On a Tuesday in July, I returned home from work to find the house empty of everything except my clothes, my Formula 1 magazines and my toothbrush.  Propped up on the mantelpiece where our children’s photos used to sit was a letter from my wife Anna, informing me of her intention to divorce me. 

Scrawled at the bottom, seemingly an after thought, was a postscript stating she would be keeping my children and the cat, but we could negotiate the budgie. 

I sat on the floor in the centre of my empty lounge room, stunned.  Sixteen years of my life had just been flushed down the toilet, and I couldn’t even order a pizza and crack open a beer, because she had taken the phone and the fridge.

The next day I bought a bright purple jelly phone and a beer fridge that it and I could sit on. 

Over the next month my only contact with my wife consisted of threatening letters from her lawyer: formerly my lawyer.  Who had figured out my wife would get more in the divorce settlement and switched horses mid-stream. I also got one tearful inebriated phone-call from Anna at two in the morning.  

She’d berated me with a tirade of my failures as a husband and a father. Her prime motivators for divorce were: I was never home; I neglected the children; I failed her sexually; I was interested in other women and I never listened to what she had to say and didn’t take her seriously.

As a list it was a fairly heavy one, but I did have justifications which screamed inside my head. 

Of course I was not at home enough. I was working long hard hours so she could have everything she could possibly desire, since every second sentence out of her mouth began with the words ‘I want …!’ 

Our kids weren’t kids any more, and frankly they didn’t want to hang out with me.  That boat sailed a long time ago.  Lillian was fourteen and obsessed with her hair, her cellphone and vampires.  George, or G as he was called now, was fifteen and preferred to be alone: a lot.  My wife thought there was something wrong with this; I (being a man and knowing why he liked to be alone a lot) did not.

I didn’t understand her allegation of failing her sexually.  I was only allowed near her body for the two days of the month she wasn’t suffering from some form of pre-, present or post-menstrual tension.  I only managed to get that much sex because I’d learnt to tap dance dexterously through the minefield of self-image dilemmas that ruled her life and consequently mine.   There were bits of her I didn’t touch or look at for extended periods of time or under any circumstances mention by name.  

How could I fulfil her sexually when she had more issues than the Woman’s Weekly?   

I didn’t care that she’d put on weight since the kids were born or that she felt the need to put so much crap on her face it could no longer move.  I may have been pissed off when she cut all of her gorgeous red hair off and permed the living hell out of the inch or two remaining, but it didn’t really make any difference to me.  

I just wanted her, and when we were making love the size of her arse, her stretch-marks, her cellulite and whatever other imaginary imperfection she dreamed up didn’t matter.  I couldn’t see them anyway. 

The truth is she was still as beautiful to me as she had been the first moment I laid eyes on her at a rugby club social. She had been wearing spaghetti jeans and a purple halter top.  We were fifteen, all gangly elbows and knobby knees.  When I saw her across a crowded room, bang, zap and kapow!  

It was the big one – love.       

She was and would always be so beautiful to me my heart literally throbbed when I looked at her.  This was a sentiment that had never actually managed to verbally escape my insides. 

As for other women: OK, I noticed Cathy, my nineteen-year-old admin assistant, had a gorgeous set of tits.  Come on, who wouldn’t?  They practically smacked you around the head as she walked in the room.


And listening. Did she have any idea how difficult it was not to listen to her?   When she was annoyed her voice could slice through titanium.  Her ‘annoyed’ voice could literally be used as a torturing device.  If you put a criminal in a room with her ‘annoyed’ voice for two minutes they’d confess to anything, just to escape agony.  Recordings of her voice could be used to scare birds off airport runways.  You wouldn’t even have to magnify it.  Like an elephant’s mating call, it could be heard for kilometres in any direction.  

All I did was listen; and all she did was talk.  

I didn’t remember our vows being ‘love, honour and listen to her prattle on about nothing’.   Sometimes it was a toss-up as to which was more interesting: her or the incessant drone of a blowfly trapped in net curtains. 

