I Never Loved Him
By Erhan Sertbaş
Translated from Turkish by Pat Temiz
I was in Paris when I got the news. I’d scraped together the money for a four-day trip with a little help from the credit card. The next day I returned to Istanbul and immediately rushed round to the house in Ulus. Meral looked shattered. For a long time, she just hugged me and cried. The crying would stop, then start again. There was a nurse looking after her, and when the nurse thought the time was right, she would administer a mildly sedative injection which made Meral sleep for a short while, but when she awakened, she started sobbing all over again.
Haluk’s car had been found abandoned on the Bosphorus Bridge. There was no suicide note. The police had film from security cameras, which showed him jumping. We refused to believe it. Until the day they found his body.
You know what comes next, the usual series of events: the funeral, the seven and forty day prayers, the sorting out of affairs, and so on. That was when Meral found out that Haluk was broke. For reasons unknown he seemed to have lost everything all at once. He had even sold things, which had been jointly owned, and handed assets over to pay off debts. All of this brought as much grief to Meral as his death had.
It was now two months or so since Haluk had died, and believing that a change of scene would be good for Meral, I decided we should go to our family’s summer home in Ağva. The children went to stay with her mother, and we left Istanbul as if running away could make us happy again.
I think it was early April when we set out for Ağva on a Saturday afternoon. On arrival we put our bags and the supplies we had bought en route in the house, opened a couple of windows, made a quick visit to the bathroom, and then I said we were going out. She didn’t object, just followed me without even asking where we were going. I took us to one of the restaurants next to the river. It had rained off and on throughout our journey but had now stopped; the sun was starting to peek through the clouds. There was hardly anyone in the restaurant, maybe because it was so early in the year or perhaps because of the rain. We took the table nearest to the river and ordered a small bottle of rakı and a few meze. I wanted her to relax as much as possible so that she could start to look forward, and see that she and the children would carry on living.
After the first glass, I asked:
“Have you thought about what you are going to do?”
“Yes, but I still can’t seem to get past the death. I suppose I’ll have to get a job; if I can find one.”
“Of course you’ll find one, we’ll all help, but first you have to get through this mess, life goes on.”
“You’re right,” she said, as her eyes fixed on the surface of the river.
“How could he do this; how could he die; how could he decide to die; didn’t he think about me and the children? My God what selfishness!” She stopped, her eyes looked empty. She went on: “It must mean he didn’t love me, he didn’t love the children.”
“If that’s so then why did you marry? You always seemed so happy together. Why did you carry on being married?”
“It’s a myth that you need to be in love to marry, when the time is right you marry whoever comes along. All my friends were getting married. I thought he’d make a good father and he was very handsome. You know he always looked good. I used to pray that my sons would be like him. And while they may look like him he had nothing to do with bringing them up. I raised those boys.” She sipped her drink and went on.
“I knew he went with other women. You know that too. Oh my god the arguments. But he denied everything, even swore on our children that it wasn’t true. I didn’t believe him even though I wanted to. After that, when he was caught out again, we both realised there was nothing to be gained from dwelling on the subject and I closed my eyes.”
Again she turned her gaze to the river. There’s a fine line between love and hate and she had quickly crossed it. She was swearing at Haluk and insulting him for committing suicide. It seemed she was really trying to come to terms with what had happened.
“Now I think about it I don’t believe I ever loved him, I mean really loved him.” Her eyes filled with tears.
“Now, now we haven’t come here to cry. Yes, he was an attractive man. He made women’s hearts beat faster,” I said as I refilled our glasses. I wanted to change the subject.
She looked at me frowning: “You didn’t sleep with him did you Füsun? Nothing happened between you two, did it?” and she went on saying other things that made me feel she was suspicious. I gave her the benefit of the doubt: her heart ached and she was angry. I carried on trying to look as if I was concentrating on what she had said, while I controlled my excitement by chewing on the side of my thumbnail.
“Don’t be stupid Meral, you are my best friend. How can you think like that? Like if I asked you whether or not you'd had it away with my ex-husband, how would you feel?” My head was full of images as I tried to work out what to say, but I saw in her eyes that she believed me and I relaxed.
Because I had slept with him. In fact, my relationship with Haluk had gone on for quite some time. I have no idea why I did it. Maybe I just wanted to find out what he was like in bed, or maybe I was just lonely; my marriage was not long over and it was as if I was trying to fill the gap. I just don’t know. At the time I felt used up, I was hurting and very ashamed. Could Meral have known about the two of us?
