This is part 2 of a 3 part story. Read part 1 here!
It was during my early twenties that my relationship with The Rules reached a turning point.
‘How could you?’ cried Janine from amongst a tangled mass of floral bed linen. ‘How could you be so selfish, so spiteful?’
‘Look, Janine, I’m sorry, all right?’
‘Sorry?’ she looked up from the pillow and spat the word back at me with a vehemence I’d never heard before. ‘Sorry? Do you think that’s good enough?’
‘Well I -’
‘Alex is my boyfriend. Not yours – mine. Did you honestly believe that he would leave me for you?’
‘Oh come on, Janine. Stop being such a drama queen. We only kissed.’
Janine’s face reddened, her eyes narrowed. ‘Maybe you should have listened to those rules your mother gave you, Susie. Perhaps then you’d learn to “take responsibility for your actions”. That’s number eight, by the way.’ She unravelled herself from the duvet and began throwing clothes into an old suitcase.
There was a brief silence, punctuated only by the opening and closing of the wardrobe door.
I bit my lip. ‘Where are you going?’
‘I’m sick of your selfishness. I’ve put up with it for too long.’ She picked up the suitcase and started down the stairs. I followed.
‘Janine, this is silly. Please don’t go. I’ve said I’m sorry. I-’ But she slammed the door shut so fiercely behind her that my words were lost as the wood rattled loudly in its frame.
Gingerly I sat on the bottom stair, already anticipating the embarrassed half-smiles and teary apologies on her return. But as the unforgiving wood beneath me grew cold and uncomfortable, the oppressive silence of the flat we shared together forced an unwelcome clarity that had me questioning my words, doubting my actions. And when I finally realised that she was never coming back, that our friendship was irretrievably lost, I found myself searching for guidance in the only place I could think to find it – The Rules.
I was thirty when I married Harry, a man so fervently against the stifling restrictions of authority that I often wondered if we were completely mismatched.
‘So you’re telling me,’ said Harry, gripping his hair in a rarely-seen gesture of frustration, ‘that we can’t have a house-warming party because The Rules say so?’
‘Exactly.’ I clutched the crumpled paper, pointing blindly at the tenth line down.
‘“Never play loud music late at night”,’ he frowned, ‘but we won’t play loud music, we’re not teenagers.’
‘That’s not the point. We’ll still be making noise. We don’t want to upset the neighbours.’
‘What if we invite them too?’
‘They have young children, they won’t be able to come.’
Harry threw himself onto the sofa. ‘This is ridiculous. Everything we do is dictated by those stupid rules.’
I flinched, pulling the page tighter to my chest. ‘They’re not stupid -’
‘You should throw them away.’
‘The Rules, you should throw them away. They’re controlling you, Susie. You can’t think for yourself anymore.’
The quiver in what was supposed to be a derisive laugh echoed around the empty room. ‘Don’t be ridiculous. They’re guidance, that’s all.’
‘Well how do you know they’re right, hmm?’ He took the list from me. ‘Here, number thirteen, “Never complain or appear ungrateful”, now I know that is a rule your mother breaks on a regular basis – just last week she was complaining that my beef was too tough during Sunday lunch.’
I clenched and unclenched my fists, trying to keep my voice level, ‘But she also said that the vegetables were very tasty and the potatoes roasted just as she likes them, so technically she was offering criticism sandwiched between two compliments as per rule two.’
A knock at the front door broke the growing tension and I felt Harry’s relief as he jumped up to answer it like a punch in an already winded stomach.
- Part 3 to follow!