One of the rituals of growing up is the bedtime fairy tale. Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Princess and the Pea, Hansel and Gretel…All miniature stories where the hero, after battling a bunch of evil stepmothers, giants and nasty witches, triumphs and heads off into the sunset.
My sister Michelle especially loved the fairy tales where the princess marries the prince and lives happily ever after. “One day,” she told me very seriously when she was eight, “one day, I’m going to marry Prince Charming! And then he’s going to lock Mummy up in a dark prison!”
To which our mother, who’s always had the sensitive hearing of a bat, shouted from the kitchen, “Not if I get to him first!” Not surprisingly, Michelle would grow up blaming Mother for all her social inadequacies. “If I die a lonely spinster, it will be all her fault!”
But the one thing fairy tales never really tell you is just what exactly happens after the “happily ever after” bit. Did Snow White get bored of her sex life with the Prince and have an affair with one of the dwarves? (This would be the cue for my mother to tell you about the live sex floor show she once saw in Amsterdam featuring a transvestite Snow White and seven real life dwarves.) Did Sleeping Beauty turn out to be a nagging shrew and divorce her good for nothing Prince?
For some reason, all these questions raced around my head as I listened to our friend Lynette sob on our couch. Her husband Tim, it seemed, was having an affair with his secretary.
What made the revelation all the more shocking was we’d always thought Lynette and Tim were the golden couple. They were the ones we all aspired to be one day. They were high-school sweethearts. Married when they were 24. Three children by the time they were 28. He, a devastatingly handsome and successful lawyer. She, a gorgeous high flying banker.
“I want to have children with that man,” Saffy drunkenly told everyone at her table at Tim’s wedding. “Heck, pour me another gin and tonic, and I’d have children with that woman, too!”
“They’re going to have such beautiful children,” Amanda predicted without a single note of jealousy in her voice.
Which is why news of Tim’s affair struck not just Lynette, but it wounded my flatmates. For here was absolute proof that landing the man of your dreams was no guarantee that the happily ever after glow was going to last forever.
For days, it was all the girls could talk about. What Saffy couldn’t understand was why Tim would cheat in the first place.
“Doesn’t he know how horrible the dating scene is?” she asked. “What are the odds of finding someone who likes you back?”
“Six trillion to one!” said Amanda, who’s actually done the maths.
“It’s the jackpot!” Saffy sang like some gospel choir. “And he wants to give all that up? For what?”
“It just goes to show that you never can tell,” Amanda said.
“Men are stupid!” Saffy decided.
Of course, what worried the girls more was the fact that if two such perfectly matched people as Lynette and Tim couldn’t make it work, what hope was there for singletons like them? And more importantly, what was the point of all the dates they’d been subjecting themselves to, if the end result was an unhappy marriage?
“I’d be better off speaking French!” Saffy declared.
“Learning French, you mean,” Amanda said. She was rewarded with a Look.
“My point,” Saffy said with stiff dignity, “is that we might as well all just stop dating. It’s pointless. I don’t want to torture myself every Friday night, primping, waxing, exfoliating, getting dressed and going on a date only to have it all end up in a divorce court!”
“Oh, they’re not getting divorced,” I piped up. “They’re getting marriage counseling. Tim told me at lunch.”
Both heads swiveled around in my direction. “You’re having lunch with that cheating prick?” Saffy asked, her bosom heaving.
“Hey, there are two sides to this, you know,” I said stoutly.
“That’s such a cop-out! You don’t go have an affair just because you have marriage problems!” Amanda said.
“That’s so typical of you men, always sticking together even when you’re clearly in the wrong,” Saffy sniffed.
The latest is that Lynette is making Tim get a blood test to check for any nasty sexually transmitted diseases, but Amanda says he should also be taking an IQ test. Meanwhile, Saffy has signed up for French lessons. “Je suis not taking any chances,” she told the bewildered woman at Alliance Francaise.