The trouble started on Phil’s birthday. He’d always enjoyed reading before we were married, so when I found a new book by his favourite author I bought it for him. He thanked me warmly and said he would look forward to reading it.
That night he sat up in bed reading until nearly 3.0 am. I kept asking him to put the light off, but all he said was, ‘When I’ve finished this chapter, Kath.’ I didn’t know it then, but those words would return to haunt me.
The following evening he was tired after his late night, so I suggested he went to bed early. ‘Good idea,’ he yawned. When I followed a few minutes later, Phil was fast asleep with his book lying open. I gently removed it, but to my surprise he woke and took it from me.
‘I must finish this chapter,’ he murmured. This time I managed to fall asleep, and had no idea when he did.
As the months went by we spent less and less time talking, and every time I saw him he was devouring yet another book from his ever-growing collection. He often forgot to cook when it was his turn, so I had to. And now money was tight because he’d been sacked for reading instead of working.
When I came home from work I’d ask him how his day had been, or what was for dinner, and I’d always get the same answer: ‘When I’ve finished this chapter.’ He wasn’t even answering my questions now.
I tried talking to him, increasingly angrily, about his non-stop reading, and each time he would agree he had a problem and promise to change, but the next day he’d be lost in a book again.
It was pouring with rain the night it happened. I’d come home late from work soaked, tired and hungry, to find Phil in the armchair reading Pride and Prejudice. To my surprise, he stood up and gave me a welcome-home kiss, the first in weeks.
‘Kath, darling,’ he said, ‘I bought another bookshelf today. Could you help me put it up after dinner? I’m cooking tonight.’
I nodded wearily and went upstairs to change into dry clothes. When I came down he was back in the armchair, reading again. I asked him, possibly a little sharply, what was for dinner.
‘When I’ve finished this chapter.’
I raised the heavy new bookshelf ….
Of course, I deeply regret what I did, and I’m relieved Phil has recovered and says he has forgiven me. I accept my punishment and will serve my time quietly. I can put up with the locked doors and lousy food, but why did they have to refine my punishment so sadistically by making me work every day in the prison library?