The Open Marriage, page 1
In the modern way, when Jessica and Alun Gower had married they had decided that theirs was to be an 'open' marriage, with both partners always free to do their own thing without feeling tied to each other. And, perhaps predictably, the marriage had broken down. Now, two years later, for family reasons Jessica needed to marry again — and she had gone to Wales to find Alun and ask for a divorce. She soon realised that meanwhile Alun had been living a life of his own and that more than one woman was anxious to share it with him. So what possible right had Jessica to resent the fact?
'SO you want to know where Alun is? Why?'
The speaker was Margian Gower. A small woman with a mobile almost monkeyish face, her well-shaped head covered with silky black curls, she was sitting before a large light-edged make-up mirror in a dressing room backstage of a theatre in the West End of London and she was preparing for her role in the revival of Emlyn Williams' spine-chiller play Night Must Fall.
Pausing in the act of drawing in wrinkles across her brow, Margian glanced at the reflection of the woman who was standing behind her, Jessica Martin, tall and slim, dressed in green linen, her thick golden hair cut in an attractive ear-tip-length style and curving in a deep wave across her forehead.
'I want to get in touch with him,' Jessica said coolly with a slight shrug of her shoulders as if she didn't really care whether she found out where Alun, her estranged husband and Margian's younger brother, was living.
'And you've no idea where he is right now?' exclaimed Margian.
'But surely . . .' Margian broke off, looking puzzled.
'Alun hasn't written to me or ... or been to see me since ... since ...' Jessica paused too, biting her lower lip.
'Since you left him?' suggested Margian with a sardonic lift of her dark eyebrows.
'I didn't leave him. He left me,' retorted Jessica, her eyes, which were a lovely dark blue—the colour of glistening slate—flashed a glance at Margian's reflection. 'He slammed out of the flat one day and went off to New York, and I don't even know if he ever came back to this country.'
'But that must have been nearly two years ago,' remarked Margian. Her mouth twisted wryly. 'I gather you quarrelled with him, and he lost his temper before he slammed out.'
'Yes. We did quarrel,' Jessica admitted reluctantly.
'I suppose you accused him of being unfaithful to you and he took umbrage. Sounds like Alun,' murmured Margian, leaning forward to stare in the mirror at her face as she added more make-up. Slowly she was changing, becoming older-looking, her face wrinkled and pale, beginning to look like the upper class elderly woman she was about to portray on the stage, except for the black curls that rioted over her head.
Alun's hair was like that too, thought Jessica, the only resemblance he had to his sister, and there were glints of gold and silver in the blackness. Her fingers clenched as if in rejection of the remembered feel of his curls winding around them.
'How do you know that's what happened?' she demanded. 'Have you seen Alun? Did he tell you?'
'Yes, I've seen him. But he didn't tell me anything about you and him. Knowing him as I do I just guessed.' Margian gave Jessica a rather pitying glance. 'I suppose you tried to tie him down.'
'No, I didn't.' Jessica sank down on a nearby chair. 'Ours was an open marriage. We agreed before we married to give each other the freedom to come and go as we pleased. It was working . . . or at least I thought it was working quite well, until . . . until . . .' She paused again, frowning down at her hands.
'Until what?' demanded Margian, her eyes narrowing as she studied Jessica's face.
'Until someone told me that Alun was having an affair with another woman.'
'Who told you that?'
'And you believed her?' exclaimed Margian incredulously as she lifted a white-waved wig of hair from a dummy head on the dresser before her before setting it carefully on her head to cover her curls.
'Sally and I have been friends for years, ever since we were babies, so why wouldn't I believe her?' retorted Jessica defensively. 'And she's known Alun longer than I have. It was at her parent's home that I met him, you know.'
'I know,' sighed Margian. 'So you trust her more than you trust Alun because you've known her longer than you've known him. Oh, well, I suppose that makes some sort of sense. Why do you want to see him? To suggest a divorce?'
'Maybe.' Jessica's eyes were hidden swiftly by their thick white lids. 'Are you going to tell me where he is?'
Margian swung round in her chair until she was facing Jessica. With shrewd dark brown eyes she stared at her sister-in-law. Jessica was thinner than when she had last seen her. The English schoolgirl bloom had gone. Jessica was now a striking-looking woman of nearly twenty-five, self-assured, well-dressed, and accustomed probably to all the good things in life; the best hotels to stay in when she travelled for the furniture company she worked for; the best food, the best clothes; all the comforts of life, in fact. Margian's lips curved cynically and in the depths of her dark eyes mischief glinted briefly.
'All right, I'll tell you where Alun is,' she said. 'But if you do get in touch with him you're not to tell him I told you where he is. He's at Whitewalls—that's the house where our father lived most of his life and where he was born. The house where Alun and I lived when we were children. The house where Gowers have lived for generations, rearing sheep and writing poetry. What else could they do in wild Wales?' Margian's voice was mocking.
'Why is he living there?' exclaimed Jessica.
