“ ‘Don’t jump to conclusions, Sue. It’s not what it looks like. I’m not leaving you; it’s nothing like that. Except...we do need to talk’, he’d said that afternoon. He needn’t have wasted his breath. As far as I was concerned, his suitcase in the hall, spoke for itself. So, without another thought, I put one and one together and made three. Ranted and raged. Called him a cheating, two-timer and much more besides; regretted it later, though – and some.
Nineteen-seventy-one we were married; way before your time, I imagine; Woodstock, hippies, flower-power, etc. He was twenty and I was nineteen; known each other since we were eleven years old. A ‘fairytale’ wedding – not a million miles from here; in Putney. A quaint little church, in a private, tree-lined road; I can picture it now. Forty years ago, yet it seems like only yesterday. And, we still loved each other, or so I’d thought; maybe not ‘in love’, like at the beginning...whatever that means, anyway. Before too long, the harsh reality of life set in, and it’s then you learn, more often than not, the hard way, what love actually means.
Like everyone, we’ve had our ups and downs, but basically, we did OK; as you have to. Until a few months ago, when I couldn’t seem to get through to him; almost as if he’d built this brick wall around himself, that, try as I might, I couldn’t knock down. He started spending hours, upstairs on his computer. When I asked him what he’d been doing, he’d just fob me off, or else he’d merely sit there – book on lap, but I knew he wasn’t reading. A bookworm if ever there was one...or rather, he used to be.
Such a happy-go-lucky kind of bloke; the sort sees the funny side of life, no matter what; then he lost interest in everything...and I do mean ‘everything’. Occasionally, though, he still went fishing along by Richmond lock, in that faded old cap of his – used to belong to his dad; a whole day he’d be gone, sometimes. Suppose that was why I thought he had another woman. Admittedly, he was balding, slightly, and there was his beer gut, but just look at Bob Hoskin! Sex-appeal’s an odd thing. Beauty – in the eye of the beholder, don’t they say?
Anyway, this particular afternoon, I’d just got back from work. He’d been made redundant a while back from Mortlake brewery, so I had to go full-time at Tesco; couldn’t manage on the benefit alone. Anyway, I hadn’t even taken off my coat, when he turned as white as a sheet; just sat down on the stairs, and blurted it out. Said he’d been feeling under the weather for a while...looking up his symptoms on the net and imagining the worst, which we all tend to do. When he’d told his GP, he arranged for the hospital to run some tests – urgent-like. He’d be in overnight, and possibly a day or so more...depending on what they found.
Liver cancer, he suspected and, as fate would have it, he was right; they admitted him that very afternoon. And just to think...the daft old sod had kept it to himself for all that time; so as not to worry me, he said, and there was I, foolishly thinking he’d got a bit on the side. Not that I could have blamed him; I used to be a looker...once. Can’t forgive myself for what I said that day; doubting him...thinking the worst. I should have known better – had faith in him. He’d never doubted me – not the once, and between you and me and that streetlamp over there, I wasn’t always exactly an ‘angel’. Next right, love, and then it’s the house facing you at the head of the cul-de-sac.
Give them their due, the hospital did what they could. You hear a lot of stories these days, but speak as you find is always my motto. They treated him well, for as long as he was there, and if they’d caught it early enough he might have stood a chance, albeit a slim one, but it had already gone too far. We never really had the time to say goodbye, not properly, and that’s what was so hard to take. In the end, he drifted off in his sleep. I was there...holding his hand, and I’d like to think he knew it. Anyway, that’s why I had to go back to the hospital this morning – to pick up his things, such as they were. They said I could leave it for a few days, and I was tempted to put it off, but I knew I had to go, sooner or later. For those first few hours or so, I felt numb – didn’t believe it had really happened – but now, with his stuff and all, the penny’s finally dropped.
Well – here we are then. If I’m honest, I was dreading this part. Keep trying to kid myself it’s been a bad dream; when I walk through that door, he’ll be there, as usual – TV blaring, watching footie – stuffing his face with crisps. He’ll say, ‘Hi, love. Fancy a brew? I’ll put the kettle on...’
The case? Oh, put it down in the porch, if you wouldn’t mind? How much do I owe you – the cab fare and that? Keep the change – and say...thanks for listening. I appreciate it. Yes ... I’ll be fine; just need a breath or two of fresh air. Never was a good traveller, from way back when I was a nipper.”
I thought I’d be OK, Doug. But I’m not. My hands are trembling that much – can’t get the bloody key to work. Wish I could kid myself it was some kind of a dream, but no matter what I said just then, when I open that front door and walk inside, there will be no TV blaring... no nothing; only me and the cat, and the ticking of a clock.
Always dodgy - this lock. 'Gently does it' as you used to say. OK, so you're right...again. Didn’t much fancy being stuck out there on the porch in the pouring rain. ‘Cack-handed’, didn’t you call me? And now, there’s this case to sort, but not only what's in here. You are, quite literally, ‘everywhere and nowhere...baby', as the song goes.
Remember? They played it at our wedding; the first dance – you and me. Only, for me, the sun ain’t shining, and for me, there won’t be no ‘silver lining’, but for you...way up there, maybe there is. I hope so, Doug. I really do hope so, and maybe you’re running down that hillside, right now... in that ‘ hippy hat’ of yours.