Uriah Kemp had been married for many years, more or less happily, to Eunice. They had both gone into the marriage optimistically, but as the years passed Uriah became disillusioned. He kept thinking back to the days before his marriage, when he had travelled around the world making conquests wherever he went. As age started to catch up with him, he pined for his lost youth and started wondering about leaving Eunice.
There was no one thing about her that he didn’t like. It was lots of little things. For example, she would often invite relatives to come round and do little jobs around the house — putting up some shelves, fixing leaking taps, that sort of thing. Uriah liked getting the work done cheaply, but didn’t really like having Eunice’s relatives around.
One night, Uriah sat down in the local pub with his friend Nigel and talked it over. Nigel told Uriah that he’d lost control over his own life — that Eunice was always telling him what to do. And he worked out that, if Uriah didn’t have to give Eunice housekeeping money and pay their mortgage he’d be £350 a week better off. And, Nigel pointed out, if Uriah wasn’t tied down by Eunice any more, he’d be free to spend his time with whatever women he wanted. It was tempting.
So that night, Uriah went home and told Eunice he was leaving. She agreed to a separation, saying that if they were still apart in two years’ time, they would divorce. He assumed the process would be pretty straightforward — just take his things and go. But it turned out to be a lot more complicated than he’d realised. The house, for example, was in both of their names, and it would take some time to disentangle exactly who owned what among their possessions. Worst of all, Eunice produced some paperwork that showed she’d paid for most of the house, and that he owed her £60,000. She wouldn’t even start negotiating about the rest of their shared possessions until he paid up. He whined and complained, and in the end he managed to argue her down to £50,000 — which she accepted for a quiet life, and which he paid with bad grace even though the paperwork was clear that he was getting away with paying less than he really owed.
So Uriah moved out, taking with him his half of the CD collection, the TV and a set of dining chairs. He was slightly chastened by his experience, and surprised at finding that Eunice was tougher than he’d realised, but he was still excited about the adventure ahead. He rented a bedsit, though he was disappointed to find that it cost him more than the £350 a week he’d expected to save — and that on top of that, he had to buy and prepare his own food and do his own laundry.
But Uriah was prepared to be less well off financially. It seemed worth it to him, because he felt he had control of his own life again. He was free to live by his own rules, and to spend time with anyone he wanted. He’d seen some girls in the pub that he really liked the look of.
The problem was, they didn’t like the look of him. He was no longer the young stud that he remembered himself as — if he had ever really been that person. Not only that, but word seemed to have spread about the £10,000 that he’d stiffed Eunice out of. Women who otherwise might have been interested in a relationship with him were wary, knowing how he’d treated her. In the end, the only companionship Uriah was able to find was a few people — most of them old friends from his school days — who lived far away, on the other side of the world, but who would at least write to him every now and then. (Even his friend Nigel had emigrated.)
Not only that, Uriah started to find that the rules Eunice had imposed on him, which he had felt were so onerous, were really just the standards of society — and that he was still required to keep them. He still had to keep his bedsit reasonably clean and tidy, say please and thank you, wash his hands before meals, and so on — otherwise no-one would socialise with him at all.
Sheer pig-headedness kept Uriah in this lifestyle for a while, insisting to anyone who would listen that he felt rejuvenated and was having the time of his life. He was reluctant to admit, even to himself, that he’d made a huge mistake. But in the end, the reality bit: he was living alone, in a tiny apartment that was costing him more than the house had, eating badly, and socially isolated. The last straw came when his boiler broke down. He called Eunice’s cousin and asked if he could fix it, but the cousin was vague and noncommittal. Uriah realised he was being brushed off. Broke, cold and lonely, he realised he had been much better off with Eunice — that he should never have listened to Nigel.
Chastened, Uriah returned to his old home, ready to apologise to Eunice and move back in. Unfortunately for him, while he’d been fruitlessly chasing the girls in the pub, setting up his pen-pal relationships and trying to get his bedsit into order, two years had slipped by. He’d not even realised that his divorce had been made final until he arrived at Eunice’s house and was turned away.
While Uriah had been away, Eunice had made other plans. He’d expected her to sit, moping, alone and desolate without him. Instead, he was taken aback to find that she had made new friends, and that several of them were now living in the house. There was no room for Uriah. He had no choice but return to his increasingly oppressive bedsit. And now, on top of everything else, his health was failing.
It’s a sad story. If only there was some way he could have avoided it. If only someone had warned him. Or maybe they did — but if only he’d listened.