'Writing. A biography of our father, one of the most distinguished of Welsh poets and men of letters,' replied Margian, sadness making her eyes seem even darker. 'Did you ever meet him? Did you ever meet Huw Gower?'
'Yes, I did. I met-him when he came to London to do a poetry reading for the B.B.C. Alun and I met him off the train and took him to his hotel,' said Jessica, remembering a tall man with wild white hair adrift above his craggy cliff-like face. He had looked at her with kindly dark brown eyes and then had said something in Welsh to Alun.
'What did your father say to you at the station?' she had asked Alun later the same evening. 'It was about me. wasn't it?'
'He was quoting from a poem by Dafydd ap Gwilym, a Welsh poet who lived in the Middle Ages,' Alun had told her. They had been in bed at the time, making love, and he had been stroking her nightgown away from her, worshipping her body with his hands. 'Dad said you reminded him of some lines written by Dafydd.'
'What lines? Can you translate them for me?' she had asked.
'I'll try,' he said, and then had continued slowly,
'The gentle girl with the golden hair,
Golden is the burden that you carry on your head.
White is your body and slim,
And you shine with it. What a gift!'
'Dad was right,' Alun had continued. 'You are gentle and your hair is golden and your body is white and slim, shining, a gift for me.'
Resonant and lilting, Alun's voice had woven a spell of romance about her as he had leaned over her, dark-browed, and she had responded, as she always had, to his lovemaking, her shy soul flattered and warmed by what he had said about her, her body expanding and lifting to his touch.
She became aware, with a start, of the reality of the dressing room, the smell of greasepaint, the heat of many light-bulbs, of Margian's wrinkled and powdered face grinning at her.
'I'm sorry,' she muttered. 'What did you say?'
'Miles away, weren't you?' Margian mocked. 'Where, I wonder?'
'I was thinking about, your father,' Jessica replied stiffly. 'I liked him. I liked his poetry too.'
'Yet you didn't go to his funeral,' retorted Margian.
'It's just called Whitewalls and it's near the town of Dolgellau.' Margian pronounced as the Welsh do—Dol-geth-lee. 'I don't know the postal code. Are you going to write to him? Or are you going to see him?'
'Write to him, I think,' said Jessica, writing down the name of the house and the nearest town in a small notebook she took from her handbag. 'I don't suppose he's on the phone, is he?'
'No phone—Dad didn't like phones. Wouldn't have one installed—said it would be an intrusion of his privacy to have one.' Margian frowned. 'You know, Jessica, it would be best if you went to see Alun. You might wait for ever for a letter from him, he's notoriously bad at answering letters. Do you have a car?'
'Mother and I share one.'
'Well, if you do decide to go and see him your best bet is to take Ml north and branch off that on to the M6. Go as far as Cannock and from there take a cross-country route to Telford Shrewsbury, Welshpool and Dinas Mawddwy. Dolgellau is the next town. Anyone there will tell you how to get to the house of Huw Gower. He was something of a local hero, you know, ever since he was crowned bard at the Eisteddfod in Llangollen.'
'Thank you.' Jessica stood up. 'I won't take up any more of your time because I realise it's nearly time for the curtain to go up. It was good of you to see me.'
'No, not good. We Gowers are never good, at least Alun and I have never been good,' Margian's dark eyes glinted again with mischief. 'I was curious to see you. I wanted to see if you'd changed since the last time we met. All things considered you seem to have survived being separated from Alun pretty well, which makes it hard for me to believe you were once head over heels in love with him. Infatuated with him, weren't you? So much so you followed him to London and bothered him until he gave in and married you.'
'That's not true!' Jessica flared. 'Oh, you make it sound as if ... and if I. . .'
'Importuned him?' suggested Margian dryly. 'Well, didn't you? It certainly looked like that to those of us who were watching from the wings of the theatre, so to speak. You turned up at the place where he was living then, penniless and without anywhere to stay, and threw yourself on his mercy so that he took you in, let you live in his flat and even found you a job. And then you turned round and told your father Alun had seduced you so your father insisted Alun marry you.' Margian's voice grated with scorn.
'I didn't!' gasped Jessica, losing her cool suddenly so that she looked younger and less sophisticated, her cheeks flushed pink, her lips trembling slightly as she defended herself. 'I didn't do what you say! I didn't tell my father Alun had seduced me.. Alun and I were friends ... at least I thought he was a friend, so I went to him for help.' She stopped took a deep breath and turned towards the door. 'Oh, what's the use of trying to explain to you? You're not going to believe anything I say. You've always disliked me because . . . because your brother married me. You're jealous of me.'
'No, not jealous,' replied Margian quietly and with dignity. 'But concerned—for Alun. You see, I love him very much and I'd like him to be happy. I've always thought you were too young for him, too immature, expecting too much from him, hoping he would solve your problems for you. Admit, Jessica, that's how you've always seen him as a knight in shining armour, protecting you, rescuing you from fates worse than death . . . until you found out that he's only human after all. No better and no worse than any other man?'
'I found out that he didn't love me as I loved him,' said Jessica woodenly, staring at the door panels in front of her, not daring to face Margian again in case the other woman saw the tears that had brimmed in her eyes.
