After seven years of marriage, Michelle had begun to question her love - not her husband Barry’s. His adoration was as solid and steady as a rock. She questioned her state. Was it all she could expect? She yearned for more or perhaps a different, ethereal mist of feeling which engulfs like a warm blanket of bright colours, flapping every now and then in the breeze of life. “Damn those blasted fairy tales! Where is my prince? Why doesn’t Barry come home in the middle of the day and whisk me off to Paris for coffee? It’s not as if he couldn’t...”She dreams sometimes he is sitting in his high rise office, gazing out across the Swan River. He thinks of her in a flowing white peignoir, hair carefully styled to look as if she had just risen from their marriage bed, to meet her love. Full lips ready to receive his kiss, his embrace strong but gentle as he smiles down at her, with one arm supporting her swooning body, trembling with unspoken ardour. Driven by his great love and vision, he slams down his pen, gathers his keys and mobile phone then tells his pale and ordinary secretary he will be unavailable for the rest of the day. His driving is urgent, through Perth’s city streets then onto the wide open freeway, fuelled by his desire to feast on her eager visage, knowing she waits only for him in their little house in the quiet northern suburbs. Daydream Michelle is cleaning out the fridge, bent over concentrating, dressed in jeans and a bright pink shirt with sleeves rolled up to her elbows. A bucket of warm water stands ready at her side. As she turns to dip the cloth to rinse, he bursts in. The warm water flows around the kitchen like the tide of their love; ebbing against the stove where she lovingly prepares delicious and delectable meals, eddying around the kitchen stool where she waits for his call, flowing back to splash once more, like his love, faithfully at her feet. Her prince, who has taken her from a life of limited mediocrity to unimagined happiness and a passion whose flame cannot be quenched, has come.“Get changed, we leave immediately.” Jumbled thoughts race around in her head, swirling this way and that, she’d not finished cleaning the bathroom. Washing could be heard sloshing about in the machine; the iron was set up ready before picking up the children. She is also due to do canteen at twelve. But his kisses erase all thought; all care as she tastes the freshness of his breath, the warmth of his tongue exploring her hidden recesses, the closure as he encompasses her mouth totally with his. Michelle pulls gently back, gazes into his slumberous eyes and murmurs agreement. Then, taking her into his arms he carries her off. She does not know where - or care, as long as it's with him.In her daydreams Barry is somehow taller, slimmer, harder but also soft with love. Michelle’s good country cooking has given him little pouches of fat on either side of his waist and a small belly. Where he was fit and firm, he is now comfortable and content. He is also happily fixated on his work. “The real estate market has been given a tremendous boost with these low interest rates. Buyers are everywhere, wanting to take advantage.” He would never consider leaving before six o’clock. He may miss an important call.She knows the honeymoon is over and yearns for romance. The reality of her routine needs release. It needs comfort in the imagined possible. But Barry a Prince? Once, yes, she believed he was her ideal - her dream. He swept her off her feet with bouquets of favourite violets and sweet notes of love e-mailed between on-line chats. Even before they nervously stood face to face, she like an ungainly, self-conscious teenager, and he the sophisticated man of the world, she’d made up her mind that he was the one.They met through ‘Spark-match’ and after some months of corresponding, agreed to meet for coffee. The fact she lived in Bridgetown; he in the city was simply a hurdle that must be overcome, a test of his love - and her worth. The distance and difference in lifestyles only added to his attractiveness. When a company conference, held in the Karri Lodge offered an opportunity for them to meet, it could not be ignored. Michelle had seen his photos and thought she knew him well. On the big day, dressed in an elegant city suit, he did not disappoint. They met in the restaurant and ended up sharing dinner with his fellow attendees. Most of them had to leave their partners and wives in Perth, so enjoyed the legitimate female company introduced by Barry. Conversation was batted easily between strangers and Michelle noted Barry’s place in the company as evidenced by his colleagues who seemed to think well of him. His esteem growing as they discussed Michelle and how they had met. For her part, all the magazines, all the movies were right; she was his ‘pretty woman’. He spent money like there was much more and was convinced of his brilliant future in business. Armed with his degree in Commerce (with honours) she too was seduced then convinced of his ability to reach the heights, to succeed, to even achieve fame and fortune. The company paid for a room with a double bed. One touch and she was his. In three days she had convinced him also that she was the one. They married three weeks later, unable to bear their partings. Her father was secretly pleased the wedding was intimate whilst shocked at the speed of events. She remembered how he had stood proudly, but alone, at the end of the sloping drive of their little farm to wave them off in Barry’s sparkling, silver, company-supplied Fairmont. How proud she was too, content to bask in his glory, the city-slicker whisking a country girl off to the bright lights. He came from a good family. His mother served on all the correct committees, his father a lawyer, well respected in the town. She, Michelle; would be the confident, capable woman who kept a spotless house, had beautiful, clever children, always immaculately dressed in the most elegant and fashionable style of the day. She would leave her country upbringing behind.The phone rang and she let the answer-machine take the call. It was Barry. “I’ve had