Marlene came home to an empty house and a scrawled note from Stanley. “Meet me at the duck pond at 6:30.”
Of course she knew which duck pond. During their nearly twenty-six years of marriage, they’d only ever visited the one. Early on, they’d rebelled against “do not feed” signs by tossing crusts of bread, and sometimes crackers — Stan called them “quackers” — to their feathered friends. Later, they’d switched to healthier offerings, cut grapes and oats.
Now this odd message. If it were any other husband, Marlene would think it was a date. But Stan didn’t have one romantic bone in his body.
They never held hands in public. Stanley didn’t like open displays of affection. It made him uncomfortable. Whenever they’d encounter a couple embracing, Marlene would smile to herself. Stanley would make a face.
Flowers and cards and romance were not Stan’s thing, either. “If that’s what you wanted, you should’ve married some other guy.”
Now he asked her to meet him. Why?
She frowned when she saw her new blue dress spread out on the bed with a second note: wear this.
It was so unlike him. It had to mean something.
As she undressed, she wondered. What if he wanted a divorce? What if he’d met someone? He had been distracted lately, fidgety. Even when they made love, their “semi-weekly”, his mind seemed somewhere else.
Maybe Stanley had found some fiery red head who would, no doubt, gladly whisper dirty things to him. Suppose plain old Marlene didn’t do it for him anymore. Perhaps he fancied walking on the wild side with some new girl.
Marlene cringed as she pictured their whirlwind sex-fest, here in this very bed.
The thought of him leaving her made her stomach roll. Stanley wasn’t romantic, but he had his good points. And he was her husband after all, and she wasn’t willing to part with him, especially not to some young tart he’d probably just met.
She tried to recall even one time he’d left her a note that wasn’t a grocery list, and she came up short. Now he’d left her two; she wanted neither.
Through the years of raising children, paying bills and worrying about the future, never had Stanley been unfaithful. Obviously he’d now turned middle-aged crazy. Nobody thought it would ever happen to their husband. Until it did.
Stan always said that the little, everyday things should be as important as grand gestures. He didn’t serenade her beneath the moonlight, but what about changing the oil in her car? What about the times he made his own lunch and made hers, too?
He wasn’t romantic, but he was thoughtful. Now he’d do these nice things for someone who appreciated them.
Marlene glared at the dress he’d laid out for her. So, he was taking the wife somewhere nice then, was he? Somewhere crowded where she wouldn’t dare make a scene. Then what? Did he think she’d slink away without a word?
Fine then, she thought, yanking the dress from the bed. She’d look her best, show him what he’d soon be missing. She took extra care with her hair and make-up, but then frowned at the result in the mirror. How could she compete with some young thing, probably a size zero?
At 6:10 she marched across the park to their bench by the duck pond, convinced that her marriage was history.
With a pang, she noticed how tall and handsome he was in his grey jacket. The silver at his temples made him look distinguished, sophisticated.
Marlene demanded to know what was going on.
“You’ll see,” he said.
He suggested they walk across the park for an ice cream cone. Before dinner? Weird, but alright, she’d play along. Eventually he’d ‘fess up.
He got one scoop, vanilla, and raised his eyebrows when she ordered two. Well, she wasn’t so very predictable after all. Vanilla indeed! She’d have two different-flavoured scoops.
The anxiety ate away at him, she could see it. He kept checking the time, then his phone.
As she contemplated what she’d say when he gave her the news, she toppled her rocky road right down onto her dress.
“Oh, dear,” said Stanley.
Marlene shrugged. It didn’t matter. But Stanley insisted on dashing over to the corner store for some soda water.
“There,” he said, dabbing the spot. “That’s better.”
So, he wanted her presentable when he gave her those walking papers, did he?
They wandered back to the duck pond and sat on the bench. “You look nice in that dress…”
“Is that why you chose it?” She stared straight ahead at the water. She would not cry. She would not.
“Partially,” he said. “We should go.”
“Go where?” Her voice came out in a croak.
She took one last glance at the pond. She’d never want to come here again. Her throat tightened.
They walked through the park and across the street to a little pub. Finally, he’d put her out of her misery.
He held the door. Whatever else, he was still a gentleman. He couldn’t really have had an affair then, could he?
Inside the restaurant, she spotted the balloons and the “reserved” sign. She turned to see Stan smiling down at her. His eyes crinkled at the side, the way they did when he was thoroughly enjoying himself.
They stepped inside. Their family and friends shouted, “Happy anniversary!” She gazed at the familiar faces, at the banner decorated with hearts and love birds, and a big number twenty five.
Marlene laughed. “But Stan, our anniversary is next month, and it’s our twenty-sixth.”
“I feel like our twenty-fifth was somewhat of a disappointment to you.” He searched her face. She couldn’t answer; her heart was too full. “Besides, this was more of a surprise, wasn’t it?”
Then he kissed her, in the restaurant, right in front of everybody.