The Third Party (1)
In law, the third party is a person involved in a situation in addition to the two main people involved. A third party quite often appears in cases of divorce, for example.
However, all threesomes are different. And in some of them it is not always clear which of the three people actually is the third party...
The two men met by arrangement in the bar of Buswell's Hotel, at half past eleven. 'I think we'll recognize each other all right,' the older man had said. 'I expect she's told you what I look like.'
He was tall, his face pinkish-brown from the sun, his fair hair turning grey. The man he met was thinner, wearing glasses and a black winter coat - a smaller man, whose name was Lairdman.
'Well, we're neither of us late,' Boland said a little nervously. 'Fergus Boland. How are you?' They shook hands. Boland took out his wallet. 'I'll have a whiskey myself. What'll I get you?'
'Oh, just a lemonade for me, Fergus, this time of day.' Boland ordered the drinks and they stood by the bar. Boland held out a packet of cigarettes. 'Do you smoke?'
Lairdman shook his head. He placed an elbow tidily on the bar. 'Sorry about this,' he said.
They were alone except for the barman, who put their two glasses in front of them. Boland paid him. 'I mean I'm really sorry,' Lairdman went on, 'doing this to anyone.'
'Good luck,' Boland said, raising his glass. He had softened the colour of the whiskey by adding twice as much water. 'You never drink this early in the day, I suppose?' he said, carefully polite. 'Well, that's very sensible, I always think.'
'I thought it might not be an occasion for drinking.'
'I couldn't talk to you without a drink inside me, Lairdman.'
'I'm sorry about that.'
'You've stolen my wife from me. It's not an everyday event.'
'It'd be better if you didn't keep saying that.'
Lairdman made no protest at Boland's sharpness. 'The whole thing's awkward, I must confess. I didn't sleep at all last night.'
'You're from Dublin, she tells me,' Boland said, still politely. 'You're in the wood business. There's money in that, no doubt.' Lairdman was offended. She'd described her husband as clumsy, but had added he wouldn't hurt a fly. Already, five minutes into the difficult meeting, Lairdman wasn't so sure.
'I don't like Dublin,' Boland continued. 'To be honest, I never have. I'm a small-town man, but of course you'll know that.' He imagined his wife telling her lover about the narrowness of his experience. She liked to tell people things; she talked a lot.
'I want to thank you,' Lairdman said, 'for taking all this so well. Annabella has told me.'
'I don't see that I have any choice.'
Lairdman's lips were very thin, his mouth a line that smiled without any obvious effort. I wonder why he doesn't have a funny little moustache, like so many Dubliners, thought Boland.
'I thought you might hit me when we met,' Lairdman said. 'But Annabella said you weren't like that at all.'
'No, I'm not.'
'That's what I mean by taking it well.'
'All I want to know is what your plans are.'
'I'm just asking if you're thinking of marrying her, and what your arrangements are. I mean, have you a place that's suitable for her? I'll have another whiskey,' he said to the barman.
'We were hoping that - if you agree - she would move into my place more or less at once. It's suitable all right - a seven- room flat in Wellington Road. But in time we'll get a house.'
'Thanks,' Boland said to the barman, paying him.
'It was my turn to pay,' Lairdman protested, just a little late. She wouldn't care for meanness, Boland thought, when it began to have an effect on her, which it would, in time.
'But marriage?' Boland said. 'It isn't easy, you know, to marry another man's wife in Ireland.'
'Annabella and I would naturally like to be married one day.'
'That's what I wanted to ask you about. How are you thinking of getting a divorce? She doesn't really know much about it - we talked about it for a long time.'
'Thank you for that. And for suggesting we should meet.'
'You two have given me good reasons for a divorce, Lairdman, but it's no damn use to me. A divorce will take years.'
'It wouldn't take so long if you had an address in England. Then we could get a divorce over there.'
'But I haven't an address in England.'
'It's only a thought, Fergus.'
'So she wasn't exaggerating when she said you wanted to marry her?'
'I don't think I've ever known Annabella exaggerate,' Lairdman replied stiffly.
Then you don't know the most important thing about her, Boland thought - that is, she can't help telling lies, which you and I might politely describe as exaggerating.
'I'm surprised you never got married,' he said. He really was surprised, because in his experience self-confident little men like Lairdman very often had a good-looking woman in their life.
'I've known your wife a long time,' Lairdman said softly, trying not to let his smile show. 'As soon as I first saw Annabella, I knew she was the only woman I'd ever want to marry.'
Boland stared into his whiskey. He had to be careful about what he said. If he became angry for a moment, he was quite likely to ruin everything. The last thing he wanted was for the man to change his mind. He lit a cigarette, again offering the packet to Lairdman, who again shook his head. In a friendly, conversational way Boland said, 'Lairdman's an interesting name.'
'It's not Irish - French maybe, or part of it anyway.'
When she had said her lover's name was Lairdman, Boland had remembered it from his schooldays, and in Buswell's bar, he had immediately recognized the face. At school, Lairdman had been famous for an unexpected reason: his head had been held down a toilet while his hair was scrubbed with a toilet brush. The boys who had done this were older and bigger than him. Called Roche and Dead Smith, they took pleasure in punishing small boys whose faces and habits they found annoying.
