Authors: William Trevor
Tags: #Fiction, #General
‘It’s like gadgets in shops. You buy a gadget and you develop an affection for it … but all of a sudden there are newer and better gadgets in the shops. More up-to-date models’
Born 24 May 1928, Mitchelstown, Cork, Ireland
‘The Mark-2 Wife’ first published in book form in
The Ballroom of Romance and Other Stories
, 1972; ‘The Time of Year’ first published in book form in
Beyond the Pale
, 1981; ‘Cheating at Canasta’ first published in book form in
Cheating at Canasta
ALSO PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN BOOKS
The Children of Dynmouth
Fools of Fortune
The Hill Bachelors
The Story of Lucy Gault
A Bit on the Side
Cheating at Canasta
Collected Stories, Volumes
Love and Summer
The Mark-2 Wife
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Collected Stories, Volumes 1 and 2
, published by Penguin Books 2009
This edition published in Penguin Classics 2011
Copyright © William Trevor, 1972, 1981, 2007
All rights reserved
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
The Mark-2 Wife
Standing alone at the Lowhrs’ party, Anna Mackintosh thought about her husband Edward, establishing him clearly for this purpose in her mind’s eye. He was a thin man, forty-one years of age, with fair hair that was often untidy. In the seventeen years they’d been married he had changed very little: he was still nervous with other people, and smiled in the same abashed way, and his face was still almost boyish. She believed she had failed him because he had wished for children and she had not been able to supply any. She had, over the years, developed a nervous condition about this fact and in the end, quite some time ago now, she had consulted a psychiatrist, a Dr Abbatt, at Edward’s pleading.
In the Lowhrs’ rich drawing-room, its walls and ceiling gleaming with a metallic surface of ersatz gold, Anna listened to dance music coming from a tape-recorder and continued to think about her husband. In a moment he would be at the party too, since they had agreed to meet there, although by now it was three-quarters of an hour later than the time he had stipulated. The Lowhrs were people he knew in a business way, and he had said he thought it wise that he and Anna should attend this gathering of theirs. She had never met them before, which made it more difficult for her, having to wait about, not knowing a soul in the room. When she thought about it she felt hard done by, for although Edward was kind to her and always had been, it was far from considerate to be as late as this. Because of her nervous condition she felt afraid and had developed a sickness in her stomach. She looked at her watch and sighed.
People arrived, some of them kissing the Lowhrs, others nodding and smiling. Two dark-skinned maids carried trays of drinks among the guests, offering them graciously and murmuring thanks when a glass was accepted. ‘I’ll be there by half past nine,’ Edward had said that morning. ‘If you don’t turn up till ten you won’t have to be alone at all.’ He had kissed her after that, and had left the house. I’ll wear the blue, she thought, for she liked the colour better than any other: it suggested serenity to her, and the idea of serenity, especially as a quality in herself, was something she valued. She had said as much to Dr Abbatt, who had agreed that serenity was something that should be important in her life.
An elderly couple, tall twig-like creatures of seventy-five, a General Ritchie and his wife, observed the lone state of Anna Mackintosh and reacted in different ways. ‘That woman seems out of things,’ said Mrs Ritchie. ‘We should go and talk to her.’
But the General suggested that there was something the matter with this woman who was on her own. ‘Now, don’t let’s get involved,’ he rather tetchily begged. ‘In any case she doesn’t look in the mood for chat.’
His wife shook her head. ‘Our name is Ritchie,’ she said to Anna, and Anna, who had been looking at the whisky in her glass, lifted her head and saw a thin old woman who was as straight as a needle, and behind her a man who was thin also but who stooped a bit and seemed to be cross. ‘He’s an old soldier,’ said Mrs Ritchie. ‘A general that was.’
Strands of white hair trailed across the pale dome of the old man’s head. He had sharp eyes, like a terrier’s, and a grey moustache. ‘It’s not a party I care to be at,’ he muttered, holding out a bony hand. ‘My wife’s the one for this.’
Anna said who she was and added that her husband was late and that she didn’t know the Lowhrs.
‘We thought it might be something like that,’ said Mrs Ritchie. ‘We don’t know anyone either, but at least we have one another to talk to.’ The Lowhrs, she added, were an awfully nice, generous couple.
‘We met them on a train in Switzerland,’ the General murmured quietly.
Anna glanced across the crowded room at the people they spoke of. The Lowhrs were wholly different in appearance from the Ritchies. They were small and excessively fat, and they both wore glasses and smiled a lot. Like jolly gnomes, she thought.
‘My husband knows them in a business way,’ she said. She looked again at her watch: the time was half past ten. There was a silence, and then Mrs Ritchie said:
‘They invited us to two other parties in the past. It’s very kind, for we don’t give parties ourselves any more. We live a quiet sort of life now.’ She went on talking, saying among other things that it was pleasant to see the younger set at play. When she stopped, the General added:
‘The Lowhrs feel sorry for us, actually.’
‘They’re very kind,’ his wife repeated.
