It had been a rough day. I felt depleted as I walked to my car and pointed the keys at it, waiting for the beep noise.
Sitting in the worn dark velour seat cover I put my face into my hands and began to cry.
‘This is so silly that I cry every time a patient passes away. They’re not my mother or father’ I told myself sternly. But it made no difference, as all I could imagine was the soft skin on the bony cheeks of Mrs Cartwright and her lying in her bed, struggling for breath and calling out for Bertie.
I held her hand and said that Bertie was waiting for her and when he saw her beautiful face he would laugh and run towards her. I told her in a soft whisper as if I believed it, because I did.
She had no other family as Mrs Cartwright had been the youngest of all of her siblings and out of four children in one family, no one had children of their own. I found this hard to believe but it was true.
I had left Mrs Cartwright in the capable hands of Jenny before going for my afternoon tea break, and when I came back, as soon as I saw the doctor and another nurse in her room, I knew she had gone.
I often thought it interesting how dying people wait until everyone is out of the room and then pass to wherever they are off to. It’s as if they have really had enough of the crying, hand holding, wailing in some cases, and just go.
I started to calm down in my car, blew my nose and took a few deep breaths. I felt tired and cold, so put my cardigan on and started the car for home.
It took about half an hour to get through the traffic. I had driven this route to and from the nursing home for over seven years now so knew which roads to sneak down to avoid lights and streets that only let you drive at 50km an hour.
I was tempted to stop at the coffee shop not far from where I lived and grab a coffee but thought better of it. It was Wednesday night and Jack would want his dinner early so he could get to the pub for the darts tournament.
All I really felt like doing was going home to an empty house, taking a bath, pj’s on, toasted sandwich and television but that wasn’t going to happen.
“Hi love” I called out to the back of a head. The television was on, but so loud. I’m sure he was getting deaf.
“Hi Judy” he called out without even turning around “Where have you been?”
“To work and back” is all I replayed, annoyed with him.
“I’ve got darts”
“Yes I know that. Dinner won’t be long”.
I peeled the vegies and got them on the stove. Set the table for two and went into the bedroom to get changed.
“Mrs. Cartwright died today Jack” I said
“Who” was the reply”.
“You know the nice old lady I took biscuits in to and she made that crocheted set of doilies for me a few years ago….and you hated them on the table!”.
‘Why do I bother?’ I thought as I strained the vegies into the colander.
We sat opposite each other as if we were strangers. No one spoke until all of a sudden Jack said “You’ve cooked the steak well love”.
“Oh, have I? that’s good”.
When Jack left the house, I breathed a sigh of relief. I know it was mean of me but I just couldn’t help it. I felt as if I was still at work sometimes when I go home.
He was getting deaf but wouldn’t go and see about a hearing aid – “It’s only when there are lots of people talking at once” he told me, but it wasn’t.
He forgot so much now, not so much from the past, he was actually very good at recollecting dates and places we had been to over the years, but not so for the present. He couldn’t even remember what he’d said or done the day before sometimes. I personally thought he was depressed but he wouldn’t hear of it.
A friend would ask him what he did on the weekend and it would only be Tuesday “Uh, we went to the markets didn’t we love?’ he would affirm with me and I would have to say “No not the markets, it was the gardening centre”.
He was getting worse. . I sometimes that maybe it was made worse by the twelve years age difference between us and that I was just too intolerant.
We didn’t have children. Just one of those things really but Jack came to the partnership with a semi grown-up daughter, who predominantly lived with her mother.
Occasionally we would take her away with us on school holidays, then when she finished school for good, she would come to us and stay for a while. I got to know her really well then and realised how difficult it must have been for Jack not living close to his daughter while she was growing up.
About four years ago Lisa was killed in a car accident and I’m still not sure if Jack really accepted the idea of never seeing her again. Although Lisa was in her thirties, she was his only child. Maybe that is another reason for his mind being the way it is. Who knows.
I ran myself a very deep bath and soaked myself in it. As I put the bath wash on the sponge I once again thought of old Mrs Cartwright – I had bought her some of the bath wash for her birthday last month. I tried to get the picture of her frail and skinny frame out of my mind, and couldn’t, so got out of the bath and turned the television on.
