The Fox, The Goose And The Bag of Beans
Could he get them over the river without eating each other?
Simon heard the key turn in the front door when he was halfway across the upstairs landing and his heart missed several beats. Oh lord. That was Rebecca, his wife, and she was about to discover there was not just one but two strange women in their house. He needed to act fast. First things first. He nipped across to the bathroom door and shouted through, “Back in a second, hen. Just got to sort something out downstairs.”
“OK, Simon. Shouldn’t be long.”
“Take as long as you like.” Preferably staythereallday, he was tempted to add.
Simon wasn’t a bad man. He wasn’t even that dishonest. He was only having a relationship with one of the women in his house. Well, technically it two, but neither relationship was in the biblical sense.
His mind flicked back to this morning. He’d been out with Marion, and Tess her daughter, on a Saturday morning ramble. Marion was the leader of the ramblers. They’d met nine months earlier when he’d joined the group. He remembered how welcome she’d made him feel. A tall mother duck of a woman.
“Are you new to the neighbourhood, love?” she’d asked.
“I’ve just split up with my wife,” Simon had said.
She clucked sympathetically. “Oh love, I know how that feels.”
As he grew to know her better, facilitated by several walks and drinks with the other ramblers afterwards at the Red Lion, she told him her history too. It was a similar story: a marriage break-up, only hers had been eighteen months earlier and she’d been left with a ten-yearold daughter.
Simon and Rebecca had never had children. Rebecca hadn’t wanted them. She was a solicitor – a highflyer with her eyes on a partnership. Simon, who’d never been ambitious, had always felt he was punching above his weight being with Rebecca. He’d been amazed when she’d married him. When she told him three years later she thought they’d grown apart, he suspected it was more of a shock to Rebecca than it was to him.
“Break-ups are painful but life gets better again,” Marion had soothed. “It’s a bit like taking up rambling when you’re not very fit. The first walk is the hardest.”
“It will be better when we’ve sold the house,” Simon had told her with feeling. “I’m sure that won’t take long.” Unfortunately, Marion was wrong about that. The first couple of sales fell through, then the market collapsed. He and Rebecca still got on well, as friends at least, which was just as well as they had to live in the marital home together, but their marriage was well and truly over.
The house had been on the market for coming up to a year now. Sometimes it felt like ground hog day. There was no shortage of prospective buyers but only a small fraction of them were in a position to proceed, and so far none had made a credible offer.
Meanwhile, Simon had begun to fall for Marion – she was lovely, inside and out – and fortunately, because of Tess, she was in no hurry to rush into a relationship. They were friends and Simon hoped they would one day be more, but there was one little problem.
Or at least it had seemed little at first. It had got bigger as time had gone on. He hadn’t told Marion that he was actually still living in the marital home with Rebecca because neither of them could afford to move out. He knew he should have done it straight away, but it hadn’t seemed a big deal back then.
Right now, knowing that she was in his house and was about to bump into his wife it seemed an incredibly big deal.
He gulped. It had been on this morning’s ramble that disaster had struck. Tess had fallen over a stile and scraped her knee. One of those annoying scrapes that isn’t bad but won’t stop bleeding.
“Don’t worry, we can go back to mine,” Simon had soothed, seeing the child’s distress. “I only live around the corner. We can sort her out there.”
So that’s what they’d done. He knew the chances of bumping into Rebecca were slim. She was at work. Except that she obviously wasn’t. Not any more.
Simon reached the foot of the stairs just in time to meet Rebecca in the hall. “I thought you were working,” he said. “Did you change your mind?”
“I’m not stopping. I forgot a file. I’ll just grab it and I’ll be gone again. I’m in a tearing hurry to be honest.”
An escape route yawned open. “I’ll get it for you. Is it on the bureau?”
“Dining room table. Thanks. In that case I’ll nip to the loo.”
“No!” The word was out of his mouth before he had a chance to edit it and Rebecca looked startled.
“I’ve just – you know…” He waved his hand. “Best to leave it for a while.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll hold my nose.” She had one foot on the bottom stair.
“Wait there. Let me check.” He leaped ahead of her. “You get the file.”
Grumbling she shook her head and went back in the direction of the dining room. Simon took the stairs two at a time. Through his panic all he could remember was that old story of the fox, the goose and the beans – the farmer had needed to get them all across the river without any of them eating the other. He’d never been able to resolve that problem either.
He heard the bathroom door open just as he reached the top landing. “I’ll explain later but can you just…” He grabbed Tess’s hand and guided her towards the open doorway of his bedroom. “…wait in here a sec?”
