“Where does forgiveness come into this?” wondered Claire.
It was just after dawn and she had the beach to herself. The only markings to spoil the newly revealed sand was the line of her footprints. Not even the Germans were out yet to claim their spots. She stood facing the sea, digging her bare feet into the coarse grains, while she felt her throat with the fingers of both hands. It was tender, painful to the touch in the spots where his thumbs had pressed on her windpipe. The bruises were probably darkening by now, she thought. Ways of hiding what would be obvious to all as ten finger marks occurred to her — make-up, high collars, scarves, neckerchiefs. These were not the kind of marks she would have imagined herself to be plotting to conceal on her honeymoon.
She lowered her probing hands and tears welled in her eyes for perhaps the hundredth time since her husband of all of thirty-six hours had throttled her on the king-sized bed of their honeymoon suite.
“He throttled me, didn’t he?” she asked herself once more. “I didn’t imagine it. He put his hands around my throat and squeezed. He almost strangled me. Almost killed me.”
She set off walking again.
“‘Throttle’. ‘Strangle’. Fine words to be using on your honeymoon . . . And ‘forgive’.”
Gerry had begged her for forgiveness. In the very act of throttling her, it seemed he was gasping for forgiveness. His face red and bulging, kneeling on top of her, pushing her neck into the bed springs and wringing it, he hissed over and over again, “Forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me.”
But could she forgive him?
She wasn’t sure whether she could — or wanted to. The look on his face had been murderous; the desire to kill had been etched on his features. Perhaps she could forgive the abortive act itself but she would never be able to erase her memory of Gerry’s expression or forget that he had for a brief time, until something pulled him up, wanted her dead. Two things were clear, though: just as their honeymoon was over, so too was their short marriage.
What had set Gerry off were her advances to him on their second night in the hotel. (The first night they had arrived to the suite after three in the morning and had collapsed exhausted onto the bed’s silken sheets with nothing more than a goodnight kiss passing between them). She should have known all along that there was something amiss in their relationship. Looking back, the clues were there.
Early on in their courtship both she and Gerry had made the decision to refrain from premarital sex — to “save” themselves until after the wedding, as he had put it. There was nothing radical or shocking about this decision; both were committed Catholics whose faith was the hub around which their lives revolved. They lived, at odds with most of their peers, according to the strict rules of Church orthodoxy, spending much of their free time either in church or engaged in parish-based activities. It had been through one of these that the couple had met. Claire had been surprised that it was she and not Gerry who had experienced the greater difficulties in maintaining their chastity. The struggle to remain “pure” in advance of marriage had always been presented to her (by teachers, nuns, priests, her mother) as one where the woman’s discipline was the last line of defence against the man’s rampant lust. In Gerry and Claire’s particular case it had always been him who had called a halt to kissing and petting sessions before they got out of hand.
In many ways she admired his self-discipline and the apparently genuine lack of importance he placed on sex. These traits, along with his gentle and caring nature marked him as different from other men she had known and convinced her she was marrying the right man. Claire wasn’t entirely old fashioned and out of step with modern times as regards her attitude to sex. She saw it as an important element of a relationship and something that could either bind a couple tightly together or force them apart. As such she was curious and at times apprehensive as to how lovemaking would work between her and Gerry. If he was the kind of man to pester or cajole a fiancée into having sex with him, she was certain that her curiosity would have opened the door to her relenting. One more than one occasion, when they had been kissing and squeezing up against each other for what seemed like an eternity it was all she could do to stop herself from grabbing his hand and leading him to the nearest bed or sofa, but she knew Gerry would think less of her if she did. A heat would build up inside of her, leaving her hungry for the touch of his tongue on her bare skin and putting thoughts in her head of doing things with him that she knew would never find expression either verbally or physically. Sometimes she wondered if he had the same kind of thoughts or did his self-control extend to the exclusion of such imagery from his mind.
After Gerry would step away when the going got too heavy, she would often experience feelings that ranged from shame to embarrassment to vague sheepishness; for it was always Gerry who stepped away and always she that seemed to be left wanting more, with her hair stuck to her head with sweat, her face red and her chest heaving. He would be as fresh and unruffled as if he had only arrived back from a hurried journey to the shop for a pint of milk. And not a trace of an erection fighting against the fabric of his trousers. She could always tell with previous boyfriends when they were aroused, the burning hardness pressing on her thigh, a certain way they had of walking. In all their time together, there had been no such tell tale signs with Gerry, not before, during or after any of their “sessions”. The germ of a nagging feeling had surfaced in her from time to time: Did Gerry enjoy at all their kissing and cuddling?
In the few months leading up to their wedding Gerry grew even more wary of “smooching” (his quaint term for kissing and petting), to the extent that the only physical contact between them consisted of hand holding and the odd peck on the cheek. If the majority of her cognitive prowess had not been taken up by wedding arrangements (how hollow all the fussing about napkin rings, flowers and hair extensions seemed now) she might have tried to get to the bottom of his distancing himself from her, his physical shutdown. Even the strangeness of the wedding itself didn’t strike her until one of the many moments of clarity she had had since the throttling.