'And now you've met someone who does love you. is that it?' Margian queried jeeringly. 'Someone dependable. Someone who can keep you in the comfort to which you're accustomed. Someone more suited to be a husband than a life-loving free-spirited writer like Alun?'
'Perhaps I have,' Jessica snapped. She opened the door. 'Goodbye, Margian, and thanks again.'
She closed the door sharply behind her and stood for a moment in the dimness of the passageway, sniffing a little and wiping the tears from her cheeks, When she had recovered her composure she left the theatre by the stage door and stepped out into the sun-hazed humid air of the June evening. Immediately Chris Pollet was at her side, his hand under her elbow, to guide her down the narrow side street towards Shaftesbury Avenue.
'How did you get on?' he asked. 'Was she forthcoming?'
'Yes. She gave me Alun's address.'
'Good. So now you can write to him. Or better still get your lawyer to write to him. I thought we'd eat in Soho. Italian suit you?'
She agreed, and they turned another corner into a narrow street lined with many different restaurants. In a few minutes they were stepping into the one Chris had chosen and were being shown to a table in a booth separated from the next booth by a partition of dark wood topped by red silk curtains hung on thick brass rods. After the humid warmth outside the interior of the restaurant was cool and dim. Light came from candles flickering in red bowls on the tables that were covered with red and white checked cloths.
They were handed menus and the waiter departed to fetch the white wine Chris had ordered for them to drink. Jessica stared down at the menu but made no sense of it. The words were blurred. She was thinking what a coincidence it was that Chris had chosen this particular restaurant, where she had so often come with Alun when they had lived together. She laid the menu down and looked across at Chris. A big fair man, he was brisk and forceful, with a bulldoggish sort of face. He assumed he knew what she wanted. He assumed she would marry him if she could get a divorce from Alun. It was his idea that she should get in touch with Alun, write to him or get a lawyer to write to him. He assumed too much, she thought.
'I don't have a lawyer,' she said flatly.
He looked up and across at her. His pale grey eyes reflected the flame of the candle.
'I'm sure the company's lawyer can give you the name of a good divorce lawyer,' he retorted. 'Someone who'll know how to get you a quickie. God knows you have enough reason to get a divorce—Gower hasn't been near you for nearly two years. I would say he's made his feelings pretty clear by staying away from you and that he won't hesitate to agree to a divorce. He's probably just waiting for you to make the first move.'
'I think it would be best if I go to see him . . . now that I know where he lives,' she muttered, picking up the menu again. Sometimes, when she had first lived with Alun, they had been so short of money they had eaten only spaghetti dishes. Primavera spaghetti, had been one of their favourites; spring vegetables cooked lightly and smothered with a cheese sauce. 'He's notoriously bad at answering letters. His sister said so,' she added.
'He'll answer a letter from a lawyer,' replied Chris assertively.
'I can't be sure of that. He's very free-spirited, unconventional.'
'Mmm, so I've heard,' he remarked, his lips tightening grimly. 'Why did you marry him?' he demanded suddenly, leaning across the table, glaring at her with those pale eyes as if he thought she was lacking in intelligence. 'Was it because your father insisted? Because he found out Gower had seduced you?'
Jessica's blue eyes opened wide in surprise and then she began to laugh, a low gurgle of sound. Laughter changed her completely. It chased the sadness from her eyes and curved her red lips upwards. Her whole face lit up. No longer did she seem a prim and proper businesswoman.
'Oh no, wherever did you get that idea?' she said. Then the laughter faded from her face and she gave him an accusing look. 'You've been listening to gossip about me,' she reproached him. 'I suppose you've heard that I lived with Alun for a while before we were married. Well, it's true I did live in his flat for a few weeks. You see, my father wanted me to marry Arthur Lithgow. He had it all arranged. He was trying at the time to get Arthur to become a director of the company and put som
'But you went through with it. You married him.'
'Yes, I did.'
'And your father forgave you?'
'Not until after he'd had that first heart attack when Alun and I had been married about a year. I went to visit him and he asked me then to go back to work for him in the company. So I did. I used to commute by tube from London to Uxbridge and then take the bus to the factory. It was then that I learned what a financial mess Martin Ltd was in, almost bankrupt.' She looked at him.
'Chris, are you serious about rescuing the Martins?'
'Of course I am, if only to stop the competition— Lithgows—from taking over. But I want you to be a part of the company still, as an equal partner. I don't want to take over completely, just merge my company with yours. Pollet and Martin Ltd, designers and makers of fine furniture. How does that sound?'
'It sounds very good,' she admitted. 'And I think Daddy would have been pleased to have you as his partner. What a pity you didn't come along sooner before . . . before he died.'
'I did offer, but he wouldn't agree to the equal partnership. He still wanted to rule the roost. No Pollet and Martin Ltd for him,' he replied with a rueful twist to his mouth. He gave her a hard narrowed glance. 'But about Alun Gower who is still your husband? I wouldn't want him turning up now and making claims on you and your share of the company.'
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