The Third Party (2)
'I don't know why you keep going on about your schooldays,' Lairdman said.
'Let me get you a real drink before you go. Two big ones,' Boland called to the barman.
'No, really,' Lairdman protested. 'Really now.' He had put on his coat and a pair of black leather gloves.
'Oh, go on, man. We're both in need of it.'
Finger by finger Lairdman took one of the gloves off again, and unwillingly picked up the new glass. They drank.
'I only mentioned the school,' Boland said, 'because that was the other thing that you and I shared.'
'As I said, I think we'd maybe send the children there.'
'You don't remember it?' Boland asked.
'The toilet thing.'
'Look here, Boland-'
'I've offended you. I didn't mean that at all.'
'Of course you haven't offended me. It's just that I see no reason to keep going on about things like that.'
'We'll talk of something else.'
'Actually, I'm getting late.' The second glove was pulled on again, the coat buttons were checked to see that all was well for the street. The glove was removed again when Lairdman remembered there'd have to be a handshake.
'Thanks for everything,' he said.
For the second time, Boland surprised himself by being unable to let the matter rest. 'You mention your children,' he heard himself saying. 'Would these be your and Annabella's children?' Lairdman's mouth dropped open and he stared at Boland. 'What other children are there?' he asked, shaking his head in a puzzled way.
'She can't have children, Lairdman.'
'Oh now, look here-'
'That's a medical fact. The unfortunate woman is incapable of being a mother.'
'I think you're drunk. One whiskey after another you've had. Annabella's told me a thing or two about you, you know.'
'She hasn't told you about the cats she's going to bring with her. She hasn't told you she can't have children. She hasn't told you she gets so bored that her face turns white with anger. It's best not to be near her then, Lairdman. Take my advice on that.'
'She's told me you can't stay sober.'
'Except for occasions like this, I hardly ever drink. I drink a lot less than Annabella does, I can promise you.'
'You've been unable to give Annabella children. She's sorry for you, she doesn't blame you.'
'Annabella was never sorry for anyone in her life.'
'Now look here, Boland-'
'Look nowhere, man. I've had twelve years of the woman. I'm ready to let you take my place. But there's no need for this talk of divorce, I'm just telling you that. She'll come and live with you in your seven-room flat; she'll live in any house you like to buy, but if you wait forever, you won't find children coming along. All you'll have is two cats that want to bite the legs off you.'
'You're being most unpleasant, Boland.'
'I'm telling you the truth.'
'You seem to have forgotten that Annabella and myself have talked about all this. She knew there'd be bitterness. Well, I understand that. I've said I'm sorry.'
'You're a mean little wooden man, Lairdman. Your head belongs in a toilet bowl. Were you all wet when they let go of you? I'd love to have seen it, Lairdman.'
'Will you keep your damn voice down? And stop trying to quarrel with me! I won't stand here and listen to this.'
'I think Dead Smith went on to become a-'
'I don't care what he became.'
Suddenly Lairdman was gone. Boland didn't even turn his head. After a moment he lit a fresh cigarette. For half an hour, he remained alone, where his wife's lover had left him, thinking about his schooldays and Lairdman.
He had lunch in the dining room of the hotel, ordering soup and fish. He imagined himself, one day in the future, entering the silence of his house. He'd actually been born in it. Opposite O'Connor's garage, it was the last one in the town, yellow-painted and ordinary, but a house he loved.
'Did you say the fish, sir?' the waitress enquired.
'Yes, I did.'
He'd got married in Dublin, as Annabella's family lived there. His friends and neighbours had been delighted when he brought her to live among them. They stopped him in the street and told him how lucky he was. But those same people would be delighted when she left. The terrible bitterness that filled her, because of not being able to have children, eventually turned her beauty into a kind of madness. That's what had happened, nothing else.
Slowly he ate his fish. Nobody would mention it much; they'd know what had happened and they'd say to one another that one day, probably, he'd marry again. He wondered if he would.
He ordered a slice of apple cake with cream, and later coffee came. He was glad it was all over. Now he had accepted the truth; it had been necessary to hear it from someone other than his wife. When first she'd told him, he'd wondered if it was all just another of her lies.
He paid his bill and went out to the car park. It was because there hadn't been enough for her to do, he thought, as he drove out of Dublin through the heavy city traffic. A childless woman in a small town had all the time in the world. She had changed the furniture around, and had chosen the wallpaper that her cats had later damaged. But she hadn't joined any clubs or made any friends. He'd driven her to Dublin as often as he could, before she'd started going there alone to visit Phyllis. For years, he'd known she wasn't happy, but until she told him, he'd never suspected she had become involved with a man.
Lairdman would have telephoned her by now, perhaps to say, 'Why don't you drive up this afternoon?' Maybe all day she had been packing, knowing the meeting at Buswell's was nothing to worry about. The little white Volkswagen he'd bought her might be on the road to Dublin already. He was on the open road now, looking out for the Volkswagen coming towards him. If she passed him, would she greet him with a touch on the horn? Or would he greet her? He didn't know if he would. Better to wait.
But over the next fifty miles or so, there was no sign of his wife's car. And of course, he told himself, there was no reason why there should be. It was only his own idea that she might depart that afternoon, and surely, she'd need more than a day to pack all her things. The more he thought about it, the less likely it was that she would be capable of completing the move alone.
He turned the radio on, and heard a song called 'Dancing in the dark'. It reminded him of the world he supposed his wife and Lairdman belonged to, the excitement of secret love, dancing close together in the darkness. 'Poor Annabella,' he said aloud, while the music still played. Poor girl, to have married a small town businessman like himself. It was lucky, really, that she had met self-confident little Lairdman. He imagined them in each other's arms, and then their shared smile before they held each other close again. As the dull third party, he had no further part to play.
But as Boland reached the first few houses on this side of his hometown, he knew none of that was right. The little white car had not carried her to Lairdman today. It would not do so tomorrow or the next day. It would not do so next month, or after Christmas, or in February, or in spring. It would never do so. It hadn't mattered reminding Lairdman of what he had suffered as a schoolboy; it hadn't mattered telling him she was in the habit of lying, or even calling him mean. That kind of unpleasant talk was more or less expected in the situation they found themselves in, and might simply be the result of a few whiskeys. But something had driven Boland to go further. Little men like Lairdman always wanted children. 'That's a total lie,' she'd have said already on the telephone, and Lairdman would have pretended to believe her. But pretending wasn't going to be enough for either of them.
Boland turned the radio off. He stopped the car outside Donovan's pub and sat there for a moment, before going in. At the bar, he greeted men he knew, and stood drinking with them, listening to talk of horses and politicians. They left after a few more drinks, but Boland stayed there for a long time, wondering why he hadn't been able to let Lairdman take her from him.
- THE END -