“I don’t understand why anyone would want to get married these days,” says Jean.
“I think it’s nice,” says Marie, a friend.
“What, taking some bloke’s name? You think that’s ‘nice’? Giving up the name you were born with and taking some bloke’s name? What’s nice about that? It’s like fucking slavery or something. It’s like when slaves had to take their master’s name. It’s fucked up.”
“It’s not really though, is it? It’s not really like slavery at all.”
“It is for some women.”
“It’s more of a partnership, really. I think it’s nice, to make that sort of commitment to somebody. It shows commitment to take somebody’s name.”
“What about his commitment? What about the man? He doesn’t have to make any show of commitment, does he?”
“Well, that’s just the way it is. The whole ceremony is a show of commitment anyway. I think it’s nice. It’s traditional. I want to get married one day.”
“I just like the idea of it, having a special day, the dress. It’s romantic.”
“It’s bullshit. Those fucking dresses are hideous. They make you look like a cheap ice cream. It’s infantile, the whole thing. It’s like kids dressing up at Christmas.”
“It seems so anachronistic, like watching programmed television, or writing letters, or milkmen.”
“You’re so cynical. I just think it’s kind of beautiful making that sort of public commitment to someone.”
“I’m not cynical. I’m aware. I’m just not sucked into to all the patriarchal, oppressive bullshit that has kept women subjugated since the dawn of Christianity.”
“You can’t fight it all the time, though. It’s exhausting.”
“How can you not fight it when it’s so fucked up?”
“I think sometimes you just have to accept things as they are. Otherwise you drive yourself mad.”
“Either way you’re driven mad. The only choice is whether you do it to yourself, or let other people do it for you.”
“Oh dear, you make it all sound so depressing.”
“It is so depressing. That’s the point. What about you and John? You’re not going to get married, are you?”
“I don’t know. I want to get married, but I don’t know if I want to marry John. He’s put on a lot of weight recently. It was the lockdown that did it. You should see him naked. It’s not a pretty sight.”
“You’re not attracted to him any more?”
“I don’t see how anyone could be. He’s disgusting. And he stinks. He’s stopped using deodorant. He has terrible BO.”
“Men are gross. I wish I was a lesbian.”
“Me too. It’s a shame you can’t just become a lesbian.”
“Yeah, like, go on a course, or something.”
“Train for a year or so, and then you qualify.”
“I’d do it.”
“Like conversion therapy in reverse.”
“It’s just, I think our relationship has run its course.”
“What does he think?”
“He thinks that everything is fine.”
“Of course he does. Men always do. They’re idiots.”
“John’s not an idiot.”
“He’s a man. It’s pretty much the same thing.”
“Well, I’m not a man-hater like you.”
“I’m not a man-hater. I just happen to hate men. It’s not my fault that men are all loathsome idiots.”
Both Jean and Marie take sips from their drinks.
“So, what are you going to do?” says Jean.
“About what?” says Marie.
“Your terrible relationship.”
“I don’t know. Probably just stay with him for now. Give it some time.”
“And what do you think’s going to happen? In my experience things don’t change unless you take some sort of drastic action. If you do nothing things just keep on getting worse.”
“I don’t know. Maybe if he were to propose that might make a difference.”
“What difference would that make?”
“Well, it would show that he’s serious. That he’s committed to me.”
“Why, do you not think he’s serious? Do you think he’s just taking the piss or something?”
“Don’t be sarcastic. You know what I mean.”
“No, I really don’t. I really don’t see what difference a fucking ring on your finger would make. A shit relationship with a ring on your finger is still a shit relationship.”
“It must be so easy having all the answers.”
“Look, you’re the one that said it had run its course.”
“It’s more complicated than that. We have good moments as well. We have a laugh. And I do want to start a family at some point. I’m not getting any younger.”
“Oh, here we go.”
“What do you mean?”
“One minute he’s gross and repulsive and the next minute you’re married with kids. It’s illogical. It makes no sense at all. You should find someone you love, and then start a family.”
