Like a Satin Gown

I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true
Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety

– Othello

I think I wanted to sleep with my neighbour for a decade before I actually did. By the time it happened I had been apart from my wife for four years, and my neighbour had been apart from her husband for three months. I appreciate there’s not much controversy in all that, but the situation is made a little complicated because her husband is my best mate. And there’s a little history to deal with, too.

We lived opposite and our kitchen windows faced each other. If I saw my mate Barry across the way I could make the ‘fancy a brew’ motion and a text message would follow agreeing or not. Barry knew my wife when they were kids; they both grew up on the same estate and went to the same youth club and that was enough for me and Barry to become mates. We’d visit the local pub – just a two minute walk from where we lived – and do the other matey stuff like play Fifa on the old PS3 in each other’s houses and play Call of Duty online. There’s not much to this, really. It was the usual goings on anyone would expect.

Occasionally we would visit each other’s house as couples, have a few drinks and some food and watch a film or just chat getting slowly sloshed. It was during one of these visits to mine that Sharon, Barry’s beloved, complained of an on-going backache and stood up to get comfortable while Barry sat on my sofa, Playstation controller in hand, watching the screen.
‘Can you just put some hard pressure on here,’ she said, turning around and bending ever-so-slightly over. Her shirt drew up a little, revealing some flesh. ‘I can’t do it hard enough myself.’
Barry was now paying some attention, and looked a little miffed at her behaviour. I just played it dumb.

‘What do you want me to do?’ I said, setting my drink down. ‘Put pressure on where?’
‘Just here,’ she said, pointing to the fleshy part of the back, just above the hip and the butt-cheek. ‘Make a fist and push really hard, as hard as you can.’

I made a fist and buried my knuckles into her flesh, rolled my fist and pushed into her as hard as I could. Barry sat on my sofa, paying no attention again to such an obvious degree he must have been significantly pissed off.

I know Sharon much better now, know her very well, and I can’t help but smirk when I think of this incident because it chimes perfectly with what I came to realise was one of her main traits: her extraordinarily dry sense of humour. I should ask her if she did this just to annoy Barry because she herself was annoyed, or bored, more likely, with him paying the Playstation more attention than her, or if she did it for another reason.

She offered a grunt of relief, dropped her head and sighed as she leant on the arm of the sofa for balance, and I felt her pushback with some force. I had to change my stance to retain balance.
‘Yeah, right there,’ she said, beginning to breathe heavily, ‘right there.’

This went on for not more than a minute before she stood up, turned back around and thanked me because that was much better now, and sat down again next to Barry. He was engrossed in something on the screen, paying her no attention at all. He didn’t even ask if she was alright.

‘Anyone want another drink?’ I asked, changing the subject from silence to something.
‘Fine, mate,’ Barry said without looking my way.
‘I’ll have one, please,’ Sharon said brightly, holding her empty glass up and smiling. ‘Cheers.’
I took her glass and went into the kitchen, out of sight of both of them. I was a little sloshed myself and a little confused.

Hang on, I thought, what the fuck just happened? Did I just read that right or is she taking the piss? I decided to find out.

From where Sharon was sat I could stand in the kitchen doorway and be seen by her but not Barry. I decide to run the oldest test in the book. I stood in the doorway and stared at her. She turned my way and stared back.

This is where I’m going to stay until she looks away, I told myself. I’m not sure how long it took her to smirk and look down, maybe about eight seconds or so, but when she did look down I knew all I needed to know about the little back-ache minx on my sofa. That’s how it started: not with the bending over and grunting, not really, but with that little ‘look away’ move in which I was very interested.

My wife, Barbara – not actually my wife in the paper-work sense, but my wife in every way which mattered – wasn’t there that night. She was out on the town with her girly mates and didn’t really have much time for Barry and Sharon by then; not that she disliked them as such, but – as I found out some years later – there were plenty of chaps out in town she’d rather be speaking to. Had she have been there it’s unlikely I would have been able to play the stare-game with Sharon for long enough for her to notice properly, let alone for me to win it.