“Hi love” Jack called out as he shut the door behind him.
“Oh oh” was all I could say as he woke me out of a deep sleep. I was lying on the couch and the television was still on, a panel show which was obviously funny because loud laughter came from the screen.
“We won” he told me proud as punch.
“Oh, good for you” I said still half asleep “How did YOU go?”
“Terrible. I keep adding it up wrong and tonight I went to have my shot and Brian said “Hey you’ve just thrown – what’s the matter with you?”
He made us a cup of tea and we sat at the table together, not saying much. Then, “I’m thinking of growing my beard again”.
“Why, you know I hate it”. He had already let his grey hair get really long at the back, which wouldn’t be so bad if you had hair on the top of your head! Jacks just looked ridiculous.
Ever since, Lisa had passed away, he had more or less let himself go. I was always used to him looking quite fit and trim, but not anymore, and I didn’t like it.
“I thought you were going back to the gym; wouldn’t a beard make your face sweat more?” I lamely asked, with just a tiny glimmer of hope it would remind him of his promise to get fit this year.
“No, I like a beard” he said, with no mention of the gym.
I didn’t say anything else – I felt cross inside so knew it was best if I just cleaned my teeth and got into bed.
“Night Jack” I called out pulling the covers up to my chin.
“Oh night Jude” he called out, and then added “I love you”.
The next day I was on an early shift, so when the alarm went off it seemed as if I had just fallen asleep! After a hot shower and some breakfast, I was awake and ready for the day. I felt better about Mrs. Cartwright today and knew I would have to be stoic – I couldn’t keep crying!
Jack had cut down his work to part time and today was one of the days he didn’t go to work.
As I was about to walk to the front door to leave and get into my car, he came up behind me and put his arms around my waist. “Get off Jack I’m going to be late”. He looked disappointed with my reaction and gave an embarrassed half smile.
He backed away and I felt bad so I purposely turned to face him, smiled brightly and told him I would see him after work.
‘I don’t know why he irritates me so much sometimes’ I said to myself putting the car into drive and taking off.
As I drove passed a tall dark-haired lady, I remembered that it was my best friend’s birthday in two days, because she looked like her; and I hadn’t gotten her a present. ‘I’ll have to pop into town after work I suppose’ I thought, not relishing the idea but knowing it had to be done.
We got told during the day that Mrs Cartwright would be having a service in three days at the nursing home – she would be farewelled by her old friends and the staff who loved her. I noted it down in my phone – it was one of my days off but I wouldn’t miss it.
After work I drove the twenty minutes to town and parked the car in the main street. It had started to rain and after searching for my umbrella and not finding it, I knew I would have to walk under the eaves of the shops to keep dry.
I crossed at the traffic lights and half ran- half walked to the other side, turned left and headed for the eave of the shop on the corner. I had my head down to keep the rain off my face when suddenly ‘bang’ and I felt a hard jolt as a person coming in the opposite direction walked right into my shoulder.
‘That hurt’ I thought as I straightened up, and the offending man called out “sorry”.
As I made my way over to the side, I kicked something and then thought that I might have heard it drop after the ‘hip and shoulder’ I just got. But at the time any noise was being drowned out by the traffic.
I looked down onto the wet ground and saw that it was a phone. ‘That person must have dropped it’ I was thinking, and turned around to see if he was in sight. He must have realised because at the same time I turned, he did too and walked towards me.
I held out the phone as soon as he was next to me and a deep and mellow voice said ‘Thank you. I’d be lost without my phone’. Looking up to see who it was I was very pleasantly surprised….
He was a very attractive and fit looking man – probably from about the same era as me. His hair was salt and pepper and wavy, thick looking. But it was his eyes that took my breath away, they were the darkest brown eyes I had ever seen, with tiny flecks of what looked like gold in them. Amazing I though, and lovely!
What was I thinking?
He held out his hand and said in the rich sultry voice “I’m Charles”.
“Oh hello” I stuttered and held out my hand “I’m Judy, short for Judith” ….as if he cared!
