I Should Have

Entry by: Tauren

12th January 2018
Paul sighed and put the phone down for the umpteenth time that morning.

This story begins with a book, no that`s not exactly right, it actually began the day he was born; but there isn’t enough space here to tell you the whole story of Paul Hegarty`s life so we`ll settle for one of its most pivotal points, the moment he found “The Book.”

“Get one of the flight cases down from the attic will you, Patsy`s going to London for the weekend with her friends.”

Paul heaved himself out of the armchair, grumbling to himself, “Footballs on in a minute and she picks now to remember.”
He got the stepladder from the shed, deliberately thumping it off the banister, to show his annoyance, as he carried it upstairs.

Tigger they`re cat was already pacing back and forth on the handrail under the attic trapdoor in anticipation, he knew that Paul carrying the ladder up to the upper landing meant only one thing.

“Oh no you don’t,” he said scooping the mewling cat up into his arms before dumping it into Jack`s old room, “I`m not chasing you around the bloody attic for a couple of hours,” he snarled, shutting the door.

He was fairly certain he knew where the case was, as he gingerly stepped from rafter to rafter, murmuring, not for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last, “Must floor this bloody thing.”
He had to move a heavy cardboard box aside to get to the set of luggage, in his hurry not looking where he was putting it; and is always the way when we`re in a rush, it toppled over, spilling most of its contents.

“Damnit, damnit, damnit,” he cursed, bending to retrieve the books that had escaped the box. They were the usual assortment of chiclit that Kate loved to read he noticed as he glanced at every other cover. As he picked up the third to last escapee he noticed that the cover didn’t bear a drawing of a half-naked Fabio lookalike cradling the usual damsel in distress, but a simple top to bottom title

Good Girls
Bad Girl

“The Hell?” he said, feeling his jaw drop, realising that for the first time in his life he was gaping, actually gaping. He turned the book over, the blurb claimed it had insider information on sex toys, that it would teach the reader how to seduce a man by simply walking into a room; and how to give (and receive) orgasms.

“Jesus” he breathed, stunned by the idea that his wife of thirty six years had bought such a thing.

Paul and Kate had both been virgins when they`d met, though in the best Catholic tradition, less so by the time they`d married. Their sex life had followed a predictable trajectory, satisfying until the kids came along, petering slowly out as they grew older. There was always a reason; don’t wake the baby, then the babies became toddlers, the toddlers teenagers, the teenagers adults, until it became routine, rare silent and mechanical, devoid of excitement and passion.

Slowly Paul returned the book to the box, interlocking the four flaps so they wouldn’t flip open if it fell over again and collected the red carry on case he`d come up there for.

At the trapdoor he paused, downstairs he could hear the “Vvvmmm, Vvvmmm,” of the Hoover as Kate methodically vacuumed the living room carpet. If she`d been waiting for the case at the bottom of the steps he would never have gone back to the box and retrieved the book, and most likely he would`ve forgotten all about it , but she wasn’t there, she was downstairs, preoccupied, and so he did turn back, and did retrieve the book.

As he shut the trapdoor Kate called up to him, “Did you find it?”

“Yeah I got it,” he shouted back to her, surprised at how much his voice trembled and how guilty he felt. He tried to tell himself he wasn’t doing anything wrong as he hid the book in his bedside locker, putting it in the middle of a stack of other books he was still trying to find the time to get around to reading. Turning its spine inwards so it was unreadable; then turning the spine of the books above and below it inwards too so it didn’t stand out.

“What are you doing?”

Paul nearly jumped out of his skin, he hadn’t heard his wife come up the stairs, “Nothing,” he said defensively, “Just looking for…uh, uh,” he grabbed the first book that came to hand, “this.” He held up Alex Fergusons latest book.

“Hhmmph,” she said, “You’ve left the trapdoor open,” and picked up the case.

He read the book over the next three weeks. Initially passing over the chapter on getting to know yourself, it all seemed a little too gynecological to him, but when he reached the end he went back and read that chapter too; after all he`d reasoned an old dog might be able to learn a new trick or two.

He fell, if not in love with the idea of this new Kate, at least in lust with her. Finding himself fantasising about her reaching out for him in the night, for the first time taking charge of their sex life, what little there was of it.

But then a voice, one he`d never heard before chirped up, “And what makes you think you deserve such a woman?” it asked, its tone snide and hectoring, “What`ve you ever done to deserve a woman like that?”

