It confused everyone when she wore it out one day. ‘That’s preposterous,’ her husband said. ‘You can’t wear out your eardrums.’
‘It’s not her eardrums,’ the psychiatrist explained. ‘She says it’s her hearing – the facility, not the organ. I think she’s trying to say that she’s tired of listening to other people.’
‘Well why doesn’t she say that?’ said her husband. He was a barrister and specialized in obfuscating. He felt aggrieved that his wife had so deftly queered what he thought of as his pitch.
‘I suppose it’s a lot stronger to say it this way,’ the doctor said. ‘I’m not really sure. Because she doesn’t respond to any of the questions – she says she won’t until they’re put in writing, and then she’ll reply in the same – I can’t tell whether it’s just a façon de parler or actually part of some deeper pathology.’
‘But she can hear, can’t she? I mean, she hasn’t lost the power to, as it were – just the interest,’ her husband snapped. He was prepared to shout, if necessary. He didn’t generally enjoy shouting because he equated it with losing, but he estimated (quickly, while the shrink was talking) that his wife cost him something in the order of £45,000 a year – more, if you included the children’s school fees, which she claimed was worth more than therapy. That seemed to justify an increase in volume, purely as risk-management.
He tried to look on the bright side. ‘At least it’s not anything else, like her legs,’ he said.
‘Ah, well, actually,’ the doctor said. ‘She mentioned that a few other things were quite depleted – that’s how she put it. Tasting was one and, erm, well, fucking – again, her words – was the other.’
There was a silence. ‘You’re joking,’ her husband replied. Fucking he had no opinion about. His secretary, Miranda, regularly wore him out, and the house had been a sexless but peaceful oasis since Lucy had gone off to Cheltenham Ladies’. But eating was a significant part of his life. He enjoyed eating with his wife. She was a witty conversationalist who knew a lot about food and who cooked – and ate – intelligently. He had witnessed the travails of colleagues whose wives dieted or developed allergies and food fetishes. Divorce was usually in the wind, and that meant loneliness, expense, change, and demands for quality parenting by the children.
‘Isn’t there –’ he corrected himself. ‘What can you do about it? There must be some kind of …residential program you can have her on. Convince her that she’s not worn out her ears, or her tastebuds, or…whatever.’
‘Yes, I’m just not sure about that, you see. There doesn’t actually seem to be anything wrong with her. She’s in a good and stable mood, quite able to communicate her belief and supply intelligent – actually quite profound – reasons for it. And she knows what she wants.’
‘Thank God!’ Her husband leaned forward. ‘So what is it?’
The doctor steepled his fingers. ‘She says that she’s going to live in your beach house. She’s unplugging the phone and won’t take calls, and she’s going to live on this pudding-y stuff. Apparently it has all the necessary nutrients and fibre needed to live on, but absolutely no taste. You drink it, or something – sort of slurp it down three times a day. She says that you have Miranda – or rather, you’ve been having Miranda for the past three years – so it doesn’t matter that she’s decided not to engage in, um, relations again.’
The barrister was a paler shade of his normal fighting fit hue, like a shell washed clean of its grit. ‘But what am I supposed to do?’ he said. He was aware of how plaintive he sounded. ‘It sounds as if she wants to go off and become a nun! We’re married, for God’s sake! We have children! We have social obligations – look, I don’t want to spend my life screwing my secretary and microwaving my dinner! You must make her see sense, immediately!’
‘I doubt that’s going to happen,’ said the doctor, ‘from your point anyway. She says she’s sick of marriage and wants a rational life. I think she’s absolutely right and, in fact, when she’s settled in silence down there, I might go and join her.’