Here are the opening paragraphs of the story I wrote for one of the modules on the Creative Writing MA at Chichester University. The Way to a Man’s Heart gained a Distinction, won the inaugural Lightship Prize and was published in the Lightship Anthology 1 by Alma Press.
THE WAY TO A MAN’S HEART
My husband sacrificed our love to his manly pursuits in the misty, green-mud countryside. His dawn trampings in the hills left me lonely in bed. I thought early risers were early bedders. I was wrong. His evenings, and sometimes half his nights, were spent casting his fishing line in the rush of the becks. He wanted a fish, a slimy, cold-blooded creature.
They say one love drives out another. Our early passion for each other was born of the greedy physical attraction of opposites: me the cream-skinned blonde and him my swarthy mate. Our marriage was celebrated with the shared delights of eating and loving. His tongue tasted of paprika but felt slivery silver against my skin. He brought the sweet smell of fertility to our bed where he told me I tasted of caviar. We loved as we ate, with hands, mouths and noses.
I blame myself. The night before our wedding, my mother’s advice to me was, ‘Remember, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ Foolishly, I believed her. Over the years I wasted my talents on stews cooked with brown meat and soft red and orange vegetables and diverted my energies into piles of fresh clean laundry. But I was not in my element. I was a fish out of water.
My husband did try. Last summer, understanding that I was land-locked in domesticity, he booked an early holiday by the sea. It meant taking our three – aged ten, eight and five – out of school but, as I saw it, their future security was at stake. A happy mother is a happy home – my proverb. However, while I was enchanted by the cottage with a thatched roof and niche windows, seduced by the beer garden with baskets of lobelia and sweet pea hanging from iron fists, I was deceived by promises of togetherness.
In the early mornings, when I was amorous, our bed was empty as my husband walked the coastline. I was left to wander our children between banks of pink roses delicate enough to be sugared and eaten, along bridle paths margined by laced cow parsley and overhung with mock orange. During breezy afternoons on the beach, I paddled in the froth of the waves while the children explored rock pools. When their feet were stiff with cold, I rubbed them with towels, cleaning seaweed and sand from between their toes.
And where was my man? Dribbling his finger tips in rivers, wading through the depths, dipping his line into the soft water, waiting for a fish to rise to him, to put its lips round his bait and swallow. I waited for him to return to me, to seduce me with ruby wine, to make my body curve to his. In return I would offer him precious foods – pate de foie gras, Gravad Lax, chocolate as dark as sin.
When he appeared, having failed to catch a fish for supper, he was so emptied by his exertions that he threw himself onto our bed and slept with his eyes open. I closed them for him. He was no longer mine. I was wretched for my man with his devil fingers and their unruly invasions. There was something else. I needed more than narrow lanes, banks of wild flowers and deserted shores. I was a woman who flowered in the sun, who loved best in the exotic.