I would, however, have to plead guilty to the charge of not taking her seriously.  I didn’t believe anyone in the known universe would take seriously someone who had to consult her psychic, her colour therapist, her astrologer or the I Ching every morning, just to get one foot out of bed.  

Since the day I locked myself into the contract of marriage with her, she had confirmed over and over again that she could not be relied upon.  Anything she ever started, no matter how simple the task, she never finished.  Anything she promised, she never delivered, and she had more excuses for failure than there are Wongs in the Chinese phonebook.   

But I didn’t care, because I loved her.  Obviously I didn’t love her enough.  

So here I was now, six months down the line.  

I downsized my accommodation to a cool but poky retro flat close to the beach. The interior was a scary mish-mash of a dozen revolting floral wallpapers.  Someone had obviously decided to save money by using the end of line rolls. The carpet looked like psychedelic vomit.

But, thanks to ‘The Warehouse, the Warehouse, where everyone gets a bargain’ and my parents, who were of the ‘save everything for a rainy day’ generation, I had enough furniture for me and the kids to sit, sleep and eat on.  

The kids loved my place, and arrived every weekend with friends in tow. Even my son had extended his solitary existence to include a small motor-mouthed boy, Liam, who could eat three times his own weight in food at a single sitting, and a tall frighteningly thin girlfriend named Jet.

Things were kind of drifting along.  I hadn’t made any radical changes.   I felt as if I was in a holding pattern, circling a runway, waiting to land.  After a couple of disastrous blind dates where I ended up fighting for my virtue at the end of the evening, I decided against going out.   I read a lot, I watched movies and I was learning to cook.

I hadn’t seen my wife since she moved out.  We managed to avoid each other.

Actually, she did the avoiding.  I just moped about feeling as if all my guts had been removed and I was a walking, talking, hollow jelly.  I didn’t call her, and even though I knew where she lived, I didn’t drop by.  She made the decision to leave me, and I was going along with it.

So when I finally did see her by accident, through a cafe window, I got a gigantic heart-stopping shock.  She looked absolutely gorgeous.  As if someone had flipped on a light-bulb inside her.  I stared, causing havoc on the crowded lunchtime pavement as people tried to push past me. 

Everything about her was different.  Her hair was longer and kind of loosely fluffy.  Her face was thinner, and so was the rest of her.   She was smiling this huge happy sexy smile I’d never seen before.  And she was aiming her smile straight at … another shock.  

A man!  

A big rangy handsome successful-looking man, who was sitting opposite her in the window of one of those crazily expensive cafes I consider a complete waste of money.  

‘No!’ I said out loud, as my chest froze over and burst into flame simultaneously. ‘No; no; no!’

Pain; everything from the tips of my fingers and toes to the top of my head to the inside of my eyelids was in horrendous pain.  

What does one do in situations like this?  Should I have rushed inside, yelled, punched, wailed and demanded to know what was going on?  Should I have acquired some sort of automatic weapon and shot random people until the pain stopped? Should I have slunk away like a wounded animal and died beneath a hedge?  

How dared she turn into that beautiful sexy woman?  How dared she?  And how dared she be ogled at by someone other than me?  We had a contract, damn it.  

Suddenly I was shoved along the street by a herd of surly teenagers, and by the time I managed to make it back to the cafe they were gone from the window.  I hovered on the street not knowing what to do, imagining them somewhere doing sexual things to each other.  

I honestly thought my brain would explode.

The rest of the week was a blur.  

On Friday the kids arrived alone for a change.  Lillian made some experimental pasta thing for dinner and we sat down at my small wobbly Formica table with the mismatched chairs and ate.  After a few fraught moments of chomping and slurping I cleared my throat.

‘I saw your mother on Wednesday,’ I said, sliding it ever-so-casually into the conversation, like a brick through the roof of a terrarium.  

The kids looked at each other for a long drawn-out moment, and Lillian spoke. I had the feeling she was talking for both of them.

‘Where did you see her?’ 

‘Sitting in the window of a cafe.’ I had been about to say ‘with a man,’ but couldn’t get it out.

A strange knowing look passed between them. ‘What was it called?’ she asked,  ‘… the cafe?’