Barb had a social life which was separate from us as a couple. She liked the nights out ‘with the girls’ and all that business – she still does. Most weekends when our children stay with me, and maybe some when they don’t, she will get dolled-up for a night-out with the middle-aged women to dance and jig and offer themselves to the God of eternal youth. This God behaves exactly as all the other gods do and the returns from these sweaty and drunken religious occasions must be quickly diminishing by now.

Barry and Sharon weren’t into that ‘out in town’ stuff because they did it all years ago and preferred their local pub or a few drinks with friends at home. There were a few occasions when I hosted them in mine without Barb because she was injecting her psyche with attention from men out and about in town. I didn’t mind that she went out as much as she did. By the time the working week was over, and by the time her taxi would show up on a Friday night to whisk her away to the dancefloor, I couldn’t wait to get rid of her for a few hours. The latest she ever came home was around nine AM on one morning. She didn’t say much just went straight in the bath.
Having Barry and Sharon over for a drink was a change of company which I looked forward to. I’m not surprised we split a few years later. I’m just surprised, for reasons we are slowly getting into, that Barry and Sharon took so long to get round to it themselves.

Barb wasn’t out on the town every time Barry and Sharon came over, though. There were the weekends when the girls couldn’t arrange an outing and sometimes she stayed in and we would have them over, all sat round the kitchen table, smoking (as all four of us did then) and drinking ourselves into that jolly mood alcohol has for you, the one where absolutely everything about life seems wonderful. Booze is the liquid magician. After I’d won the stare-game, every time they came over was more interesting than the times they came over before. I remember the four of us sat around, talking about whatever it was, while me and Sharon, literally, played ‘footsie’ under the table; or dropped a lighter or something onto the floor as an excuse to give the other’s leg a little rub, all of which went on under the radars of Barry and Barb. On the occasions when Barb wasn’t there, and Barry used the toilet, we’d have a super-quick bit of French-kissing in the moments he was gone, then be sat back down again, all business-like, when he got back in the room. I can’t help but find it all funny now, but I suppose it wasn’t the best way to carry-on. Can you imagine if we had been caught by one of them? Just thinking about the drama gives me a headache.

We started texting and some of these became quite to the point, but nothing like that really happened. Not really. We didn’t sleep together, though. There were a couple of amusing incidents I recall.

There was the morning Sharon had some workmen round her house and wanted to make them some tea. Barb was not home so I was by myself. Sharon knocked at the back door explaining she had these guys round and wanted to make them a drink. She was stood just inside the doorway.

‘So just make them one, then,’ I said, a little confused.
‘I will. I was just wondering if I could borrow a cup of sugar?’ I could see her trying to supress a smirk.
‘A cup of sugar?’
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘What? I’ve run out.’

We started kissing on my back door step and I remember trying to put my hands down the back of her jeans and being surprised how tight her belt was. I changed territory and pulled her t-shirt up and one side of her bra down. A few moments later she pulled my head up by my hair and told me that was quite enough of that, thank you. I have no idea if she left with any sugar or not. I suppose that Barb and Barry were not around makes this little incident less dangerous than the footsie under the table and the quickie-kisses, but one time we surpassed even that danger.

All four of us were drinkers but Barb was never fond of drinking at home. On one night when she was out doing her thing Barry and Sharon came over for a few and we put a film on. I can’t remember what it was for sure but I’m thinking it was Hostel 2. Barry had himself too much to drink and was lolling to the side a little, asleep and oblivious. Sharon was lying across the sofa, her legs across Barry’s lap, and I was sat on the floor, back against the sofa wondering just how asleep Barry really was. I have no idea why this started but there I was sucking her toes while keeping an eye on Barry in case he stirred awake and caught me with a mouthful of his beloved’s foot. He never did.

