It’s a funny old word, mistress. Used to be what we would now call Mrs. Or even Ms. “Oh mistress mine” and all that. Though come to think of it, it might mean what we mean. And what’s the opposite? Master, Toyboy, Bit of Rough?? There isn’t one.
You can go to any Art Gallery or Stately Home and there are portraits of the Countesses of Tiddlypom, all bewigged, bejewelled and showing far more bosom than is wise in England in any weather, “Mistress of King (insert name of any king up to and including Edward 7th) as though it was an accepted way of life. Which is probably was.
But mistress today, well, sounds a bit old fashioned. A beautiful courtesan, tucked away in an attic on Paris, or what my mother would have called “a kept woman” – other than a wife, who today is likely to be keeping him. Or what men rather nastily refer to as a bit on the side.
But it felt nothing like that to me. Tony was, well, Tony. A man I loved, and who loved me. A man I trusted with my life, and with whom we jogged along like any married couple. Except we weren’t.
Tony had been my first boy friend. We grew up together, went to the same schools, and were considered an item from the fourth year onwards. And then he went to Uni and came back three years later with Sonia and a science degree. And I left school and went to work in Barclays Bank, and married Glenn. Tony and Sonia lived in Alderley Edge, where the footballers live, in a moderately posh house, and Glenn and I bought an ex-council house on the edge of the Weston Estate. And life jogged on – Tony and Sonia had two girls, Glenn and I had two boys. I heard through the old school grapevine that Sonia and Tony were still married, the children at that posh private school; I wasn’t sure what Tony was doing at Astra Zeneca, but it obviously paid well. Glenn and I didn’t make it past 7 years of marriage, and he left for a newer model. The boys and I managed, I still worked at Barclays, and they went to the local comp, which I had to say was excellent.
And then one day I ran into Tony, more or less literally. I was in my usual lunch time rush, dashing out of the Pound Shop, when I ran straight into him. I burbled my apologies before I realised who it was. We both stopped, and I could feel that shock of electricity, or chemistry or whatever it is, that makes one fall into love. Only it wasn’t love. To be perfectly honest, we both fell into lust.
And that’s how it started. Tony managed to come over to me most weeks, goodness knows what excuse he gave Sonia, I didn’t ask. He also did what men do around the house, which I was very grateful for. Odd bits of repair, fixing and what have you.
But I never thought of myself as his mistress. And I don’t think he thought of me as his bit on the side. We were just comfortable together – the sex was great, a bonus really. We had a lot of shared life and experiences, and together we made each other a more rounded person.
Or at least, that’s how we thought about it. Which we didn’t often do. As far as I know Sonia knows nothing about me. My boys are at college now, but if they suspect anything they keep schtumm. And Tony remains Tony, and me – well, I still don’t think of myself as his mistress! He doesn’t keep me – though he did help with a new washing machine when mine finally died. What are we? You tell me!
© Gillian Peall