Shirley took off her makeup. She applied night cream. She brushed her teeth. The night-time rituals were familiar and boring. She yawned and wanted to stop her ablutions half way through but habit kept her going. Or halibut, as her youngest called it by mistake one day. She smiled despite her bad humour and watched, in a detached way, the wrinkles crease around her eyes. No amount of cream was going to stop that process. She smiled wider, not in joy, but to test the depth of the lines, and stopped as suddenly as she started. She was not getting any younger.

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            She climbed into bed quietly so as not to wake John. He was on his side and snoring slightly in that breathless way of his. Not enough to keep her awake at nights, more of a soothing noise if that was possible; a gentle noise in the background like a far off train or rain falling on a summer’s night. Familiar, and yes, a little boring.

            Shirley curled up away from John. She contemplated reading but it was late and she was drunk anyway. She turned off the light and in the darkness her mind ran the reel of the evening. She had watched Aoife all night and wondered at the change in her. Is that what separation did to a woman? She looked happier and lighter than before, even with all the crap going on in her life. Shirley wondered.


‘Penny for them?’

            Shirley blinked and laughed. She had turned on the computer but when it asked for her password she had just stayed looking at the screen. She watched the swirling patterns and it felt as though they were rotating in ever decreasing circles. She felt her life was rotating in the same downward spiral. Now she looked up at Henry who was bent over her screen, his dark eyes were kind and a little worried.

            ‘Oh, I’m just a bit slow this morning. I was on a girls’ night out last night.’ She sighed to express her tiredness.

            ‘No dawdling on company time dahling,’ he drawled.

            ‘As if,’ Shirley retorted sharply and entered her password in an efficient manner. Henry drifted away and Shirley entered it again, as speed had mixed up her letters. She shook her head to clear it and opened her email. It was going to be a long day.

            At lunch, Shirley intended using the canteen where she had some pitta breads and fillings stored in the company fridge, but on impulse she decided to get a sandwich instead. Without saying a word to Brigid and Polly, who were already settled in the canteen, she turned right at the lifts and headed out in the fresh air.

            John had been gone in the morning before she woke. He was a travelling salesman and spent one week in three on the road. She quite liked the breaks, used to say that it made for more fun when he returned. Only recently she wished his breaks were longer and resented her loss of independence when he returned. She knew this was not a good thing. On the weeks that he travelled she and the girls enjoyed a routine and she was content. When John came back it felt as though everything was disrupted. She even resented his place in her bed: not their bed, hers. Marital relations were strained and had to be negotiated. Reasons not to have sex included the laundry left stacked high, the grass not mowed, bins left full in the kitchen. Shirley knew these were totally unreasonable but knowing that did not change how she felt. She tried to explain to John but it normally ended in an argument and a period of non-talking. Icy relations could extend to when he next went away and the cycle continued.

            Shirley bought a subway roll and walked on. She was thinking about Aoife again. She was thinking about her own situation. Aoife had been tipped over the edge by her husband moving in with another woman, but despite the angst of her marriage failing, she didn’t seem that upset overall, at least not by the loss of her husband. Shirley wondered how she would feel if John told her he had another woman. He could have a second family for all she knew. He could have a mirror family that only saw him one week in four. For a moment she felt a pang of jealousy before laughing out loud. A man walking towards her gave her a quizzical look but she just smiled back and walked faster. She was not supposed to feel jealousy for the other family; she was supposed to feel outrage. In the beginning they used to joke about the other Mrs Mooney, now she wanted to swap places. Was that irony or life; she wondered.

            Back in the office, she was harangued for deserting her colleagues. ‘I needed the fresh air,’ was her response and certainly her hangover was gone as a result. Good-natured jibes continued but Shirley brushed them off. She needed to do some serious thinking.


‘Or serious drinking?’ Shirley looked at the drink placed in front of her by William. The kids were with friends and she had a late pass. It was better than drinking at home watching the telly. She normally didn’t go out when John was away, but then the children didn’t normally go on sleepovers either. Not at the same time. William was her mechanic and they had known each other a long time. His children were also on the sleepover and as they departed from the birthday party house, he suggested they might go for a drink. Shirley wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but it didn’t seem such a bad idea either. William was very funny and he had insisted on yet another drink. She didn’t know if she wanted to stay or go home. By the time she’d finished the third drink, she was sure it was a good idea. By the fifth it was a brilliant and by the seventh she was in bed with him.

            How had that happened? Shirley had never been unfaithful in eleven years of marriage. It wasn’t as though she didn’t have chances. She’d had loads but why now and why William? She looked over at him in the night. He was asleep and snoring quietly. God damn-it why did all men snore? Once they finished the sex act it was all the same. Turn over and snore. Was it for this she’d committed adultery?

            In the morning, at six to be precise, Shirley was dressed and sitting at the edge of the bed. William moved noisily and coughed. Then he farted. Shirley pursed her lips. This was not how she imagined her marriage ending. It was faintly ridiculous. She had slept with another man with none of the benefits of romance or a chase or even the delirium of her courtship with John, but still with a shitload of guilt. She’d passed Go without an orgasm and ran straight into trouble. It all felt so cold. Her mind hurt.