Anna had been aware of a feeling of uneasiness the moment she’d entered the golden room, and had Edward been with her she’d have wanted to say that they should turn round and go away again. The uneasiness had increased whenever she’d noted the time, and for some reason these old people for whom the Lowhrs were sorry had added to it even more. She would certainly talk this over with Dr Abbatt, she decided, and then, quite absurdly, she felt an urge to telephone Dr Abbatt and tell him at once about the feeling she had. She closed her eyes, thinking that she would keep them like that for only the slightest moment so that the Ritchies wouldn’t notice and think it odd. While they were still closed she heard Mrs Ritchie say:
‘Are you all right, Mrs Mackintosh?’
She opened her eyes and saw that General Ritchie and his wife were examining her face with interest. She imagined them wondering about her, a woman of forty whose husband was an hour late. They’d be thinking, she thought, that the absent husband didn’t have much of a feeling for his wife to be as careless as that. And yet, they’d probably think, he must have had a feeling for her once since he had married her in the first place.
‘It’s just,’ said Mrs Ritchie, ‘that I had the notion you were going to faint.’
The voice of Petula Clark came powerfully from the tape-recorder. At one end of the room people were beginning to dance in a casual way, some still holding their glasses in their hands.
‘The heat could have affected you,’ said the General, bending forward so that his words would reach her.
Anna shook her head. She tried to smile, but the smile failed to materialize. She said:
‘I never faint, actually.’
She could feel a part of herself attempting to bar from her mind the entry of unwelcome thoughts. Hastily she said, unable to think of anything better:
‘My husband’s really frightfully late.’
‘You know,’ said General Ritchie, ‘it seems to me we met your husband here.’ He turned to his wife. ‘A fair-haired man – he said his name was Mackintosh. Is your husband fair, Mrs Mackintosh?’
‘Of course,’ cried Mrs Ritchie. ‘Awfully nice.’
Anna said that Edward was fair. Mrs Ritchie smiled at her husband and handed him her empty glass. He reached out for Anna’s. She said:
‘Whisky, please. By itself.’
‘He’s probably held up in bloody traffic,’ said the General before moving off.
‘Yes, probably that,’ Mrs Ritchie said. ‘I do remember him well, you know.’
‘Edward did come here before. I had a cold.’
‘Completely charming. We said so afterwards.’
One of the dark-skinned maids paused with a tray of drinks. Mrs Ritchie explained that her husband was fetching some. ‘Thank you, madam,’ said the dark-skinned maid, and the General returned.
‘It isn’t the traffic,’ Anna said rather suddenly and loudly. ‘Edward’s not held up like that at all.’
The Ritchies sipped their drinks. They can sense I’m going to be a nuisance, Anna thought. ‘I’m afraid it’ll be boring,’ he had said. ‘We’ll slip away at eleven and have dinner in Charlotte Street.’ She heard him saying it now, quite distinctly. She saw him smiling at her.
‘I get nervous about things,’ she said to the Ritchies. ‘I worry unnecessarily. I try not to.’
Mrs Ritchie inclined her head in a sympathetic manner; the General coughed. There was a silence and then Mrs Ritchie spoke about episodes in their past. Anna looked at her watch and saw that it was five to eleven. ‘Oh God,’ she said.
The Ritchies asked her again if she was all right. She began to say she was but she faltered before the sentence was complete, and in that moment she gave up the struggle. What was the point, she thought, of exhausting oneself being polite and making idle conversation when all the time one was in a frightful state?
‘He’s going to be married again,’ she said quietly and evenly. ‘His Mark-2 wife.’
She felt better at once. The sickness left her stomach; she drank a little whisky and found its harsh taste a comfort.
‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry,’ said Mrs Ritchie.
Anna had often dreamed of the girl. She had seen her, dressed all in purple, with slim hips and a purple bow in her black hair. She had seen the two of them together in a speedboat, the beautiful young creature laughing her head off like a figure in an advertisement. She had talked for many hours to Dr Abbatt about her, and Dr Abbatt had made the point that the girl was simply an obsession. ‘It’s just a little nonsense,’ he had said to her kindly, more than once. Anna knew in her calmer moments that it was just a little nonsense, for Edward was always kind and had never ceased to say he loved her. But in bad moments she argued against that conclusion, reminding herself that other kind men who said they loved their wives often made off with something new. Her own marriage being childless would make the whole operation simpler.
‘I hadn’t thought it would happen at a party,’ Anna said to the Ritchies. ‘Edward has always been decent and considerate. I imagined he would tell me quietly at home, and comfort me. I imagined he would be decent to the end.’
‘You and your husband are not yet separated then?’ Mrs Ritchie inquired.
‘This is the way it is happening,’ Anna repeated. ‘D’you understand? Edward is delayed by his Mark-2 wife because she insists on delaying him. She’s demanding that he should make his decision and afterwards that he and she should come to tell me, so that I won’t have to wait any more. You understand,’ she repeated, looking closely from one face to the other, ‘that this isn’t Edward’s doing?’