She was right, of course. There’s no way it wouldn’t hurt the man with whom she had shared a life or the woman with whom he had, regardless of what was told, and what was held back.
If he was asked ‘what does she have that I do not?’ he could not tell the truth without goring the wound that he would have just opened up. He could not reply that she had a sense of adventure which ranged across all the facets of her character and meant that at any moment, they might go anywhere, internally or externally. He could not say that she had a raw, poetic sensibility the like of which he had never encountered in anyone else. He could not say that she was an intoxicating combination of strength and vulnerability. That she had a mischievous wit and a philosophical bent that jigsawed with his own. He could not say that she had a freedom, an insouciance, an ability to be and stay in the moment. Because the inference would be that by contrast, his wife had none of those things.
Perhaps all he could fall back on was that they were different from each other. He might say, ‘I’m not the person I was when we met back near the outset of our adult lives. It’s no-one’s fault, or if it is, it’s largely mine, but I’ve grown to be even stranger than I was, on the inside. I’m sorry I lost the ability and the honesty to put that across to you, but in those moments when I did try, I could feel your unease, your sense that I was implicitly rejecting you, without your saying as much.’
Then again, for that very reason, he thought that to some greater or lesser extent, she would know what his new love had that she did not. In her heart, she would know that he had always wanted more than he had. That it was part of the nature of being a writer, of living in the imagination, of spending so much time alone, in your head. The miracle was that he had found someone who responded to those things that he became in his head, because he wasn’t able to become them in real life.
Beyond that, he hadn’t any answers that would stand up to scrutiny, except perhaps the one reason which was beyond reason – love. Even if it was not mentioned, it would be implicit of course, but to make it explicit – to say out loud, ‘I love her’ – would be taken to mean perhaps the most hurtful thing of all: ‘You no longer love me.’ Even if the truth of it was more complex, less black and white, less binary. Because life is not a black and white game, like poker, or a 10 k run. In its grey areas, there are no rules as such. And yes, it would take a book as long as ‘Beautiful losers’ to explain why each of them had broken the moral code which governed relationships in their time and place, but which betrayed wife or husband would ever want to read that work, except in an act of desperate self-laceration?
If he had to say what had happened, here and now, as succinctly as she herself had summarised the dilemma, he might say, ‘I fell in love with her words, and as I did so, I fell in love with her.’ He could not honestly say that he never meant for it to happen, because he was ripe to fall, ripe like a November apple, and he urgently wanted her to feed on his good, green-white flesh while he fed on her sharp, sweet red, before the maggots got to them both and they rotted into the ground.
Ultimately they could not divorce themselves from the catch 22 of their actions. Their long-sustained connection contained within it an inevitable, ongoing reckoning. Either they lived apart, and bore the pain of that, or they lived together, and bore the pain they would have caused to reach that state.
He could hardly blame her for her indecision. By rights, their lives without each other ought to be enough. But the fact was that beneath their surfaces, they were not, and the silvery, moonlit magic that was spun from the pairing of their hearts, minds and bodies would always prove irresistible.