There’s a woman in our street I often see going to school with two small children. She’s very attractive, but careworn and always a little sad. Mrs McG told me a while ago that her husband had left her. Because of that, I developed a special face for her, one of my best, I think. The face was intended to convey many things: sympathy and understanding for her terrible situation; admiration for her fortitude; a benign tenderness towards her two, very cute, children. And then, on a deeper level, a certain despair at the awfulness of men, and an acceptance that as one of them, I had to take some responsibility for that awfulness.
I unleash this face each time we pass in the street and, as you can imagine, it takes a lot out of me, and I often take several minutes to fully get over it. There are times when we see each other approaching from the full length of the street, and then the effort of keeping the face in order will leave my frown muscles aching for the rest of the day. She always smiles back, and it’s a smile that almost matches my own expression in complexity, conveying on her part a determination to carry on, to take out of each day what it could offer, to never give in or submit. And also an acknowledgement that I had understood her sufferings, and was on her side in my own weak and ineffectual way. And perhaps an appreciation of the fact that wearing my pyjamas under my clothes and having mad morning hair means that I’m probably some kind of artist or creative type, maybe a poet, or composer of modernist ballets. Anyway, Monty and I were walking Mrs McG to the tube this morning when we encountered the woman, leaving her flat. I only had time to arrange a quick and peremptory version of the face, and she, in turn, smiled a quick smile.
‘So sad,’ I said, to Mrs McG.
‘You know, that shit of a husband… Leaving the children. So small…’
‘What are you on about?’
‘That lady… husband.. you said he left in the night…?’
‘That’s not her.’
‘That was another woman. Another man. This one is very happily married, insofar as anyone is.’
All those faces, wasted. And what must she have thought? I suppose the only way to get anything out of this is to find another abandoned wife (or husband), and point the face at them.