Last night I had a dream about Humphery Hurtwood. I dream about him on and off, usually, intense sex dreams that make me yearn for my younger, freer years but last night’s dream was different. There’d been an accident on a winter’s evening with a horsebox, Humphery had stopped his BMW to help but now was implicated in a much darker mystery. The horse owner kept his black leather gloves in her safe. I open it and find them, along with many of his papers. I smell the inside of his gloves.
There is some kind of cover-up because the girl groom didn’t call the vet straight away, fearful of him involving the police because she was wearing leggings (apparently, vets strongly disapprove of leggings).
I take Humphery’s black gloves to him and warn him something strange is going on. I look in a mirror before I go. I am very fat, like in one of those Instagram apps. I tell myself it’s because I’ve just had a baby. We go for a walk down a steep, wooded lane. Baby Vita isn’t in the dream but Sienna is. She is trying to keep up with up in the wood above but Humphery is walking too fast. I lose sight of her and have to go back. I discover her hiding in the wardrobe. I find a buggy and put her in it but Humphery will not wait for us. We are left behind.
But what does it all mean? It must be a sign. It must mean something. I need to befriend a Freud. I’m sure I have one on Facebook. Humphery’s not been well. Fiona told me months ago and Cathy (my friend back home in Wiltshire) confirmed he’d had a minor heart attack. I have longed to contact him but what exactly is the etiquette about contacting your ex? Is it permissible after a heart attack? I really think it must be. But what about after a dream?
I think of Humphery most of the day; while peeling the skin off a large cucumber, opening up half a pitta and stuffing it with hummus and finally scrubbing the linoleum on all fours. Everything is reminding me of him. Of his big hands. Like dinner plates and collarbones the size of tibias. He is a mythical creature: weaned on buffalo milk and centaur-like on and off the polo field. He is. Was? A Jilly Cooper wet dream.
Oh, and the drama. Not mundane married drama like who shrunk my favourite jumper? Why didn’t you pay the accountant? F**k, we’ve run out of nappies! No. More: nobody understands our love (there were 30 years between us), the drama of him trying to do the right thing by ‘setting me free’, the drama of being mistaken for his daughter and telling them I was, in fact, his lover.
There were the jealous rages if I spoke to another man, god forbid another polo player; his insatiable sexual appetite, his infidelities. Some of the best advice I was given was don’t get married; don’t get pregnant. I took the advice and the relationship, although it ended, remained perfectly tumultuous and intense, unspoilt by the everyday reality of responsibility. Of parenthood. Simon is husband material; Humphery was a lover.
I sit with the kids at the picnic bench outside our house picking at the leftover fish-fingers and baked beans. Arthur’s joined us as Mandy’s taken Mia for her jab’s at the doctors’. The children happily chomp away, oblivious of my inner turmoil. Vita is throwing beans at the parasol. Arthur and Sienna chuckle mischievously. They hold hands at the table, friends since they were only a few months old.
I hang out the washing on the whirlygig. The back garden is north facing, right by the main road and, more importantly, hanging my underwear out here irritates Fiona who says it’s lowering the tone of the Married Patch. I peg my silky pink knickers and decide I will contact Humphery – he’s in his sixties, had a heart attack, he’s hardly a threat and I would happily encourage Simon to contact Geordie Janey, his former love, if she were to fall ill. In fact, I’m happy for him to contact her even in good health. I don’t like to deny the characters of our previous years, they remain part of us in our memories, habits and hearts.
But I don’t want Humphery to see me like this; chubby, in a shapeless shirt dress, hair thrown up, sensible sandals with a basket of washing. I will lose weight first. A BMW with blacked out windows drives into the close and I quickly round up the children – Vita in her walker, Sienna on her scooter, Arthur on his balance bike. The car parks under the cherry tree in front of Fiona and The General’s house. I carry on pegging my knickers until I hear the click of the driver’s door open and watch Humphery slowly raise himself out of the car. He is thinner on top, greying at the edges but still looking muscular and sexual. Like Robert Duvall or, for the younger audience, Jason Statham at 55.
