LISTENING • by A. F. McKeating

They met in the springtime.

He was a pharmacist. She was a retired nurse.

He was tall, with dark eyes and very white teeth. She had faded a little but her skin was still good.

He had had a close call with a loans company. She had had a husband in banking.

She listened to whispered endearments that broke the long silence. He smiled tenderly and kissed her cheek. She squeezed his hand.

“Imagine that this should happen at my time of life,” she said.

She listened as old age skulked, muttering, into a corner.

By summer they were married.

They bought a house by the sea.

“Why so far away?” her friends asked.

“I want you all to myself,” he said.

They walked on the beach at dusk. She sprained her ankle.

He carried her home and put her to bed. He called a doctor.

“I’ll take care of you,” he said.

He made her dinner. Then breakfast. By the time lunch came round she wasn’t feeling hungry.

He brought her peppermint tea.

She felt queasy. She slept. When she woke up he was at her bedside, looking pensive. She felt guilty.

“Go out and enjoy yourself,” she said.

He came and went in between mealtimes. She lay alone and listened to the distant sounds of days slipping by around her.

Her friends looked worried when they travelled to see her. She listened to the silences between their words.

He moved into the spare bedroom so as not to disturb her. He drank coffee on the veranda and gazed at the sea. Sometimes he stayed out late.

She sent a few texts until he took her phone away. “You need to rest,” he said.

She thought that other visitors came to the house sometimes. She listened to murmured conversations in the hallway.

He brought her more peppermint tea. She grew drowsy. Later, she thought there might have been someone in the room while she slept.

He brought her roses. She smiled weakly and thanked him for his patience.

Sometimes the telephone rang at odd times of the night. She listened to the rise and fall of his voice from the spare room.

He brought her daisies.

Her friends stopped visiting.

She awoke one night, alone and afraid. The stomach pains felt worse than before. She crept to his room, seeking comfort.

His bed was unmade. The house was silent.

She listened to old age creeping back, whispering over her shoulder in the darkness. She crept back to her own bed and cried.

He was there when she awoke the following morning.

“You’ve lived too long,” his eyes said as he slipped from the room.

She poured the peppermint tea into the vase. The daisies wilted.

She lay back against the pillow sadly. He returned.

“Are you all right, my love?” he asked, his eyes bright with interest.

“Don’t fret about an old woman,” she murmured.

She listened to the afternoon silences of the empty house. She made secret forays to the kitchen.

She found a small bottle lurking at the back of a cupboard. She mixed the contents into his coffee and refilled the bottle with water.

He brought her lilies.

“Not long now,” he said with a comforting smile. “By spring, it’ll all be over.”

She sipped the peppermint tea and smiled at him serenely. He drank his coffee on the veranda.

He stayed home one day, complaining of stomach pains.

“Are you all right, my love?” she asked, her eyes bright with interest.

He staggered to the bathroom, retching. She shut the door.

“It’ll pass,” she said.

She listened on the landing. Gradually, he grew quieter.

She made supper. She took a walk on the beach and watched the waves. She thought about how there were worse things than old age.

A. F. McKeating is a writer, mother and new cat owner. She lives in Wales and writes short stories and flash fiction in her spare time. You can see more of her work at She has had work accepted by the Ranfurly Review and Flashshots, and is also working on her first novel.

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