My face screwed up as I tried to remember.  ‘The Blue something or other …’

‘Oh … the Blue Cucumber,’ she said, her eyes darting to her brother.  ‘She works there …’

‘Works?  I frowned.  ‘What does she do?’  

‘She’s the manager …’

‘What? … manager? … her?’ I yelped. I had been thinking more along the lines of dish-washer, or waitress, or maybe that she served at the counter.  Although I wondered about her ability to use those new cash registers.  They looked complicated.  

But manager?  That threw me completely.

My daughter cut me dead with an unladylike hiss.  ‘Why do you do that, Dad?  Why are you always putting her down?  You talk about her as if she’s an idiot.’  She shook her head, as if she despaired of me.  ‘Mum is a really amazing person.’  

I stared at her as if she was speaking another language.  ‘I don’t put her down!’ I blustered.  

‘You do so,’ she snapped. ‘… all the time!  When you’re not making sarcastic comments, you’re rolling your eyes, grunting or finding some other non-verbal way to make her feel like crap.’

‘I don’t!’ I said.  A pain stabbed my temple.  Did I?

‘You do!’  Her brows drew together in a frown that looked very much like my own grumpy face. ‘The best thing Mum ever did was leave you.  Every time she attempted to grow you slapped her down! You are so mean!’

‘Mean … me?’  I could not believe it.  ‘When have I ever been mean to her?’

Her glare almost melted my face.  ‘When she told you she wanted to go to university you laughed at her …’

‘But she could never have handled university,’ I snorted derisively.  ‘I know you think a lot of your mother but please … come on …’

‘She’s doing a business degree at Open University!’  she said acidly.  ‘Tell me how well you did at university, because Mum’s managed to get all As so far, and she looks after us and she works full time and …’  Lillian paused for effect.  ‘… she’s turned the Blue Cucumber into one of the most popular cafes in the city.’

I stared at my daughter’s fierce little face, gob-smacked. ‘She’s what?’ I croaked, feeling blind-sided, awkward and stupid.  ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me?’

‘The same reason why we don’t tell Mum anything about you!’ she seethed.  ‘You two buggered up your relationship; it has nothing to do with us.’  

Her brother nodded in agreement but didn’t look up from his plate.  He just kept shoving food into his mouth.  My appetite deserted me and I stared at the mound of tomato-stained bow-tie macaroni feeling decidedly ill.

‘Is she … is she …’ I really truly did not want to say it. If I did and Lillian answered yes, I had the awful feeling I would curl up into a ball on the floor and burst into tears.  But I had to know; not knowing was killing me too.  ‘Is she seeing someone?’

Lillian didn’t look at George this time; she looked me straight in the eye.  Her clear golden eyes, her mother’s eyes, burned a hole in my brain. ‘Yes, his name is Steve and he’s very nice.’

I didn’t cry in front of the kids.  After dinner I did, however, go for a very late swim, without actually making it into the water.  

I sat on a sand dune and bawled like a little baby.   When I finally got to bed I lay awake searching through my brain, trying to find some insight. I knew I had to change, but how? How does one stop being a dickhead?  Especially when one doesn’t know one is a dickhead?  I’d only just seen it.  It was like meeting someone for the first time. 

I knew, without a doubt, I’d become one of those arseholes who thought they were always right and that everyone else has a problem.  I also knew that was bad.  I squirmed and looked back without the benefit of stupidity-tinted glasses.  

When we first got married I’d gone to university full time, studying commerce.  Anna worked in a coffee shop every morning, baking scones, muffins, pizza and cakes.  She made sandwiches, filled rolls and other amazing savoury and sweet delights.  Then she had half an hour to get on a bus to the other side of town to her second job as a housemaid in a hotel, making beds, vacuuming carpets, cleaning loos, scrubbing, polishing and dusting.  

On the side she baked and decorated specialty cakes for birthdays, weddings and christenings.  They were big, beautifully delicately iced confections she designed herself.  Occasionally she catered small events and dinner parties.