Humphery doesn’t want to talk, he is rushing to get away from me, putting his hand up like the sports star he is and I am the paparazzi. Dr Nick walks around the corner, back from the school run with his kids.
Dr Nick: “Afternoon.”
I want to talk to Humphery. I am following him. “Are you okay? I wanted to call. Is your heart okay?”
He nods quickening his pace. “Yes, thank you. I’m fine.”
I want to tell him why I walked out, that we had four amazing years; that he haunts my dreams. “Please Humph, I need to talk to you – remember the New Forest and that thing you did with your thumb?”
He’s at the General’s door, banging and ringing the bell. Fiona lets him in, she scowls at me and Humphery hurries in, practically falling over the threshold. “‘Careful, I won’t always be there to catch you went you fall.’ You said that to me at treading-in just after the Edgington ball,” I shout, fully aware I am sounding like a nutter.
The door bangs shut.
I return to my picnic bench deflated. It’s because I’ve gone to seed. It’s because I’m fat and ruddy (the rash of death is back on my forehead probably because I’m drinking too much again. Although everyone says they can’t see it but I can see it. The dermatologist says it’s rosacea but I know it’s liver disease.) I look at myself in the hall mirror. Yuck.
I cuddle Vita and watch Sienna and Arthur now on the trampoline. I’m desperate. I need to tell Humphery about the dream. I need to find out if he’s okay. I need to find out what I’ve done wrong. Why won’t he talk to me?!
Dr Nick brings out his children’s tea and put them on his picnic table “Was that Humphery? The polo player with massive hands?” I nod. “Wow, he really is old. He looks like he could have started the sport in Victorian times.”
I break into a smile. He can see I am sobbing behind my sunglasses. I remember the doctor’s package in his lemon lycra, flirting with me on the ladder, waking up spooning with him by accident. What is wrong with me? I love Simon, we’ve just had five glorious sexless nights in Italy together. And that’s the problem. Simon’s probably watching large amounts of porn at Staff College, while I’m checking out the neighbour and reminiscing about men his father’s age.
Fiona flings open the front door. “We need a doctor!” Dr Nick and I run in. Humphery is supine on the sitting room floor, his body is jolting. Fiona is waving papers over his head. “I need you to sign, Humphery. Just scribble here and here.”
Me: “HUMPHERY! Why is he jolting?”
Dr Nick is checking his airwaves. “Has he had a defibrillator fitted?”
Fiona nods. “Humphery, wake up. I need you to sign!”
The defibrillator kicks in again and he starts to moan. I stroke his face. “Oh, Humphery.”
Humphery: “Get her away from me.”
Me: “I love you. I’ll always love you. Don’t die!” The defibrillator kicks in again.
Dr Nick: “Nessa, you are going to kill him at this rate.”
I return outside to the children and watch as he is stretchered into an ambulance. “Come on kids, we’re going to get in the car now.” I want to follow the ambulance. Someone has to be with him. It should be me, not Fiona.
Dr Nick: “Don’t. For his own sake. Go tomorrow.” He’s right, I can’t take the children there, especially not at bedtime, it would be hell on earth. And I don’t have a seat for Arthur. Fiona is getting in the ambulance, Humphery is wild-eyed shaking his head.
Me: “No, no, no. Not her.”
Dr Nick: “You stay here too, Mrs. Smith.”
Fiona: “I’ll do as I damn well, please. He’s my friend.”
Dr Nick: “You’re having a negative effect on the patient.” The paramedic agrees.
Fiona climbs out. “I’ll go in the car.” She gets her papers from the house, locks the door and jumps in her car.
The ambulance drives off with Fiona in hot pursuit. Nick stares into the distance. “You had quite an impact on him, didn’t you?” He turns his head to look at me. “So, what did he do with this thumb in your New Forest?”
I decide not to tell the actual story of how he trapped it in a sash window at a hotel and I saved him and it brought us closer together. Instead, I say saucily. “I’ll leave it up to your imagination, Doctor.” I really have got to stop flirting with the neighbour. And, lose weight.