“I do love him, in a way.”
“Really? That’s not the impression you’re giving.”
“Long-term relationships are difficult. It’s not all sunshine and roses, you know.”
“It doesn’t sound like there’s any sunshine or roses. What kind of stuff do you guys argue about?”
“Oh, you know, silly stuff, like he always leaves his dirty pants lying around. He never picks up after himself.”
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“What! It’s really annoying. It drives me mad.”
“It’s not the pants that drive you mad. It’s him. And I bet he gets mad at you for nagging him all the time.”
“Well, yeah, that is his main gripe.”
“Jesus. How often do you fuck?”
“Stop it. You can’t ask me that.”
“Don’t be such a prude. Just tell me.”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it. Our sex life is fine.”
“Bullshit. That’s total bullshit.”
“How would you know? Anyway, what’s going with you? How are you getting on finding somewhere to live?”
“Don’t change the subject. Tell me. How many times in the last month?”
“Exactly. I knew it. Get rid of him. What’s the point in a man that doesn’t want to fuck?”
“Not a lot.”
“Exactly. He’s a waste of space. He’s probably cheating, too.”
“No, I don’t think he is.”
“You can’t be sure.”
“No, I’m pretty sure.”
“I wouldn’t trust a guy that doesn’t fuck. It’s not natural. What about you? Are you cheating on him?”
“No, but there is someone.”
“Jesus, not another John. Who’s this one?”
“He’s at work. We get on really well. He’s really nice.”
“No, but I feel too bad. I couldn’t do it to John.”
“Fuck John. Fuck John!”
“No, I couldn’t. I’d feel too bad.”
“You gotta leave this guy, baby. He’s bad news from head to foot. Get out of there now before he asks you to marry him. Then you’ll be stuck.”
“Anyway, do you mind if we don’t talk about this. I don’t really want to, if you don’t mind.”
“OK, sure. But I mean what I say.”
“I know, I know.”
“And you can always talk to me about it, if you need to.”
“I know. Thanks.”
“So, yeah, I saw a couple of places last week.”
“Not really. One of them was sharing with this creepy middle-aged guy who was sweating profusely the whole time I was there, even though it wasn’t even that hot. He kept wiping his face with a tea towel. And there was this damp, mouldy smell. Sweaty. Like the sweat had soaked into everything over years and years. So that was no good.”
“It was. The other one was better. Sharing with three girls. It smelt nice, and we had a lot in common, but I couldn’t afford the rent.”
“So, you’re still at your nan’s?”
“Yeah, I’m still there. It’s OK, though. She’s asleep by, like, seven o’clock, and she forgets everything, so it’s not too bad. It’s basically like living with someone who’s dreaming all the time.”
“Still, though, it would be better to have your own place.”
“Of course, but, you know, I’m not in any rush. And I’m not paying any rent, so I’m saving quite a bit. Do you want another drink? I’m getting myself one.”
“No, I’m OK. I’ve still got loads left.”
Jean walks over to the fridge and gets another drink. She belches loudly as she opens the can.
“Sorry,” she says.
“Don’t worry,” says Marie. “I burp all the time too.”
“Oh, did you hear about Sophie and Alan?”
“No, what about them?”
“They’ve moved to Lincoln.”
“Yeah, that’s where she’s from.”
“Oh, is it? That’s a shame. I’d hate to live where I’m from.”
They pause. Footsteps can be heard approaching the door of the flat, ascending the staircase unsteadily. They sit silently, listening.
“That’s John,” says Marie. “He sounds drunk.”
“Hey, you should break up with him,” says Jean. “Right now. Tonight.”
“Stop it,” says Marie. “I’m not breaking up with him tonight. Don’t be so daft.”
The door opens. John.
“Hello John,” says Jean.
“Hello ladies,” says John. He is clearly drunk. “If you’ll excuse me for one moment, I just need to use the lavatory.” John stumbles to the lavatory, hiccupping to himself.
“I see what you mean,” says Jean.
“What?” says Marie.
