Undercurrents by Kate Ennals

Undercurrents

Kate Ennals is currently doing the MA in Writing in NUI Galway. She has lived in Ireland (Dublin, Cavan, Galway) for the last 20 years, and worked as a co-ordinator and manager in various anti poverty and community sector programmes.

She has managed a variety of communication networks and enjoys working with local people. Kate writes poetry and short stories in her spare time.

Undercurrents

Waiting for the washing machine to complete its cycle, Ruth was recalling the first moment she saw Sean. It had been in a crowded cafe in London…their eyes had met over two rushed coffees at a table they were sharing. Ruth smiled. She would never forget that first tingly moment of attraction. It had taken a further six months of cafe coffees before she and Sean had held a real conversation. Until then it had been a series of nods, silent smiles, a brief greeting maybe, an undercurrent of interest.  Now, 15 years later, they were back to the silences with different undercurrents. Ruth sighed.  Silences of accusation, boredom, despair. The washing machine began to spin noisily. Maybe this morning, she wondered, while Caitlin was dancing and Andy was at football, they could go back to bed.

Thank God, we have an hour without the kids, Sean thought to himself as he put the key into the front door. I’ll be able to read the Sunday newspapers in peace. He couldn’t understand how his life seemed one long whirl of activity. Why the children had to go to all these extra curricular activities was beyond him: horse riding, dancing, football. It was exhausting – for the parents who had to ferry, support, watch and talk to other parents on the sidelines.

“I dropped her off”, he said to Ruth, by way of a greeting, with his back to her as he began to lay the papers out on the kitchen table. The sun was pouring in through the windows. What a lovely day…and he had an hour to himself. He began separating the news and news review from the arts and sports sections.

Ruth watched him. She wanted to suggest they go to bed. She wanted a taste of passion, to make love, feel young and appreciated. But he was preoccupied with preparing to read the newspapers. He hadn’t even looked at her when he came in. Pride prevented her from suggesting it.

“That’s kind of you,” she said drily instead, turning away. “So now you’ve finished your daily chores, taking your own daughter to dancing, I suppose you’re going to sit down and read all those?”

Sean sighed. What had upset Ruth now? He tried to remember if she had been awake in the night. Maybe she was tired. She was not a great sleeper. And if she was tired, well, the day could be ruined. God, typical, he thought. An hour off and she’s in a mood.

“Well, what else do you want me to do?” he asked, trying to placate her.

“I don’t want you to do anything!”

She turned to the washing machine, and lifted out a wet heavy load of clothes and put them, smack in the middle of the table. She wanted him to come over to her and put his arms around her.  She wanted him to want to do this. Instead, she saw Sean move the papers to a chair to protect them from getting wet.

Sean kept quiet. What did she mean? If she wanted him to do something, she should say. Why did he have to guess the whole time what was coming? Why couldn’t he read the papers? Maybe if he gave her a hand, she’d relax. Then they could sit down and read the papers together.

“Do you want a hand with that?” he asked but Ruth heard the resignation in his voice and reacted.

“Why do you ask? Why can’t you just do it? Why do I always have to instruct, ask, suggest,” she said.

He looked at her. He began to feel defensive. Why was she ruining the only hour he had. Maybe if she would just stop and sit down and let him do it, she would relax.

“Let me do it, Ruth. Let me do it.” He moved to help her separate the washing. As he did so she sat down at the table with her head in her hands, sobbing.

“ Oh God! I don’t want this. I don’t want this constant harping, nor these nagging, bitter conversations. Sometimes, I feel I’m nothing more than a human machine gun, firing verbal bullets…to hurt you and protect myself. Sean it’s like you are totally uninvolved. We’re an occasional deviation for you!”

Sean realised that this could lead to one of their longer, intensive conversations about his serious short comings as both a father and a husband; about how miserable and tired she felt. He didn’t want this. Maybe he could try to passify her a little.

 “You’re just feeling a little low.” He said. He squeezed her shoulder and patted her head. She let herself relax slightly. She lifted her face to encourage him. Ruth wanted him to kneel down and take her in his arms. She wanted him to kiss her and hold her. There was a moment of possibility. Ruth  waited. But nothing happened. For a moment Sean thought his gesture had worked. She had stopped talking. She seemed to have stopped crying. Maybe he could make her a cup of tea and they could sit down and read the papers. Then Ruth shrugged his hand from her shoulder.

“Of course, that’s it. I’m feeling a little low. I’ll be fine in a minute,” she said sarcastically. “In fact I am fine now.”

Ruth bent back to the machine to lift out another load. Does he ever feel anything, Ruth asked herself silently, despairing. He loved his politics. He spent endless hours on the phone to colleagues, with a glass of wine, a cigarette, plotting. But with her he was all passive resistance.

Sean decided it was best to ignore her. It will pass. Her moods usually did. He’d help with washing and then read the papers.

Sean began to put the socks on the radiator to dry.

“Please straighten them out so they are not all squashed up.”

God, she was irritating. If anyone left them scrunched up, it was her. Say nothing, he told himself and carried on. He was relieved when she left the room to hang out the rest of the washing. He put on the kettle. He sat down at the kitchen table to read. It was lovely, with the sun streaming in. He flicked through the pages to decide what read first with his coffee. Ruth came back in to the room. He felt her anger still. He didn’t understand her. She never seemed to stop. He never had a moment’s peace. Why couldn’t she simply sit down and read the papers and relax?

Ruth made herself a cup of tea and sat down. She watched him. After  a while, she spoke. She didn’t want to lose the day to anger and irritation.

“The sun looks lovely through the windows now. I washed them yesterday,” she looked at them, admiring her own work.

“Did you? They look great.” Sean glanced up quickly and gave her the briefest of smiles. Maybe he thought, if he acknowledged her work, it would help. Maybe if she understood that he appreciated it, she would feel better.

“You do work hard, Ruthie. I don’t know how you do it.” He meant it. He didn’t know. He couldn’t do what she did. Sometimes she made him feel totally inadequate. He turned back to the paper.

Ruth stood up. He simply isn’t interested in me at all, she thought. But she didn’t want to give up. She wanted to engage him, but as words came out, she knew they were the wrong ones.

“I’m going to hoover the floor quickly before the kids get back and then I’ll get lunch ready. Will you pick up Caitlin?”

Why did she even say that?  She wanted to be conciliatory. She wanted to have a happy day.

Sean nodded. Ruth tried again.

“Then I’ll take the dog for a walk this afternoon with the kids. Do you fancy a walk?”

“Later.”

“Or we could do something else? Any ideas?”  She felt like she was pleading. Why couldn’t he suggest something? Why was it always her organising, planning…keeping the kids occupied, creating happy families.

Personally, Sean thought to himself, she should have a sleep, now while she had an hour. Not be planning the afternoon. However, he didn’t feel that would be a wise comment.

“Maybe we could go to the pictures.” Ruth stood, hands on the table.

His day was disappearing. Damn he thought. At least let me read the papers now before more activity.

“Maybe. If you like.”

“Is there anything you would like to see?”

“Not particularly. You choose.” He leaned his head down on his hand, trying to block Ruth out and continued reading

“Well is there anything you would like to do. Go bowling, I don’t know, anything.”

 “I am going to read the papers for five minutes while the kids are out and then we can see. ok?” He spoke loudly and firmly.

Then there was silence.

Ruth turned to go and get the hoover.

God, he thought, when he heard her rooting under the stair cupboard for the hoover. She’s going to hoover. Why can’t we ever have some peace and quiet. He picked up his papers. He’d go up to his office. He had half an hour before Caitlin needed to be picked up.

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