“Firstly, let me apologise for mowing you down. I was late for a meeting, but after I realised I had dropped my phone, I thought it was too bad about the meeting – they would survive without me!”
“Oh” was all I could muster looking at his lovely face.
“Do you work around here?” he asked me.
“No I don’t, I’ve just popped into town to get a birthday gift for a friend” I said running my fingers through my damp hair, hoping it wasn’t too flat looking!
“I’m not going back to the office now, would you by chance like to have a drink?” and as he smiled at me, I shivered slightly.
“Um I can’t tonight but maybe another time” I replied, wondering what on earth I was doing.
“Here’s my card if you do change your mind, and I hope you do” his thick seductive voice was mesmerising, and as he handed me the card, our fingers brushed and my hand felt warm.
‘You are married you idiot’ I told myself, but not him.
I bought my friend an evening bag but the whole time I was browsing, I had a feeling of excitement, guilt and bewilderment that all formed into a ball that was sitting in the pit of my stomach.
I walked quickly back to the car trying hard not to get wet and sat in my seat for a little while just thinking. ‘I can’t have a drink with another man, why did I say what I did? I would never do that to Jack. Having a drink is just as bad as being unfaithful’.
I was feeling quite anxious about the whole situation now.
‘Should I tell Jack what I did?’ I asked myself ‘No that would be silly, nothing happened!’
I tried to stop thinking about it as I drove home but all I could picture was the dark, liquid chocolate eyes and lovely white teeth….
As I walked through my front door there was Jack standing in his shirt and underpants getting ready for darts “Hi love. Just getting dressed”.
“I see that. Have fun” I told him kissing his cheek on the way to the kitchen.
It was difficult not to think about ‘Richard’ during the next few days. I knew which nights Jack was at darts and something inside of me was drawing me towards the side of ‘intrigue and deception’ – each time the voice of reason said not to have a drink with him, the voice of irrationality spoke louder.
‘One drink isn’t going to hurt’ I told myself as I drove home from work, and then I tried to justify it, unreasonably with ‘Jack has drinks with different people at least three nights a week’!
I rang him from work the next day and the deep, mellow tone on the other end of the phone sounded genuinely happy that we were meeting. I felt excited!
I knew I shouldn’t, but a part of me thought ‘would Jack even know I was out for the night – he’ll be at darts!’
I spent my lunch break thinking about what I would wear in the evening and decided on something not too ‘saucy’ but attractive enough to catch his eye! I rang Jack and told him I was getting a quick wash and blow dry on the way home so probably wouldn’t see if before he went out.
I pulled into the driveway at home, hair looking great, and to my surprise Jack’s car was in the carport. ‘He must be running late’ I thought.
When I put the key into the lock and pushed open the door, the house was in darkness, not one light was on. “Hello Jack” I called out reaching up for the entrance light. But before I could switch it on, the lights in the lounge came on and Jack’s voice sang out with “Happy Anniversary” ……
I was frozen to the spot, not knowing whether to say I remembered or not. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten our wedding anniversary.
He came towards me with a huge bunch of flowers in his arms and kissed me on the cheek. “Your hair looks lovely “he said “We could have gone out for dinner if I’d known you were having it done. I’m sorry it’s just dinner at home with you looking so beautiful”.
“Dinner at home is just perfect” I stammer feeling quite ashamed of what I had been contemplating less than an hour ago!
I just stood on the spot, not knowing how to feel.
“Dinner won’t be long” he told me “I’ve made your favourite, and there is an excuse for a cake too – might not taste that good!” and he laughed.
“NO darts?” was all I could muster.
“Of course not” he answered “and after dinner we’re having a good old talk, things have to change around here – from my perspective that is. I’ve not been the husband I should have. I’ve dwelt on the death of Lisa for over four years and lately I’ve realised that I have to let it go now.
“Anyway, let’s eat first, and talk later”.
As I sat opposite my husband, I realised that I had almost ruined not only our marriage but also the life of someone ready to put a tragedy behind him – he didn’t need anything else to take its place.
I looked at the man I had married ‘for better or worse’ and knew now that things would just get better.
“This meal is delicious” I told him “Thank you”.