Family birthdays of Daniella’s parents-in-law’s house are mandatory but lively affairs, with all the children and grand-children present to wish either Taleb, the patriarch of the family or Evia his wife happy birthday. “Right from the beginning, I’d found these re-unions terrifying”, confessed Daniella. “As time passed though, and my marriage to Franklyn passed the five-year mark, I began to relax, hoping my place as the second wife of my in-law’s only son was finally established, so you can imagine how distraught I was when Taleb celebrated his birthday and I got a shocker. I was sitting next to the buffet table when my father-in-law poured himself another generous glass of brandy then asked: “Can you pass the plate of chicken, Esther?”
Everybody sort of froze for a while. Everyone knows ‘Esther’ is not my name. That it is the name of Franklyn’s first wife. An embarrassed laugh erupted from a guest and Gift, my sister-in-law, quickly grabbed the chicken bowl and passed it on to her dad. Then Franklyn asked if anyone wanted more wine in rather a loud voice. I have known Franklyn and his family for more than eight years. It pains me to admit it, but such blunders – and hey happened more than once – still leave me feeling distressed.
“Maybe I should be more generous to Taleb who is just over 70 and can be forgetful. But we visit his house regularly and I help his wife with decorating the house from time to time. I also take him out to my doctor’s once in a while, so the very least he can do is remember my name. Sadly, my name is not the name which passes my in-law’s lips the most. It is Esther’s. At that birthday, he was again the ghost at the table, warming her way into a family gathering at which she had no place.
“Can the ghost of a first wife ever be exorcised? When I first came across pictures of Franklyn and Esther together, my heart sank. Flicking through album after photo album I began to compare her relationship with Franklyn to mine. They were married for nine years and I wondered how I could possibly compete. As I flicked through, they went from boyfriend and girlfriend to happily married couple, before becoming the proud parents of a daughter, and then a son – both now in their 20s. To my envious eyes, they seemed the perfect family.
“I have never dared delve too far into the reasons why she and Franklyn split, but they got together when young and it seems they simply grew apart. It would give me a bit of smug victory is Esther was fat, frumpy and past her prime, but she isn’t. Even though she was 15 years older than me, she’s tall, carried her age well and is a university professor. She has also guarded her friendship with my husband’s sister, Alice, staying in such contact with her that I could never hope to form my own bond.
“And what does my dear husband have to say about it? Very little. Though I know I am the love of his life, he is reluctant to take his family to task over Esther and her seemingly privileged status. How does that make me feel? Disappointed and, once in a while, very nearly murderous! A couple of years ago, when my step-daughter graduated, she was all over the place. She made sure she sat everywhere my husband and I sat. Afterall, the graduand is her daughter! She was already seated when we arrived. As soon as we did, she shook my hand and kissed Franklyn on the cheek. It was embarrassing for me.
“After the ceremony, a heavy silence hung between my husband and I on our way home and it took until the next day for me to pluck up the courage to ask if he’d known beforehand that Esther would be there. He said he’d known nothing about it, and we later found out his parents did not tell us because they knew I wouldn’t have gone.
“So the next year, when her son graduated, I told Franklyn I wouldn’t attend if Esther would be there, and I didn’t. You see, it’s not Esther’s good looks or intellect that really irritates me. She has something I will never have. She gave given birth to and raised his children. And it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that after years of fertility treatment, I might never have his child. My stepchildren, though lovely, are the product of their marriage. They mean my husband’s life will forever be entwined with his ex-wife’s. I look to the future, to weddings, christenings and grandchildren, and shrink with misery when I think how Esther will dominate them. Sadly, I have no alternative but to avoid them.
“I am constantly reminded of Esther’s status as `mother’ and `first wife’ whenever my stepchildren come to stay. When they visit, their mother often phones. She sends cards and presents which the children must hand over to be passed on to their grandparents. Esther remarried several years after she split from Franklyn, but two years ago, her second husband left her. Guess who consoled her during this ordeal? My in-laws!
“While Franklyn sympathises, he tries to keep the peace., I sometimes asked how he would feel if my parents discussed my ex-husband in his company. His response is logical but cuts me to the quick. `Why would they talk about your ex?’ he asks. `You don’t have children so there’s no reason for him to continue to play any part in your life’. Slowly, I have come to realise that the ghost of my husband’s oh-so-perfect first wife will not go away. I may resent and regret that fact, but I know she will be in my marriage for the rest of my life. I only hope we can survive her presence.
Unpaid Labour! (Humour)
A man arrived home from work to find absolute chaos. As he walked up to the garden path he fell over toys, strewn all over the ground and a broken bottle on the doorstep. Inside, the living room was in uproar. The two small children had up-ended the furniture and pushed over the television. The carpet had food all over it plus an overturned vase of flowers and spilt glasses of milk. The kitchen was even worse. Dirty fishes covered every work surface, the fridge had been left open so it had de-frosted and the cat was sitting on the table eating left-over food.
“Oh no!” he gasped. He was really worried that something had happened to his wife. He raced up the stairs two at a time and rushed into the bedroom. There, sitting up in bed was his wife, reading a book and eating chocolate. “What’s going on?”, he asked. I thought you must be ill”. “Oh no”, she replied, “but when you come in every day and ask me what I did … well today, I didn’t”.
Seeing that the road was clear in both directions, the man began to cross on the zebra crossing. Suddenly, from out of the blue a car appeared from nowhere and knocked him to the ground. As it sped off, he heard a witch’s cackle.
The man picked himself up as a policeman rushed over to check that he was alright. “Can you tell me anything about the incident?”, he asked. “Did you get a look at the driver?” “I didn’t need to”, he said wearily, “it was my wife”. “But how do you know?” “I’d know that chilling laugh anywhere”.