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Later this week I am off on my hols to a place in Les Landes near Mont-Marsan, so if anyone has any idea where that is, please get in touch as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we shall all need some holiday reading so every day this week I am providing a different summer story to cut out and keep. Today's story is called. . . .

"Hello and Goodbye".

Peter Pilbrow and Margaret Pilbrow had been married to each other for over twenty years. That is why they had the same name. That is why they lived in the same house. That is why they had the same dog. And that is why, after a long while, Margaret Pilbrow decided she had been married too long to Peter Pilbrow.

"Our marriage is dead," she said to herself. "It may have been alive once, but it is dead now, or at least comatose and overweight. I want to get out while there is still time ! I want to get out and meet the right man ! If I cannot meet the right man, at least let me meet the riotously wrong man ! But Peter is neither right nor wrong. He is makeshift. He is a stop-gap. He is like a temporary petrol cap on a car. For twenty years I have been living with a temporary man, and if I don't do something about it now, I never will !"

So she went upstairs and packed all the clothes she needed for an escape from the house she had come to find so stifling, and went downstairs with a large suitcase. It wasn't the exact suitcase she wanted to take, which was a very large green one, but that seemed to have vanished, so she made do with the brown one.

She rang for a taxi.

She sat down and had a last drink while waiting for her taxi.

And while she was having a last drink, her husband Peter walked into the living room carrying the large green suitcase.

"Hello," she said. "Where are you going ?"

"I'm leaving you," he said. "I'm taking some clothes."

"But I'm leaving you," she said. "I decided finally this morning. I've just rung for a taxi."

"We can't both leave," he said. "Who's going to look after the dog ?"

They looked down at Rambler, asleep in his basket.

"You are," she said. "At least, you were, before I learnt you were leaving."

"I'm not taking the dog with me," he said.

"Why are you leaving ?" she said.  

"I am leaving you for another woman."

"Good God," she said.

She had been so absorbed in her own misery that it had never occurred to her that he might be in misery too. Or, even worse, in ecstasy.

"Where are you going ?" he said.

"I am going to my mother's," she said. "I know it is conventional to go to one's mother, but she is my best friend and still young enough at heart to understand me. Where are you going ?"

He looked at her very strangely.

"I too am going to your mother's," he said.

"That's silly," she said. "Why on earth would you . . . ?"

Her voice tailed away. Suddenly, as if seeing it all for the first time, she realised how well he had always got on with her mother. It was almost as if he was flirting with her, she had often said. They had got on so well, he and her mother, that . . . .

"I don't believe it," she said. "You and mother. . ."

"She is a very handsome woman," he said. "She has all your qualities and few of your drawbacks. And she has been very lonely since your father died. But you probably haven't noticed that."

There was a long silence in the kitchen.

"We could take the same taxi," he said.

There was another long silence in the kitchen. It was broken only by Rambler getting up from his basket, picking up his favourite ball and pushing his way out of the door. Although they didn't realise it at the time, Rambler too was leaving home. Frankly, he had had it up to here with these two!

Independent Monday July 21st 03