Authors: Fay Weldon
The Bulgari Connection
Doris Dubois is twenty-three years younger than I am. She is slimmer than I am, and more clever. She has a degree in economics, and hosts a TV arts programme. She lives in a big house with a swimming pool at the end of a country lane. It used to be mine. She has servants and a metal security gate which glides open when her little Mercedes draws near. I tried to kill her once, but failed.
When Doris Dubois comes into a room all heads turn: she has a sunny disposition and perfect teeth. She smiles a lot and most people find themselves returning the smile. If I did not hate her I expect I would quite like her. She is, after all, the nation's sweetheart. My husband loves her, and can see no fault in her. He buys her jewels.
The swimming pool is covered, warmed, and flanked by marble tiles and can be used summer and winter. Trees and shrubs in containers have been placed all around the pool area. In photographs â and the press come often to see how Doris Dubois lives â the pool seems to exist in a mountain grotto.
The water has to be cleaned of leaves more often than any pool of mine ever did. But who's counting cost?
Doris Dubois swims in her pool every morning, and twice a week my ex-husband Barley dives in to swim beside her. I have had them watched by detectives. After their swim servants come and offer warmed white towels into which they snuggle with little cries of joy. I have heard these cries on tape, as well as other more important, more profound, less social cries, those noises men and women make when they abandon rationality and throw in their lot with nature. â
Cris de jouissance
â, the French call them.
DÃ©fense d'Ã©mettre des cris de jouissance,
I read once on a bedroom wall in a French hotel when Barley and I were in our heyday, and went on our humble holidays so happily together. In the days when we thought love would last forever, when we were poor, when joy was on the agenda.
DÃ©fense d'Ã©mettre des cris de jouissance.
They had a hope!
Barley has aged better than I have. I smoked and drank and lay in the sun during the years of our happiness, on this Riviera and that, and my skin has dried out dreadfully and the doctor will not let me take what he calls artificial hormones. I get them through the Internet but do not tell either my doctor or my psychoanalyst this. The former would warn me against them and the latter would tell me to find my inner self before attending to the outer. Sometimes I worry about the dosage I take, but not often. I have other things to worry about.
âIt's too bad,' said Doris to Barley as they lay beside one another in a tumbled pile of white cotton and lace bedclothes, in a vast bed whose elegant top and tail had been designed, even though not made, by the great Giacometti himself, âthat that murderess should still be using your name.'
âMurderess might be too strong,' said Barley amiably, âMurderous, was how the Judge described her.'
âThe difference is only marginal,' said Doris. âThe fact that I am still alive is due to me and not to her. My foot still hurts. I think you should get your lawyers on to it. It's absurd that after divorce women should be allowed to keep their husband's name. They should revert to the one they had before they married: they should cut their losses and start over. Otherwise the mistakes of one's youth â like marriage to the wrong person â can hang around to haunt you forever. I speak for her sake, as well as my own, and indeed yours. While she calls herself Salt she is bound to attract headlines.'
âIt seems a little hard to take away Gracie's name,' said Barley. âI was the only claim to fame she ever had. She was a schoolgirl extract I met her: a schoolgirl she remained, at heart. A man such as myself needs a little sophistication in his partner.' âI hate it when you call her Gracie,' said Doris. âI want you only ever to refer to her as your ex-wife.'
Grace Salt had started life as Dorothy Grace McNab, but Barley had preferred Grace to Dorothy, Dorothy reminding him of Judy Garland in
The Wizard of Oz,
so Grace she had become.
Doris had not started life as Doris Dubois but as Doris Zoac, right down there at the end of the alphabet where no-one looks except the taxman, and had changed it by deed poll the better to further her media ambitions. She had never got round to telling Barley this, and the longer she put it off the harder it got to say.
âIt seems a little hard to take my ex-wife's name away,' said Barley, obediently. He, who exercised power over so many, took particular pleasure in being bossed around by Doris. They both giggled a little, from the sheer naughtiness of it all, of being happy.
Doris Dubois wore her jewellery to bed, for Barley. He loved that. He loved not just the sight of it, white gold and pavÃ© diamonds, cold metal intricately, beautifully worked, lain heavily against the cool, moist flesh of wrist and throat, but he loved the feel of it. Last night as his hand had strayed over her breasts, their nipples peaked in reassuring response, and up to feel the tenderness of her mouth, his fingers had encountered the smooth, hard edge of metal, and his whole body had been startled into instant response. Sometimes Barley was mildly worried by the people who said to him, vulgarly, âOh well, what does age matter, there's always Viagra when the newness wears off,' but eighteen months on there was no sign of it doing so. Doris kept Barley young: and the gifts he gave her were by the very nature of their giving returned â not by way of bribe or payment, but as tokens of simple adoration. Barley was fifty-eight years old, and Doris was thirty-two.
