MARCUS IS NOT HIS REAL NAME
You will almost certainly have heard of my husband Marcus, the author of a series of highly successful books on intuitive relationship management. He has been fêted from Dublin to Dubai and is credited with rescuing the marriages of many thousands. I feel a deep gratitude toward those thousands, for they have supplied me, through their eagerness to buy my husband’s books and attend his seminars, with a standard of living almost embarrassingly high. The size of our villa in the San Fernando Valley is a particular asset, as it enables us to maintain a polite distance. Marcus and I have, over many a long year, mastered what may be a uniquely convivial form of loathing.
The truth is that I have found Marcus repulsive since the early 1990s, when he was still stringy and earnest and had thick, golden curls around his eager face. You might be asking yourself, quite reasonably, how I came to be married to someone whom I can describe with such a cruel epithet. I will tell you frankly that we had certain carnal interests in common that required little direct physical contact, and – I confess this was a deciding factor – I sensed that he was destined one day to become ridiculously rich. I am all in favour of women making their own way in the world, but my particular skill set is, contrary to popular belief, not especially lucrative. It took a wearyingly long client list to keep me in leather corsets. After a brief period of coy resistance, I high-tailed it down the easy road.
Like Marcus, I too have embarked on a literary venture, though mine has met with far more modest success: my leisure time over our twenty-five years of marriage has given me an opportunity to learn my way around a kitchen, and I have written a series of cookbooks. I call them “cookbooks for the discerning” (that is the subtitle on each slim volume), and they are written to appeal to those who see nothing problematic in serving oneself and one’s loved ones quail’s eggs, Beluga caviar, and a delicately seared fillet mignon for an average Wednesday dinner. I recognise that I attend to a limited clientele, but it is apparently my nature to seek out the underserved.
The difficulty is that my cookbooks are shamelessly elitist, and Marcus’s audience is (for the most part) brightly proletarian. I’m not convinced that his readers care, but Marcus is sure that my books, with their recommendations not to bother with anything less than a Château Laffite to accompany an exquisitely prepared rack of lamb, can be perceived as an affront to the tuna casserole contingent and might thus affect his credibility.
As you might have guessed, I have discreetly kept my oar in my former career. I keep myself in excellent condition and have the good fortune to be blessed with the severe, hollow-cheeked beauty of Snow White’s evil stepmother, which has the dual advantage of improving with age and being peculiarly suited to the needs of my bashful clients. My hair is a deep chocolate (admittedly assisted by others) and my skin very pale. I have a small operation behind a green baize door high in an office tower, and I love forgetting myself there.
Marcus is of course aware of my little sideline. He does not object to it on principle, but fears some horrid tabloid revelation. He knows there is little risk, which is why he is more bothered by my faintly hostile cookbooks. But the fact of my business does disturb him, I know.
I should explain that the source of my revulsion toward poor Marcus is his denial, once his star began to ascend, of his desire to fall at my feet. In all my years in the profession, I never met anyone so capable of taking on the suffering it is my talent to provide. To this day I am bewildered by his callous abnegation.
What a pleasure he was. There was a time, long ago, when my heart did a small leap at his timid knock. But as he began to become a public man, he found himself less and less able to let go, to fall into my gloved, unforgiving arms. And as our delights evaporated, I began to notice his pasty skin; his bloodless lips; his rapidly receding, silly hair; his soft, rich man’s waist.
It is a great pity. He has sought release in a series of careful affairs, generally with big-boned nineteen-year-olds who are destined to return to Copenhagen or Bern after a summer of educational interning. I long ago gave him carte blanche to pursue these dalliances, and many are the blonde young things who have supped with me at my table.
I think their adventures with Marcus are given a piquancy by the belief that they are deceiving me, their gracious hostess. Some of them, anyway. Others have been unable to meet my eyes. Once or twice I’ve stopped a Heidi from confessing all to me. The ones I enjoy are the cool deceivers: the straight-backed, clear-eyed heartbreakers who watch me julienne vegetables and coo over my knife control.
But I do know Marcus. I remember his ecstasies. I remember the way he would throw his head back in exhaustion and delight. His conventional couplings are joyless, I know. I stay with Marcus because I care for the man who once had the pride to crawl toward me, even as I stepped slowly backward, tall and strong on my high, high heels. I will continue, I suppose, to lash out with the occasional pointed recipe for poêlée de Saint-Jacques à l’échalote. But as we sidle comfortably into the last third of our lives, I still hope each night to hear that quiet knocking on my bedroom door.