Bruce loved Mary. He idolized his wife. Nothing made him happier than feeling the warmth of her naked skin next to his. Married for almost forty years, he was looking forward to their retirement. No big plans, just domesticity and togetherness. He wanted nothing more than to spend time with his beloved wife. Mary missed her sons. Wishing his boys live closer to home because they had both flown the nest after university. Scott had travelled the globe and settled in Vancouver. Mary had accepted this decision but she was not happy. Eighteen months later, Alexander had married an Australian Lass and lived in Adelaide. Mary was devastated and fretted at the loss of both sons to distant continents. “When will we see our grandchildren?” she wailed to her husband.
“We’ll find a way, I promise.” He wasn’t sure how they would afford it but he would find a way. On his daily commute to work, he passed an old Victorian villa, a pair of terraced cottages put up for sale. It was perfect. Ideal for the two of them. They bought one half of the pair, downsized. Moving in to this cozy workman’s cottage completed Bruce’s retirement dream. The cottage was set back from the road with a long front garden. He intended to dig this over and grow soft fruits and delicate vegetables. Inside was homely but it needed a fresh coat of paint. A new bathroom suite was put in by a professional team to update this new home. Outside the back garden went on for ever, down the bottom corner, close to stream, he built a summerhouse for afternoon tea. Mary adored the summerhouse. An ideal spot to hide, escape to with a good book and relax.
Bruce’s final retirement day drew closer. He anticipated Mary would retire at the same time; it was what they had agreed. Digging over the front garden Mary arrived home from work, stopping at the gate she watched her husband dig. Leaning on the picket fence she watching his body move effortlessly. She knew he loved his garden.
”Dinner will be on the table in half an hour,” she smiled at her husband.
“Okay,” he nodded and resumed turning heavy clods of earth over, to break into smaller clumps. Physical work that kept him fit.
Over dinner, Bruce suggested that they book a week away in Devon. “I thought we would go somewhere nice to celebrate my retirement.” Smiling genially at his wife.
“When?” Mary clarified as she cleared the table of dishes.
“I’ll see if I can get time off work,” Mary replied nonchalantly.
“Pardon,” Bruce looked taken aback, “you’re not stopping work too?” He looked perplexed.
This was a disagreement Mary had wanted to avoid, “No,” but she wasn’t going to able to avoid it now.
“But, we agreed,” he protested arbitrarily.
“I know, she looked out of the kitchen window, “I can’t,” she said forcefully, leaning heavily against the sink.”
“Why can’t you?” he demanded.
“I need the money.”
“No, we don’t need your money; we’re going to be fine.”
“But how will I visit the boys?”
Bruce was stunned.
“How are we going to afford flights every year?” she looked at him, pleading with him to try to see her point of view.
“We agree with visit them every couple of years.”
“That was before the grandchildren were born.” Mary sounded determined. “I want to see my granddaughters grow up.”
Bruce left the kitchen, walking out to the garden; he took his anger out on the earth.
Mary felt uncomfortable letting Bruce down; they had been no easy way of telling him that she had changed her mind. She reckoned he would come round, eventually, and understood her reasoning.
Bruce retired. Being home all day alone wasn’t quite how he’d imagined things. He missed Mary’s company. He felt incomplete. As a concession, Mary reduced her hours and came home earlier each day with Wednesday afternoons off. It helped to ease their disagreement in the short term. The summer pass quietly as they settled into their routine enjoying the warm evenings with a glass of wine as the sun set over their newly planted rose garden. Bruce kept busy working the allotment, planning the vegetable calendar for the front and back gardens and doing all the odd jobs around the house. Time flew by. Their week’s holiday in Devon, during late September was a huge success, a second honeymoon.
As October arrived, Mary broached the subject of going to Adelaide. I thought I’d booked tickets for us to fly out on Boxing Day, a sort of Christmas present for both of us,” she smiled at him, her best winning smile.
Bruce hesitated. “It’s a long way to fly.”
“I know, but it will be an adventure.”
“I’m not sure.” It was bad enough flying two hours to Spain. Bruce hated flying so the idea of fling for twenty-four hours or more in one stretch, terrified him.
“We’d get to see Millie,” hoping to persuade him, “she’ll be eight months old.”
Trying to be magnanimous, “Why don’t you go on your own?”
She quizzed him, “Don’t you want to see Millie?”
“It’s not like that,” he hung his head in shame…
Mary let this conversation go; she didn’t want an argument. She would try to change his mind over the coming weeks.
Mary booked her ticket and she assumed he would change his mind before she flew. He didn’t. Christmas day dinner was a very quiet affair, the two of them and long distance phone calls to the boys. Mary was excited. Eager to go, she had been packed ready to fly for a fortnight. Bruce was subdued. He would drive her to the airport and watch her fly a way. Filled with fear. What if she never came back?
Mary hugged Bruce goodnight; “I’ll be back before you’ve missed me,” she whispered.
There was no response.
“I’ve put all your favorite dinners in the freezer. You just have to reheat them.”
Holding her husband fast, she wondered how bad he’d be in the morning at the airport. It was going to be tough saying goodbye. How she wished he had changed his mind but all her fun flirtatious efforts to persuade him had failed.
Bruce dropped her at departures; he stiffened when she hugged him.
“I love you,” she said, “be back twenty fourth.”
Bruce fled the airport, back to the safety of his allotment. January was the coldest longest, darkest month of his life. Snow lay nine inches thick across his garden and allotment for more than eight days. Pacing up and down at home with no idea how to fill those short dark winter days; he was housebound like a demented shabby old lion. He stopped ringing Mary; he hated hearing her voice, so distant. It made him maudlin. He avoided answering the phone when it rang.
Mary came home. Tanned, beautiful, and animated. Sharing all her many photographs and tales of Millie. He listened, glad to hear her dulcet tone. Bruce breathed again.
A few weeks passed, their old routines resumed. Bruce was feeling settled, happier than during her absence. “Shall we can see Scots at Easter?” she asked over breakfast early one beautiful spring morning.
Wounded, he hid his fear. “But you’ve just got back,” he lamented.
“I know,” she walked across to him, stroked his arm, “but little Annie will be almost a year old and Scott can’t afford to fly all three of them home. So how about it?” she thought she had left enough time for him to get over her trip to Adelaide. She dearly wanted him to go with her on her next trip. Smiling at him, she waited.
Canada was no closer than Australia, as far as Bruce was concerned. He stomped off out to his potting shed to quietly vent his spleen. How could she do this to him so soon? he thought. Picking up the rhododendron plant feed to make up a solution, he spotted the rat poison out of the corner of his eye. In an instance, he saw the answer to his prayers. He picked up this packet and read the instructions. If he could just incapacitate her enough, clip her wings, so to speak. Make her more dependent on him. He knew care would be required. He could care for her. Hopefully, he could care for her full time, show her how much he cared. She was the only person he wanted to spend time with. He needed her to need him more.
Heading back indoors, he flicked the switch and put on the kettle, “Tea, darling?”