Now in their early forties Freddie and Carol Tusker sat across from each other surveying the menu at a local restaurant, more “select,” if that is the term, than the ones they usually visited, but merited by the day.
Carol and Freddie met when she was a “Fresher” at university and he was starting on his PhD, something to do with Victorian romantic poets or some other subject which predicted deep lined pockets in his later years, or so she liked to hope. Already he had won an award for a short story published in a magazine and was something of a star in campus circles.
Carol, from a humbler background than his, and deeply aware of the burden her student fees posed to herself and her parents was still in awe of his social ease and glittering achievements. Her attributes seemed more workaday than his, and grounded in the everyday yet they were drawn together by, the shallow said, his need to be admired and her wish to be among the brighter set.
That was years ago and Carol, now unromantic as a matter of policy, was a partner with an international firm of accountants, and respected in professional circles for her sound judgement and appetite for work which made the continuance of Freddie by her side, who clung to dreams of being a writer as if it were a life raft, all the more surprising.
His habit of the easing the encroaching burdens of life with a drink or two at lunchtime was a source of tension in their marriage, along with his failure to do anything practical with his life apart from musing about those psychological tectonic plates which threaten social order in the modern world.
“Your such a clever, able man” she said to him quite recently but it was no longer said with warmth, but with the exasperation she felt when she came home to find him slightly leery and struggling with his masterpiece. He had his plus points, kind of course, and faithful as far as she knew, but not in the real world, or her world anyway.
She was earnest, and anxious and pedestrian of thought, though loyal as a matter of policy. or that was his opinion. They knew each other backwards and in every way you can, although the physical expression of their union was largely a matter of memory.
She drank very little but he made up for that and she watched with disguised distaste as he filled his glass again. Finally, drunk-brave he asked openly “Do you think we still love each other” and she said “Only habitually” which, to be fair, was quite literary and a phrase he would like to have thought of himself, but then all couples can surprise each other, even after many years. “Shall we skip dessert?” she said, “There seems to be no point in extending the celebration,” and he agreed.
Later, as he watched his wife’s sleeping face on the adjacent pillow he recognised the growing disappointment he represented in her life. “If you love someone it doesn’t mean you know them” she once said and he had lacked the will to argue. In the pocket of his trousers was a note which had been attached to a memo at the office where he worked part-time. “You are kind” was all it said apart from the addition of a name, “Sandra”
“Was he kind” he wondered; it was nice to be thought of as such, but then his thoughts did not always make him so!”