JUST IN CASE • by Izzy Steel

Jeffrey sleeps right on the edge of the mattress, like he might fall out at any moment. I used to worry he would — I still do, I suppose. It would do his bad hip no favours. The space between us feels like it goes on for miles. There’s room in this bed for all the children we could have adopted but didn’t. Sometimes I bring the dog up, but Jeffrey rolls his eyes and pointedly picks hairs off his flannel pyjamas.

The first thing he says when he wakes up is, “Coffee?”

“Do you think we should get married?” I say.

“What?” Jeffrey rolls over, yawns. “Are you making coffee, or should I?”

“I’ll do it.”

I’ve been making him coffee since we met — I was working in a café the summer after my O Levels, getting tips that I always planned to spend on cassette tapes and new clothes but ended up saving. All that loose change squirreled away in sock drawers and under my mattress. Just in case. Just in case I needed to pay for a train ticket, or a roof over my head.

He came to the café multiple times a week — he had a ridiculous perm back in those days, but it didn’t make him any less easy on the eye. He used to take his coffee with two sugars, but now it’s that artificial sweetener stuff.

When I take the two mugs back to the bedroom, Jeffrey looks at me over the top of his reading glasses and formidable hardback and says, “Did I imagine it, or did you just propose to me?”

“Why not?” I slide back into bed, pass him his coffee. “We’ve been together nearly forty years.”

“Exactly. Why get married now?”

“For fun,” I say. “For the party.”

“I didn’t think we were the party-throwing type.”

He’s not wrong. We’ve let both of our fiftieths slide by with nothing more than a nice dinner. We went to a pride parade once, and decided it wasn’t really for us.

“Remember when we were young,” I say. “All those chaps who couldn’t get into their partners’ hospital rooms? It was awful.”

“It’s not like that anymore. They’d let us see each other.”

“But there’s security that comes with being married.”

“Why have a party if it’s just for pragmatic reasons?” Jeffrey says. He puts down his book. He doesn’t try to be difficult, but he’s too logical for his own good.

I think about those tips, that hidden money. My escape plan. It’s a different world these days, but if I ever need to run from something I want Jeffrey by my side.

I scoot over to the middle of the bed, closing the distance. “Let’s get married,” I say. “I love you.”

He squeezes my hand. “You should have led with that.”

Izzy Steel is a writer of short fiction from the United Kingdom.

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