After I finished my degree, I got a proper job in an accounts firm, which paid me criminally more than I was worth.  This allowed her to stop working and have our children.  

We bought our first house and started to fill it with all the stuff married people with children are expected to have.  Every year we seemed to jump another notch on the social scale.  I was good at my job and doing well.

She seemed happy.  

But when the kids were both at school she began to want things.  

She wanted to travel overseas.  But I’d just been given my own department and couldn’t take extended leave, and when she suggested she go alone I laughed at her.  Not maliciously.  There was just no bloody way I was allowing her to go anywhere by herself.   

She wouldn’t last five minutes alone on the other side of the world.  I trembled at the sheer number of what-could-go-wrongs.  No, the suggestion was insanity.

Then she wanted to go to university and study classics.  I asked what sort of job that would get her.  Where could she possibly use Latin or ancient Greek? And how would she get in?  She’d left school at sixteen.   

I didn’t want her hurt or humiliated.  So I told her gently but firmly she’d just make a fool of herself.  

Then she wanted a job. She didn’t need to work.  I earned enough to support her.   Didn’t she realise how lucky she was?  In this day and age!  How many women can say their husbands would willingly support them?

Shortly after that happened all the new-age spiritual bollocks began.  

Something twanged in my brain.  Suddenly I realised that was around the time she had the miscarriage.  

I’d always believed two children were more than adequate.  A boy and a girl were perfect.  

She had a lot of trouble with the pill, so I suggested a tubal ligation would be the most logical step for her to take. She’d asked why I couldn’t get a vasectomy, and I’d said there was no way I was letting anyone with a knife anywhere near my crown jewels.  She’d said it was the same for her.  I’d laughed and said it was easier for women; everyone knew that.  

The truth was, I was terrified: what if the knife slipped? What if I came out of the anaesthetic a soprano?  

We had a fight, a huge one, and we didn’t bring up the subject again.  So when she accidentally got pregnant because of a mix-up with an ear infection, antibiotics and the pill, she was too scared to tell me.  Consequently she’d worried herself half to death about it, fainted, fell down the front stairs and lost the baby. 

I found this out as I arrived at the hospital, from her very irate sister, who slapped me across the face so hard I thought the blow would snap my neck.  

I reacted by getting plastered at Friday night drinks and making a drunken pass at my administrative assistant, who not only slapped me harder but threatened to have her boyfriend Rocky break my arms and legs and report me for sexual harassment.   

A wave of nausea sweep over me.  Oh shit.  

Panic grabbed my soul and began to kick the crap out of it.  

Nothing falls apart faster than a man who discovers he’s a complete and utter tosser. 

I managed to hold it together until the kids went back to their mother’s.

The following week went by in a haze of Jack Daniels and misery.  

I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t go to work; I called in and said I had bird flu.

When the kids arrived on Friday the flat looked as if I’d picked it up by the corner and given it a good shake.  I was drunk, and I really wanted to collapse on them and bawl my eyes out, but I didn’t.  Thank God!  I was a useless enough father already.   

Lillian took charge. She poured gallons of coffee down me, and we all spent Friday night getting the place back into some sort of order.  The rest of the weekend I spent moving about sluggishly in morose introspection while she yelled at me like a sergeant major.  I found it strangely comforting.  

The following Monday I gathered my balls and went to see Anna.

I arrived at the cafe at four in the afternoon, hoping it would be quiet and she’d have time to talk to me.  I also hoped Steeeeeve was not there.  

She was at the counter rearranging food in a refrigerated glass cabinet when I walked in.  She seemed to get a sixth sense I was there; stiffened and spun around.  When she saw it was me, a dozen different expressions crossed her features in quick succession.  Mostly shock, with a lot of uncertainty, tinged at the edges with anger. But it was a lot less anger than I’d anticipated.  

Then I realised you probably have to care about someone to get angry.   A leaden sadness descended on me.   I almost buckled under the weight of it.

‘Hi …’ she said, walking out from behind the counter.  

