Death Sentence, Life Sentence.
Once upon a time a woman with a death sentence sat on a bench in Battersea Park. She was about 32, well padded without being fat, in her favourite top and jeans. The top was Spanish Gray from which a screen print of Hello Kitty attempted to cheer the world. She didn’t look like someone with a death sentence.
Next to her sat a somewhat fatter woman in jeans and a Nirvana T-shirt blowzily and silently protesting at the too-warm Spring sunshine. “So tell me Claudette,” she said, giving her companion her best deep searching look, “how are you really?”
Claudette sighed with ire, as she always did, and attempted to address the question. “To be honest I just feel like I’m getting weaker and weaker every day,” she said. “I mean my right arm doesn’t work proper, doing ironing with my left is really hard.”
“That’s nice,” Sal said, distracted, thinking wish I’d never asked. “You got MS girl, what do you expect?”
“So” Claudette said with an irritated sigh, “and how are you?”
As she had expected, Sal proceeded on her usual moan. She had married her long-term partner Meggan three months ago and ever since the wedding they had not stopped arguing. So every jot and titter, every plot and piffle, every clot and conflict was unwrapped, unrolled and revealed to be evidence of Megan’s always being at fault.
“So why don’t you just up and go?” Claudette asked as usual.
“Darling girl!” Sal said (as usual) we’re married now! You don’t just walk out on a marriage!”
“Tell me something,” Claudette said she had decided once and for all to try to break the pattern of their habitual ritual. “Do you even like Meggan?”
“No really darling, do you even like her?”
“Surely that’s a stupid even ridiculous question. It’s like – it’s like me asking you, Claudette, do you like your MS?”
“What!” Claudette was enveloped with contrasting desires. One, she wanted to punch her friend very hard on the nose. Two, she wanted to burst out into loud sardonic laughter. The third alternative was to get up and go.
“Hear me out” Sal said, a hand on her friend’s forearm. “Let’s be honest,” she said, “Meggan is a Narcissist. Not metaphorically – literally. Clinically.”
“Now just wait a minute – ”
“Yeh – lissen. I Googled it. Self-obsessed, self-centred to the extent she never listens to anyone – ”
“Hm!” Claudette almost hrumphed. Thinking, takes one to know one.
“No real empathy. Lies all the time. Always has to prove she’s better than anyone else. Boasts continually. Always point scoring.”
“So answer me again. Why don’t you get rid of her? Walk out?”
“So you answer me. Why don’t you walk out on your MS?”
“Fuck OFF Sal! Do you think I wouldn’t if I could?” She was close to tears.
“And do YOU think I wouldn’t if I could?”
The friends sat there silently seething at each-other for three deep minutes.
“So what is it then,” Claudette finally ventured. “Explain why you’re with her!”
“Yehhh don’t think I haven’t asked myself a million times,” she sighed. “You seen her. You seen how she likes to show me up in public. You seen how she always takes control when we go anywhere. You seen – ”
“So answer the fucking question Sal!”
“You see, she’s let me in – ”
“I don’t want to know about your sex-life!” Claudette attempted to joke.
“Be serious gal. See, only I know why she is as she is. I met her evil controlling parents who made her childhood a misery. Always putting her down. Challenging her. Badmouthing her.”
“So? No one I know had an easy childhood.”
“Did you know she’s dyslexic?”
“That’s no big deal these days – ”
“It was when she was growing up. See in those days people called her stupid. Like her teachers. Always going on at her. And see, she knew they were wrong. She just couldn’t see how to spell things”
“So! So she had to prove to herself. And to her teachers. And to her parents. All the time. And cry every night.”
“So that gives her the right to always put people down? The way she puts you down in public all the time? The way she put me down when we went out that time? How can you live with that?”
“She’s not like that when we’re together alone! Believe me!”
“I don’t believe you,” Claudette said. “I’m sorry. I just don’t like her. I understand she’s part of you. But she’s just killing you Sal, she’s killing that fun girl I went to uni with – ”
They both stared into a clump of trees. For a while. Simultaneously they took a deep breath.
“See????” Sal said finally. “See?????”
Alone and together they wept.