Vesta Credit on the phone. March and April’s payments haven’t been received. Can you check up on it?” No ‘See you later’ or ‘Bye, love’ no affectionate endearments, just another business call to be dealt with. To give her ‘something to do’ Barry had decided, early in their marriage, Michelle should look after the financial side of their life. After all, she ran the house and received most of the bills before he did. It was a task she eagerly took on, imagining large amounts available for her favourite past time; shopping. In the beginning she revelled in the purchase of their little nest and feathered it with all the latest décor portrayed in her favourite magazines. Then Barry presented her with the bills and gently asked if she could budget more carefully. His wasn’t criticising her, just being sensible.He loved her to distraction even though his mother questioned her purchases. “Surely it was not vital to buy an old table, the worse for ware, for four hundred dollars, just to place her Country Life and Hello magazines upon?” Secretly she was resentfully aware Michelle took precedence in her son’s affections. When Barry relayed this comment to Michelle, her reaction was violent. 'How could his mother understand? She didn’t need to convince anyone. Her husband was established, accepted and never questioned. Didn’t he understand – she shouldn’t have to defend herself or her actions?'Her tears tore him apart. He of course relented, saying he believed in her, that whatever made her happy, made him happy too. Though still resentful, she convinced him they could achieve their dreams without his mother’s interference. She would woo her in-laws with her thrift and unknown to Barry, would cleverly hide her little extravagances. He was content but she still harboured feelings of disappointment, though she embraced the project, secure in their credit rating. They could not yet afford ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ however she prided myself on her adaptability, employing the little things she was good at; painting and sewing; crafts which converted the ordinary to something akin to the illustrated desirables. Her mother in law was impressed, even recommending her crafts as little gifts to friends.As for the table, new dinner set and crystal; Michelle was certain she needed these props to persuade Barry’s bosses when they came to dinner, that he was a man with culture, ambition and ability, which needed to be recognised. She was helping him up the ladder. The perfect foil, the perfect wife cooking the perfect meals with fresh flowers and little touches of luxury here and there which she was convinced, did not go unnoticed.She always appeared in a pretty new dress that accentuated her best features. She charmed his colleagues and made their wives jealous with her easy, relaxed and effortless style. Then later, privately, when Barry wondered where she found the money, she would slowly and sensuously reveal sexy lingerie underneath. He could deny her nothing. She had a way of curling onto his lap, snuggling into his neck, smelling of Chloe and nibbling his ear, that banished all thought of bills from his brain. Up until now, Michelle too had been content with her lot, certain that soon, things would change and they’d have all she yearned for. Lately she realised they seemed no further forward even though Barry had received pay rises, the creditors were beginning to send letters of demand. She fretted that one day Barry would break his habit and come home early to read the mail before she did. Each month she struggled to pay to bills using the credit cards to make payments on lay-bys and part-pay bills too large to clear at once, then use each credit card to make payments on the others. She also re-signed with ‘Spark-match’. She did feel guilty but thrilled and excited at the same time. What harm could a little flirtation do? No-one would know. She didn’t even use her real name. It was a safe release from constantly worrying about creditors - another daydream. The men she chatted to were carefully chosen for their earning capacity. Little presents started arriving, mementoes of possible secret liaisons, and enticements for further intimacy. Michelle stored them in the secret drawer of her latest purchase, a roll-top desk relishing her ability to entice, to attract so many fervent would-be lovers.She had been corresponding regularly with a gentleman by the name of Henry who kept insisting that they meet. A bachelor, who lives in Fremantle and owned his home was a successful travel writer, wooed her with words of far-off places and exotic people living exciting lives. His words tumbled, like flakes of chocolate savoured slowly by the tongue, her nose twitching at the imagined smells of foreign soils and her mind travelling freely across continents, attending concerts in London, shopping in Europe, strolling through art galleries in Rome.One day, Henry admitted that he had done a little research. He knew where she lived, had even driven past the house and watched her moving through the rooms. 'How did she manage to always look so sexy?' He likened her to his favourite movie star; Sophia Loren, floating effortlessly and elegantly from one beautifully decorated room to another. He loved her hair up in a careless knot or down flowing freely and fragrantly around her shoulders like a curtain of sable, soft, enticing, asking to be touched. He drank in the fact she wore materials that either clung to her full breasts or swirled like warm liquid around her womanly hips. Michelle panicked. What would the neighbours think? Had Henry they seen him? “Never! Your reputation is sacred. I would never do anything to harm you or disturb you family life. Please meet me though, let us talk face to face, let me exist for one moment in your presence, savour the sweetness of your breath, hear you sweet words fall softly from lips that promise Heaven, if only once.” The poor man was desperate and she relented. She agreed to meet just once, but their attraction could not be denied.Michelle was wracked with guilt and anxious for the next taste of forbidden