Obviously I heard his version of the state of their union, not hers. At the pub, in my capacity as best mate – and if they’d had a row – I’d listen to his stories of moods and tales of how difficult she could be and all the rest. I couldn’t see it in her, but what did I know, I didn’t live with her. There were times when he’d claim he’d had enough and was ready to jack-it-in, but he never did, and a few days later everything would be okay again. Or he’d be complaining about the amount of wine she’d drink at home. A bottle a night and sometimes more, he said.

‘And mate’, he’d say, shaking his head in either disbelief or an attempt to convince me he really meant it, ‘you should hear what comes out of her mouth when she’s pissed. Jesus! She can be vile.’

I know enough to not take a one-sided version of the truth as the whole story but I did think there might be at least something to his tales about her moods. If on a Saturday morning he’d pop over for a brew, he’d always stand by the open back door, checking his phone and looking towards their bedroom window which was above their kitchen. When the curtains were open it meant Sharon was ready and he would always have to leave at that point. So I could see he didn’t want to keep madam waiting a second too long. This might have been the tip of the iceberg showing, I thought. Who knows?

About six years later, and about a month after they split, Sharon sat on my sofa complaining that Barry had been suffocating her.

‘He’d bring me a cup of tea in bed and then shout back up the stairs “let me know if you want another one” or whatever. It used to really bug me, and he was like that all the time. Always asking permission to do this or go there or whatever. I mean, just act like a man for fuck’s sake. Leave me alone, I’m fine.’

She went on like this for a while, explaining how her first husband was brilliant and she’d really loved him. He’d do whatever he wanted: go out with his mates when he wanted, or go off for the day and do whatever. She had no problem with this, she said. But Barry was the complete opposite and used to mither her and run every little thing past her for approval.

‘He can’t even row properly,’ she told me. ‘One time – and this wasn’t long before we split up – I moved into the spare room. Any bloke would think “there’s a problem” and ask what the matter was. Not Barry. He’d come into the room with a cup of tea, kiss me on the head, and just fuck off to work like it was normal. I mean, what the fuck? Why do men do that?’

What was I meant to do, say “oh men do that for this and that reason”? I told her that was odd, and if the missus moves into the spare room most men would at least ask why.

‘Of course they bloody would! It’s the first thing you’d ask!’

I was letting her talk, just letting her vent because when a person just listens, and you really can unburden your stresses, it can be beneficial to the speaker, almost therapeutic. It can also benefit the listener. But as with Barry’s tales of moods and difficulty, I didn’t decide who was right or wrong – didn’t care, to be perfectly honest – I just weighed it that the objective truth was probably a mixture of the two versions. Though there’s no way to be able to tell in such a situation who is more right than the other, to listen to versions of one story from both sides, when both sides know the other won’t hear their version, is significantly interesting.

Barry and Sharon made some new friends in the local pub with a couple called Ian and Lyn, and so the visits over to my house stopped. I can’t say I blame them, really, because the couple they became friendly with at least were a proper couple. They went out to the local together and were happy to do so, so it was a better social balance than coming round to mine where Barb was usually out with her mates. They used to get home by using the path along the side of our house, going through the gate from front to back, and many times I heard them stumbling back from the pub about midnight, completely under the surface. Barry would (I assumed) take himself to bed, while Sharon would sit-up on her kitchen work-top, smoking and having another wine for the road. I’d stand at my back-door, pint of cold cider in hand, and we’d raise silent toasts to each other across the darkness. It was either that or we were both reassuring the other we had some booze in hand and so the other needn’t worry.

One night I decided to scare the pair of them. I’d seen both Barry and Sharon in the kitchen, boozed-up to the correct level, and thought I creep over and rap on the window or something, making them jump out of their skins. I thought if one of them dropped their glass then that would be a result. I crept out my gate and darted across to the front of their house. It was a summer night and their bedroom window was open. Sharon was sat on her kitchen work-top at the corner in a night shirt which had ridden a little up her legs, and was drinking wine as was the ritual. I couldn’t see Barry, but then heard him snoring from the open window above. The kitchen light was on, so anyone could see my shadow against her window, and also see her quite clearly. I don’t know if anyone was watching, but I had the best seats in the house.

