He crawls into bed beside me, thinking I’m asleep. He smells of his favourite shower gel but I know enough from past experience that ten minutes ago he would have smelt of chicken casserole, red wine and perfume. I once asked him what kind of business meeting has homely meals and expensive wine. I once teased him, asking whether he wears the perfume I wrapped up at Christmas for a co-worker himself. He’s been meticulous about washing ever since.
I hear a snuffle in the dark. He’s crying. I wonder if he feels guilty. I wonder if he ever thinks of his wife, alone in this huge bed, crying to herself in just the same way. I can’t delude myself for long, though. I know he’s crying over her.
I saw her once. I followed him from work in a car I rented as a disguise. She’s small, dark haired and rounded. She made him leave in just his trousers through her bedroom window when her boyfriend came home early. I did my research. I knew that there was the possibility that things would change tonight. She announced her engagement earlier this week. It’s a shame her respect for marriage doesn’t extend to his. I loathe her.
He turns over to face me and the bed dips, almost making me roll into him. I force my tensed muscles to relax and my scrunched eyelids to flutter lightly and then still. I can almost feel the way my light hair is darkening, my spine is shrinking and my body is filling out inside his head. It’s as real to me as though he’d willed it to be so. I loathe myself.
I force to keep my breathing regular, even as my eyelids begin to fill with salt water. I doubt he’d even notice the change in rate though, seeing as his ragged breaths are deafening. I loathe him.
I picture myself leaving to comfort myself. I imagine him coming home and finding me gone. I imagine sleeping in a single bed in a hotel somewhere. I see myself holding divorce papers.
Even as I see it in my head, I know that it’s a fantasy. I know that I will stay. I know that I will bear the brunt of his heartache. I know that she won’t be the last because he doesn’t love me. I know I will live my life being moulded inside his head. I know he will pretend I am whoever he loves. I will be pretending too, though. I will be pretending he isn’t. I will stay. I love him.