A Pearl Anniversary

The kitchen shears were delivered on a silver plate with the gin three minutes after he delivered his gift, seven minutes after he pulled her chair out, sliding his hand down the small of her back—his touch too familiar, too sensual, too sickening. The pair of stainless steel blades were small, curved and sharp. The gin, icy blue like the Antarctic ocean.

Thirty years. Snip. 

It wasn’t her pearl anniversary, but that’s what he’d bought her—three of them on a silver chain. She lifted out the necklace with finger and thumb, held it up, made it swing a little. Looked closer. Smiled an approval. He sipped his Dom Perignon, watching while she fastened it behind her neck. He toasted her. She blew him a slow-motion kiss.

Thirty years of marriage. That is an ice-berg. Snip. 

The meeting was in a restaurant miles away from his life—our lives. Top-notch. He’d dressed up for the occasion, in the suit he wears when international clients come to town. She wore a long body hugging thing, the usual cleavage, the blood red satin stark against her pale skin. Her auburn hair spilled in glossy curls down her back. The scissors could easily have chopped it all off, easily severed the dress.

Snip. Another pearl lost to the Southern Ocean. 

She slipped off her pumps, slid one foot inside his calf, up and down a few times, and then—thinking it wasn’t noticeable when, in fact, it was darn obvious—stopped at the knee and followed along the thigh to his crotch. His hand went under the table—also obvious—took hold, kept her there. 

It was all I could do not to walk over to their table and thrust the scissor points into her white fleshy arm. That leg thing, her naked foot at my husband’s most tender spot. I can’t believe now, that I stayed seated, behind the arrangement of plants, keeping calm with a napkin over my mouth, holding back the taste of bile. 

Snip. Another year swept away.

She wasn’t the first. And it wasn’t my first time. If I had kept away, would it have changed tonight’s bitter outcome? No. And in any case, I’ve never been able to keep away—a sucker for punishment. 

That night, like always, I wore a new purchase. Black, understated sophistication. Like always, a new wig—a circumspect bob with bangs. And I wore the darn pearls to begin with. In case I had it all wrong. The wig could come off in a jiffy if it was, in fact, a business meeting, and I decided to join them. I have been wrong a few times. Mostly, I’ve been right. 

After his lingering hand on her buttocks, my necklace had to come off. Then I ordered another drink and, if possible, a pair of scissors, please. I was nauseous, as if seasick, and furious—not thinking straight. Asking for scissors, that was impromptu. It wasn’t to stab anyone. I’m not a violent woman. I’m not. Thirty years is a long time is all. There’s a hell of a lot of water in an iceberg.

Snip. Another one.

I’m taking my time, detaching the pearls one by on, ceremoniously, contemplating. My Goodbye has the right back drop. The scenery is nothing short of majestic—the indigo night and glittering stars, the shimmering ice-walls, the haunting screech of glacial movements. 

That night, two weeks ago, finding my equanimity, I understood why I’d asked for a pair of scissors. I sank into my chair, sipping the blue gin, picked up them up, and the necklace. My intention? To snip off the pearls, drop them in my gin, make a lumpy heap of them among the ice-cubes, have the waiter serve him. He’d look over, and I would blow him a slow-motion kiss before striding out of there, head held high.

But of course I didn’t confront him. Do I wish, now, that I had? A part of me wants to say yes.

Snip. Snip. Two more, released into the night’s abyss. Dismantling his meaningless anniversary present is meditative. The children may or may not ask about it. Cross that bridge if and when I get to it.  

The evening before the night with her foot to his private bits was better than expected. All children came for our thirtieth anniversary, all brought presents and spouses. I laughed a lot, reminisced about the good old days, the toddler years, them as teens and their sneaking behind our backs.

All the years of him sneaking behind their backs—I could have told them about that, but I’ve always been loyal. They’ve never known. They never will. 

Snip. Snip. Each pearl is taken by the wind, scooped away into the dark to become infinitesimal beads in a winterland.

‘One for every wonderful year,’ he said in front of them as he clasped the necklace around my neck. Pearls for me as well. Thirty. The following night, his squeeze received one for every wonderful month. 