I was right; she had lost weight, lots of it.  She wasn’t physically more attractive, that would be impossible, but she seemed so much more confident.  It rolled off her in waves, battering me mercilessly. I wondered how slobby and repulsive I now looked to her, mired in my thirty-something splodge.  Especially compared to – I choked on a wad of bile – Steeeeeve.  

‘Hi, can we talk?’ I asked, with awkward desperation.

‘Sure,’ she nodded, and gestured to a worn leather couch swaddled in a crocheted patchwork blanket which sat at right angles to an ancient tartan sofa in the corner. ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’ 

Her staff members were all leaning out of the kitchen hatchway staring at me as if I was a circus exhibit.  Mercifully most of the customers were out the back in the courtyard where they could smoke, and the one person sitting inside was buried in a book.  

‘No thank you,’ I said, hovering next to the couch, waiting for her to sit down.

‘Oh, OK …’  She sat in the corner, tucking one slender denim-clad leg under her as she twisted around to face me at the other end. ‘What do you want to talk to me about?’

She looked young, free and happy.  I felt like utter crap.  

Then it just spilled out of me like she’d poked a hole in the side of a bladder of cheap red wine.  ‘I’m sorry; I’m really sorry for the way I’ve treated you,’ I muttered, unable to actually look at her.  ‘I’m sorry for doubting your intelligence and abilities and not supporting you or having faith or in you.   I’m sorry I was such an arsehole.  I’m sorry I systematically stomped all over your dreams, hopes and ambitions and I’m sorry I …’   On and on and on I went, like a DVD caught in a loop, until I eventually couldn’t think of anything else to apologise for.  I knew there were loads and loads of other things I was probably responsible for, but none of them was jumping into my mouth, except ‘I’m so sorry about our baby …’  

Then there was a long period of silence as I stared at my knees.  

‘Oh,’ she said in a soft confused voice. ‘Thanks!’

‘I …’  I looked up and she was looking at me, frowning.  I noticed her eyes were kind of sparkling.  

Then I noticed they were green.  But she didn’t have green eyes.  She had light golden brown eyes.  The same colour as our children.  She was wearing green contact lenses.  

I knew she had always wanted some, but they freaked me out.  Everything I’d felt was quintessentially her had changed, and I hated it.  

She must have seen what I was thinking in my face, because her expression chilled.  ‘Thanks for coming.  I have to get back to work … so …’  She stood up.  ‘Bye …’

I stood up too and hovered like a dragonfly.

‘Annie, can I see you again?’ I asked in a rush.

She frowned. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Dinner or something …’ I said, clutching at straws. ‘Please?’

She shook her head. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea, but if you need to talk to me about the kids or something, call me.’

The kids?  For a few minutes I stared at her, wondering what she was talking about.  I’d completely forgotten we had kids.  

All I could think of was her.  My Annie, my wife, the love of my existence was walking away from me.  I stumbled out the door unable to breathe, and when I got into the street, for a terrifying moment I wanted to run out into the traffic and get mashed to a pulp. 

The kids arrived on Friday night with a few extra bodies, who all slept crammed together on mattresses in the lounge.  Early Saturday morning they disappeared down to the beach with their surfboards to catch the tide.  

I was attempting to make a quiche from a recipe I’d recorded off the cooking channel.  The only problem was the TV was in the lounge room and I have the memory of a goldfish, so I had to keep running in and out to get the instructions.  

As I was cracking eggs into cream there was a knock at the front door. I felt I was at a crucial stage with the quiche and that if I left, it would be catastrophic.  I am definitely not the multi-tasky type.   

‘Come in, it’s open!’  I yelled, thinking it would be one of the kids’ friends, or a neighbour wanting to borrow something.  

‘Hi …’ a soft, girly voice said behind me.

I spun around and Anna was there, looking around my kitchen.  I could imagine what she was thinking: the decor – the late seventies jaffa combination – would never be stylish again.  ‘Ah hi …’ 

‘You’re cooking …’she said, with as much surprise as if she’d caught me performing brain surgery.

I grimaced.  ‘Ah yeah, me and Nigella are like this …’  I said, crossing my fingers and holding them in front of me. 

‘Who’s on top?’ she asked, laughing.

