D is for “Do you know where we are?”
Bus tours were hectic at the best of times, so many stops in so short a time. It was ideal if you wanted a taste of each country, then come back later to explore those you liked the most, but you have to be willing to make sacrifices.
Then, on tour, it does not bode well if you embark on the tour with your relationship teetering on the edge of disaster. If relations were tense before, then by the second or third day, it was going to be like a volcano erupting if anything went wrong.
It was my idea we go away for a short, sharp tour, what was to be the first together for nearly 20 years together. The children had grown up and we had sacrificed travel until they had left the nest. Eloise was transitioning from being a full-time mother to back in the workforce, and I was scaling back so we could spend more time together.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the memo that told everyone, but me, that our relationship was foundering. It was not as if I didn’t ask the right questions, it was just I interpreted the answers incorrectly. It thought the measured reluctance to go was her reluctance to be away from her grandchildren.
It was not.
There were other factors in play, those little annoyances that caused discussions to become arguments, and then glowering resentment. That summed up the mornings where we had to be up and ready early to have breakfast, pack and be ready to embark the bus at an early hour, following late nights.
Eloise was not at her best under those conditions. Day two had been a trial, day three a battle, and day four, well, that’s where everything went wrong. The alarm didn’t go off, we got up late, and by the time we came down, the bus had gone.
Yes, we literally missed the bus.
I went to bed on day three with a premonition. It was something she said in response to a comment I made, one that didn’t register at the time, but came back to haunt me in the dead of night.
She said, in not so many words, if I had not dragged her on this wild goose chase…and stopped there, perhaps realising she was about to say something she shouldn’t. I thought it was to spare my feelings.
It was not.
In the last few months, after getting a promotion at her workplace, a company run by my best friend who had always said she could come and work for him when she was ready to go back to work, that it was too soon to go away.
Even when she said it, I missed the implication.
There had been late nights and trips away, the added responsibility, she had said. She said she wanted to make the right impression. Tony, my friend, had said that she was perfect for the job, and said she was in good hands to learn the trade. I thought, given the new independence and responsibility she would recover from the slight depression from no longer being needed.
At three in the morning, staring at the ceiling, I finally got it. The change in her had been remarkable. She was happy again with a job she liked and a place to be.
So was Tony, whom I had noticed over the same journey, after being dumped by his wife, had been in a similar sort of funk.
It didn’t take rocket science to see what was happening.
Down in the breakfast room, we were having coffee. There was a smug expression on her face, one that told me that she had no intention of continuing this farce, and after getting no sleep, I was both tired and where I should be annoyed, I was a little numb.
“Should I Call the tour director, ask him if we should try to re-join the tour, or should we just let it slide?”
She gave me a look of disdain, or what I thought was disdain. I was perhaps feeling a little judgemental.
“If the bus had not been leaving so early, we might have made it. Perhaps it was not a good idea to pick one that requires us to be up at the crack of dawn.”
Any other time, I might have got annoyed, but now I knew, or thought I knew what was driving her attitude, I just sighed inwardly and put on my happy face. “Then what do you suggest we do?”
“We’re somewhere in Germany, and we don’t speak the language. It might be a little difficult…”
“You forget I travel to Europe a lot. I might not be fluent, but I have got a smattering of a few of the languages.” Particularly Italian, but that was down to spending time with Gabriella, one of the subsidiary managers I had to deal with.
“I’m surprised then you wanted to come here for a holiday.”
“It was for your benefit, and mine to a lesser extent, simply because travelling to these countries doesn’t mean I got to tour them. You know how it is, meetings from dawn to dusk and not much time for anything else. Besides, I was happy to wait until you could come with me before I did any sightseeing.”
Her phone was sitting on the table, and suddenly rang. She almost managed to snatch it up before I saw the caller ID. Tony. She disconnected the call without answering. It was not the first time it had rung.
My turn to give her a look of disdain. “You should have answered it.”
“It was nothing.”
I had my phone with me and looked up Tony’s number then dialled it.
“George, this is a surprise. How’s the trip going?” He said, knowing who it was calling him.
“I’m sure Eloise has kept you fully informed, but from my perspective, not so great.”
I could feel Eloise staring at me.
“I’m sorry to hear that, but she…”
“Tony, don’t insult my intelligence. I know. And I’m not angry or annoyed or anything really. I blame myself for being so stupid. I thought I’d call you, since she didn’t answer, to tell you she’ll be coming home. I’ll take her to Berlin and get her a flight back as soon as practicable. We can talk, if you like, when I get back, but that might not be for a while.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“It probably is, Tony, but like I said, I’m neither angry or annoyed. I’ll let you get back to work, and Eloise will no doubt call you soon.”
I disconnected the call and put the phone on the table.
“You’ve got it all wrong, George.” It was a measured response, and one I expected.
“The last three or so months tell me a different story, Eloise. You’re happy, and it had nothing to do with me. All I seem to do is make you angry, and I can see why now. I have to accept responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. None of this is your fault.”
“Tony is a good friend, George, but it’s not what you think. I might have thought once of twice about having a relationship with him, he certainly thinks we are heading in that direction, but I haven’t done anything, nor would I.”
“He makes you happy, Eloise. I don’t and believe me that’s all I want for you. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own little world to notice how much we’ve drifted apart. AS I said, that’s more my fault, not yours. And I don’t blame you for wanting more than I can give you.”
“Don’t you love me anymore?”
“You always were, are, and will be the only one Eloise. That will never change. It doesn’t matter what I think or feel, you have to decide what is best for you, and I want nothing other than what’s best for you. If that means being with someone else, then so be it. I will not stand in your way, or make things difficult for you.”
“And if that’s not what I want?”
“What do you want?”
“To hear you tell me that you love me, like you used to tell me.”
“I thought you knew that.”
“You stopped saying it. And, yes, you have been in your own little world, and I expect that was because I spent too much time looking after the children, and being too tired to make time for you, so I too should accept some responsibility for the mess we are in.”
Not what I was expecting to hear.
“Like I said, you don’t have to make excuses, the fault is mine.”
“No, it’s not that simple. You know, it seems stupid that we had to travel umpteen thousand miles to the middle of nowhere, just to finally have a meaningful conversation. Do you actually know where we are, because I don’t. And what’s strange to me is that I don’t really care. I’m going to say this once, George, so listen carefully. I do not love Tony, nor am I having an affair with him. What he thinks is going on is his problem, not mine. I have a husband, and I care as much about him as he cares about me now that he has finally told me. I do not want to continue this bus tour, but I do want to see Europe, so firstly, we have the room until eleven this morning which gives us three hours to reacquaint ourselves with each other. Then you’re going to hire a car, and we are going to find our own way, perhaps get a little lost along the way, and the best thing about that is that we will get lost together.”
She stood, held out her hand, and said, “Now, come with me, and we shall speak of this no more.”
How could I possibly refuse such an offer?
© Charles Heath 2021