“He’s really let himself go.”
“I mean, it’s not too bad. He’s just put on a little extra weight.”
“More than a little, I would say.”
“It’s all right. Weight’s not really important.”
“He’s quite drunk, isn’t he? Does he often get this drunk?”
“He isn’t that drunk, is he? I mean, he’s had a couple, clearly, but I wouldn’t say he was ‘drunk’. I mean, he drinks most nights, well, every night, but I wouldn’t say he gets ‘drunk’ every night.”
“Sure, he drinks, but he doesn’t get drunk. I don’t know how you put up with it. I’d kick him out.”
“He’s not too bad. I mean, I know men that are far worse.”
“There are always men that are worse. That’s a given.”
“You can be a little hard on people, you know. No one’s perfect.”
“Hey, I just care about you. You deserve better. He’s a lout.”
“He’s not a lout.”
“Who’s not what?” says John, unsteadily, suddenly reappearing.
“I didn’t hear you coming,” says Marie.
“I just went for a piss.”
John sits down heavily in a leather armchair. The leather is worn through heavy use.
“Can you get us a glass of water?” says John. “I’ve just sat down.”
Marie gets up and fetches John a glass of water. He doesn’t say thank you. He drinks the water in one go. “That’s better,” he says. “Can you fill it up again?”
“Don’t you dare,” says Jean.
“Oh, hello Jean,” says John, “it’s nice to see you.”
“Well, it’s just a saying, isn’t it, a thing people say.”
“You stink,” says Marie, handing him the refilled glass of water.
“Oh, thank you,” says John. “I aim to please.”
“You’re a piss poor shot, then,” says Jean.
“So, what were you ladies talking about before I came home?”
“Marie was just wondering when you’re going to propose to her.”
“Fuck’s sake, Jean, no I wasn’t. I wasn’t. We were just talking about marriage in general.”
“You don’t want to get married, do you babe?”
“Well, one day, I wouldn’t mind, I think I’d like to, yeah.”
“But why? It’s just a waste of money. We don’t need a piece of paper, a legal contract, to know that we’re committed to each other.”
“Well, no, but it’s more than a piece of paper, isn’t it? It’s about celebrating your love, with all your family and friends. It’s a special day.”
“You know I love you though, don’t you babe?”
“That’s not the point.”
“It’s seems like just a load of stress and hassle to me, for no good reason. We can have all our friends and family over for a party any time you like. We don’t need to get married.”
“It’s not the same though, is it, just having a party. That’s not the same at all.”
“Whatever, it’s all the same to me. Marriage is a load of bullshit. All the suits and seating plans. It’s just a waste of time and money. Let’s just have a piss up and be done with it.”
“So, you never want to get married?” says Jean.
“No fucking way,” says John.
“Even though your partner has just told you that she does want to get married?”
“I don’t want to get fucking married, all right?”
“So, you wouldn’t propose, even if it was to save your relationship?”
“I didn’t say that. Anyway, what do you mean, ‘to save our relationship’?”
“I mean, if the choice was, either you propose or Marie leaves you.”
“Well, I don’t know, but that’s not the choice though, is it babe?”
“I don’t know. I do want to get married. I definitely do want to get married one day. I don’t want to wait forever.”
“Well, I suppose if it was a choice like that. I don’t know. It’s all hypothetical, though, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” says Jean. “It’s not really hypothetical at all. She wants to get married. If not to you, she’ll find someone else.”
“Really, is that what she’s said? Is that what you’ve said, babe?”
“No, I never said that,” says Marie, “but I do want to get married, so…”
“Well, I didn’t realise you felt so strongly about it.”
“How could you not? We have spoken about it before.”
“Have we? Yeah, I suppose we have.”
“So, you did know?” says Jean.
“Yeah, I suppose I did.”
“So, you would propose then?”
“Yeah, I suppose I would.”
“Well, it’s not something I would choose, but if Marie really wants it that bad-”
“And she’s not taking your name.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s not taking your name when you get married. She’s keeping her own name.”
