The Bandage, continued.
“Michael, stop fidgeting. You’ll make it worse.” Abigail put a calming arm on his plaster cast. At least it used to be calming.
“It itches. How much longer does it have to be on for?”
“Two more weeks. Then you’ll be as good as new. Christina, sit back down please. We haven’t finished.”
“That will be the end of the season! I was going to get player of the season for sure. This is shit.”
Christina looked at her father and Freddie looked up from his plate. Abigail closed her eyes a second too long.
“Michael, language.” Her husband’s voice surprised her, although it was too soft for her liking. She added, “It’s making you better, Michael. It’s not just for show. Christina, please.”
Christina slumped back into her chair. “You shouldn’t have been such an idiot then.”
“Whatever.” Michael shovelled more food into his mouth with his good arm. Peace again.
“Dad,” Christina said, “can I go to Russ’s band’s thing this weekend?”
“Where and what time is it?” Freddie pushed his plate away and sat back. His hands went behind his head.
“Why should she get to go out, she never finishes her dinner, never tidies her room.” Michael had suddenly finished as well and threw his fork down. It missed the plate and crashed into his glass.
Freddie turned to his daughter, incredibly thin and incredibly beautiful. She reminded him of an energy he had lived by a long time ago. “It’s a good question, Teenabopper. Why aren’t you eating?”
“Not hungry.” Arms folded like swords across her chest.
Abigail hunted her daughter’s face. Seeds of shame had been sown somewhere. She couldn’t think why. “Darling, you need to eat.” She said it as gently as she could.
Christina got up and glared at her. “What? So I end up like you?”
The kitchen door slammed. Freddie stood up.
“Please don’t go after her; that was rude.”
“I’m not. I’m going to the gym and then I’ve got a call with Japan. Back soon.”
Michael felt sorry for his mum. He wished he could take away the sadness in her face. She looked defeated. “Shall we have some ice cream, Mum?”
“Doctor, I love my wife. Or I used to. No, of course I still do. But she used to be so different. I couldn’t get enough of her. What do you mean in what way? In every way. I’m a man. I have needs and she filled each one of them. Oh, she was so beautiful. And she taught me things. We used to play this word game after sex. I don’t know why we stopped. Yes, the kids came along. She was always seeing to them. She was perfect and then I just didn’t notice her. The affairs? Not really affairs. They weren’t anything. I suppose so, they were fun and exciting. No, it didn’t mean anything. The weight? Not really. It just crept on. It did annoy me, but I had to keep the money coming in. Sex? Not much. Maybe she was getting it elsewhere.”
“No, Sarah, I never even looked at another man. I always loved Freddie. He remained so beautiful, so handsome. That’s why I felt so ugly and betrayed. He didn’t have to tell me he was disgusted with me, I could see it in his face. The diets helped, he started to notice me again and that felt good. But it was like so much time had gone by. He wanted me back to my university days. That was impossible, we were different people. The kids had finally gone and it was just us again. That was better for him, he got all the attention. What do I want? I just want him to love me for me. I’m fifty-six years old. I’m not nineteen. Yes, we’ve been having sex again. Better for me than him. I do feel guilty about that.”
“Of course I feel guilty, Doctor, but we’re past that now. And I think it’s great she’s back to normal. I mean, I didn’t leave her because she got fat. I’m still here, aren’t I? No, I’m doing this because she wants me to. OK, I can make this easy for you. Perfection. That’s what I want. I love her. So much. Yes, I’m sure about that.”
“I just want to be me, to be happy. He will still say some things. But I think he loves me, maybe too much. Sarah, there’s just a physicality with Freddie. It’s always been there. Oh, I relished in it when I was younger. But now. It’s just good to have my husband back. I know he won’t cheat anymore; we’ve reached a good understanding. It took a while to patch things up, but this has helped. We’ve healed and mended bridges, I think. But you know, Sarah, the plaster can always come off, you know?”
Freddie sat in the car outside the hospital. His thumb hovered over his mobile phone. He couldn’t do it. They could all wait. He threw the phone into the passenger seat.
“SHIT!” He banged his fists on the steering wheel, yelling at it, pounding it, crying to it. He rested his forehead and let the tears flow. He had never been afraid to cry. Tears dropped onto his trousers. He felt cold.
In one decisive moment, Freddie got out of the car. He ran over to the hospital. The woman on the front desk knew him and didn’t stop him as he tore past her, red face and clenched fists. He took a sharp left, running faster, crashing through doors, and bounded two at a time up the stairs to the second floor.
He collapsed at the nurses’ desk. “I need to see her. Please let me back in.”
“You can see her, Mr Balding. But you’ll have to wait. Give me five minutes and I’ll take you to her. All right? Take a seat just there and wait for me.”
Freddie sat and stared at his wedding ring. He hadn’t noticed it in so long. But it had always been there. It felt tight. He tried loosening it, turning it round in his fingers. He remembered first putting it on. It hadn’t been the done thing in those days, but he’d wanted to. Abigail had been right. She had been right about so many things.
“Mr Balding.” The voice was at the end of a long tunnel. He allowed his arm to be taken to a place, sterile, cold and shiny. He followed his arm. There was Abigail.
“I’ll leave you alone.” Someone closed the tunnel and there was silence.
Freddie stepped towards his wife. “Darling.” The vowels echoed off the walls. “Abigail.”
He reached out and touched her hand. There was no need to squeeze it, let her know he was there. He stroked it with his fingertips as he looked towards her face.
The bandage was still partly there. Her eyes and nose were both free, but her cheeks, chin and forehead were still hidden from him.
“I wanted it, didn’t I? Can I see you now? Can I know?” He brought his hands to her face and gently stroked her closed eyes. He felt his wife was there, all there behind those eyelids. That’s what he had first seen, that is where he had fallen all those years ago. He leaned down and kissed them, his own tears on Abigail’s closed eyes.
“You’ll get bored of me. You’ll find someone else.” Had she said those words, laying in his bed, half naked, totally beautiful? “No I won’t. You’re perfect, bloody perfect.”
Freddie rested his hands on her bandaged cheeks and kissed her mouth through it. Abigail would have to stay as she was; perfect inside and him blind to it as he always had been. He walked out of the room to go and call his children. No more cover-ups.