Rather Not

Rather Not

It had rained for a long time. But it had not spoiled their summer vacation. On the contrary. They had never felt so good before. And only one of his daughters had come down with them, so finally she could have him a little bit more to herself. He had been so busy during the semester, of course it had to be so - with his position. But it sometimes felt as if they didn’t really live together. And, in fact, it was a bitter feeling after she had waited for him over so many years. She had decided that this summer would be truly marvelous, and she felt that he had thought about things, too and that he was now willing to really try, so that everything would be as great as when Elaine was still alive. It was paradoxical, indeed when you let yourself reflect upon it, that it had been much better when they only met a couple of times a week, and he came to her full of desire and joy.
But desire had returned to them, even though the daily grind sometimes made it difficult, and with the daughters in the house at all times, and such. But it had been so wonderful the last couple of days down here. He caressed her back to life every morning and brought her to the point where she wanted to feel him inside of her, and then the sound he made at the moment of ecstasy, and their tranquil rest afterwards with his caresses and smiles. It felt as if they were made for each other. Life had proven that, and the fact that she had had it in her power to make him hold on to her for so many years! And now it was forever, she felt certain of that, forever. In all fairness, he could surely not leave her now. She sometimes had a strange feeling that there might be something else in his life, but she ultimately would refuse to take that thought seriously, and it would disappear. And anyway, nothing bad could happen.  Didn’t he tell her every day how fulfilled he felt being with her?

“Let’s take a walk,” she said, “now the rain has finally stopped.”
“Yes,” he said, “let’s do that.”
It was hot and stifling by the time they reached the road. He took her hand and looked at her with something that had a semblance of ardor.

They walked along the village street to get to the mountains. Cypresses and cicadas made up the right décor of smells and sounds. They now had their own house in Provence, and that, too had turned out as it should.

“Let’s drive to Avignon tomorrow. We could visit the Papal Castle.”
“Maybe,” he said.
“You can make a decision, can’t you?”
“Sure, but let’s see how things are tomorrow.”

“We can’t just sit here all the time, we have to see something new now and then.” She knew she irritated him with this constant nagging, but honestly life was too precious to always sit inside with a pipe and a book.

“Oh, well, let’s see tomorrow.”
“We might also drive down and take a swim in the sea,” she said.

Now, she was getting mad, but she had to restrain her anger. It was an unspoken understanding between them that she could not get angry, because she had won him in the end. She had conquered him and he had married her, so she had to be grateful. That’s how it was, and she was getting tired of it, if truth be told, quite tired really. He would not go with her to her parents’ Christmas party any more, and had acted as if he was the one offended because she so much wanted to be with her family. So they hadn’t been together for Christmas, and his daughters had demonstrated quite clearly that it was a triumph for them. They had won their father for themselves, for Christmas, and she thought this whole competition wasn’t quite sane, really.
And she had to be sweet afterwards, for she was the one who had netted him, and Elaine had taken her own life. Of course, that was something they could never talk about, even for her to think of his ex-wife’s name was almost a sacrilege. He had spoken so ill about Elaine all those years: she had created hell on earth for him, with her stupidity and with that constant anxiety over her next bout of depression. Elaine had now been transformed into someone he should have never let down, she knew it all too well, although the words were never spoken. And his totally exaggerated sweetness always seemed to express; “See how sweet I am to you, although I should not have chosen you, look what an effort I’m making now.” He, of course believed that she could not see through it. He believed that she was satisfied with her own victory. But, in reality, she felt chained to the ghost of the woman she had conquered. If he really knew what she felt inside, he would not feel so damned sure of himself, he would wipe that smug smile of fake politeness off his goddamned face.
They came to the other side of the village and one of the most magnificent views lay splayed before their eyes. The mountaintops dipped and vanished into the distant shimmer of the Mediterranean Sea.

She turned towards him and said, “We must be the absolute favorites of fortune!”
“Yes,” he replied with the conviction that the expression in his somewhat hangdog eyes did not quite match.

With drooping shoulders and hand in hand, they plowed their way further into the landscape.

To his new mistress, who passed them in her car because he had talked her into driving down to Provence for a few hours’ of bliss, they looked comical. Small and inconsequential - and she thought: ‘How pathetic! I have come all this way because of that man!’ She stopped herself. ‘But I must be thankful for his taking so much risk for my sake.’
The mistress convinced herself that this pathetic showcasing of two ridiculously miserable individuals, who seemed lost in the world, boded well for her. With her, he grew tall and proud, with her, things would be different. He would have to see that. He would have to come to his senses. What did he owe his wife? Just because she had endured with him for such a long time, when she should have simply left him. The mistress herself had already decided that she wouldn’t stay much longer with him than the two years she had already given him.
“If we start early tomorrow,” she told him, “we can have a wonderful long day at the beach, and you can enjoy the seascape you love so much!”

“The Mediterranean is different,” he said. “You can drive to Cannes and go shopping, if you feel bored. I’ve been looking forward to getting some work done tomorrow.”

“Work, always work,” she said and sighed.
He smiled sheepishly. He knew that they could do nothing against the work. That was his only free space from their eternal clamoring demands: Be mine! Be mine!

He had no idea how he could satisfy them, always the same: Be mine, eternally mine. He did not get into any discussions with them anymore. Being around them was already hard enough.
Actually he’d rather not.


Ulla Gudnason 

{Translated from Danish into English by the author.}
Ulla Gudnason was born and raised in Denmark, where she studied Nordic and English languages and literature at Copenhagen University. She taught Danish culture and language for a couple of years at Indiana University and for 5 years at L’Université de Sciences Humaines in Strasbourg, France.  Later she worked at the Danish Defence College in teaching and testing languages. She has two novels published by the Gyldendal publishing house. And lately, she is exploring the short form, inspired by writers like Lydia Davis who showed her how much you can say in very few words about character, relationship and our small human lives. 



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