Marion gave him a puzzled look, but she followed her daughter into the bedroom. Simon closed the door in the
Break-upsare painful but life gets betteragain.It’sa bitliketakingup ramblingwhen you’renotveryfit
nick of time and leant back against it. Rebecca had just reached the top stair. She had the file in her hand.
“The bathroom’s fine.” Simon gave her a sickly grin.
“Simon, is everything all right? You’re behaving very oddly.” Rebecca stood with her hands on her hips in the middle of the landing.
Behind him, on the other side of the door, there was a faint scuffling sound.
“Is there someone in there?” Rebecca asked suspiciously.
“Yes.” The door opened and Marion peeked out.
Simon said the first thing that came into his head. “They’re just, um… viewing the house.”
There was a little silence as Rebecca assessed the situation.
“No, they’re not,” she said.
“No, we’re not.” Marion stepped out onto the landing, closely followed by Tess, and her newly plastered knee.
“Rebecca, this is Marion and Tess from the ramblers’ club. Marion, this is my wife, Rebecca.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Excuse me, just a second,” she said, hot-footing it towards the bathroom. From the other side of the door she shouted, “His estranged wife.”
“I’m so sorry,” Simon said, turning back towards Marion. “I should have told you we were still living together.”
“Yes, you should.” Her face was very grim. “Come on, Tess. I think we’ve outstayed our welcome. Thank you for the plaster.”
They bustled down the stairs without another word and a few seconds later he heard the front door slam.
Simon stayed where he was on the landing. What an idiot he’d been! It would have been so simple to have told Marion the reality of the situation and it wasn’t as if they’d even been dating – although he’d known lately they were heading towards that point – and all because he couldn’t face an awkward conversation.
Feeling utterly bereft and very ashamed of himself, he waited for Rebecca to emerge.
“I take it you hadn’t told her we still lived together,” she said, raising her eyebrows. He shook his head. “I can’t stop now. We’ll talk later,” she said.
Six weeks later Simon popped into the Red Lion to meet Rebecca for a lunchtime coffee. Ironically they’d got an offer from a cash buyer the day after that fateful Saturday, and they’d just completed their purchase. They’d also just received their decree absolute. So this was bittersweet – both a celebration drink and a goodbye.
Simon hadn’t heard from Marion, despite the fact he’d left more than one abject apology on her voicemail.
In a way he didn’t blame her. He hadn’t been honest with her, and he’d been caught out. In her shoes he’d have probably reacted the same way. He hadn’t been back to the ramblers either. He felt that if she didn’t want to speak to him it would be unfair for him to turn up. She had to be there after all, being the leader of the group.
He became aware that Rebecca had just said something and was looking at him expectantly.
“Sorry.” He gave her his full attention. “I was miles away.”
“I know.” She shook her head. “I was just wondering if that was your lady friend over there at the table by the fire.”
He looked and saw she was right. Marion was with a group of people, some of whom he recognised from ramblers. They were all laughing and joking.
“Yes. I think it is.”
“You’re not going to say hello?”
“I don’t think so.”
Rebecca sighed as a man came into the Red Lion, spotted them and headed over to them.
“This is Robert,” Rebecca said, as Simon stood up to meet the other man.
“Robert this is Simon.”
Robert was Rebecca’s colleague from the solicitors and hadn’t been there long, but Rebecca had told Simon she liked him a lot and wanted the two men to meet, just to resolve any future awkwardness.
Simon held out his hand. “Hi Robert.”
The silver-haired man shook it politely and leaned across to kiss Rebecca on the cheek.
It did feel weird. Simon guessed that wasn’t surprising, but he was also aware that Rebecca had done things in the right order. She and Robert had waited for the divorce and the house sale to come through before they’d embarked on any kind of relationship. Whereas he had done things topsy turvy.
At least he and Rebecca were parting amicably. She and Robert left soon afterwards, and Simon wished them both well. When they’d gone he glanced across at Marion on the other side of the pub. Her dark hair was lit by a shaft of winter sunlight coming through the bay window. She looked just as beautiful as he remembered and his heart lifted at the sight of her.
He recalled what she had told him all those months ago when he’d first joined the rambling club.
“Break-ups are painful but life gets better again. It’s a bit like taking up rambling when you’re not very fit.”
Simon stood up.
Marion had also said, “The first walk is the hardest.”
Never was a truer word spoken,
Simon thought as he crossed the expanse of red patterned pub carpet towards Marion’s table.
“Marion, I’m glad I’ve bumped into you – I was wondering if you would give me the chance to explain…”
She looked up at him. She didn’t smile, but at least she didn’t look angry any more either. She indicated the chair beside her, and Simon was aware that the other members of the ramblers, after polite nods in his direction, began to talk amongst themselves again.
He sat down, clutching his decree absolute, and took a deep breath…
BY DELLA GALTON