I awoke, on one fateful morning, to find myself no longer the main character of my life. But who was? I looked over to my left and my wife was not there; she had arisen before me. I was alone. So I rose, feeling strange, and decided to make a cup of coffee. Perhaps after fully waking I could better understand the situation, I thought. I lowered my feet from the bed and my robe and slippers were gone; I would have to travel to the kitchen in my pyjamas. How could this happen to me? I mused; How could I be protagonistless and slipperless?
Upon entering the kitchen I was made fully aware something was awry. The children were charming to their mother, and each greeted me without fanfare. They sat at the table with their softboiled eggs, popping bacon, and thick sausages while my wife cooed at them. Had she stolen my identity? I shook my head; ’twas preposterous to even consider the topic. I prepared the coffee on the stove while I sleepily contemplated the meaning of my existence. There was the possibility that she was with another man, or that she knew something more. How could she have found out? I resolved to double-check my expenses once I could think clearly. The coffee brewed, and as it poured into my mug, I could feel my soul shifting. O heart! How couldst thou betrayest me! I was aching for something I could not explain; it was like I had awoken with a hole in my heart. But what could fill it? What substance, what person could fill it?
Now I had drunk the black liquid. I was awake. I could tackle this conceptualism with a full mind if I could rid myself of distraction. To spite me, the children clung to my legs so that my every step was 13 kilos heavier. Little did they know the warfare in my mind, the battle I was fighting to become a protagonist! I feigned enjoyment; I walked in large steps with a wide gait. It pleased my wife greatly. She kissed me on the cheek and whispered something in my ear. I tried to listen but I cared little what she said. Suddenly I recollected that I must bathe. As the children scampered away, I headed into the bedroom and purged myself of all clothing. Once I was covered in water, I was able to think clearly. If my bathtub is a pool of water surrounded by land, and England is made up of land surrounded by water, is it possible that England is a reverse bathtub? I mused; then, thinking better of it, I focused again on the task at hand. While I lathered myself in soap, it struck me that perhaps its maker had taken my protagonism. Now how could I find him? Quickly, I roused myself from my buttocks and splashed onto the rug. A trail of soapy footsteps followed me to the nightstand drawer, where I rummaged through my documents to find—yes!—the wrapper for the soap, meticulously labeled in my folder of “October purchases.” And it had a number on it. Quickly I scoured my memory for the location of the phone. Of course! It was in the living area. I bounded towards it and as quickly as possible put in the number.
It hit me as the call was being placed—what would I say to this company? Which of your employees is my main character? I hung up, seating my naked self upon the leather couch with my hands on my head. There was no telling who had taken over. What could I do? I stared deeply into the floor, bored holes into it as my mind whirled into complex thought. Right when I was about to have a spark of an idea, an obnoxious pair of feet appeared in my line of sight. I looked up to see my wife, flustered and red. She gave me a deep kiss on the lips before telling me I needed to get ready for work. What was her name again? I noticed the room had darkened from her closing the blinds. By my own volition, I decided to drain the bath and dress myself. I got up from the chair and she quickly dried the wet spot where I had sat. The clothing choice mattered little; the material was of ultimate softness, a mauve dress shirt with dark black pants and a stark overcoat of equal blackness. My jet black shoes were perfectly shined; but this of course was also meaningless. I made it halfway down the street before realizing I was not wearing underwear, which my wife waved out the door for me.
After an ambitious day of work I made my way back to the train. I sat in the most uncomfortable seat imaginable and again contemplated how my life had lost its consequence. I weighed my options for who could be my main character. The soap-maker option was still there; but no, I had bought that soap a fortnight ago. This was too sudden for a gradual change. An alternative: it could be the children. Those little leaches; they were clearly the protagonists of their own life stories. I would have to pursue this option a little more to fully witness their delinquency. The final possibility: oh no, it couldn’t be my wife! I laughed aloud at this idea. What did she know about meaning? She was nothing but a pointless fraud, walking life in my shadow. Ha! Like women were worth anything.