‘That’s sweet isn’t it mum,’ said our youngest, the apple of his eye.

It was sweet—then. At least I told myself that—then. But it was predictable, like the pearl cuff links I gave him. They were tokens. The genuine gift was Antarctica, planned and paid for last year. That was going to be sweet. Yeah right!

We met travelling. And I’ve always travelled. Every year. Despite his affairs. Though neither of us spoke of it, the trips were my attempts to rescue our marriage, to remind him of what he had, and his opportunity to make amends. I would book. He would come. Though not always. 

If I had walked out in anger that night at the restaurant, my sad brother would have replaced my husband. He’d be standing next to me right now, complaining about the cold, his nose dripping, his slurry speech belching platitudes. 

 But that wasn’t why I didn’t walk out on him. It wasn’t for the sake of Antarctica. It was for the sake of the bloody iceberg. In the end, I assumed she was just another pearl on a string, no pun intended. Okay, I asked for the scissors because I was tired of the charade, and I almost lost my cool, but I came around because that’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. 

After the kids had devoured the cake and left, after we’d washed the dishes, and shared a nightcap, we’d enjoyed each other. It had been totally fine, a little routine, but satisfying enough. Sex after thirty years … well, it’s like driving a car, or riding a bike, or any other muscle memory activity. The body knows what to do. One doesn’t have to be present. He wasn’t. I was not on his mind. She was.

I know that now. 

Antarctica—I thought it meant he’d return to me. How wrong I was. He came out of duty, because I booked it last year and it was only fair—his words. What he didn’t spell out was that he came because stuck on a boat in the middle of nowhere surrounded by strangers would force me to accept his decision and deal with the brunt of it here, in isolation. Most of all, he saw it as a good way to end our marriage. He said as much. Our relationship started with a trip. Why not end it with one? 

Snip.

It’s a ten-day cruise. He deceived me for seven, even managed lovemaking—not love, again routine sex. I have enjoyed the week of ignorance. The days became the tip of all the years behind us. Surrounded by pearly white, we have watched the whales breach and the penguins dive. We have stood shoulder to shoulder on the frozen ground of the South Pole. We have walked along this deck holding hands.

Our fellow passengers have found it wonderful—us, celebrating our thirtieth. He kept up appearances and complied. He fooled even me until this evening after the surprise-greetings-from-the-captain-anniversary-dinner when he dropped the D-bomb. 

Snip. Snip. Snip. 

They will have to cut the trip short, or at least send me home. There will be a tsunami.

It’s not my fault. I will not take the blame. That thing with the scissors was his own doing. Infidelity is one thing, jump ship quite another. What about all the years we’ve battled out together while raising children, the fights, the make-up sex, the memories we created? And what about our thriving company? He made the start up a success, but the initial money was mine—and the idea. Thirty years of domestic life, five well-adjusted adults, my third single-handedly renovated home, and all the exciting travels organised by me. What about all that stuff?

And the women? How many have we indulged with his and my money? This one was going to cost me everything. Why should I live on an alimony? Why should she squander my hard earned profit? And she’s young enough to produce offspring. Neither I nor our children have to share our life’s worth with any new seed of his.

No, it’s not my fault. I didn’t plan this. So what if I kept the scissors or brought them with me? They are handy; I carry them with me all the time. He brought the verdict on himself, all by himself.  

He agreed to meet me here, and he should have known the risk. He was only ever stupid in one department. 

I had every right to do what I did. And I took a colossal risk. Would the scissors be sharp enough? Would he’d be drunk enough? And I don’t know if there are cameras, if  I’ll pull this off. Truth is, I’ve risked my life for my children, for the thirty years of giant mass that lies beneath. 

I’m not a violent woman. It was barely a stab, and he tumbled over the railing with almost no help at all. He plopped, sort of, in his good suit and his pearl cuff links under his brand new parka. 

My hands are stiff with the cold. Enough with the meditative. Enough with the snipping. Time for a cup of tea and then straight to bed. In a few hours, it will all break loose. I drop the remaining string of pearls. Last I release the kitchen shears. 

 

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