Linda and Niall have a problem that Niall doesn’t know they have. Niall is letting himself go, and Linda anticipating his embarrassment and fury, doesn’t dare mention it.
She has been on the receiving end, and knows full well how much it hurts and humiliates. Six years before she and Niall began, Tony, with a couple of pints more than tact would have poured, observed one Sunday afternoon that she was acquiring much to sit on, and he wasn’t talking about a chair. For the next few weeks, she could hardly bear to be around him, knowing how distasteful he, the voracious cyclist and footballer, apparently found the half-stone she’d gained since having Mandy. When he realised she was doing everything in her power to minimise interaction with him, he implored her not to shoot the messenger, inspiring her to think, “You self-righteous knobhead.” In a tone with which one might have scoured a pot, she reminded him of the for better/for worse clause of their wedding day promises to each other. He seemed to feel chastened, but not so badly that he didn’t point out that it was incongruous for one so fastidious about her hair and nails and makeup and attire to neglect her physique. It was only after buying herself a gym membership and undertaking the rigorous workout programme she’d maintained ever since that she was able to relax around him. When she regained the slimness that he’d loved — and on which she’d prided herself — he was hugely proud of her, but no prouder than she was of herself.
She didn’t fail to recognise her former self in Niall. He got a manicure fortnightly, and a haircut every three weeks, and his eyebrows shaped three times a year. He used an expensive brand of toothpaste that promised to whiten one’s teeth, and really did seem to whiten his. He drank his coffee through a straw to not undo the toothpaste’s work. He was the local dry cleaner’s best customer. She teased him about using more moisturiser than any other heterosexual man in the UK. And she’d ceased months earlier to be able to pretend not to notice his belly.
She put on kid gloves to broach the subject, asking over dinner one evening if he’d seen the news item about the heretofore-unrealised benefits of daily exercise. His father had had Alzheimer’s, which researchers had discovered those who worked out a lot to be considerably more likely to elude. “Oh, no,” he moaned with his customary petulance, “not all that again. Have we not been through this enough already? Maybe I’m not fanatical about it like you, bu I do exercise.”
Which was to say that he played golf five times a month, riding from hole to hole in a motorised cart. It occurred to her to point out, in gentler words, that the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and that he'd come to look like one who'd eaten a great deal of pudding. Instead, she bit her lip.
She loved him, but her adoration didn’t make his belly any more easily ignored. She told herself that her waning desire for him was fine, since even the most ardent couples grew weary of sex with each other after a while, and hadn’t their first three years been exceptionally ardent? But she couldn’t fool herself for long. The thought of going gentle into that good night of erotic indifference to her husband felt a little bit like a death sentence.