Up Front by Emma Hart


Hellfire's a Promise Away

I don't remember ever asking how my parents met. Personal questions were always discreetly discouraged, particularly ones involving my father. Maybe that's why I hadn't thought about what to say before my own daughter asked me that particular question.

And how to answer? "Well, honey, it was a couple of months before I was due to get married so that my boyfriend could get a student allowance, and Richard – you know, grown-up Richard – he brought home this friend. Who looked like Michael Praed. Let’s sit down with a Google Image Search so you understand the importance of that…"

I settled for 'we met at university', because she was still a bit young for the full explanation. Information can do strange things in children's minds. It breaks into chunks and randomly attaches to chunks of other, unrelated information. When she was planning her future family she said, "I’ll need a boy. I’ll probably get one of those at university". To which I could only reply, "Yeah, probably. They leave them lying round all over the place there". (I'm her mother: I'm going to cop the blame regardless. I may as well have some fun with it.)

When they're older, though, I'm going to have to find a way to tell them. It's a chunk of family history that shouldn't just disappear. Hopefully, the words to explain how much their parents love each other, how passion doesn't always turn up in sweet romantic circumstances that are easy for other people to identify with, will drop magically from the sky when I need them.

It was never supposed to work. I was faithless, he was inexpressive, we had nothing in common once we got out of bed and you can only avoid doing that for a couple of years. It was hopeless, impractical, stupid, and people whose judgement I trusted tried to talk me out of it.

Which I guess explains the surreal feeling I get today, sitting at my keyboard having accidentally left my rings in Featherston, knowing that we've been together for fifteen pretty much effortless years. The Michael Praed hair is long gone, but that selfless faith that's kept him with me through my long illness, the difficulties with our daughter, and my intrinsic unbearableness is still going strong.

I can't even properly explain what this is the anniversary of. The day I knew, I guess, that I wasn't just going to be walking away from this, that my life was going to change forever.

There's never been much fluffy romance. Our first date was about four months into our relationship, and we went to see Once Were Warriors. It was in a similar vein that, three years ago today, we snuck off without telling anyone, went down to the registrar's office, and got civilly unified. We had to wait while they rustled up some staff to be our witnesses, then sit with complete strangers until the celebrant was free. Because we hadn't told my mother, I wore my hair down, my feet bare, and my pentacle round my neck. There were no little girls sprinkling rose petals before me, no fussing over floral baskets, no bickering, and no brothers taking drunken relatives into town and losing them. Afterwards, we picked the kids up from school, went home, and had a normal day.

Our relationship has included a few incidents I can't explain, the sort of stories I wouldn't believe if I heard them from other people. We don't talk about it. We know, and that's enough. We don't need to say what we'd do for each other, what we'd sacrifice, because we've already done it.

Words may not be necessary, but words are all I'm good at. Happy Civil Universary, darling. I love you.

With my normal lightning response, I've done something about this request, and set up a Public Address group at Shelfari. This'll allow us to compare notes on books, and look at what other people in the group are reading and say 'dude, wtf?'. You can sign up direct on the site, or hit reply here, and I’ll email you an invite. This should in no way imply that we won't still be talking about books here.

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