When it started to get dark we went back to the house. I tried to light a fire in the sitting room fireplace but couldn’t get it going properly. Maybe because it’s a man’s job, or I was a bit drunk or because the wood was damp. I left the fire smouldering, found an electric heater in one of the other rooms and plugged that in. It wasn’t really cold but I figured we’d be up for most of the night. We went into the kitchen to get out some dishes of cold food and another bottle of rakı. There was no knowing where this night would end.
With our first glass of rakı we toasted Haluk. My conscience ached, if that is possible. With the weight of all my sins it ached unbearably. My regrets couldn’t hurt anyone else as long as I kept them to myself, but if I confessed it would really hurt her. At that moment I longed for blissful ignorance.
“Why do you think he killed himself? Because he couldn’t see any other way out, or because he thought it would solve everything and he would be punished as well?” she asked.
“Sometimes everything seems too much. Troubles and problems can all seem huge. And at a time like that you can’t bear your existence and you just want to disappear, to end it all. The body knows that it owes its existence to the mind and will do anything to preserve that existence. When the end is near, the mind tries everything to avoid destroying the body.”
I surprised myself with this statement. It seemed the alcohol had loosened my tongue and my mental abilities.
At that point, it began to rain again and the wind got up. I had always loved storms: opportunities for confrontation. Had I not been with Meral that night, I would have spent it in silent contemplation of my own life.
She turned to me and said: “I’m glad you’re here.”
Smoke was now coming from the logs in the fireplace and wisps took on the shape of butterflies or dragonflies, ephemeral insects hovering happily in the chimney space. But she was miles away. It was as if she had finally begun to untangle her emotions, to reassemble her feelings in light of all she had been through, to find her place in this mysterious world. She had not yet realised that the world is what we make of it.
“So what happened next? Do you think he still had feelings for you, Meral?” I asked.
“If he had feelings he never showed them to me. Maybe he didn’t want to hurt our friends or even lose them, maybe he needed me, I don’t know. Towards the end my relationship with Haluk was not the most important thing in the world. For me, squeezing the toothpaste from the middle of the tube was a bigger crime than anything he did.”
She went quiet for a while, her eyes fixed on the flames that had finally taken hold in the fireplace. She took another mouthful of her drink and wrapped the fleecy blanket, which had been draped across her shoulders, tightly around herself.
That night, half drunk, Meral found herself confessing something that she had never expected to reveal. That she had been unfaithful to Haluk. This is quite understandable. For us women revenge is the easiest weapon. But I felt there was still something she was leaving out, something she wasn’t saying. A few days later I realised what it was. When she had been with the other man there had been something missing, despite the fact that he was really handsome, rich and behaved incredibly well towards her. Later, when we met again and I tried to bring up the subject, she said she didn’t want to think about it anymore and shut me down.
Perhaps she did suspect me, but didn’t want to lose me by giving voice to her suspicions. Maybe she thought her confession would lead to me also making one. But I hung onto my secret.
I have thought a lot about this, whether or not she was just trying to get me to open up.
That night I said: “When you sleep with another woman’s husband, she’ll get her own back somehow, won’t she?”
“You know what, I never loved him. I mean, I never loved Haluk.”
She wrapped the blanket even tighter, as if she was trying to hide inside it. Her eyes fixed on the flames and she sank into the depths of her own cold winter.
Ethan SERTBAŞ was born in Eşrefpaşa, Izmir on one of the first days of 1964. He had a nomadic childhood as his civil servant father was posted to one or other of the many glorious cities in Anatolia. He started primary school in Trabzon and completed it in Manisa. Then attended high school in Çubuk, Ankara. He still remembers the deep snow in Kars where he lived before even starting school. In 1982 he was accepted for degree studies at Istanbul University, Faculty of Forestry, where he spent six years before finally graduating. His first job was as a research assistant for an encyclopaedia – he did this for three years. Then it was military service following which he worked for many years as a landscape designer and project manager, and began to wear spectacles. In 2010 he designed and installed a 4m high ‘Cat’ statue in Taksim Square built with plants, and thus introduced the concept of living walls and statues to this country.
Writing began as a hobby in his university years and one which he continued whenever he could find time. Initially he experimented with poetry but eventually settled on the short story as his chosen form. Having published stories on various websites his first book was published by SOLA early in 2017. The book is currently being translated with the working title ‘Women Love Stories’.
Erhan has one child from his first marriage and speaks Turkish and English. In 2014 he was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and had a laryngectomy which left him unable to speak. One year later he was fitted a prosthetic device which restored his speech, and the conversation continues.