            ‘I’m going now,’ she said quietly. William opened his eyes. ‘Ok love,’ he said and closed them again.

            Fuck, fuck, fuck. Shirley walked downstairs and out the front door. She drove home, slowly cursing the entire time. This was just cheap and nasty. This was not what she had wanted to happen. She wanted a tipping point but this was not it. This had no honourable exit or even rationale. She was unhappy in her marriage and so she slept with a friend. Actually, cancel that, an ex-friend. It had been a drunken coupling and had not made one iota of a difference to her situation except to saddle her with unnecessarily guilt. How could she tell John?

            Ten cups of tea later with Joan, and Shirley was not going to tell John.

            ‘Unless you want out of your marriage you take that big horrible thing and you put it in a box and you forget about it,’ warned Joan. ‘You only tell him if you want out. This is the price you have to pay for breaking the rules.’

            ‘I don’t fucking know what the rules are.’

            ‘Well, not sleeping with other people is one.’

            ‘Stop judging me. I’m not happy.’

            ‘For fuck’s sake, I’m not judging you Shirley. I’m just saying that you have two courses of action based on what you did. Or rather three. The first is to suck it up and carry that secret with you. You do that if you want to hang on to the marriage. The second is to tell him and see what happens. From what you have told me I think all hell will break loose and the marriage will be over. It’s only barely hanging on as it is.’

            ‘What is the third option?’

            ‘Keep on shagging William or whoever and see if you get caught out, or fall in love with William, or get an STD, or your kids find out. I don’t recommend this last course of action.’

            ‘I’m hardly likely to do the third, Joan,’ said Shirley angrily. ‘I have never done anything like this before. Ever.’ She said the last word with such emphasis that some spittle flew in the air. Joan put her hand on Shirley’s arm. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘I was making a bad joke.

            ‘What I think you have to do is sit down and think about your marriage. Sleeping with William was a symptom, not a cause. He doesn’t sound too bothered as it happens and it is really for you to protect yourself and think about what you want. And the children of course.’

            Shirley stifled a sob. If she had no children it would be easy. She could walk out the door and happily say goodbye. Then she thought of John’s face and how hurt he would be. Despite her initial independence she felt something twang in her heart too. Maybe she didn’t want the other Mrs Mooney to keep him.

            ‘I think it’s a wake-up call,’ said Joan. ‘Let’s make this a positive: there is something very wrong with your marriage if you can sleep with William, nice and all as he is. You need to sort your marriage out or god knows who you’ll be sleeping with. You’re not Aoife Brennan you know!’

            Shirley laughed. ‘I do know,’ she said.


During the remainder of the week Shirley kept a notebook with her. She jotted in it. Underlined some phrases. Deleted others. Kept referring back to the pages of densely written text. The day before John returned, she drew a crisp blank sheet of paper from the printer shelf. She drew a line down the middle and crossed it at the top. On the left hand side she wrote Pro and on the right she wrote Con. She filled up both columns, referring back to her notebook all the time. When she had finished, she had two equal stacks of phrases on each side. Then she drew in another slimmer column at the edge of each main pillar. At the side of each Pro and each Con she assigned a number with a value between one and five. When she had finished she quickly totted both sets of numbers up. Satisfied she looked at her morning’s work. She knew what she had to do.

            When John came home, he found the lawn mown, the bins emptied and the laundry stacked in neat piles. The table was set for dinner and a favourite dish, steak and kidney pudding, bubbling in the oven.  Shirley waited until the children were in bed before she produced her sheet.

            ‘I think we are in trouble,’ she said. ‘But I also think we can pull through.’

            John looked in some surprise at the sheet. He knew something was up but he had not expected this. ‘It looks like an accountancy exercise,’ he said.

            ‘In a way, yes. I’ve totted up our marriage to see the score. There are some weak bits, some home goals but I think we’re winning the league, over all. Or at least we can if we do some training.’

            John laughed nervously. ‘Does that mean I have to give up the other Mrs Mooney?’

            ‘Yep, I think that comes under the terms,’ said Shirley. ‘We don’t have room for three in the bed.’ She kept a straight face and betrayed nothing in her expression. This was for the marriage she thought. Sex that night was perfunctory despite the avowals earlier. It was too soon to bring out the handcuffs thought Shirley as they moved in harmony together. John had a path through love making that rarely varied. It needed change but not right now. When he came he looked into her eyes. ‘You didn’t come, did you?’ he asked.

            ‘Not for a long time,’ said Shirley. ‘I’d like to fix that as part of our training.’

            John reached down and stroked her.

‘Not now, now that I’ve said it. The next time, though,’ said Shirley and she smiled to show her sincerity. He held her instead. When his snoring began minutes later, monotonous and slow, Shirley smiled again. Shagging a new man had not produced an orgasm, but shagging her old one would in time. She felt the guilt lessen a bit as she listened to the sonorous noise. She was where she wanted to be. They would try again. Maybe this was the wake-up call they both needed, not that John would ever know the source of the alarm.

Joan was not so lucky. She travelled the third road and came home with a rather nasty STD. After a week, surprisingly as marital relations were rather hit and miss in the Byrne household, David contracted it too. He left and no series of columns could alter his mind. Affairs 1 : Marriage 1. A draw you might say.