Deirdre’s lie had got out of hand somewhere between a conference in Rome and lying in a coma. She could barely remember why she started it at all now. When she began her new job she should just have told the girls she was between men or something. That was almost the truth, wasn’t it? So what if it had been 4 years since the last one and there was no likelihood of the next one being any sooner. Especially now.
Making up your husband certainly cramps your style.
Deirdre invented Ken. They laughed over the similarity to her favourite soap but it helped Deirdre keep track of him. She never volunteered information about Ken, but spent hours making notes and researching so he sounded authentic. Imagine if she made him an architect but said he worked for a firm of solicitors. She stuck with simple and ambiguous. And uncheckable.
Ken worked for the Inland Revenue, drove a silver Ford supplied by his employer and investigated fraud cases. He was average height, average weight, average age. He liked bitter, read classics and operetta. He didn’t like football, because Deirdre couldn’t face trolling through fixtures and results every week so she could report back on Ken’s happiness or despondency, depending on the team she picked for him.
It started, she thought, so she didn’t feel left out. When the girls moaned about how hopeless their husbands were, she smiled knowingly and added little titbits about Ken. He never had to be asked to take the rubbish out, only sometimes put darks into the light basket and usually remembered to put the seat down. The girls often said she was lucky then, and she’d say yes, he was a lucky find.
Gatherings with partners were always a problem and Deirdre had to find new and inventive reasons for Ken to miss everything. Work was a good one and she used it regularly. The conference to Rome almost caused a problem when Irene asked why a Northampton taxman needed to go to Italy. But she bluffed about some new European regulations she didn’t understand and they seemed satisfied. She stocked up on second-hand men’s things from Oxfam after Penny called round unexpectedly. She came to collect Deirdre for a cinema trip and on seeing no men’s coat on the rack in the hall, asked if Ken was at work this late every day.
When Pat’s daughter announced her wedding, Pat invited everyone to the evening disco. She took Deirdre to one side and handed her an invite for the ceremony and reception too. “I can’t invite everyone but I’d love it if you and Ken could come along. It would be so nice to meet him at long last.” Deirdre smiled, thanked Pat and decided it was time to get rid of Ken.
The wedding was 4 months away so there was plenty of time to make plans. Now Deirdre wished she’d just gone with Ken leaving her for a blond called Karen in billing. Instead she decided that Ken would leave her for Karen in billing, but after a tragic car accident, a worrying period in a coma and a luckily-not-so-deathbed confession of infidelity, where he could lie to her no more. She had Ken travelling a lot more regularly and waited for a convenient motorway pileup.
Everyone marvelled at how well Deirdre was coping with the horror of the accident and insisted she shouldn’t be working at a time like this. She felt guilty about missing work but used the time to read all of the Colin Dexter novels, sat in the canteen of the hospital. She told her friends he wasn’t up to other visitors but kept them up-to-date most evenings by text. Most days she texted “No change” but then “His eyelids flickered,” and “He moved his finger,” and at last, “He’s awake!”
Pat didn’t expect her to come to the wedding in the midst of it all, but she’d been shopping for a lovely new Per Una outfit as soon as she received the invite, so Deirdre was determined to go. On the morning, she dressed up taking care of her hair and clothes, but repeatedly rubbed her eyes to make them red and watery. She slipped into the back of the church once the bride had entered and didn’t catch Pat’s eye until the photos outside. Pat came up to her, hugged her and asked after Ken. Deirdre whispered her bedside drama from behind a hankie then said she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
“I’m not surprised,” said Pat. “I bet you wish you’d never met him.”
“I wish he’d never even existed,” said Deirdre.