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  • For her, worse than the blood in her effluence, worse than the countless nosebleeds, the pea soup vomit and the prison that was her now incapable body, the worst humiliation was losing her hair. The websites she read seemed to gloss over this, no more than a chemotherapy side effect in a list of chemotherapy side effects. The only reassurance given was slim and apathetic – it would grow back.

    It did grow back, eventually. There came a time when she was finally able to apply a brush to her lush but unmanageable strawberry blonde hair and enjoy the sensation of her roots tugging tightly at her scalp, not…. loose. Sometimes she would sit for hours in front of her bedroom mirror, running her fingers through, weeping gently, revelling in the soft reassurance of her cascading curls.

    Loose - a terrifying word. Once it had meant freedom, now it meant something else entirely, a loss of self, the unwilling relinquishing of control. Even as her body tightened and toned again and her skin regained its former colour, even as she felt able to walk out to the shops around the corner without discomfort, she still felt the legacy and the ugliness of her body's past humiliations. Though the torments of her physical self had now passed, the torments of her mind still remained obstinately present.

    It didn't help that her husband still treated her as an invalid. That expression on his face - the brow that creased with concern, the eyes that glistened with compassion, the lips that puckered with worry - they contrived to show how much he cared, how much she meant to him. That and the trite phrases he would repeat in husky baritone, like 'Don't you worry my darling, leave everything to me' and 'Now don't you lift a finger my sweet, you just concentrate on getting better.' He loved her, she knew, but this sickness had made an automaton of her husband, locked in the routine, unable to adapt to the person she had become, unable to accept that she was not, could not, be the same person he nursed and fed in the years passed, the years when her every choice was considered and weighed in his firm but gentle guiding hand.

    Perhaps then it was desperation that drove her to infidelity. It had meant nothing to her, a quick and graceless fumble in the dark, all spasm and spunk, rushed so neither party had to think, neither had to consider what this would do, nothing more than a cathartic purge, an exorcism of desire, frustration and rebellious spirit. And then it was over.

    Her husband said nothing when she told him. He sat staring right through her, accusing, his hands a steeple covering his mouth. The way he looked at her, she felt like one of their daughter's glass eyed dolls. The dolls that sat, all lined in a row on a shelf, perfectly still in their dated little frocks and plastic smirks, gazing blankly at the posters of One Direction and ponies running with the wind. 'Don't you like them mummy?' her daughter would ask. And her mother would feel compelled to lie through her teeth, to say that she did, very much.

    There was a tension and a grief in what followed. Few words were said that were not of some practical vein - where were the keys, we need some more bread - but there was something simmering underneath. Celia found out what it was when she discovered all her clothes were gone. For days she wandered the house in a dressing gown, with no underwear, no trousers, no blouses, not a scrap of clothing to wear otherwise. It wouldn't do to complain. She knew what he was feeling, of course. He wanted her to bear the shame the way he had to bear it, be humiliated like he was humiliated. After all he had done for her, all the times he had put his own personal interests aside to take care of her, how dare she betray him like this? He just wanted to get things back to the way they were, when they were in love, when they were a family unit, in the most loving, wholesome and traditional way.

    She awoke one morning to find her husband crying desperately at the end of her bed, a heap of new clothes for her by his side. She held him close then. 'I'm sorry,' he whispered, over and over again like a mantra. She knew what she was supposed to do. She was supposed to reciprocate, apologise for her affair, for the torment she'd put him through. She only need to say those two words and everything would be okay.

    But she couldn't. The words got stuck in her throat.
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