Martha surveyed the room and decided it was wholly unromantic given what she was going to do. The dining table was set in front of the small bay window. The antique candelabra with its four candles placed at the centre of the table. She giggled at the thought of four candles, she could never say those words without thinking of the comedy sketch that had made her favourite double act so famous. At opposite ends of the table two place settings were adorned with the finest china, cutlery and wine glasses they possessed. Most rarely used in everyday life.
But this was not everyday life. This was something special. The forty-ninth anniversary of her marriage to George, upright, outstanding citizen to the outside world. Boring old fart to her.
The marriage had started well; children came along on cue; George progressed up the corporate ladder as was his due. She could never complain that she had not been provided for. She had not worked seriously most of her married life; sometimes taking on temporary office jobs once the children had left home, more to relieve the boredom than any need to earn money. She could have anything she wanted. But as time went on they drifted apart. They had different interests, which in some respects was good, but meant they didn't really need each other. They were like two strangers living in the same house with her acting as a maid providing food and laundry services.
She turned from her inspection of the table to find George had just entered the room. He smiled, weakly, stepped forward and gave her a cursory peck on the cheek.
'Happy anniversary, Darling,' he said. 'I have a surprise for you but you will have to wait until after dinner.'
'Same here, on all counts,' she responded. She smiled and stepped away from him. 'Open the wine, will you, please. I'll go and get the soup.'
If nothing else Martha was a good cook, making everything herself from fresh ingredients. The potato and leek soup was made with...potatoes and leeks with a touch of something special making it unique to her.
'Delicious as always,' George said, dabbing his lips with satisfaction.
The evening continued. Traditional roast beef with homemade horseradish sauce. Apple pie with cloves in a light shortcrust pastry sprinkled with sugar, and real custard, not that stuff made with powder or even worse, out of a carton!
George ate with relish. He always enjoyed his food as his rather round figure suggested. Martha ate the same, but with smaller portions. They drank the fine wine that had been bought especially for the occasion, then drank fresh coffee, made the old fashioned way with a filter, not one of those new high tech devices.
They said very little to each other during the meal. After 49 years there was little left to say.
'The meeting at the U3A was very interesting today,' George said suddenly. 'We had someone come to speak about the Battle of Bosworth.'
George had been going to the U3A every week, two or three times sometimes, ever since he had retired. He tried to get Martha to go with him but she couldn't see anything on the programme that really interested her. Ancient history was definitely not of interest to her.
'That's nice, love,' she said. 'There's something I need to tell you.' This was it. She took a deep breath and looked at George as he cocked his head to one side like a puppy waiting for a treat. 'I've decided I'm leaving. I'm going to Thailand to help look after orangutangs. They are endangered, you know. There is a place that looks after orphans rescued from the jungle.'
George blinked a couple of times.
'Why?' he asked. 'I thought you were happy enough.'
'I've spent my whole life being nothing more than chief cook and bottle washer,' she said, a sudden passion in her voice. 'I want to do something worthwhile with the rest of my life and this is what I've chosen to do. It's all arranged. I've had all the shots. I've been saving my pension so have enough money to last for a while. I'm leaving on Monday.'
George sat back in his chair. His mind was racing. He was trying very hard not to grin and show his utter relief. She was leaving him. So he didn't have to tell her he was about to do the same thing! Although he wasn't going off to Thailand, he was planning to leave his lovely house and move down to Mildred's rather tired flat. Mildred, the woman from the U3A who shared his interests. But he wouldn't have to do that now. Mildred could come here. He was sure she would like the house. And he could still potter around the garden. Martha had never shown any interest in the garden. He tried to look upset, hurt even, but...
'I'm sorry you feel you have wasted your life,' he said.
'Oh, most of it has been ok,' Martha said quickly. 'It's just that we seem to have drifted apart. You must have felt that, too. We never do anything together.'
'Have you told Peter and Jenny?' Again relief that the children wouldn't blame him for the split. He was on a winning streak here.
'Yes. Peter tried to talk me out of it but Jenny was very understanding. I think she would rather like to come with me.'
George made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a laugh and muttered 'Hormones' beneath his breath.
A noise outside made them both look towards the window. A large vehicle, a lorry, perhaps, they couldn't see, but it sounded large, was charging down the hill towards the bend on which their house was set. Martha hardly had time to register it wasn't going to slow down enough to make the bend when it crashed through the bay window.
The headline in the local paper read HAPPY COUPLE KILLED WHEN LORRY CRASHED THEIR ANNIVERSARY DINNER. No doubt some editor thought that was clever. There was no mention in the following story of Martha's dream to help the orangutangs or George's fondness for Mildred!
Copyright©Kristen Stone 2018