Oct/Nov 2004  •   Spotlight

Rear Projection

by Zoe Lea

There were a few things you forgot to tell me when we got married. How you don't like Indian food, how you love two cushions to support your back in the armchair, and how you can never be monogamous. I don't mind about your not eating curry, although I do love a Madras, myself, and I don't mind so much about the other thing, but I do mind about you having sex with Sue. I'm having trouble understanding what you see in her. She wears velour, for Christ's sake. And if it's not velour, it's fleece. Should I wear velour?

I watch her at work. She doesn't know I know, and I watch how she holds herself. Her posture. I sit and I listen. Not to her voice, but to the voice in my head. It's a makeover program: her hair should be... her clothes should be... her makeup should be...

Then I go to the ladies' and heave. I think about you together: her body on top, your legs around hers, your nipples against... and I watch my bile swirl down.

Everyone loves Sue. You said that yourself. You said she's the sort of person who gets on with everyone. It's because she's a little overweight and in a tracksuit. When the businessmen arrive for the seminar and she pops up in front of them, they think she's quirky. She isn't what they expect. They expect me: pinstriped suit, small heels, jacket, one button fastened in the middle over a white blouse, and hair in a ponytail at the nape of my neck. I am what they arrive for; they know me before they meet me. So, when they get Sue, it's a bit of a shock. She was a shock to me. It's a shock that my husband's been inside her.

When I asked her why she wasn't more professional in her appearance, she just laughed, her chin wobbling all the way down to her neck, the foundation she had slapped on it making it appear all creamy. She put her lipsticked lips together and smacked them at me.

"These people need a laugh," she explained as she dragged heavily and left her magenta impressions on the cigarette tip. "They come to work and think 'Oh, training day. That'll be as boring as hell,' and then," she throws her head back, "they get me. Larger than life, and they think, 'That's not what I expected. It was fun. I'll book her again.' And I get more work."

I nodded at her. I wonder if she's the same in bed as she is in her job: all mouth and teeth. I don't speak much to her. She says, "You've got to watch the quiet ones." And she's right. I secretly wish that she'd die. That she'd stand up there in front of those businessmen in her fleecy tracksuit and trainers, a total fraud, and people would scoff at her. Heckle her, bark her down. But they don't. It's just as she said: they laugh, they relax, and they join in. Is this how it is for you? Like how sometimes you find a racist joke funny despite your morals?

When I do my seminars, it takes an age to get anyone to answer a question. Sue has them all up telling jokes. She did one session where all the men wore their ties round their head like Rambo. People left wiping tears of laughter from their eyes. And she did get more bookings. I hear her lessons like parties through the walls.

A year ago I pointed at the white screen with a cool hard metal rod and knew what was right in the world. We had a quiet order. I was the assured and comfortable one in a pinstripe suit, the staff knew what they were getting with me, and I thought I knew what I was getting with you. But they were open to change, and I wasn't.

Sue with her loud laugh, heating-tongued hair and magenta lips that gobbled up her speech. You like a quiet whiskey, two ice cubes no water. When Sue came back for a drink, you opened that bottle of sparkling wine. You said you liked a bit of fizz now and again, but you said it to Sue. I kicked off my heels, rubbed my soles, and watched your cheeks go pink. Your laugh got loud and your eyes twinkled back at her. I knew what was happening, but I couldn't believe it was with Sue. Anyone but fat Sue.

When we got married last year, you said we should lie about how we met. "If anyone asks," you said, "say it was at one of your seminars." You thought people might find it pitiful that we met through the local paper. Answering the personals at our age. I find it pitiful that you're having sex with Sue, but my pity doesn't count.

There were a few things you told me when we first met that were true. Your advert said, "Tall, slightly balding male seeks companion." My advert said, "Lovely lady looking for love." Your advert said, "Likes fishing, gardening, and quiet nights in." My advert said, "Likes to go to the theatre and gallery." It said I was "prepared to travel, what-ever the distance." And your advert said, "Has a great sense of humor."