A Rural Affair - By Catherine Alliott


If I’m being totally honest I had fantasized about Phil dying. Only in a mild, half-baked, Thursday morning in Sainsbury’s sort of way. I’m not talking about lying awake at night plotting his demise, no, just idly cruising those aisles, popping in the Weetabix, or driving to pick Clemmie up from nursery, dreaming a little dream, that sort of thing. Like you do when you’re bored and you’ve got two small children on your hands and you’ve been married for a while to an irritating man. Wondering what life would be like without a husband. And always the life afterwards bit, the nicer bit, not the horrid bit of the death itself.

Having the house to myself appealed. Getting rid of those ghastly leather sofas in tummy-upset brown, never having to hoover them again and get right down into the cracks, or keep the house immaculate as he liked, and as his mother had so assiduously done. No more wiping the skirting boards weekly, or turning the mattress monthly. No more meat and two veg and a lot more pasta. Or just a boiled egg. No more frantically raking up autumn leaves, I mused to myself now as one fluttered onto my windscreen, a beautiful, blood-red sycamore, spiralling down, winking at me. They could just lie where they fell, in a red and gold carpet on the grass as nature intended, instead of having to rush out like a lunatic when the first one dropped, Phil shouting, ‘Quick! They’re coming!’, raking furiously. These sorts of thoughts – innocuous, harmless ones, that crested, then sank, only to resurface some weeks later. Being alone with my babies, for instance; I glanced in my rear-view mirror at my toddler son as I drove along, watched as his thumb dropped wetly from his mouth and his eyes slowly closed. I reached back and deftly took the carton of juice he’d been clasping.

And OK – I straightened myself back at the wheel – just very occasionally, very fleetingly, my mind had inevitably turned to the mechanics of it. A piece of scaffolding perhaps, falling on his head from the construction site he walked under every morning, on his way from Charing Cross to Ludgate Circus: the one outside the Savoy, where they’d been at it for months. One of the workmen dropping a hammer. Clunk. But after six months, the scaffolding had come down – I’d checked. So … what about a mosquito bite? Turning septic? Quickly and painlessly, on one of our annual trips abroad – always Spain and always cycling. Same hotel every year, with other cycling enthusiasts. I read, mostly, and looked after the children. But the summer would slip by and Phil would remain unbitten, so, to embrace the winter months, I’d fondly imagined him slipping on ice as he went to get the paper in the village shop.

‘It all happened so quickly,’ Yvonne, who ran the shop, would say, her saucer eyes seeing everything before it happened anyway. ‘One minute he was breezing out with the Telegraph, the next he was flat on his back, blood pouring from his head!’

No, not blood, that would be horrid. All internal. I turned down the lane that led to my house, so narrow in places the hedges brushed the sides of the car. And unlikely too, because since when had an icy fall actually killed anyone? So then I’d had him falling off ladders while clearing gutters, but Phil didn’t do much gutter clearance so that didn’t really work; but then, it wasn’t supposed to work. It was just a run-of-the-mill, quotidian fantasy most housewives surely toy with occasionally when they’re married to – not a bad man, and not a complete fool, but not a terribly interesting or exciting man either.

I narrowed my eyes at the low autumn sun, pulling the visor down in defence. And since the cycling bug had bitten – he’d taken it up with messianic zeal a few years ago – he was almost permanently clad in blue Lycra, which didn’t help. Even to Clemmie’s first parents’ evening, complete with extraordinary Lycra shoes. He’d arrived in the classroom, where Miss Hawkins and I were waiting, looking like Jacques Cousteau emerging from the depths. Miss Hawkins had dropped the register she’d been so flustered, and as he’d sat down beside me on an infant-sized chair, peering over his nylon knees like a garden gnome, I’d thought: not entirely the man I’d envisaged spending the rest of my life with. But then