Friday, December 18, 2009

The Alternative

This came from a conversation with an old friend over coffee.

And this is a photo of Thandie Newton, for here she is the very image of my friend ‘B.B’ now happily remarried at forty. She still worries she did not do what was best for her boys. I’m certain she did for this is as far as I concern the only alternative if she had stayed.

‘Throw your precious gifts into the air. Watch them fall down’
Cynthia was the sort of woman that could wrangle two little boys, prepare a four-course meal and see her five spring brides each have worry-free sleep all without soiling her pristine silk blouse. Cynthia was never late and always immaculate, but more than these things, Cynthia is the perfect wife for Dr. Jackson Churchill.

Cynthia met Jack in high school, she at St Clements and he at St Michaels. And though it was not love at first sight, they were fast friends who moved in the same circles. Jack was two years older than she was with a sharp mind and a likable enough personality.

They married a month after she graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA in English and settled in the charming, centuries old Arts and Crafts off Mount Pleasant. She worked as junior copy editor for Canada’s number two interior design magazine until their twins came along.

Then she was a devoted stay-at-home mother to Alfie and Olly until the boys were off to school and her days became aimless. But our Cynthia, not the sort to wallow, started a wedding planning firm. She found success almost immediately because of her ability to make order out of chaos while making certain dinner was on the table each night at six sharp.

Their lives went on thus, without incident, the boys at St. Mike’s like their father before them and Jack was a now-flourishing plastic surgeon with discreet offices on Avenue Road just around the corner from her tiny boutique on Davenport. Now, it’s possible that any other woman in this blissful existence would fret at its perfection but our Cynthia thought things were precisely as they should be.

After all, she did all the right things.

She dated plenty before settling on a dear friend, she kept her figure and she made a point of keeping the sex as frequent as when they were dating. They had, ever since the boys entered high school two years ago, started taking off alone together a few days each year.

So, you can’t imagine how utterly surprised she was when she stepped out of the new pastry shop in the Beaches with her April bride after a morning of cake-tasting to find her husband hand-in-arm with some unkempt woman. Her bride had driven away completely oblivious to her plight and that was because Cynthia had kept her composure.

She had smiled with her usual calm while her husband stood but a breath away with his hand around the clown of a woman, the two of them acting for all the world as if they were awaiting an executioner. Cynthia looked to Jack for his explanation, which came in, but one phrase, ‘I’m happy, Cynthia.’

Can you imagine it? Him standing there on Queen Street East, telling her after twenty-four years of friendship and seventeen year of marriage that he was happy, as if it were some kind of grand revelation, when she knew he was happy because she made him so. The untidy woman was looking at Jack with something like quiet pride that made Cynthia want to murder her.

Only our Cynthia is not the type for unguided passion or anything that would involve her abandoning her boys for prison. Nor would she discuss it any further in the middle of the street, so the three took Cynthia's little devastation to a near by coffee shop where she, with a hushed but firm voice laid out the facts for Jack and his companion.

‘His life does not work without me and all the easy charm he now boasts is due to my efforts. I’ve made him the man you have taken ownership of and I will not fight you for him. I will be remarried a year from this day to someone far more worthy and the two of you will fall apart inside of a month. Not because I say so but because you do not fit with Jackson’s life.’

The awful little woman took umbrage and went on a rant about how she was a psychoanalyst and more than capable of taking care of Jack adding in the end how she would fit better in his life because they were both doctors.

Cynthia had laughed for she knew Jack’s mother would never tolerate this woman and that his sisters who had gone to school with her would never forgive him. Besides, Jack did not know what his suit size was or where his favourite shirts were purchased. Nor did he know where to find his brand of cereal or any of the birthdays of anyone in his family.

Connie will represent her, she was sure and she would get the house, the cottage, and everything else she desires for Connie is ruthless. It’s her boys that she worries for now and it’s for them that she will endure this for the month it will take for Jack to see what an unmitigated mistake this will no doubt be.

For them she will pack up his belongings and bear in silence while he sets up house with this woman. For them she will bear while he introduces her to their family and friends before coming finally to the realization that she will not do and beg forgiveness. For her sons she will take him back and for herself she will forgive him this one indiscretion.

After all, that is the sort of woman our Cynthia is and will continue to be.
And here now the weekend. I hope yours is lovely,
Simone Ogilvie.