'I think we were at school together,' Boland said.
Lairdman almost gave a jump, and this time it was Boland who tried not to smile. Clearly, this had come as a shock to Lairdman.
'I don't remember a Boland,' Lairdman said.
'I'd have been a little older than you. I hated the damn place.'
'Oh, I quite liked it,' Lairdman said.
'You day boys went home in the evenings and at weekends, we boarders had to stay there all the time.'
'I suppose that made a difference.'
'Of course it did.'
For the first, time Boland felt annoyed. Not only was her lover mean, he was stupid as well. If he had any common sense at all, he'd realize he'd be mad to buy a house for Annabella, because no one could ever be sure she would do what she had promised.
'I've always thought, actually, it gave an excellent education,' Lairdman was saying.
The awful little Frenchman who couldn't make himself understood. The history teacher who gave the class a history book to read while he wrote letters. The mathematics man who couldn't solve the problems he presented. The head teacher who enjoyed causing as much physical pain as possible.
'Oh, a great place,' Boland agreed. 'A fine school.'
'I'm sorry I don't remember you.'
'I wouldn't expect you to.'
'We'll probably send our children there. If we have boys.'
'You wouldn't mind? Oh dear, no, why should you? I'm sorry, that was a silly thing to say.'
'I'm having another whiskey,' Boland said. 'How about you?'
'No, I'm OK, thanks.'
This time Lairdman didn't mention, even too late, that he should pay. Boland lit another cigarette. So she hadn't told Lairdman? She had let the poor man imagine that in no time at all the seven-room flat wouldn't be big enough for all the children they were going to have. Boland could almost hear her telling Lairdman that her husband was to blame for their childless marriage. In fact, she'd discovered before they got married that she couldn't have children; in a quarrel long after the wedding she confessed that she'd known and hadn't told him.
'Naturally,' Lairdman continued, 'we'd like to have a family.'
'You would, of course.'
'I'm sorry that side of things didn't go right for you.'
'I was sorry myself.'
'The thing is, Fergus, is it OK about the divorce?'
'Are you saying I should agree to be the guilty party?'
'It is what men in your situation usually do, actually. But if you don't like the idea of it-'
'Don't worry, I'll agree to be the guilty party.'
'You're being great, Fergus.'
His wife used to say, 'I think I'll go up and stay with Phyllis,' saying it more often as time went by. Phyllis was a woman she knew in Dublin. But of course, Phyllis had just been a name she'd used, a friend who would tell lies for her if necessary. 'Phone me,' he used to say, and obediently his wife phoned him, telling how Dublin looked and how Phyllis was. No doubt, she'd been sitting on the edge of a bed in the seven-room flat in Wellington Road.
'It's really good of you to come all this way,' Lairdman said, sounding eager to end the meeting. 'I'll ring Annabella this afternoon and tell her all about it. You won't mind that, Fergus?'
'Not at all.'
Boland had often interrupted such a telephone conversation. He would come home and find her sitting on the stairs, talking on the phone. As soon as he came through the door, she'd wave a greeting and start to whisper secretively into the phone.
The trouble with Annabella was that sooner or later everything in the world bored her. 'Now I want to hear every single thing that's happened since the moment you left home this morning,' she would soon say to Lairdman. And the poor man would begin a long story about catching the bus and arriving at work and having a cake with his coffee. Later, in a quarrel, she would throw it all back at him. 'Who could possibly want to know about your damn cake?' she'd scream wildly at him, her fingers spread out in the air so that her blood-red nail varnish would dry evenly.
'I'll be able to say,' Lairdman was saying, almost proudly, 'that neither of us got angry. She'll be pleased about that.'
Boland couldn't imagine his wife being pleased, since she hardly ever was. He wondered what it was that she liked about Lairdman. When he'd asked her, she'd said her lover was amusing, that he had what she called a fantastic sense of fun.
'I wonder what became of Roche and Dead Smith,' he said.
He didn't know why he said it, why he couldn't accept that the business between them was over. He should have shaken hands with Lairdman and left it at that, perhaps saying there were no hard feelings. He would never have to see the man again; once in a while, he would simply feel sorry for him.
'I don't remember either of them,' said Lairdman, shaking his head. 'I'll say goodbye, Fergus. I'm grateful, I really am.'
'They were the boys who had the bright idea of washing your hair in a toilet bowl.'
Boland had said to himself over and over again that Lairdman was welcome to her. He looked ahead to an easy life, living alone. The house she had filled with her moods and her lies for the last twelve years would be as silent as a peaceful sleep. He would clear out the memories of her, because naturally she wouldn't do that herself - the old fashion magazines, the empty medicine bottles, the clothes she had no further use for, the curtains torn to pieces by her cats. He would cook his own meals, and Mrs Couglan would still come to clean every morning. Mrs Couglan wouldn't exactly be sorry to see her go, either.