Upon returning home I couldn’t help but notice how clean the floors were, how dustless the surfaces were, how spotless the chairs were. Something was very wrong. My wife had to have been seeing someone else. She would turn around the corner and there would be tears on her cheeks. Oh yes, I braced myself; a sternness, a darkness, hand ready to point to the door, then, sweet redemption! She would be all the more ready to do my bidding. I looked around, taking soft steps. Were the children in bed? I couldn’t interview them if so. Then, suddenly, there she was, dressed in a long, flowing navy gown. Her hair was in some glorious updo. Was that a subtle glisten in her eye? I couldn’t help but unleash a small smirk.
She said, “Max and Caroline are at Samantha’s. The house is empty. It’s just you and I.” I was surprised by this progression, but I was still certain she had something to tell me. I took a step back and raised a finger. She looked quizzical. “Dear, what is it?”
I took this moment to reflect on the history of our relationship. She was a beautiful doll when I married her. Did almost anything I bid without insistence. But lately she’d insisted on taking the children to church, something I had never and had no plans to experience. She still fulfilled me physically, but she’d grown somewhat distant; not that I’d noticed. She did everything I asked, but she seemed to have someone else on the mind. And lately she’d been reading that god-forsaken book, the Bible. She would tell me these stories about how women are to live with their “unbelieving” husbands. True belief is a glass of scotch and a bed with a woman, not a book and a prayer and something about love. Love died in 1876 when my mother broke a bottle over my father’s head and stabbed him with it. That’s true love, not this enemy-befriending nonsense. No, I did not love my wife. I wasn’t supposed to.
I had some recollection that my wife was guiding me to the couch. The thing that surprised me is that she was the one expecting me to say something. I asked her one word: “Well?” She burst into tears. Women are so fickle. They cry at the drop of a hat. There was no way I was going to put up with this nonsense. “If you have something to tell me, say it.”
She was suddenly angry. “It’s you who has something to say!” She held up a letter that Janine had written me two fortnights ago. It was a sultry letter that I had been meaning to burn, but something about it had interested me, like I was reading sacred words. I mused on how wonderful Janine had been, how she had always been so aloof, and how I had never known if she had any true romantic affection for me. My heart pounded at the very thought of her. Sweet Janine! Oh, how much she meant to me. But I grew aware that wife was concluding her rant on how perfect she had been. “Yet I am willing to look past this. I will give you three chances. One: you come to church with me on Sunday for three months. Two: you stay with the children after work for three weeks. Three: you take me out once a week, in public, where everyone can see us. Will you take these three chances? If not, I will be forced to leave you.”
Now here was some progression. A bait. I knew that if I accepted it would make for a mundane couple of weeks. But if I declined, it would mean a custody battle, something I did not want found on my résumé. She could take the children, of course. But I needed to fuss about it for my boss to take pity on me and give me a bonus at the end of the month. However, if I fought for my marriage, one could bet their life that I would be esteemed in the office. “A changed man!” my coworkers would murmur, and I might expect a raise. So the wisest choice had to be to take it.
“I will do anything to save our marriage…my dear.” I desperately needed to know her name. “For the children, and for you, I would give my life.” I knew that line would win her. But instead, she looked as distrusting as ever. Something was truly different about her; I had hardly noticed bit by bit, but now she looked almost holy in this moment with turmoil in her eyes. It was despicable.
That night, she moved me to the guest bedroom. It was odd, not being able to use my wife at all times. I nearly missed kissing her passionately. Then the children came home, and as bid, I had them sit on my lap as I read them a story. Something about Robin Hood being a great hero. Hell, I thought to myself, if I were Robin Hood, I’d keep the money I stole; who needed the poor? They would die off anyway, like vermin. Then the female child wanted me to tuck her into bed and sing a lullaby. The only song that came to mind was “God Save Ireland,” so I sang it as softly as I could. I even did a little jig. She giggled and fell asleep quickly. The boy was sulking, so I came to his bed and asked him what was wrong. He merely turned away from me. The little pest, being so unkind to the one who paid for his bed! No matter, I merely whispered “goodnight” and left him alone. Brat.
