Friday, 25 March 2011

Chapter Five

The next entry in the diary was a series of words:




Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

I thought perhaps Constance was planning a trip to India and these were the stops en route but Chris disabused me and said they were poses in yoga. There were half a dozen more including  – for the yoga-initiated amongst you -



Parsva Bakasana

We did a bit of research and found that the first poses were not uncommon, fairly garden-variety postures, but the latter ones were practically impossible, involving gravity-defying leg-extensions, poising on your elbows as your head cranes up at a neck-breaking angle.

If these were contortions Constance Hill was capable of, she’d been spending a lot of time at the gym. Or on the ashram.

Clippings of newspaper reviews were pasted on the heels of the Sanskrit words, names carefully excised, as though protecting an identity:

‘TYPECAST a tapping good time’

‘Tragedian gives musical-comedy star turn’

‘ Miss Fouquet she stopped the audience in the middle of its rollicking night-out to force us into reflection on the vagaries of love and the unexpected dignity of simply caring for another person..’

‘.. Another Olivier winging her way.’

Four months after the announcement of her husband’s departure, she wrote again.  She used a fountain pen and the hand was alternately orderly and sprawling:

3 May 2010

Well, it hasn’t been as bad as I thought.

I don’t mean that finding out your husband is in love with a woman he met in a pub three years ago and has been corresponding with regularly ever since and has decided to move in with her and her four children is a good  thing. I just mean it’s not as bad as I thought.

And the only explanation that occurs to me, in between the spasms of hysterical sobbing – because, obviously, that has happened – and dreams of flying, deliriously joyful and free – which I’m sure a therapist would find either fascinating or deeply disturbing-  is that I love Malcolm. And I want him to be happy.

I can hardly account for my own maturity. I have never thought of myself as wise. I have wanted to maim and injure producers, writers – this year I spent many happy hours imagining torture for ExAgentJohnWood.  I am hugely impatient with people I care for most - my own mother, wonderful example – I put the phone down on her, screaming. Then need a stiff drink. My mother.  But I have found every moment of trying to act the woman Malcolm wrong’d doesn’t work. It’s as though it’s a role I was just not born to play. I have no other explanation.

I was wildly confused at first and full of questions. I can look back now, four months later, to the night he confessed and realise he was distraught. He sat up with me all night, crying himself. I’d never seen that before.

He’d been unhappy for years.

If anything I feel ashamed. How could I not have seen?

Because I’ve been Constance Hill Famous Actress, that’s how. Then Famous Actress Too Old to Work.

I don’t like to think about it, of course – or, the opposite,  I want to think about it too much. I am filled with an insatiable curiosity to know who she is, what she looks like. I am astonished at the number of progeny she has and Malcolm’s willingness, eagerness, to care for them. This has humbled me as well.

He always wanted children. I never took that seriously.

It’s not serious with men, is it?

Money, power, status. Not important for women. They say.

I’ve been sexist.

He said she’s helped him keep away from gambling. She’s also offered to pay off all his debts, which I’m reeling about. That’s my job.

My month in the country with Fiona was life-saving. Did nothing but yoga and sleep. She fed me and got the children to teach me computer games. Hours of answering the Call of Duty, hundreds of bullets fired into my virtual body. The little blighters beat me every single time.

But they couldn’t do Parsva Bakasana. They took movies on their phones and invited their friends to watch. I’m probably on YouTube.

And now I’m back, rattling round the house that Malcolm has said I can have – he wants nothing, that hurts almost more than anything else - cleaning curtains and bleaching sinks, going through old files, letters, photos. Spring-cleaning my life, looking for clues. How did I get here? Almost 50, single. And in spite of my undoubted triumph and the good fun of Miss Fouquet – unemployed. Again.

But when I’m asleep - full of delirious joy.

As though I’ve been planning this for years.


Malcolm and I had lunch today. Our first time alone since he moved out.  I hadn’t been ready. I wanted to be sure I knew what to do with my face.

He walked in and smiled and  I felt watery, porous – as though my insides were melting from one world into another. It wasn’t a bad feeling, it was just disorienting. The last time we had eaten together without being married, I was nineteen.

This felt weirdly like a date.

He came towards me, stood at the table and looked down, an unusual perspective at any time, as I’m four inches taller than he is.

He took my hand and kissed it.

I felt myself starting to cry, I was so moved and he misunderstood, sitting down swiftly and saying

Malcolm:       Connie, Connie, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.

I shook my head, spraying tears over the empty wine glasses. He held my fingers as I fought the lump in my throat and groped for the menu with my other hand.

Con:                Let’s order.

We were neither of us hungry.  Our meal sat picked at, much as it had when we were dating, desperate to get into the back of a cab and kiss until our lips chapped. I watched myself, noting my posture, my tone. ‘This is how one speaks to one’s estranged husband.’ Struggling with huge love as though it were an over-sized suitcase in a small train carriage. Where do you put it?

He shared stories about work. He was precise and intense in detail, not generalising but telling me the reasons for the mergers and who was taking over whom.  As though what he was saying was important. 

He spoke like someone who was used to being listened to.

I never had.

She obviously does.

He sweetly congratulated me on Miss Fouquet, saying he’d read all the reviews. I made him laugh, describing my tap -dancing hysteria, the night of whacking my head against a cast-iron lamp bolted on stage and singing the rest of the scene with blood trickling down my forehead and into my cleavage.

We spent the meal re-writing the show as a Hammer Horror spectacular where Miss Fouquet appears as a zombie intent on eating the boss she loves.

I glanced at him across the table, small and wiry, but looking stronger than when I’d seen him last. Beefier even. I stopped in mid-sentence and blurted

Con:    Are you working out?

He blushed. He shrugged.

Malcolm:       I’ve ignored the gym for 52 years.  It’s back-payment.

We kissed cheeks on the pavement under the restaurant’s green awning, smiling and slightly relieved.   I watched the taxis and cycles swimming by in traffic or stopped at the lights. Malcolm followed my gaze. He made a clicking sound with his tongue against his teeth. He nodded.

Malcolm:       It will be easier next time.

I imagined meeting her.

It was an image too far.

I kissed him again and turned to leave. He reached out, grabbed me and held me to him, fiercely. He felt unfamiliar under my arms, new thickness and breadth to his shoulders.  He pulled away.

Malcolm:       You’re the best wife I’ve ever had.

And in that moment the marriage ended and something else began. A new shelf for the love.


I haven’t been answering the phone. Outside of Fiona, there’s no one I want to speak to and she knows better than to call. This afternoon I had the strength to look and noticed that John Wood had left three messages. 

I was sure it was about his play and I haven’t had the heart to say I didn’t think I could do it. Even if he cut all the repetition.

I don’t know if I can ever act again. I don’t know who I am, and you have to know you are an actor, least of all, if you’re going to act.

After three different versions of ‘It’s John, call me’ he said:

John:              Constance, hello, god I fear the worst, you must hate my play, it’s been – well, not that I’m counting but thirteen weeks, and I’m sorry to keep harassing you.

A great lorry heaved by at that point and I couldn’t hear a word but it passed and his voice came through clearly enough for me to understand. And I screamed loudly and listened three times just in case I was imagining or daydreaming or hallucinating but I didn’t seem to be fantasising, he actually said

John:              And they want you. The National Theatre.  It’s Ibsen. (pause) We’re back, sweetheart.

And he cheered.

I don’t know what’s thrilled me more. The National or the sweetheart.

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