“Well, if you want to get married, you should take the man’s name. That’s what I think.”
“Why? Why should the woman take the man’s name? Why can’t the man take the woman’s name?”
“Well, it’s just traditional. If you want to buy into all that stuff, then you should do it properly. You’re entering a tradition.”
“Oh right, so you’re a traditional man now, are you?”
“Well, no, not really, but I’m not the one that wants to get married, am I?”
“So, you don’t want to marry me?” says Marie.
“I don’t want to get married full stop. To anyone. It’s nothing personal.”
“Nothing personal, right.”
“You know what I mean. Obviously, I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I’m committed to you. I just have no inclination to get married.”
“Look, we can get married if you want to.”
“If I want to?”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I wouldn’t want to force you to do something against your will.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, can we stop talking about this now?”
“Why,” says Jean, “is it making you feel uncomfortable?”
“No, it’s not making me feel uncomfortable. It’s just turning into a bit of an argument, which isn’t nice for anyone.”
“We’re not arguing,” says Marie.
“OK, well, whatever you want to call it.”
“We’re just talking,” says Marie.
“OK, fine, talking. Well, can we talk about something else?”
“Maybe we should talk about why you don’t want to have sex with your beautiful girlfriend,” says Jean.
“Are you not attracted to Marie, John?”
“What?” And after a pause. “Of course I am.”
“So, why don’t you want to have sex with her?”
“We do have sex.”
“You haven’t touched me for months.”
“I’m sure it’s not been that long.”
“It has. December was the last time. When we were staying at your mother’s.”
“It’s June, John,” says Jean. “That’s six months.”
“Yeah, well, it’s about five and a half, actually.”
“Yeah, well, you haven’t touched me either.”
“I’ve tried to loads of times. But you’re just totally unresponsive.”
“No, I’m not.”
“You are. You know you are.”
“Well, you know, when you’ve been with someone for a number of years, you inevitably lose some of the passion.”
“Some, maybe, but not all,” says Jean.
“What do you know, anyway,” says John, “about long-term relationships? Your longest relationship’s been about three months.”
“There’s no need to be mean,” says Jean. “This isn’t about me.”
“Is this what you’ve been talking about all night? What an arsehole I am? I wouldn’t listen to her, you know, Marie. I wouldn’t take advice on relationships from this … slut.”
“Who the fuck are you calling a slut?”
“Oh, calm down. Don’t get hysterical.”
“You’re not worth it, believe me.”
“Well, this has been enjoyable.”
“The world does not exist purely for your entertainment, you dick.”
There is a moment of silence that shatters like glass.
“Our relationship is over, John,” says Marie firmly. “Our relationship is over.”
“What! What do you mean?”
“Our relationship is over. It’s over. I want you to leave. Our relationship is over.”
“You want me to leave?”
“Our relationship is over. I want you to leave.”
“But this is where I live.”
“Our relationship is over. I want you to live somewhere else.”
“But I don’t have anywhere to go.”
“Go to a hotel. Go to your mother’s,” says Jean. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
Jean looks at him expectantly.
“What now? You want me to leave right now?”
“I want you to leave. Our relationship is over.”
“Why? We’re fine. This is nothing we can’t handle.”
“We’re not fine. Our relationship has run its course. It’s over. I don’t think I ever want to see you again.”
“Oh, come on. We can get married if you want.”
“It’s too late for that now.”
“So, that’s it then, is it? Just like that?”
“It’s over, John. It’s definitely over. I think we’ve both known it for some time.”
“Listen, Marie, we can work this out. We can talk.”
“It’s over, John. We’ve tried before, so many times. No one can say we haven’t tried.”
“Come on, let’s just talk about it in the morning when you’ve calmed down. Things are always better in the morning.”
“She’s perfectly fucking calm, John,” says Jean. “Maybe you should just listen to what she’s saying.”
“She’s right,” says Marie. “You just don’t listen. You’re always making it about yourself.”