They say that your life flashes before your eyes as you die. But Paul didn’t have to wait for such a terminal event, as, over the next couple of days, his conscience remorselessly dissected his failings as a husband.

He relived every moment when he should have told his wife he loved her, but couldn’t bring himself to say the words. The times he`d contemplated buying her flowers, knowing how much she liked them, then didn’t, worrying she might accuse him of something.

He remembered he hadn’t even been in the hospital, never mind the delivery room when she`d gone into labour.

“Did you even comfort her at the graveside when her father died?” his malevolent Jimney Cricket asked.
He would have liked to say he had, but he wasn’t sure, which he felt meant he was actually sure he hadn’t.

It seemed to him that the book that had held out so much promise had turned on him, becoming a mirror, and he didn’t much like what he saw in it.

It was that morning, a cool Friday in November that the dagger was given its final twist.

He was thinking about the book again, and Kate, when the voice asked, “Why do you think she bought it?” he`d been wondering that same thing, why had she bought it?

It wasn’t as if their sex life had improved any in the last year, if anything it was worse than ever. She was sleeping with her back to him as close to the edge of the bed as she could, another inch and she`d topple out for sure. And on the few occasions he`d worked up the courage to reach out to her she`d pushed him away, no longer even resorting to excuses like, “I`m too tired,” or I`ve got a headache.”
No these nights it was simply a blunt, “Feck off,” and a stiffening of the back for emphasis.

Why buy the book, he wondered, not for the first time, it sure hadn’t improved their sex life.

“Your sex life,” the voice murmured, not without a hint of malice, accenting the word “Your.”

If you had suggested to Paul three weeks ago that Kate was having an affair he`d have laughed into your face. But as the cold chill of the idea stole over him, he felt like doing anything but laughing.
For the umpteenth time that morning he picked up his mobile, it was already open to Kate`s text line and with shaking thumbs he typed


And before he could change his mind pressed (send)

For five long minutes he stared at the device willing it to respond. Telling himself when it didn’t that she hadn’t heard it go off, trying to convince himself that it was buried at the bottom of her handbag. Or that she was deep in a gossip session with Anna or Mary, yeah that was it she simply hadn’t heard it.

He gave up waiting and typed
I want you to want me (send)

It was a line from a song; he couldn’t remember the name of the band, not that it mattered. There was another line from a song he half remembered by Billy Joel, something like: all the best lines are already written and played on the radio everyday, but that didn’t make them any less true, did it?

Another terrifying five minutes crawled by, now he was imagining her in the arms of her lover, the pair of them sniggering over his pathetic texts, but he was past caring, past his ego.
For the first time in decades he realised how much he loved his wife.

I need you to need me (send)

Almost the same instant he`d pressed send the phone tweeted, he had a text. His heart nearly stopped when he saw it was from Kate.

I love you too, you`re the only man I`ve ever wanted.

He stared in near disbelief at what she`d written. Then with thumbs shaking so badly he had to rewrite almost every word, some more than once, typed,
I`m sorry, I`m such a coward, should have told you sooner, thirty years sooner (send)

This time he barely had to wait a minute for her reply.

You`re not a coward, I`ve always known how you felt.

Am going to do better, be the husband you deserve (send)

We can both do better, she replied.

He didn’t get much work done that afternoon, texting every thought he`d ever had, but never had the courage to express, to the woman he`d shared the majority of his life with.
Feeling overwhelmed with love and relief. It occurred to him that it wasn’t dissimilar to how he`d felt when he`d been a lovesick teenager and told her as much.

She replied with a smiley face.

Around three he booked a table for two at Bacco`s and texted,
Are you free tonight (send)

She replied with a single ?

Only I would like to take you to dinner, if you`re free that is, I could pick you up at 8 (send)

Her reply was almost instantaneous,
I`d love that, but I have to be home by eleven ;)

All this happened five years ago.
And in those years Paul has never forgotten to tell Kate every day he loves her , buys her flowers once a week, lilies, (lilies are her favourite) though sometimes it`s roses, and he takes her on a date every other Saturday. He`s even learning to line dance, though he still thinks it`s stupid, one of the few things he`s kept to himself.

So you see Paul was right, though perhaps not in the way he`d thought.
You can teach an old dog new tricks, as long as he`s willing to learn.

Marker 1
Marker 2
Marker 3