Chapter 33: Pathos
Edith gathered information from a variety of different sources. Eavesdropping, watching the breakfast TV news, and from weekly magazines designed and written with a particular target audience in mind; the likes of Edith.
Harold always enjoyed spoiling other people’s fun. One day when the sun was bright, and the sky was white, Harold happened upon Edith’s half-finished crossword in her women’s magazine. Edith walked down the hallway and towards the front room as quiet as a mouse. She saw Harold sitting with a pen and her magazine. Oh no! She thought Harold is reading the quiz I was just filling in … And he is changing the answers! She stood there behind the door and peeped through the frosted glass. Harold had his concentration face on. He scribbled out a lot of answers, without reading them out to himself. This was torture for Edith. Say something… so that I can listen in Harold! Finally, he returned to a crossword clue that he just could not think of before.
3 Down: Always looks on the bright side, 10 letters.
‘OPTIMISTIC!’ Harold shouted.
Edith stood behind the door, smiling and clutching her nightdress to her breastbone. Just then, Harold noticed Edith standing behind the frosted glass. Rumbled, he hid her magazine down the back of the settee cushion. Edith walked into the front room with her embracing arms open.
‘Oh, Harold! Do you think you are optimistic?! See, that’s me rubbing off on you. Making you look on the bright side!’ Edith flung her arms around Harold, looking over his back she spied the magazine stuffed behind the cushion. ‘Don’t be embarrassed about doing a quiz. They are meant to be good for your well being, your state of mind.’
‘It wasn’t really a quiz, Edith … it was a crossword.’
Edith’s face changed, and Harold’s game plan changed also. Initially, he had been worried he would be in trouble for doing her crossword. And initially, Edith had been concerned that Harold would be annoyed with her for filling in a magazine quiz about their relationship.
‘What bloody quiz?’ Harold licked his finger (disgusting), and started thumbing through the magazine.
There it was, printed in magenta and white:
HOW MOODY IS YOUR HUSBAND? A twenty question quiz to find out if your husband is clinically depressed, or just a bit grumpy…
Edith was in trouble, deep trouble. She had been correct in the first place. She was the only person who had ever made Harold look on the bright side, ‘cheer up’ – ‘pull yourself together’- it was all down to Edith. Now Harold was reading and re-reading the questions. He folded the magazine up and put it in the back of his jeans pocket.
Edith did not know that look, and she did not know how to deal with it. ‘Oh, I’m sorry Harold, I didn’t mean anything by it… It’s just a quiz…’
‘Don’t worry Edith, I am going to go and ‘have a word with myself’ in the shed!’
This was a direct quote from the quiz, and to make it worse, they did not even have a shed. Edith sat there, sulking in the front room. Harold had gone off in a mood to the imaginary shed, with a look on his face that Edith had never seen in all the time they had known each other. Thinking back to how she usually deals with this kind of situation, Edith decided to make a dash for it to the under-the-stairs cupboard. Glancing at the calendar as she opened the door, horror of horrors, Edith realised she had forgotten Harold’s birthday! This had never happened before! No wonder he is feeling grumpy and self-conscious. She looked around for something that would make up for it.
But Harold had everything a man could possibly want and more. There were belongings that even Edith did not know about, hidden away in that trusty rucksack of his. Harold moped around the house for the rest of the day, until Edith had it! A gesture, a kind gesture was what she would do for Harold! (Harold, who continued to mope). She was not the type to go rooting around in other people’s washing lines for an emergency gift. But she was the type to smile a smug little smile to herself for the rest of the day until it was time to reveal her nice surprise to Harold.
Harold stewed over the magazine quiz, which he begrudgingly realised, was obviously aimed at the likes of him. Edith, thinking she could cheer Harold up, was now about to reveal her surprise.
‘Let’s go to the pub quiz, just like the old days. Come on, Harold, cheer up! It is your birthday!’
‘Err are you losing it, woman! My birthday was two days ago!’ Harold folded his arms, he was only speaking to Edith because it was absolutely necessary.
‘Oh Harold, I had to wait for it to be Wednesday, pub quiz day! It’s not my fault your birthday landed on a Monday this year!’ Edith gushed.
‘Well I suppose so, Edith it is a Wednesday after all’ Harold could always be persuaded by Edith.
They got there just in time for the questions to start and ordered their standard one lemonade with two straws. They did not win the quiz, of course – they had never won. Harold and Edith had the curse of age against them. Many of the questions had been on the tips of their tongues. They knew the answers, but before they had time to think, they were on to the next question. The previous question having been erased from their memory. Then it was time to come home.
‘Fancy asking so many questions about nursery rhymes? Solomon bloody Grundy. I still can’t think what day he got worse on… Can you Edith?’ Harold said while brushing his teeth, creating extra cleaning for Edith with spots of toothpaste splattered on the bathroom mirror.
‘No, Harold… I am tired now’ Edith fell soundly to sleep, this was the best night’s sleep she had ever had in her life. But Harold lay there awake. He reached over to his jeans and pulled out Edith’s quiz from her silly women’s magazine. There had been a few things playing on his mind. A few of the questions and the conclusion. The ‘score’ that his wife, Edith, had directed him to by answering the questions. Harold read one of these silly questions to himself.