She shouldn’t have.   I got an erection so fast all the blood fled my brain and I thought I was going to pass out.  ‘Don’t …’ I growled at her.

‘Don’t what?’ she grinned, knowing exactly what was what. 

I frowned.   Mystified did not even begin to describe how I felt.  I was thoroughly bewildered.

She took the eggs out of my hands, and gently pushed me away.   I stood behind her, watching her flit up and down the bench, grating, chopping, sautéing and beating as if she had a dozen pairs of hands.  

She rolled out the pastry, deftly lined the frying pan I was using as a pie dish and had the whole thing thrown together and in the oven in three minutes flat.  

I made us a cup of coffee and we sat at the kitchen table looking at each other.

She stared at me for ages. Her eyes were golden brown again and they made my insides go gooey.  At the same time apprehension began to twist my stomach tighter and tighter. I had to get it out of me before I exploded. ‘Why are you here?’ I asked.

‘I love you,’ she said.

Shit, had my heart stopped beating?  Or was it starting up again after six months of being frozen solid?  I didn’t know, but something large and overwhelming thudded through me.

‘But …’ she continued, holding a finger in the air. ‘I don’t like who I am when we are together.’ 

‘Oh …’ managed to slip out before I jammed my mouth shut.  I didn’t want to talk. I had the feeling if I talked I would stuff everything up.

She took a deep breath.  ‘I turn into this pathetic useless creature.’

I frowned.

Her brows furrowed, creating this cute little dent between them.  ‘You make things easy for me; but really hard at the same time …’

Oh my God, I couldn’t believe I actually understood what she was saying. I nodded vigorously and I meant it.  

Her eyes widened with surprise, but I think she believed me.  She took another deep breath.  ‘I want to travel.’

A wave of jealousy so intense it almost seared the hairs off my skin swept over me, and I forced back the words ‘with Steeeeeve?’, saying instead, innocuously, ‘I see … where do you want to go?’

She shrugged. ‘I have no idea.’

I swallowed hard, my eyes tightly closed; I didn’t want to see her lie to me.  ‘Are you going with anyone?’  

‘No …’

It didn’t sound like a lie, and when I opened my eyes she was looking at me with a puzzled expression on her face.  She wasn’t lying.  No Steve huh? Awesome!  I didn’t even have to think about it. ‘OK …’

‘Do you mean it?’ she asked, obviously startled.

I pulled out my wallet, withdrew my credit card and laid it in front of her. ‘Just …’  


I wasn’t one to show my emotions. I’m far more likely to joke my way out of a painful situation.  It was a stupid knee-jerk reaction, which hadn’t done me any favours in the past. I never felt more like crying than I did right then, but I didn’t.  However, when my voice did come out it was tight and shaky. ‘… Come home to me!’

I watched her eyes fill with tears and spill onto her cheeks.  

The timer on the oven pinged and I jumped up and rescued the quiche, dropped it on the bench and turned off the oven.  

I pulled her out of her seat and wrapped my arms around her.  My cheek rested on the top of her glorious red hair; my hands rubbed up and down her back as if I was trying to soak her in through the palms of my hands.  Touching her somehow opened me up, and it all came tumbling out.   

‘I love you Anna; you’re so beautiful you make me ache all over; you’re so amazing I don’t deserve you.  I wish I’d never done all the things that pushed you away and I wish I never have to lose you but if I do …’  I couldn’t finish.  I wanted to say, ‘that would be alright,’ but saying it out loud would probably kill me.  So I left it unsaid and I let her go.   

It’s been a year since that Tuesday evening I came home to an empty house.  I was made redundant two and a half months ago.  It doesn’t matter.  I was beginning to hate the job with as much passion as I used to love it.  I handed my redundancy cheque to my wife.  With that and the money from the sale of our house she bought a small boutique B&B and cafe at the seaside.  

Now I’m making beds, vacuuming carpets, cleaning loos, scrubbing, polishing and dusting.  I also wash laundry, mow lawns and garden borders.  I rinse dishes and stack them in to a sanitiser while she barks orders at me like a sergeant major, and I love it.