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The Prayer Seeker

He had been married to Clare for ten years before they agreed to a divorce. Their
marriage had filled an entire decade of his life, between the ages of about thirty and forty,
and he didn’t comprehend now whether either of them had ever truly known the other.
Part of her attraction at the time was that she was not at all religious, he admitted it, and
he’d been on the run from his twenties. She’d seemed to promise a new way of life and
the moment he met her, he’d pursued her, an act that wasn’t something he’d ever thought
had been in his nature. She was two years older than he was, and the owner of a small
firm of insurance brokers that had been in her family for a couple of generations. Work
was how he’d met her, as later he’d met Ruth, and he wondered whether he’d ever really
had a life outside it. He needed to meet more people, especially now he was taking a
break from any kind of working life, and focusing on more contemplative matters. He
needed to ensure he didn’t become an entire recluse.
Back then, Clare had captivated him. She had blonde hair, sharp blue eyes, a
designer lifestyle and a can-do attitude. He’d wanted that, as part of the fact of wanting
her. She held out the promise that he might one day be a different kind of a man, and
perhaps that was part of the attraction he’d had for her too. Considering it in that way, it
was astonishing their marriage, a mere five months after meeting, had lasted as long as it
did. Michael suspected a healthy sense of pride and denial of failure had kept them
together. They might have been better friends if they’d separated after four years, instead
of hanging on, in increasing desperation, for another six. Still, it was true to say that
during those last six years, he’d experienced the most memorable and destructive fights
he’d ever known. They had exhausted him, but given him a strange, dark energy too.
More than anything it was that which had disturbed him most, and which had made him
greet Clare’s eventual broaching of a divorce with something very near to relief.
She might have been the most exciting person he’d ever known, but she had also
been the most terrifying.
Now, on a cold morning just after Christmas, here she was standing on his front
doorstep with a slight frown on her face. Michael had been sitting quietly in his living
room when the doorbell rang. He hadn’t exactly been praying but he hadn’t exactly not
been praying either. Initially he’d wondered if he should simply ignore the bell, as he had
no real wish to see anyone at the moment, b ut when the second ring had sounded, far
more insistent than the first, he’d risen to his feet with a sigh and trotted down the
hallway as the bell rang for the third time.
When he opened the door, for a moment or two, he didn’t recognise her. Not that she
looked any different from when he’d last seen her about eight or nine years ago, but he
hadn’t expected her to be here. Yes, there were a few more lines about the mouth and
eyes, and her hair, he was sure, was longer, but it was certainly Clare.
“Hello,” he said.
She smiled, but it was a brief gesture. “Michael. May I come in, or is this an
inconvenient time?”
Yes was his first thought but, as she must have come all the way from London to see
him, that would have been both rude and unnecessary, two states of mind which Michael
didn’t find comfortable. So he stepped to one side and allowed her to pass into the
hallway. There, she hovered, and it struck him that, of course, she’d never been here
before. It seemed astonishing that someone who’d once been as much a part of his life as