“Isn’t this all a bit – I don’t know – American?”
It was the only description I could think of that fully captured my distaste. I sat in the kitchen with my arms crossed, looking up at where Jack, my husband, and William, his publicist, were standing on the other side of the kitchen island; the low-hanging light above us illuminated their faces as they watched my every reaction.
“No, darling, it is not American,” Jack said. “It’s a press conference.”
“Yes, but can’t you get William to do it? Or do it yourself, but surely I don’t need to be there.”
“Jennifer, you know as well as I do that a simple statement won’t do it, not this time,” William said. This time. My distaste only grew. “What we need is a good show of solidarity from the two of you – show the world and the constituents that you’re still the power couple they voted in.”
“And if we’re not?” I asked.
Jack was looking at me with those same eyes he’d had for the past seventeen years, always pleading. Deep pools, you might say if you were feeling romantic.
Pits of hell, if you were feeling less so.
“Have sex with fewer women, Jack, and I might do more press conferences with you.”
“It’s all gossip, Jen, I don’t know what else I can say.”
I tried to think of him as he was, that ambitious and handsome nineteen-year-old with a sharp wit and muscles from his spot on the rowing team. He used to have such strong hands, they would feel incredible; his hands made me feel like I was the only woman on earth.
“You can say I don’t need to go out there with you and embarrass myself and perhaps I’ll hate you less.”
“Thank you all for coming today,” my husband said. A feverish click click click click of the camera shutters was heard. “I want to make it very clear to you, to my wife, and to the public, that these accusations are not only falsehoods, but that I will not be stepping down as leader of the Party.”
“Mr Reed, what do you expect the constituents will think of your most recent scandal?” a voice rang from the crowded plague of reporters. The room spanned twenty feet back, a long and narrow space that was packed with restless faces. Everyone wanted a sight of us. “Why should they continue to support you – vote for you, even?”
Jack gave the cameras a smile that quickly changed from tentative to certain again. Behind the podium where we stood, his stout fingers ran up and down the wood, his thick wedding band gleaming under the glare of the conference room lights. Standing near to him, I could feel his long, self-assuring intake of breath.
The cameras wouldn’t see me if I shifted a little to the right.
“They should continue to support the campaign because I do not believe they have misplaced their trust in me,” Jack said. “My policies, and the politics of my party, are as they always have been. The allegations laid at my door are just that – allegations. Nothing is proven. This is the fabrication of the opposition through sheer desperation.”
“What does your wife think of the allegations?”
“She has been unwaveringly supportive,” Jack said. He took my nearest hand in his, and click click click click click. I could feel his thumb rubbing mine and a shiver ran through me. Insufferable, unfeeling man. “I could not ask for a more loving companion in these difficult times. She is the true foundation of my success and the glue that holds our family together.”
I looked out from our high place and could barely see faces through the blazing lights; my whole body was on fire with the heat and the torture of it. Nights alone with the children played through my mind, a show reel of solitude. He’d work late almost every night, always calling ahead, always so many voices in the background. My heart would pound as I hung up the phone. Who were they? Had I met them at dinner parties? Had I seen them on the television as I watched Jack debate across the velvet and the Erskine May and the Acts of Parliament?
Then, late into the morning, Jack would come home. Most nights I sat in the armchair and tried not to fall asleep waiting for him, but every time I would rouse to find him carrying me in his arms to the bed, tucking me in as he loosened his tie and undressed himself of the politician. Then he would come up beside me, so warm, and tuck himself around me. He’d make love to me quietly, and we would curl up together.
No man who had been shagging his Environment Secretary could love like that, could he?
“Jen knows everything about me,” Jack said, the glaring lights piercing me still. I could see one reporter pointing towards some part or another of me as she directed her photographer. The clicks were a near-constant buzz. “She is the perfect wife. In fact, she could probably run Parliament twice as well as I could. She knows that I have struggled and that I have needed her forgiveness for many things, time and time again-”
“Including previous affairs?”
Jack struggled to look through the lights to see the accusing reporter, but then, weren’t they all the same? He brought our merged hands up to the podium, pulling me a little closer to him. Perhaps he was trying to remember what William-the-Publicist had said.
“My wife knows everything about me,” Jack repeated, “but I do not believe the public needs to know every detail of our marriage. They can trust that my wife loves me and that we are open in all things. Previous accusations have not held their vigour, and nor will this one. We shall ride out the storm together as we always do.”
So, so many front pages. How was this lovable man of mine still in office?
A secretary began tapping her watch from the doorway. Jack thanked the crowd for their time and we turned to depart as the babble rose.
“Mrs Reed! Any remarks?”
I paused, Jack’s hand pulling against mine as he walked away, to speak into the microphone quietly.
“Thank you all for coming today,” I said.
The wives of politicians have always had their work cut out for them: campaigns, interviews, dinners, and even the occasional dissection of an outfit as they’re walking unimportantly next to their husbands.
After the press conference – mere hours after – there were already articles online about the fitted blazer I had worn as I stood next to Jack and he solemnly swore he hadn’t been sleeping around. One beauty blogger described me as a wilting flower, bless my heart. Perhaps it was the rosy pink colour palate. Or perhaps they were picturing me, as I was, ripping out my own long hair and letting it float to the ground like ghastly, greying petals.
We didn’t talk most of the car ride home. We were sat together in the back seat as we were driven towards Knightsbridge. The London traffic wasn’t any heavier than usual, but the ride was despairingly slow. Jack was wringing his fingers together.
“You know,” he began, “John Major’s wife knew about the allegations against him years before they came to light publicly.”
I looked across to him. The smell of his cologne filled the small space and my head ached. It wasn’t the same one I’d bought him on our last anniversary, I noted.
“I don’t think I’m understanding your point,” I said, flatly.
“She loved him,” Jacks said. “She forgave him because she loved him so greatly.”
“You know what, Jack, you –”
His phone began to ring on the seat between us, the screen lighting up. I caught a glimpse of the name before he put it in his pocket.
“You’re not going to answer that?”
“It’s not important.”
“Answer the phone, dear,” I goaded. “She’ll want to hear how the conference went.”
Jack didn’t respond and the buzzing stilled in his pocket. A brief chime indicated a left message. He didn’t look at it, but down at his hands, which still wrung together.
“Are you going to save that one until later?” I asked.
“I don’t have to justify anything to you,” Jack said. The venom in his voice matched the intensity of that horrid cologne she had bought him. It stifled every other sense.
“I think your marriage vows say you do.”
The car slowed to a stop beside the house, but neither of us moved just yet. He still didn’t dare to look at me, though I knew he’s stared down many a tough politician in all his years in the game.
“You know, Jack,” I said, and he glanced at me, “you’ve never once said you’re sorry.”
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