravel. My beautiful old fashioned garden had been turned into one of those modern “architectural” plots that look more like chemistry labs than places where green things flourish. Geoffrey was so cheerful after all the exercise I didn’t have the heart to criticise. From time to time I smuggle in pots of flowering plants and put up hanging baskets to relieve the clinical look provided by the bamboo and pampas grass.
So, it’s probably better if I keep my health worries to myself until I either get better or get a diagnosis that is less vague. I’m worried that Geoffrey might sign me up for experimental drug trials or re-plant the garden with healing herbs. When he’s not watching re-runs of “In which we serve” he’s an action man by nature. Also he might tell me to take time off work and I simply can’t just now. We are about to launch the first range of products from the new integrated Ladies’ Slips and Hosiery departments and It has to be a success. Perhaps after that we can think about a wee holiday but not until then.


3 thoughts on “Before she is really ill

  1. This is absolutely wonderful! It starts off with sickness and shifts to Geoffrey which I thought was absolutely fluid and riveting. Poor garden!

    What struck me was how ‘normal’, how healthy Catherine is before the disease sets in. It’s almost tragic when I realise it’s going to get worse. Will Geoffrey be there for her? Will he treat her as an action plan? Will they be closer in the end? I actually want to know now!

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