She spread her legs and pulled across the crotch of her knickers. She then mouthed the words “you want that?” and sat there for a few moments while I wondered how to get in without making a sound. She pointed between her legs and then pointed up towards the bedroom and mouthed “he wants that” before putting her knickers back in place, slipping off the work-top and coming toward the window. She took hold of her night-shirt by the neck, stretched it out as far as it would go, bent over and showed me her breasts before turning the light off and disappearing upstairs.

What a total fucking bitch.

It wasn’t mentioned for weeks. I did bring it up one night in the pub and it was brushed off as a drunken thing and might I not mention it to Barry? I didn’t mention it to him.

Our little affair was nothing at all to shout about. Not once did we meet in secret because, I guessed, Sharon was too scared to. I did ring her once from my car during a lunch hour and she was out shopping with her sister. I asked her to come up to my work – I was but ten minutes up the motorway – and meet me but she wouldn’t. The only times we would see each other would be in company at our local or if I popped over to see Barry in the afternoon or evening for a brew or a beer. In time the whole thing dried up to nothing and the messages stopped. I suppose we both realised it wasn’t going anywhere we were probably lucky we hadn’t been caught. That sort of situation, where the women lived opposite each other and the men were best mates, would never be one to flicker then die before it got going. Thinking about what might have happened if the other two had found out always makes me smirk, though I accept I would not have been smirking at the time.

Barry started his relationship with Sharon in secret, while he was still with his daughter’s mother, Tanya. Whatever caused the breakup of that relationship I don’t know, but I do know Barry made sure he had Sharon to go to before it ended. I was surprised they got together at all when I learned how close they had been as friends. Years earlier they would go out on the town together drinking and ‘on the pull.’ Whoever ‘pulled first’ had to make sure the other got home safely. They became friends in their late teens or early twenties when Barry had a girlfriend called Wendy, Sharon’s sister. After Wendy told him she had drunkenly kissed some man in a pub one night, he ended what was a three year relationship but remained friends with Sharon. I think that was probably a little precious of him, but when I heard that I was glad all over again that we weren’t caught out.

It was two years after out little bit of fun that me and Barb split up for our own reasons – nothing to do with her over the road. It was after living by myself for a couple of months I thought about Sharon again. It was difficult to just start texting again because it wouldn’t look like much of a compliment to her, would it? I’m newly single and try to start up proceedings again. Perhaps she might have thought my interest was motivated more by what I wanted than what she needed?
Once or twice I broached the subject while in the local and was shocked to discover her version of past events was not quite in tune with mine. I could only get little snatches of conversation in the pub: there’s be too many people around, including Barry – who might overhear, and she was usually drunk when we had these snatched moments.

‘Four years ago I would have thrown it all away for you,’ she’d say, glassy eyed with a little slurring on the words, ‘but I wasn’t good enough; you didn’t want it. I was prepared to chuck it all in for and run away.’

That was a conversation I didn’t remember. ‘What? You wouldn’t even meet me from work.’ I hoped a little poke might trigger an attack of lucidity.

‘I remember, alright,’ she said. One word would sometimes blur into another. ‘When I wanted to pack it all in; would have thrown it all away for you four years ago.’ She took a slug of wine and slurred. ‘And you know it.’

It was never something we could get into properly because some other drunk would come over and start a conversation about something. It was a little frustrating because, allowing for the addiction to wine, I thought she was quite nice. I certainly liked the look of her tight little butt and pert breasts – I really did fancy getting hold of that package of flesh and having a proper session with it.

At some point I did begin to wonder if my desire to get the woman into bed came from the anorexic chance of it actually happening. We are supposed to want the things we can’t have, and then find them disappointing once we get them – like the movie which doesn’t live up to its hype, or the trailer that’s better than the film, and I began to think that like that in respect to Sharon.