  1. Simone, this is a haunting story. Perhaps the most haunting element here is that it's based on fact. But then, aren't all stories based on fact? I found myself angry and sad and confused and judgmental, wanting Cynthia to make all the decisions that I thought would be the right ones, or maybe the decisions I thought I would've made if I were in her shoes. But we often think we're something other than who we truly are, and we shock ourselves when something happens in our lives and we react in a way that is unexpected even to our very selves. I'm happy that your friend B.B. made the decision that she thought right at the time. I believe that it is only when we make decisions that are right for us that we can be fairest to those we love. When we try to decide based on the welfare of another, we very often end up miserable and exercise a grudging kind of love that stifles rather than allowing for growth.

    And, I ramble... but your piece here had me thinking, as good writing often does. This was, to say the least, excellent! Thank you for sharing it, Simone.


  2. Very thoughtful and introspective post. And by the way, I LOVE your tradition that you posted on my blog, about giving from what is yours. What a wonderful idea!

  3. I'm a bit lost. She takes him back or she remarries someone more worthy of her? Or both? Because she definitely deserves someone better.

  4. Good morning all...
    Thank you for your kind comments and Ines I'm sorry I was not more clear. My writing can be like that from time to time. With me running ahead of the words.
    I hope this footnote helps.
    My friend B.B thought of staying for her boys but found she was not able to do so and keep her sanity. Still she often wonders if she did the right thing for her children, remarried rather than staying with their father. I wrote this piece as an examination of the alternative to the decision she did make.
    Thanks for reading and a lovely weekend to each of you.

  5. Simone,
    As always, I am astonished by your beautiful & percise writing.

  6. Parents frequently do things for kids and this makes me think... How often are stories like these happening? What is the long term effect from a choices like that.

    I love the way that you write stories like this.

    Kindest regards,
    Tom Bailey

  7. Oh the cad! Good riddance. I have no doubt that Cynthia will get her happily ever after.

  8. Beautifully written, as usual! :-)

    While I doubt I could be as calm and analytical in a similar situation, I applaude Cynthia's decision to be true to the woman she is. To do anything less would have demeaned her character.

    It would be interesting to visit Cynthia's fictional world a year down the road to see how things turned out.

  9. Simone

    Excellent observation and story-telling.

  10. This is a little gem, and I didn't think anything was unclear. Ah, those what-ifs!

    Cynthia disturbs me, perhaps because Cynthias are not uncommon, especially in the world I grew up in. What disturbs me is what I perceive as passion replaced by the creation of the "perfect life", which, of course, it isn't.

    I find myself wishing for Cynthia and Jack to both be shaken out of their skins.

    Beautiful character study. I loved it, Simone.

  11. PS--I see you have Leighton's "Flaming June" displayed. It's a terrifically significant painting, to me. The person I loved the most, gave me a reproduction of it. Even though that person is gone, I can never see that painting without a bittersweet remembering.

  12. I am hooked. I love the freedom of a writer to discover the road less travelled.

  13. Simone, I feel so much better now. :)
    I probably should have read this with mora concentration. So she was right when she said she would remarry.
    I really do not think she should doubt her choice if she is happy. Or anyone else for that matter.

    P.S. YOu write superbly. And intelligently - one should really pay attention when reading your prose.

  14. What a gorgeous picture at the top!
    Thank you for your nice comment to my blog! Your comments always make me really happy.

  15. Thank you for your beautiful story. I admire your writing and storytelling ability. If only I could do the same.... Hope all is well.

    Ragland Hill Social

  16. Hi Simone,

    As always i love reading your pieces. You captivated me once more ! I believe you should choose your happiness above the childrens. If the mother is unhappy the children will be too. Just experience talking here !

    Have a great weekend !
    Hugs Jacquie

  17. Your warm reception of my work means everything to me, so thank you. You have all made me very happy. Take my care with you.
    Warmest Regards,

  18. I enjoyed reading this even though the subject matter was saddening and the situation in it so infuriatingly familiar. That is what makes it compelling too though, I suppose!

  19. Moving on is hard but so very worth it in the end. As the saying goes once a cheater always a cheater and for those left behind my best advice has always been "Living well is the Best Revenge"! The children grow up and have their own lives and we hope/pray they don't follow in the cheaters footsteps.

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