‘Faith, Hope and Love’ Part 5

There followed a long silence, which neither of us felt like breaking. I looked out of the window, admiring the darkening folds of garden green that I could see behind him, the flaring reflections in the windows. Gazing at streaks of oranges and pinks trying to break through a bank of deep blue sky, I felt at home in the silence. Arthur was quiet for so long that when he did speak, I almost jumped.

“My wife was ill for over twenty years, though she became ill so slowly that for several years we hoped she might beat the odds. I’m so glad it’s all over. All I feel now is relief, and regret that we didn’t have more good time together – she was a few years younger than me.” Another pause, and then he said, “I feel sorrow, of course, to have to get to the end of what is left of my life by myself.”

Without thinking, I said, “Snap” and he looked up sharply.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Snap. I feel the same about my husband.” I sighed.

“But – do you not have his company? Does he not sit by you of an evening?”

“Well, he might, I suppose, but he died last year, in January. He was cycling when a car ploughed him off the road.”

“Oh, golly, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well. So I know how you feel.”

Discovering we had love and death in common, there was suddenly no need to say much more. I didn’t need to ask about Lilian. I knew that when he wanted to, Arthur would fill me in. And I would get round to doing the same, about Karl.

We had drinks and cakes and a paper to look at. I sipped my drink, steam wetting my face as I breathed. The rock buns were shop-made, and from the smell of them, they had used lots of butter, so I only nibbled a small bite, which tasted better than I remembered; much richer.

“Thank you for inviting me over,” I said. And then I remembered that my neighbour didn’t yet know who I was.

“I’m Marian. I’ve been living next door for about three-and-a- half years”. It seemed a bit lame to offer my hand for a shake, so I left it lying over the table. Arthur nodded, and there was a fresh smile on his face, as though he was grateful to get on with being ordinary.

“My name is Arthur, and I have been here about a month. You probably saw the removers coming and going. I used to live in a much bigger house, hence the chaos. I should throw lots of stuff in the way of second hand uplifts but somehow I can’t bear to, not yet. This way, I can pretend that Lil will be coming soon, to help me sort it all out.”

“Yes, of course. There’s no hurry, is there?”

“None at all. Now,” he rose and stretched himself. He was very tall. “If you’ve had enough of sitting here, shall we repair to the sitting room? Withdraw to the withdrawing room?” Arthur threw me such an arch question mark that I grinned.

“Yes, let’s.”

“I think I can promise you a softer chair….” He was striding quickly ahead. “I am still finding stuff,” he called. “I only found the kettle last week. The removers had stowed it in the drawer of the chest that went into the spare room.”

“I’m sorry.” I called, which sounded strange, so I said nothing else.

I was pleasantly surprised by the snug room behind a glass-panelled door. Carpeted, and fitted with a “real flame” gas fire obviously new and bought to impress for a sale – no use for actual warmth – the room was comfortable and had been recently painted in clean, fresh colours.

“Real flame? This thing is no good for colder days….”

I risked asking, “Are you by any chance a mind reader? You seem to know what’s on my mind.”

With a flap of his hand, Arthur replied modestly, “Not at all. It’s just that I learned to read my wife when she stopped being able to speak. It comes easily now, though some people find it creepy.” He laughed. That was when I knew I liked this man very much.

***
(to be continued)

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