There's a section in the middle which tells the stories of each of twelve princesses who marry twelve brothers. It's my favourite part of the book, and they're all very cleverly constructed - some around literary conceits of one sort or another, and some around other ideas. The one below is quite a simple thing, but its simplicity is incredibly powerful. It is virtually emotionless - the greyness that the protagonist describes is echoed in the ordinariness of the prose, but it is this ordinariness that illustrates the heroism in an everyday situation.
"When my husband had an affair with someone else I watched his eyes glaze over when we ate dinner together and I heard him singing to himself without me, and when he tended the garden it was not for me.
He was courteous and polite; he enjoyed being at home, but in the fantasy of his home I was not the one who sat opposite him and laughed at his jokes. He didn't want to change anything; he liked his life. the only thing he wanted to change was me.
It would have been better if he had hated me, or if he had packed his new suitcases and left.
As it was he continued to put his arm round me and talk about building a new wall to replace the rotten fence that divided our garden from his vegetable patch. I knew he would never leave our house. He had worked for it.
Day by day I felt myself disappearing. For my husband I was no longer a reality, I was one of the things around him. I was the fence which needed to be replaced. I watched myself in the mirror and saw that I was no longer vivid and exciting. I was worn out and grey like an old sweater you can't throw out but won't put on.
He admitted he was in love with her, but he said he loved me.
Translated, that means, I want everything thing. Translated, that means, I don't want to hurt you yet. Translated, that means, I don't know what to do, give me time.
Why, why should I give you time? What time are you giving me? I am in a cell waiting to be called for execution.
I loved him and I was in love with him. I didn't use language to make a war-zone of my heart.
"You're so simple and good," he said, brushing the hair from my face.
He meant, Your emotions are not complex like mine. My dilemma is poetic.
But there was no dilemma. He no longer wanted me, but he wanted our life.
Eventually, when he had been away with her for a few days and returned restless and conciliatory, I decided no to wait in my cell any longer. I went to where he was sleeping in another room and I asked him to leave. Very patiently he asked me to remember that the house was his home, that he couldn't be expected to make himself homeless because he was in love.
"Medea did," I said, "and Romeo and Juliet, and Cressida, and Ruth in the Bible."
He asked me to shut up. He wasn't a hero.
"Then why should I be a heroine?"
He didn't answer, he plucked at the blanket.
I considered my choices.
I could stay and be unhappy and humiliated.
I could leave and be unhappy and dignified.
I could beg him to touch me again.
I could live in hope and die of bitterness.
I took some things and left. It wasn't easy, it was my home too.
I hear he's replaced the back fence.'
I wrote it all out, but I couldn't post it. It will talk directly to Traci and I can't do that to her. The woman in the story is Rachel's character, and Traci would see herself as the man. I have to draw the parallel, it's glaring me in the face. The sadness and the emptiness of the woman is a horrid lump that couldn't be erased. I worry for Rachel anyway - what would happen to her if Traci DID leave? She's clearly still thinking about it at least on some level, as witness last night's texts. Traci not coming to me - well, I'll meet someone at some stage, even if I never find anything that works so well as she and I seemed to have the potential to. But Rachel? She's going off to a new country, where she will know very few and not speak the language at least to start with. How would she find someone new? She hurts. She has the self-esteem issues that make it hard to trust anyone, including the self. She would be alone, like the woman in the story, looking over at where the fence has been replaced. I don't know her well enough. She is the most passive person of the threesome constructed around her, and it seems enormously unfair to damage someone for something they had no say in. It's not as though what happens to Rachel is in my gift or choice any more; it's in Traci's, as it has been all along. But that story reinforces my flagging resolve not to push this. But also, nobody should expect to be happy who completely ignores their own desires. Trying to make other people happy by doing something that entirely disagrees with what one wants oneself doesn't work. One has to be aware of one's own desires and what makes one happy, or everyone will be miserable. So I'm standing here, where Traci can just still see me, not cutting the strings, because I want her to be certain about what she wants. I'm probably being unfair, because her decisions would be made just a little bit more black and white if I went away. But there are still huge things to resolve for her and Rachel, even without me. And I still don't think I can give her something comparable. But only she can have any idea exactly what she wants and what will bring her closest to it. I only know that the understanding she and I had didn't appear to be imagined, and was unrepeatable.