with Stage Directions
Henry is sitting at a dining table in the front room of a thirties semi-detached house in Sheffield. He is approximately 80 years of age and is wearing a well-worn, grey suit, tatty shirt and no tie. He is sipping tea from a chipped mug. There are family photos on the walls and mantlepiece. He glances at one particular photograph of a young woman, smiling, trying to hold her hat on in a high wind at the seaside.
Henry: (In a northern accent)
‘All things must pass… so someone once said.
I miss Hope. I miss her terribly; she was my life.
We met at a fairground. I used to think that was an omen, that our lives would somehow be filled with colour, joy and fun.
As a young man, I never did understand irony.
I don’t really know how I will cope without her.’
(He studies his mug. It has a print of a red heart on it. Turns it in his hands.)
‘We courted in those days. Courted. Something the youth of today would struggle to understand. We walked out together. That wasn’t a euphemism for ‘shagging down an alleyway,’ as I believe it is today. It was 1953 and things were decent then. We had standards.
Of course, it was frustrating… but it was right.’
(Henry slurps at his tea)
‘We never saw each other naked in the same room with the light on. Really, it’s true. Never.’
(Henry turns to his right as though looking out onto the landing from their bedroom)
‘There was a mirror, on the landing, and, if our door was slightly ajar and the bathroom door was slightly ajar (which sometimes it had to be if the bulb wasn’t working properly) and you sat in exactly the right position…’
(Henry has by now leaned almost right over and is pointing suggesting how much effort it took to see the mirror. He then suddenly sits upright again)
‘But no, never naked in the same room, with the light on. Wouldn’t have been decent.’
(Henry shakes his head then sips at his tea again)
(Henry addresses the audience directly)
‘On our wedding day I had certain expectations. I suppose we both did. It had been a lovely day. The bridesmaids looked absolutely gorgeous. Good enough to eat. Mmmnn.’
(Henry drifts into the memory of the day)
‘The wedding night had its problems. Hope was a virtuous girl, I wouldn’t have been interested in her if she wasn’t. And it’s a lot to ask of a girl to change in such a short time: from virginal perfection to a creature that could fulfil a grown man’s desires. Perhaps that’s where it all went wrong.
I wasn’t too demanding, of course, but she found my appetites a little challenging. Looking back now, I could have spared her some embarrassment, and perhaps a little discomfort, if I’d only been more patient. But I was young, too, and young men have fiery temperaments.
That’s all in the past now.’
(Henry sips at his tea again, reflectively)
(His mood now lifts noticeably)
‘Our first holiday was Torquay. It was like a foreign land to Hope. Most things were. We’d been married a year and my father had already expressed concern that our union had yet to bear fruit. I could hardly tell him the reason. But Hope was learning to enjoy the physical side of our relationship - slowly. She came from a farming background where animals… (Henry makes gestures with his hands - lost for the right words) just the once; it took me a while to convince her that it doesn’t always work like that with people. Eventually, I had to promise to keep it all simple.
It took some of the sparkle out of the marriage to be honest.’
(Henry goes to drink from his mug but then places it on the table in front of him)
‘I think it might have been the difficulty that Hope had in getting pregnant that led to her overall chilliness in the bedroom, and that was a difficult thing to deal with. I do understand that failure to conceive could easily lead to failure to enjoy and I did insist it wasn’t all her fault, but the arguments were upsetting.’
(Henry lifts his mug again and studies the picture on the side. He then places it back on the table without drinking. His delivery now becomes more matter-of-fact)
‘My little indiscretion caused ripples in the relationship. I would like to say I regretted it but… well, I don’t. And Hope understood. I explained to her, a man has needs and, if his wife is unable to satisfy those needs, regardless of reason, then that is no cause for her to blame herself. And besides, I wasn’t being unfaithful. God, no, I was helping to save the marriage.’
(Angry) ‘Which is why I found her indiscretion so infuriating. I mean, you don’t refuse milk in your coffee in one house and then demand cream in another, do you?’
(More matter-of-fact again)
‘His name was Horace. A terrible name. Hope insisted on calling him Horatio. I had to forbid that. Fortunately, when the bastard found out that Hope was a married woman, he behaved like a true gentleman and broke off the relationship immediately. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t allow the situation to pass unpunished but I was fair, firm but fair. I swear, there wasn’t a mark on her.’
(Henry picks up his mug again)
‘I still keep his written apology in my wallet. I like to look at it now and again. We all need something to reaffirm our position in society sometimes. It used to make Hope very cross to see me reading it though.’
(Henry takes a drink, almost empties the mug)
‘And that leads to the most recent unpleasantness. I was furious when I found that letter in her handbag last week. A letter from another man. I thought she had learned the first time but no, after nearly sixty years of happy, though childless, marriage, she failed, desperately.’
(Henry places the mug on the table, leans back and laces his fingers across his stomach)
‘I realised that all my efforts had been in vain, that she had been living a lie for all those years and sharing my bed while yearning for another. “Unfulfilled,” is what she said. “Unfulfilled!” My God, I gave her everything. She claimed that it was an innocent friendship, just some company to keep her sane. Well, I couldn’t stand for that, could I? I had to act. And I had to act positively. I’d been too lenient before. The lesson hadn’t been learned. Well, I think I got through to her this time. She certainly won’t be doing any of that anymore.
I’ve put an end to it.
Once and for all.