fruit, so much so that one day Barry noticed. He said she looked pale and sad. Michelle explained that she was bored now their son was in school; she needed some sort of stimulation. Very proud of her artistic efforts, Barry suggested art classes. She protested. “They’d cost a fortune – it’s not just the lessons but also the materials – oils, canvas, charcoal was all very expensive. We can’t afford the indulgence, just for me.” Of course, Barry persisted, found a teacher in the yellow pages and watched as Michelle made the call to book the day classes. He pushed the Vesta card towards her, told her to book everything – they’d find a way to meet the bill. He had some very promising clients interested in a commercial property which he was convinced would bring a tidy commission. She shouldn’t worry her pretty head. Michelle had the perfect excuse now, and carte blanche to spend on the clothes she would need for her tête-à-têtes with Henry. Whether it was the threat of discovery, indulging in a dangerous adulterous game or just simply the romance, which made Michelle go back for more, she will never know. But go back, she did. After that first coffee in a quiet hotel lounge, she was hooked into her dream, the life she wanted to live - attractive people, living moneyed lives visiting different and exciting places, tasting delights from all over the world. Henry undertook to educate her palette and more. He escorted her to restaurants and cafes frequented by only those who could afford the exorbitant prices, dressed in the latest and most expensive casual wear available, who drove Porches and old E-type Jaguars or rode BMW motorbikes. These people had no need to work; they enjoyed life in a constant round of social gatherings. She even saw lawyers riding the odd Harley and never once questioned the possibility of discovery by a colleague of Barry’s father. Constantly she regaled Henry of her enjoyment and desire for this ‘dream’ to never end.She always took the train into town from Whitfords but got off at Stirling Station to meet Henry in his gleaming Saab. Immaculately dressed with that carelessly expensive air of confidence, she wallowed in his obvious admiration and generous compliments fell like soft healing rain on her damaged heart.Eventually she felt so comfortable and secure with Henry that she confided her concerns about credit card charges and how they continually mounted even though she carefully paid what was required each month. Henry for his part became alarmed. Money was a sensitive issue for him. He took pride in his lifestyle and achieved it through careful budgeting. He would never mar his reputation with bad debts. The next time Michele mentioned their ‘running off together, into the sunset’ his brain clicked into reverse. Growing more concerned with every confession of financial difficulty from Michelle, he began to withdraw subtly, slowly, worried that perhaps next, she would ask him for help, perhaps she saw him as a way out. He on the other hand, had only wanted an affair, a heartfelt indulgence with a pretty, safely attached woman who would not jeopardise her marriage with public exposure or expect an elevation of status in his life.One day, Michelle had just finished making the beds and was in a hurry to leave for the train when a harsh knock sounded at the front door. As she opened it wide, two men with shaved heads, stood clasping clipboards tightly to their chests, their feet planted squarely and unerringly in front of her door. Their voices were deep with a sharp edge to the tone and delivered what to them was a routine question. They asked her name. She told them as one of the men handed her form. He delivered another obviously well rehearsed speech about contacting the name on the form and turned to go. It was a summons for $12,486.00 from BankWA. In absolute shock, she stepped back and watched the two burly men calmly walk down her path, looking right and left, as if to see anyone watching then get into their car, a dark blue late model sedan. As they uncaringly drove away, the phone rang. On what must have been the twelfth ring, Michelle lifted the receiver to her ear. The voice echoed as if from a vase distance but she heard every condemning word. It was Master Credit. “You have exceeded your limit of twenty thousand dollars by a further $3,213. The card has been withdrawn and will be cancelled unless you can pay the excess within seven days.” The click of disconnection was amplified in her head. “What was happening? Why me?”Distraught, she rushed upstairs, took the phone by the bed off the hook, flung herself down and let her unrestrained sobs echo through her immaculate house. What was she to do? Who could she turn to? Barry must not know how deeply in debt they were. What would they do next? Would they ring him at work? He was bound to discover her treachery one way or another. Henry would save her. He would take her away from all this, he was her Knight Errant and she his Maid Marion. He loved her. They had often talked of a life together, travelling the world, tasting the exotic. Perhaps the universe was telling her to follow her heart and make up for past mistakes because he was her true love and destiny. She had missed the 9.30am train and pictured him waiting patiently by his gleaming car. She dialled his mobile. “This service is currently out of range, please try again.” She had called him before in the same place and there had been no difficulties, so where was he? She phoned his home number and got the answering machine. “Sorry guys – can’t answer the phone – so use the e-mail if it’s urgent.”Michelle raced upstairs and turned on the computer. She waited impatiently for the dial tone, then connection and raced straight through the screens to Yahoo. Yes – he’d left a message; 'Unfortunately,' he said, 'he had to go away and didn’t know when he’d be back. Perhaps they were getting too serious and taking careless risks, which could result in discovery by her family. He didn’t want to hurt her unduly and had decided it was best to end the relationship.'
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