“Oh, fuck this. Fucking bitches. Fuck you then.” Unsteadily, John rises. “I don’t need this shit,” he says. He staggers to the bedroom. He can be heard noisily rummaging in wardrobes and cupboards.
“That was amazing,” says Jean. “You did it. That was awesome. I am so in love with you right now.”
Marie is breathing deeply and quickly.
“Are you OK?” says Jean. “Let me get you a glass of water.”
“No, I’m fine. That felt so fucking good. Is this real? Am I going to be free?”
“Yes, you’re going to be free. He’s packing a bag. He’s going.”
John reappears, standing unsteadily. “I really don’t think this is reasonable. I’ll sleep on the sofa, and I’ll be gone in the morning. You can’t kick me out at this time of night. This is my home.”
“Pack your bag,” says Jean, “and fuck off.”
“Fucking hell,” says John, before stomping unsteadily back to the bedroom.
“Am I being really harsh?” says Marie “Is it unreasonable?”
“You’re not being harsh enough,” says Jean. “You should kick that arsehole out the door right now, and chuck his stuff on the street.”
“Where will he go?”
“That’s his problem. There are plenty of places he can go. He’s got money.”
“But it wouldn’t be so bad if he just slept on the sofa, and went in the morning.”
“It would be fucking awful. Stay firm. Don’t let him back in.”
“It’s hard. I’ve gotten so used to him.”
“He’s a bad habit, but you gotta shake it, baby. You’ll be so much better off without him.”
“I know I will. I already feel my spirits lift knowing that he will soon be gone.”
“Jesus, you’re breathing so fast. Slow it down, baby. Take deep breaths.”
From the bedroom the sound of a bag being zipped up.
“He’s coming back,” says Jean. “Don’t say anything.”
John stops unsteadily in the doorway. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.”
“You’ll soon get used to the idea,” says Jean.
“What have I done, Marie? Can you tell me? Can you just tell me what I’ve done?”
“Well, not had sex for six months, for one thing,” says Jean.
“Excuse me, do you mind? I’m talking to my fucking girlfriend.”
“I am not your fucking girlfriend,” says Marie. “Our relationship is over.”
“All right, maybe I’ll talk to you later, when you’re on your own. Maybe I’ll get some sense out of you then. It’s like you’ve been brainwashed.”
“No, mate,” says Jean, “that’s not it at all. This is lucidity. This woman is seeing clearly for the first time in years. And no thanks to you.”
“You’re a poisonous bitch, you are. You’re poison. You’ve poisoned her against me.”
“I think you did a good enough job of that yourself.”
“What have you said to her?”
“I haven’t said anything. I listened.”
“Yeah, I bet. Didn’t offer any opinions of your own, I bet. Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
“OK, well, unless there’s anything else you’d like to discuss, I suggest that you go and find yourself somewhere to sleep tonight, because at the moment you’re a homeless drunk.”
“Fuck you,” says John, and then he is gone.
The footsteps retreat and are replaced by a silence that is deep and still.
“You did it,” says Jean. “I can’t believe it. I’m so proud of you.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I didn’t do anything. It was all you.”
“I’m so glad he’s gone.”
“I feel free.”
“I’ve never felt free before. I’ve just realised that I’ve never felt free before. Not until now.”
“How does it feel?”
“It feels … limitless. Jean?”
“I don’t want to be alone. Will you move in with me?”
Jean smiles and hugs her friend. “Yes,” she says. “I thought you’d never ask.”
William Macbeth is a writer. He wrote a book called ‘The Warehouse Industry’. It’s about a man who kills a duck and doesn’t have any friends, but apart from that it’s not autobiographical at all. He has brown hair and, while not exactly tall, is certainly above average height. He lives in London, in a house.
William Macbeth has never won any prizes, raffles, or competitions of any sort.
‘The Warehouse Industry’ (Thistle Publishing) https://www.thistlepublishing.co.uk/thewarehouseindustry.html
‘Nights Out with William Macbeth’ (self-published)
‘The Unfortunate Business of the Dead Children’ (Litro)
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