1) Has your husband/partner always been sullen in his nature? Or has his mood changed following a traumatic life event?
Edith had ticked A, that Harold had ‘always been sullen in his nature’. This upset Harold for two reasons. One was that Edith had condemned him as ‘moody’. Surely, if he was ever a bit moody, that was only a snapshot? Being caught at the wrong moment? Harold thought he took the rough with the smooth, just like any other man. Secondly, who were these lucky buggers who were allowed to blame their grumpiness on a ‘traumatic life event’? It did not seem fair to Harold. They were getting away with it, ‘I’m sorry I’ve been such a moody sod if only such a thing hadn’t happened’ Harold mimicked in his head.
Harold went on to read another question:
2) Does your husband/partner find it difficult to make decisions about trivial things?
Edith had circled ‘yes’. Me? Me! Harold thought. I do not find it difficult to make a decision, Edith! Harold pondered in the silence of the bedroom. He should definitely be asleep by now, but he was not… I did not have much trouble deciding to marry you, did I? … Harold had forgotten about his proposal being a happy accident at the Golden Gate’s pub quiz… I can make decisions! No problem! I will make a decision right now if you like. Harold said this to himself but was directing it both at Edith for having the stupidity to read these women’s magazines. And to the smiling psychologist/agony aunt whose face he was pointing at on the magazine page. Harold did make a decision, deciding then and there to go to sleep. But quickly revoked his decision, as he had not quite finished vindicating himself from the blame imposed on him in the said quiz.
There had been an incident the week before whereby Harold could not make a decision. It was something trivial, but he remembered it now, just as he was trying to drift off. It was the jar of Vindaloo paste that did it. This jar of curry paste had lived in of one of the kitchen cupboards for quite some time. Edna blamed Edith about it (but blamed herself when no one was listening). That was how long they had owned this curry paste, Edna had not lived at Curmudgeon Avenue for quite some time now. In recent years, ‘special offers’ were being picked up haphazardly in the supermarket and shoved in the cupboard. Now the bloody tin was out of date. Good food was going to waste, and no one likes that. Harold had thought about winging it, he would make a chicken vindaloo curry. Edith would not be able to tell if it tasted ‘off’ because she did not know what it was supposed to taste like. Why, if he made enough, he could invite Ricky Ricketts and his whole rag-tag gang.
Harold had left the jar on the side, and Edith had tidied it away. (Several times). Harold had thought about emptying the jar into the sink and then flushing the brightly coloured paste down the drain… But that did not sound like it would be good for the drains. He just could not decide. If he had of emptied it, at least he could recycle the glass jar. That would be good for the environment. He just could not decide. Harold lay there in his pyjamas, wide awake. Hang on, if I thought the vindaloo would not be good for the drains, then what would it have been like on my system? Good, God! No wonder he could not decide. Harold nearly drifted off to sleep, when he suddenly wondered what had happened to the jar? (It was Edith, who had blamed herself for marrying Harold. The man who could not decide what to do with an out of date jar of vindaloo paste. She had decided to put it in the understairs cupboard until Harold was feeling a bit better).
Harold was trying to count sheep, but he had a lot on his mind. The other annoying thing about the quiz was the conclusion. The diagnosis that Edith had directed him to, was that Harold had been declared a ‘chronic curmudgeon’. A man who is terminally grumpy, irritable and stubborn. The advice offered by the weekly magazine’s agony aunt/psychologist was to ‘Run as fast as you can in the opposite direction unless you are already married. Remember, husbands all have similar faults, and if you are married to a ‘chronic curmudgeon’ at least he is your ‘chronic curmudgeon’ … Looking on the bright side always helps, it might just rub off on him!’
So there Harold was all those years of stubbornness. All those years of thinking, he was always right. All those years of thought, he had a poignant quality that promoted sympathy and pity from others. It had worked in his younger days. Now, he was married his pathos role could only be directed at one woman, his wife Edith, who had branded him terminally miserable. Their conversations were always so meaningless and difficult to follow. It was always ‘She said this and she said that’ or ‘They did this, and they did that’ Who was she? Who were ‘they’? For goodness sake! No wonder I am branded as grumpy by Edith, I cannot tell who she is bloody well going on about! The author of Edith’s magazine article claimed to be a psychologist. She had warned women, that if their husband was over the age of thirty-five, there was no chance of them changing their personality. There it was printed in magenta and white; why should he take her advice just because she has a psychology degree? Because she says she is an ‘agony aunt’. He reread it. Was it too late to change his ways?
Edith gently snored as she slept soundly beside him. My life would certainly be miserable without her, he thought. And for the first time accepting that this was because of her, and not in spite of her and her big house on Curmudgeon Avenue. I hope we die at the same time, Harold thought…
Well, we’ve got that to look forward to, I suppose…
Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to join me at the same time next week for the final chapter of The Harold and Edith Adventures and details of how you can get the whole book for free.
Happy reading, Samantha xx