In the morning I awoke to the smell of my wife cooking breakfast for the children. Again, my robe was gone. I asked her where it went and she said nothing. Something was bothering her; I couldn’t quite find what. I made my coffee in my pyjamas again and once more felt the tug of my life not revolving around myself. My wife whispered something to the spawns and the idea instantly struck me once more—had she taken my identity? I couldn’t understand how, she played such a minimal role. Every action she made was so fickle. She couldn’t even financially support herself. Yes, it was true; she was a peon. And yet I still found a small desire to know her name.
I stripped myself of my garments and searched my room for any documentation of her. Even her birth certificate would do. Ah, her nightstand! For some reason, my skin prickled and my cheeks coloured at the thought of it. And yet my hand still reached for it. I sprawled all the pages out, piercing the paper with my eyes for one iota of a name. And then—alas! I found it. Evangeline. Such a beautiful name. I couldn’t imagine any other name for her. Suddenly I heard her stirring and I quickly shuffled the documents into the drawer. I turned around. She had a hand on her hip; she was dressed, wearing all black. Had her mother died? Wait, hadn’t I already attended that blasted woman’s funeral?
“I am not going to do any housework for you until you complete what I have asked of you. I will not remind you of when you are to go to work, I am not going to give you any physical affection, and I am not going to give you your underwear when you forget it. You are on your own.” I heard her murmur God help you under her breath. I suddenly was made aware that there was a time constraint for getting ready for work. What time was it? 5 minutes past. I quickly shuffled to the bath and washed myself. Why was I feeling so rushed and ashamed? These emotions were so foreign to me. I purged myself of them in the water, letting it rinse every inch of my masculinity. As I dressed for work, I heard sobbing coming from the other room. I almost winced at it. What was happening to me? Was I feeling sorry for her? Cursed unreliable emotions.
At work I noticed people looking at me strangely. I couldn’t understand why. It made me feel so uncomfortable that I refused to eat with any of them. I opened my briefcase to find no lunch, but a tiny slip of paper drifted out. “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body,” it read. I was very confused. Was this slip the hint I needed to find the protagonist, the man who had bought me? I was so grateful for this sign that I cried at my desk. Thank god for this omen! I could find who bought my soul!
I decided to take the children out for dinner as I was unaware of any cooking ability in myself. We sat at our table and I looked at my children with a new light. One of them had blue eyes, just like me. I saw red circles under his, and hers as well. As we feasted on bread and potatoes, he asked, “Are you and Mum getting a…a d-word?” I furrowed my brows at the suggestion. Are we getting damned? I was, most assuredly. But perhaps he meant…divorce? Again I felt the chills. I could not understand what I was feeling. It was a mix of pity for them and perhaps for myself, that was all I could tell. I went to counter the child and my voice cracked. I swallowed the phlegm and continued: “Not under my watch.” I made sure to milk the sparkle in my eye at this. He continued to frown but ate a little more dedicatedly.
Again my wife would not sleep with me. I desired sex so strongly that I almost went down to the brothel to purify myself. But the words of that slip of paper stuck to the forefront of my mind, like some sort of seal. I could not physically leave the house. I lay in bed thinking of all the women I had lain with in the past five years. Suddenly they all seemed to morph into one woman—Evangeline. She whispered, “’Til death do us part,” and I reached out my hand to join with hers, mouthing the words in reply as she led me to a small pool of water. Her other hand touched my head and pressed down upon it until I was fully immersed. When I emerged, I found myself fully naked with a burning cross was before me. Then I was the one wearing black, walking toward a table. Evangeline was across from me. In between sat a man with long hair on head and face, speaking something in a foreign language. He looked at me and my wife and said Eros. He looked at her only, lifting his arm to caress her cheek, and said Agape. He looked at me with arms outstretched and said Agapas? I did not know this man, so I shook my head no, feeling strangely morose, and suddenly his hands turned with palms facing me. I felt a push and now my wife drifted away and I could only cry out EVANGELINE! before she was gone and I sat straight up in my bed. I reached to my left and she was not there. I beat her pillow and yelled. I wept. Who was that man? Why did he push me away from my wife? Where was she? Where was my love?
