Crammed into a corner of their kitchen each reading a page from outdated political science text books sharing undercooked stuffed mushrooms for some apology of an evening meal, Sheila and Bobby did not realise how far they were down the route from marriage, stability, mainstream existence in all its forms. From the vantage point of the shabbiest student home ever cobbled together nothing beyond the dates of various and seemingly impossible deadlines seemed attainable, never mind important. Catching glances towards each other at moments otherwise mundane generated the sparks of attraction which would return to suppression at the back of their busiest minds.
Sheila prodded her nose, blew out her cheeks as though holding her breath. Bobby caught her; “What are you doing?” Sheila smiles, kissed him, “I don’t know why I signed up to this website, look at these photos. That is my mother’s face, look at me!”.
Bobby wrapped his arms around his wife, nuzzled his face into her neck, “Don’t be daft, look at you, those photos gets compressed and all that, don’t start getting all emo on me.” The Oscar Wilde quote about women becoming like their mothers crossed his mind but he knew Sheila enough to avoid saying anything to encourage violent outstrikes. He knew how her mind worked as best as any man could claim to have fathomed the more twisting complexities of the female species. They had grown together as friends thrown together in the meagre and under funded political science degree course chosen on his part to develop the terribly naive version of Marxism burning through his spirit. Sheila had never explained exactly how she had stumbled into a course where the language sounded alien and the people far too earnest, serious. She had understood the shifting ideological sands around her, hearing her parents refer to politicians and politics with a passion unusually potent anger. The phrase ‘class war’ meant nothing to her, was a valueless term, now suddenly one loaded with a fierce bias so much like a shibboleth.
Bobby would hold court most nights at parties where single candles would be only light source, roughly prepared and rehashed vegetarian dishes from Sheila using the most dangerous oven known to mankind. Sheila would float in and out of the heated discussions on working class uprisings, revolutions, the occasional burst of poetry Sheila always thought seemed like polemics and essays. She was introduced to the more radical side of feminism, the basics of which she followed but could not always take seriously. It was as though her growing relationship with Bobby was forming on the other side of the political and educational side of their lives; growing passionate at night and increasingly less interested in formal education in day-time.
“I don’t believe it, Bobby, look at this, a friend request from you wouldn’t guess who!”
“You wish. Actually, I wish, but alas not. No, Joanne Askam, remember her? God, she used to walk around our first house nude, do you remember?”
“Good God, yes, hah, what the Hell is she doing using frickin‘ social networking sites? Have we all become awfully hypocritical in our middle age?”
Slight pause, a heated silence. Middle Age appeared in Shiela’s mind in a takeaway neon sign, flashing orange and red, buzzing like a trapped fly.
“I can’t accept her, can I? Look at her, ugh, she’s looking so young the bitch.”
Bobby slumped on the sofa, kicking any object in anger between the front door and the front room. A slumbering Sheila shook herself awake. “Hey…what’s wrong, you look…” A waving hand dismissed the sentence. “You stare out at this crowd in front of you who you thought, you considered that all this preparation would…achieve so much when…I am sorry, my baby, the whole construction of socialism is falling and crumbling and up to today everybody could taste the future, I could sense revolution with our comrades…..But….look at what we have, Shez, just witness this pedestrianism, futile bullshit…”
They hugged, silently understood how the directions their lives were taking seemed to be tying themselves into a stronger, deeper affair than they had ever considered when Bobby had clumsily asked Sheila out over a bottle of wine from a corner shop. Endless nights discussing the inevitable Conservative Party victory at the general election turned into a pleasurable rota of sex and lofty plans for the future. They would never marry, but live on an isolated cottage and make their own clothes, cook their own home-grown food. Sheila could do all of that already, Bobby would return to the soil as all working people should when the rebuilding of a United Kingdom in the Soviet mould began, as it inevitably would. Life would never be the same again.
“When you’ve quite finished playing catch-up with your old crushes…”
Shiela laughed, turning off the laptop with a flourish. “There, satisfied?”
Marriage had changed them. Sheila did not want to admit anything to herself, when she considered the potential consequences. Socialist firebrands could not survive in the real world living on such political extremes, almost content in their denial. She had disappointed herself, to some degree, accepting a ring on her finger and change of surname with such ease and enthusiasm. Love was a reaction to their youthful vigour, a consequence of it, she thought. Bobby would not agree with her, taking one form of naivety and transferring it somewhere else. One form of denial inexorably linked with another. Marriage was the dismissed disease, the denied, a concept scoffed at for being so unfortunate, so sad. Maybe age was the real factor, the catalyst. Politics didn’t save us, or change us; love was the unexpected result of friendship which had now developed into something nameless. They had become lovers following months of cheap arguments over pasta salads and cups of tea; love grown from nothing more than the best value lettuce and tomatoes she was able to buy.
She connected him to the earth, the real world; she was his anchor. He stayed awake while she fell into a content sleep during which she would purr and snore and suggest pleasant dreams with warm, sincere smiles across her face. Bobby pulled on his briefs, padded across to the toilet, peed. His reflection caught him with some surprise; the eyes wore tired, his father’s face floated behind the surface. In less than a month there would be a new Prime Minister: a woman, for the first time ever. The inevitable alteration of life in 1980 sat on his shoulders far heavier than any other responsibility, debt, or emotion. Returning to the bed, three sofa-cushions and two sleeping bags on the wooden floor, he wished Sheila would never leave his side, would always wish to become his companion as much as his lover.
Rain scattered cold tears streaking across the windows. Sheila sank into a restless sleep, dreams of strangers faces covered by tiger-stripes fluttered through her mind in the form of badly edited films. Night stretched out into day, greeting her with its chill and peace. Silence bothered her the most; sometimes Bobby would be working away from home, still not learning that a text message was all she asked for. He had forgotten to keep up the subtle hints that their relationship needed to turn a corner, to visit another unexpected place along their journey. She had never expected or much enjoyed the role of wife: how would ‘mother’ suit? A bowl of muesli was deployed to calm the nerves, then the remaining crumbs from a badly executed chocolate cake. The radio told her to keep an eye on hints Blair would be calling an election, unemployment was moving up again, a nation in eastern Europe she had never heard of before was in the process of declaring independence.
From the bathroom window, Bobby made out the distorted shadows of the first wave of marchers. He wondered if today really was the best time he could have chosen to propose marriage. Neither of them would know the results of such gambles, of such rolls of dice; any negative thoughts now would look unusual, maybe even pathetic, from the perspective of a near future. As though the very words of history were being written in his bathroom Bobby scratched his arm, prepared deep, deep breaths of calm, called Shiela’s name, and walked into the front room.