I must face the truth about Doris Dubois. She reflects fame and status on my husband, as he does on her, and he cannot resist it. What chance have I? She is the darling of the media: now they are an item Barley has his picture in
Harper's & Queen,
and a fine handsome couple they make. She with her bosom hanging out of Versace and her throat so white and elegant, ringed with bright jewels: he with his thick grey hair, broad shoulders and strong industrial jaw. When Barley was with me he never rose above
The Developers' and Builders' Bulletin,
although once he did make the cover. But he is ambitious: it was not enough for him: he can't stay still. It was
Barley is one of those well-built men with graven features who rise to positions of great power: his jaw has grown squarer through the years. Even his hair has stayed thick as it greys. He is a master of men, and it shows. If the world is ever to see the cloning of humans, these are the pair that should be chosen to make it a better place. I said as much to my psychotherapist, Dr Jamie Doom, the other day and he congratulated me on my insight.
Twelve months after our parting, six months after our divorce, I have stopped trying to convince myself and others that in losing Barley I have lost nothing of value. I no longer describe him to others, after the vulgar manner of so many deserted spouses, as selfish, bullying, mean, unreasonable, hopelessly neurotic, even insane. He is none of these things. Barley, like Doris, is kind, good and perceptive, clever and handsome, and capable of great love. It's just that he gives it to her, not me.
âThe fact is that your ex-wife does not deserve your name,' said Doris after breakfast. Once she got an idea into her head it tended to stay there. âShe is violent and aggressive and full of hate and spite.'
They ate on the terrace, in the early sun. Doris had to be at the studio by ten, and Barley at a meeting of the Confederation of British Industry likewise. Doris's Philippine maid Maria served decaff and fruit, calories carefully weighed and counted by Doris's nutritionist. Barley's chauffeur Ross would have a flask of real coffee and a bacon sandwich ready in the back of the car when he turned up to collect Barley.
âI hear you,' said Barley, whose lawyer had told him it would look better in the divorce courts if he could claim to have seen a counsellor. The law these days favoured those who put in an appearance of wanting to save their marriages, and the suggestion of a basic incompatibility with Grace would be more helpful to his case than the simple wanting to go off with Doris Dubois, a younger woman. As ever, Barley hadturned time otherwise wasted to good account, and was now adept at the language of understanding and compassion. âBest to let it out. And I feel for your distress. But you did emerge from the incident more or less undamaged.'
And indeed, Doris Dubois was the least damaged creature he had ever seen, let alone taken to bed: long lean tanned limbs; centred by the kind of full, well nippled bosom most skinny women achieve only after implants, but for Doris a blessing of birth â her breasts still retaining the warm consoling texture of human flesh. Her mouth curved sweetly: she had wide blue eyes into which Barley could stare without embarrassment. Doris had developed the media art of paying attention to something else altogether while looking and smiling and nodding; he could hold her eye without actually holding it, as it were, and he found that liberating. Intense love can so often have its own embarrassments. She was widely informed: he liked that. He had spent too much of his life with Gracie, who never read a novel and whose idea of a conversation was âyes, dear', and âwhat did you say, dear?' and âwhere were you last night?', who lay passively and compliantly on her back during sex. He had forgotten what the life of the mind was like. Most women, he had noticed, whose looks assure them of acceptance and approval from infancy, neglected their intelligence and sensitivities, as did Grace â but not so Doris: Doris could hold her own at any dinner party in the land. She was perhaps a little humourless, but like a Persian rug of great quality, there must be some flaw in the design, or else God will be offended.
âAll that aside,' observed Doris Dubois, ââ and not that I want to marry you, marriage being such an old-fashioned institution, and I would always rather be known as Doris Dubois, rather than Doris Salt, I couldn't bear to be so near the end of the alphabet â nevertheless, if I were to be your legal married wife, and not just your partner, I would not want there to be another Mrs Salt around.'
Barley Salt felt his heart contract with joy. He had done the best he could with the cards dealt to him at birth â but there were still dinner tables at which he felt inadequate, at which he felt people laughed at him, for the rude, crude fellow he had been born. If the conversation turned to opera, or literature, or art, he felt at a loss. To be actually married to Doris Dubois, so at ease in all these areas of life, would be triumph indeed. And she, for all her disclaimers, had brought the matter up, not he.
What is this? A letter through the post from Barley's solicitors? He wants to deny me my name? He wants to rob me of my very self? I must no longer be Grace Salt? Extra alimony offered â Â£500 a week â if I revert to my maiden name? (At least he bribes, he doesn't threaten.) I must hurl myself back to my unmarried state and be seventeen again and that long lost creature Grace McNab? I can't remember who she was. How can this be, what have I done, am I so worthless that he can't endure me to have so much as a past that's linked with his? I must wink out of existence altogether? Well, I can understand it. Look at me! Described as murderous by the Judge, labelled a would-be murderer: Barley must feel he is entitled to protect himself and her. Of course he wishes to obliterate me. What am I but an hysterical woman who once performed a senseless and gratuitous act of violence â I quote the Judge â and deserve no better. A man may seek the authenticity of his feelings, as our one-time marriage counsellor described my husband's love for Doris Dubois, but a woman must not.