Days passed. I still lacked control of my life, but I was able to feed Max and Caroline and keep composure at work. On Sunday I felt an overwhelming desire to go to church, as if the man would be there. Evangeline looked at me with disbelief as she directed me to the one she had been attending. The worship confused me; they sang songs of giving everything to someone they cannot see, hear, or touch. My wife raised her arms to this god, to this peculiar matterless man, as I looked around at the stained glass. There—above the priest was the man I had seen! I began to sweat profusely and lose my breath. As we sat for the sermon, I could not help but pace my foot. I needed to speak to the priest. He began his solemn speech.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
I could not believe what he was saying. How could everything I had aspired for be dismissed so quickly? How could he say that everything I had done was for nothing? I had provided for my wife. I had created two offspring. I had given many women pleasurable nights. What did love matter? The sweat dripped down my neck. But he continued.
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly.”
This man had to be delirious. Since when was love kind? Did I not have a right to take pride in my work? And who was he to say I had to act a certain way? I was fuming. My foot could not stop tapping. Uncomfortableness consumed me. And still, he continued.
“Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
This priest spoke nothing but lies. How could love endure all things? Nothing endured all things. Life led to death. There was no hope; it was dying out with the youth. The so-called church leader inflamed me with such anger that I couldn’t stand it one second more. I stood up and marched out of the room. The priest hesitated for a second but resumed his spiel. I could feel my wife’s eyes searing into the back of my head and still I continued to the foyer. I stopped next to a bookshelf and grabbed a Bible out of it. The book fell open to a passage in Ephesians that read, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Who was this Christ? Was this that Jesus person my wife had been prattling about the past couple months? And why was he so adamant about love? Again I looked up and saw the saintly figure of a bearded man in the windowpane, the same who had asked me that question. I strongly sensed that this Christ was the main character of my life. But why?
I kept reading in the book about Christ. It seemed he was some sort of hero. He upturned tables and yelled at people. He called people out. And somehow, he healed people. It sounded like a bunch of nonsense. But if it meant something to her it meant something to me. Slowly I began getting a picture of a god become man become dead become alive. I stood still. I closed my eyes. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, but rejoices in the truth. O heart! How couldst thou betrayest me! I was feeling something awaken in it, something I had not asked for. What was it? What was it? Ph—Phileo? What in hell was that? I gripped my head in my hands and groaned. It hurt! I was in pain! My mother—my—my father! I fell to my knees and wept in my hands. I could hear the chorus singing. I felt nothing but shame as I pounded the floor and yelled. The chorus sang louder. Amazing grace, how great the sound that saved a wretch like me. Me—a wretch! No! I once was lost but now am found, “No!” was blind but now I see. I didn’t want to see! “I want to be blind!” But there was no way to go back. I couldn’t unsee what I had seen. I was blind. And He was all I could see.
I sobbed on the floor and it echoed through the whole auditorium. Then I heard footsteps, the quick click of my wife’s heels. She leaned over me with a hand on my shoulder. “What’s wrong?” I reached up and caressed her cheek as I mouthed the words. Phileo. Soon a tear fell from her eye as she held me tight like a mother with a babe, stroking my back as I cried. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
As the weeks passed, I began to fall in love with my family. I woke one day to find my robe and slippers set out for me, and in the kitchen a full English breakfast before me, including a hot mug of coffee. At first I was very skeptical—was this the same woman who had cast me out? I ate it cautiously. But over time the breakfasts continued and I was able to eat with my children. Max had developed quite the attitude, the little stinker. He didn’t trust me unconditionally like he used to, but I hoped to make up for what I had lost. Caroline was overjoyed on any occasion to see me talking to her mother, however reserved she would be. I loved to see her eyes brighten as she looked at us. If only Evangeline could see me this way.
One Saturday I took my bride out for dinner and she looked ravishing. I, in my simple suit of dark grey, felt very out of place, even though my dress socks were argyle. She deigned to hold my hand for balance as she exited the carriage. I felt like weeping the entire meal long as we engaged in the most trivial of small talk. Finally I rushed to the water closet and sobbed. Nothing I had done to her had made my wife less beautiful. I held onto the single hope that she would forgive me. My hope for Evangeline was all that kept me going. I loved her. Dare I say it? I loved her! She was more a man than I could dream to be. O heart! How couldst thou lovest me? Sinful soul that I am, God has set me free.