One Sunday Barry showed up at mine and asked if I’d seen Sharon. I told him I hadn’t – which was true.
‘We’ve split up, mate,’ he said.
‘When did that happen?’
‘Bout a week ago. She asked to me to leave and I did.’

I got the basics of the details: she asked him to move out so he did. What he didn’t tell me right then was that he had another woman ready and waiting in the wings to go to – which was why he left so easily to begin with. Sharon didn’t know this, obviously, and that he left without much fight caused her to have huge upset because she decided she obviously wasn’t worth fighting for. You can imagine how a woman might feel about this. She would send him lots of text messages asking things like ‘where did we go wrong?’ and ‘can we give it another go?’ and different things like that. Barry showed me some of the messages and I think he was right, actually, she was texting him a great deal.

This suited him. He was enjoying the sudden freedom and the younger woman he was involved with (and lying to his mates down the pub by telling them he was round mine while he was actually with his new woman) while Sharon was fuelling his ego by constantly asking him to come back and give things another go. With this sort of security it was easy to be a grown up and say that he’ll be responding to her messages in due course: all in good time and all that.
Sharon no doubt wondered why he could be so nonchalant about things, so easy going, and I suspected she might be having quite an unpleasant time of it, even though it was her who had asked him to leave. I thought the only decent thing to do was text her, asking if she was okay.
So I did. I asked how she was doing and did she remember when I parted company with Barb, because I went through a bit of a ‘rough patch’ myself, and if she ever felt like she needed to talk, or wanted a little company, she knew I was only at the end of the phone and she could ring me anytime, day or night. She thanked me for being a friend and for being there. This might even have been genuine gratitude because, after Barry had moved out, Lyn and Ian – the great friends they’d both been socialising with for the previous five years – stopped all contact with Sharon. I found this not in the least bit surprising and told her I thought she and Lyn actually hated each other – and Sharon agreed immediately. The friendship between her and Lyn was an act kept up because the two boys were mates. Such a scenario is probably very common with couples everywhere.

She did take me up on my offer several times for a phone call and once even called while in tears because Barry had been ‘messing with her head.’ I tried to offer some simple words of wisdom, explain that it didn’t matter how she felt right now because this was all temporary, and if she could just keep in mind that, in a few weeks or a few months, she would look back at the initial break up period and laugh. I think I made her laugh a little, just enough perhaps, and told her if she ever wanted to come round for a drink and have a proper chat she was very welcome, and after lots of chats and hundreds of texts, she did.

I think I was a distraction for Sharon. When she was chatting to me or texting she wasn’t thinking about Barry and so stopped texting him like she was doing before. That she stopped chasing him had an odd effect on him. Suddenly, he was obsessed with what she was doing and who she was seeing, where she was going and all the rest of it. She told me she had said she was seeing a guy from her work, just to get him off her back and stop him bothering her, and the messages he left for her were quite abusive. He called her a tramp, a slut and other things; he also left (for reasons only he could answer) voicemail messages saying the same thing. I suppose Barry was lucky to be sufficiently flexible in his thinking that his own dishonesty (he was sleeping with his new woman within a week of moving out and lying to people about it) didn’t bother him sufficiently to restrain his criticism of Sharon’s behaviour. It must make life much easier if you are unburdened by principles and can deal with hypocrisy by ignoring it.

Quite early in the new friendship between myself and Sharon I was talking to Barb about something or another, in her living room, and she asked me if I knew if Barry and Sharon were getting back together. I said I had no idea (I had no reason to think so) and hadn’t spoken to Barry about it. She then told me that she’d seen Barry walking past the front of the house on the previous Wednesday. There’s was nowhere he would have been staying other than Sharon’s house (trust me on this, I know the area) so I thought I’d ask her about it when I could find a good moment.

