He stands before me, handsome in his dark blue suit with chalked pinstripes and a regimental tie. Striped shirt and cufflinks, shoes shiny and black that click as he walks along London’s streets. My husband.
I look at him with such an upwelling of pride it’s as if a balloon is being inflated inside me. Oh how I love this kind and gentle man. This man who tries so hard. This man whose heart is large and whose intent is good. This man I have chosen as my mate, forever and ever, amen.
“How do I look?” he asks.
I stand back and smile the slow smile of one who knows she is swaddled in love. “You’re one of them. Through and through you look the part. Except for one thing…”
He looks at me with his quizzical brown eyes, eyebrows drawn together, a slight furrow to his brow, head tilted just so. “What?”
I reach for the brown leather briefcase that lies on the kitchen table, a note secreted inside, wishing him luck and reminding him of my love. “Your props, m’lord!”
The smile is wide, reaching his eyes, and he pulls me into a hug. “This is it, baby, no more scrimping and saving, no more cheap bottles of wine and home-made beer. We’re going to be fine.” He leans down and plants a kiss upon my lips.
It has been a long time coming. The endless round of meetings and introductions, phone calls and favours, letters and rejections each taken more personally than the last, until all hope seemed lost. Abandoned dreams littered our little flat and I’d struggled to keep hope alive in our lives.
There’d been such hope the day we were married. “A man with great potential,” I’d told my parents. “A man who will love and cherish me,” I’d told my friends. All he needs is a break, I’d told myself.
This is it. This day, this moment, this final parting will be the end of one life and the start of the next. I am excited for him.
He checks his watch. “Time to go, don’t want to be late. I’ll call you when I can, give you my extension and my secretary’s name.”
“Good luck, darling. I love you.” I stand at the door, watching him open the garden gate and turn. He blows a kiss, a jaunty wave and he’s on his way. I watch until he turns the corner at the end of the road.
I take my time. I have time. I’m happy to have early starts now my husband has a job. I gather the files I worked on late into the night, ready for the client meeting today. Today is a big day for me too.
And tonight we’ll celebrate, blow the emergency money I kept secreted away. Tonight we’ll have steak, his favourite. There’ll be champagne from the crystal goblets my uncle gave us. Tonight I’ll lay the table with my grandmother’s linen tablecloth. Tonight we’ll use the silver candlesticks and the hand-painted placemats depicting scenes of old London.
I stand before the full-length mirror and appraise the woman before me. I smooth the front of my skirt over the imperceptible bump and smile a knowing smile. I have one more secret for him. Tonight.
I lock the front door and head for the tube station. Left at the end of the road, to the traffic lights and the lady selling flowers. Perhaps there’ll be flowers tonight too. And in an instant I’m across the road, steps light, feeling wonderful about our future and I take a short cut I’ve used only once before.
“Today everything is different,” I speak the words with confidence and take the route less travelled, past the taxi dispatch, past the run-down motor repair shop with its beaten up bangers parked along the curb.
I turn right along the busy High Street, the tube station in sight. Past the estate agent where we’d found our little flat, just after we’d married. I glance in — there is Mr. George, phone to ear, bent over his desk. I raise a hand in greeting but he doesn’t see me.
I’m so happy, there’s nothing that can change this day for me, for us. Perhaps this will be my usual route now. Starting today.
I join the flow of bodies surging towards the tube station, people hurrying, briefcases in hand, handbags slung across shoulders, coats pulled tightly against the cold of an early November frost. My hands are cold, I forgot my gloves, but I don’t care. Today is a special day.
Past the café we spent hours in, discussing which flat to put an offer on. We haven’t been back since we bought the place. I glance in. It’s full of people hunched over steaming cups, with plates of big food, a workers café. And then I see him. I’m almost past. I stop and turn, taking one last look.
It is him.
My world comes to a stop.
My legs begin to shake. There’s a pounding in my chest and white noise in my ears. I don’t hear the traffic. My world shrinks to this spot on the pavement outside the café. And, to the man sitting in the window, a copy of the Financial Times open on the table in front of him. A mug, a cigarette, a plate of breakfast half-eaten.
He looks up. Our eyes meet.
There is no job.
He’s done it again.
Why was I such a fool to believe this time would be different? Our future crumbles in an instant, and I run.
Shuna Meade writes in Devon, UK.