Fortunately that moment was a few minutes later when we went to her sister’s house to carry her sun-bed back to put in her spare room. As we walked the short distance, I threw out the feeler:
‘You’ll never guess what,’ I said.
‘Barb saw Barry walking past the front of the house one morning last week. Where you think he was staying?’
To give credit where it’s due she was pretty quick:
‘Ian and Lyn’s, maybe?’

That was not a bad answer, but that particular house was too far away for Barry to have walked past Barb’s house given the geography of the area and the places he was likely to be going. It was more likely he’d stayed at Sharon’s. I noted her reaction. I didn’t truly believe her but wasn’t sure, either. This is a failing with me. At forty years old I should trust what my reason tells me, but my reaction to her explanation was a typical burst of confirmation bias.

It was the sunbed which first started Barb’s suspicions, and ultimately, lead to a huge, nasty argument between Barb and me which isn’t yet over.

Sharon asked me if I wanted to try her sunbed and I said I did because I have really white skin which burns easily and I’d never been on one. So I thought I’d have a go for the experience.
I was laid there, on her spare bed, just wearing the old boxers with her laid next to me feeding me crisps, chatting about the sun and sunburn and whatever else, and was rather enjoying the experience, but didn’t realise that my daughter and her mother had noticed my car was still in the area and was timing the duration of my stay in Sharon’s house. It turns out it was two hours.
This was enough for Barb to accuse me of screwing her, and I denied I was screwing her because my car was outside her house. I actually told her the truth: I was using her sunbed, believe it or not, and it had nothing to do with what she thought had been going on. That shut her up for a while, but the next time she asked me I told her the whole truth and her reaction, given we’d been apart for four years, amazed me.

To say she expressed her displeasure would be an understatement. Goodness only knows why she cared, but she did, and the argument we had didn’t end until hours later that night, when after telephoning me to continue it, and one of us cut the other off, I’d sent reams of text-based bile to her phone pointing out her short-comings.

It was roughly two months before we spoke again and she called me because Barry had just been on the phone to her, and she wanted me to know what had been said. She told him everything I told, and (unfortunately for me) a few years previously, when it was safe to do so, I’d told bar about the kitchen incident.
She told me he cried down the phone.

I received some strange text messages from Barry after everything ‘kicked off.’

He told me I had ‘ripped his world apart’ and that both Sharon and me were ‘a pair of selfish cunts’ and ‘how could I do that to him?’

I was irritated by the tone so replied that nothing had been done to him, which was true, it hadn’t. All that had happened was Barry now knew some information and disliked the information, but his babyish attitude made him see everything as an attack on him personally – the classic ‘it’s all about me’ attitude.

He also made an amusing misjudgement. He told me in one of his bitter texts: ‘Everyone’s going to know what sort of bloke you are. Some already know and are not surprised.’

I didn’t have the heart to text back, asking: ‘who’s everyone?’

The Goldfish thinks the bowl’s the universe.

In blabbing to people about what Sharon and me had been up to, he would have made himself look like an imbecile without realising it.

I tried to explain this to my mother by mentioning a brief Smiley quote from Le Carre: George Smiley tells Guillam (I think) that a chap should never try to make the enemy look foolish because it takes away the justification for taking them on in the first place.

I had a terrible vision of Barry, gleefully telling people at the pub what had been going on, while those he told said things like ‘that’s bang out of order, Baz,’ and ‘that fuckin’ takes the piss, mate’ while they tried not to smirk and prentended to care. The rules of the game, the bloke’s game called ‘Down the Pub,’ require this sort of fakery because it allows the ‘one of us’ pretence to be kept up.

No doubt these pub-goers would have spotted the slightly fickle attitude coming from Barry and this might have damaged his credibility in a way that never gets mentioned between blokes in that sort of situation.

I saw his car outside Sharon’s the other day and assumed he and her were trying to ‘make a go of it’ despite everything which had happened. That left me impressed and depressed at the same time.

I shouldn’t need to explain why.

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

– Dorothy Parker

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