She missed him of course.
His presence in the house.
The structure that his comings and goings imposed upon her day.
But she couldn't say she wanted him back.
And as she moved around the house now she still heard his voice – niggling at her, correcting her, undermining her.
- What've you done that for?
- Why do you do it like that?
- It'd be better to wash the inside of the windows on the Thursday then when the cleaners come on the Friday you'll notice the difference, won't you.
- It'd be better, do you not think, to wash the kitchen floor last thing at night rather than now, just before you're going to start cooking.
- I wish you'd think a bit, sweetheart. If you used your brain a little you wouldn't be so tired all the time, would you.
It was a Saturday when he had sat in front of the television while she ironed, steam hissing from her iron.
He turned up the volume.
- Sweetheart, do you have to do that in here? It's steaming the place up. Look at the windows. All that condensation. It'll rot the frames. It's not great, y'know. It's not like we're made of money to be able to buy uPVC, is it. It's me that'll have to fix it, isn't it. At the end of the day. It'd be better if you did the ironing up in the spare room, wouldn't it. You could have the window open, couldn't you.
- But I like to watch the telly while I'm doing it.
- Well, you could take the portable in from the bedroom, couldn't you, love. Take it in and put it on the chest of drawers and you can watch what you want then, can't you.
- But I like watching with you, Jack.
- Well yes, but we don't really like the same things, do we. You're not that interested in football, are you. Be honest.
- I don't mind.
- And I can't stand that crap you watch. Don't Tell Them About The Dress or whatever it is. So it'd suit us both really, wouldn't it. I tell you what, at the break I'll nip up and put the portable in the spare room for you. I'll plug it in there, shall I. And you can go and take the ironing board up there and do the ironing in the spare room, can't you, and watch what you like then. I'll do that for you, shall I. Ok? You can watch what you like then.
The heart attack was only to be expected, the doctor said.
- But he was only fifty four.
But considering his family history, his passive life style, his poor diet, the doctor said.
- I always served him veg, she said. He just never ate any.
- Will you be all right, Mrs McKinnon? The sister asked as she led her out of the family room.
- I'll be fine.
- Is there anyone I can call for you?
- No, you're all right, I'll be fine.
- Sure? Sister? Children? Neighbour, perhaps?
- No, honestly. I'll be fine.
It was 8.00am when she left the hospital.
They wanted to call a taxi for her but she said she'd prefer to walk.
The May sunshine streamed through the trees as she walked down Canal Street and out into the park. A light green flush haloed the birches and tinged the air. She went and sat on the bench by the pond.
- What now?
She felt a tightening in her throat.
A few ducks swam lazily towards her and then away again as they realised she had nothing for them.
- Nothing today, ducks, she said. Nothing today.
- You'd better get home, he said. It's nearly nine. What're you thinking? You should be home by now, do you not think? It'd be better if you went home now, love, and sorted things out. You know.
She stood up and picked her bag up from the bench. She'd better get home.
A cockerpoo came snuffling around the feet of the bench where she'd been sitting. Then it scented her and came over, muddy feet up on her leg as she stood there. She found she didn't mind.
- Hello, she said. You're a friendly thing.
The dog pushed its snout under the edge of her skirt. She pushed it down then sat back on the bench and started to pet the animal.
- Douglas Fairbanks? Douglas Fairbanks!
A man in his late forties was striding quickly towards them, empty lead in hand.
- Oh, I'm so sorry, he said. Has he been bothering you?
He bent and clipped the lead onto the dog's collar.
- D'you really call him Douglas Fairbanks?
- Haha! It was my late wife's idea. She loved Douglas Fairbanks. Well, in truth she loved Douglas Fairbanks Junior, but that seemed too much of a mouthful. Haha! Do you mind if I...?
- Be my guest, she said.
- Alec, he said.
- Tess, she said.
She looked at his trousers as he sat down. Sharp creases.
Clean shoes despite the Spring mud in the park.
She listened to his crisp, modulating voice as he spoke.
Saw the tidily manicured nails.
Noted the gold wristwatch, the heavy wedding ring which he still wore.
On the fifth of June, he took her to the City Hall. A tea dance. Saturday afternoon. They drank milky tea. They danced. He led. She followed.
On Monday, she sent Jack's clothes to the Mind Shop. She found she didn't.
On the seventeenth of July, while they were watching the special matinee showing of Gone With The Wind at the Great American Picture House on Bentall Street, he reached across the popcorn and took her hand. She noticed he wasn't wearing his ring any more.
She found she gave a damn.
August Bank Holiday and they made love in the afternoon in a small pension he'd found online on the Left Bank of the Seine. She'd never been to Paris before. She loved Paris.
- Can we come again, she said, as he held her.
His hand moved slowly over her belly, still glistening from their love-making. It slid up her body to cover her breast. She felt an unfamiliar tingling in her nipple.
She loved him.
- It's a bit soon, isn't it? Dad's barely cold.
- Your father was cold before ever he died.
Anthea took the plates from the drainer, dried them and stacked them on the counter.
- Well as long as you know what you're doing, Mum.
- I know what I'm doing, love. I know what I'm doing.
On the first of December, he moved in.
Douglas Fairbanks hid under the dining room table while they went upstairs.
She sat on the bed and watched Alec unpack his suitcase.
He placed his socks in Jack's sock drawer.
He unfolded his shirts and hung them on hangers on Jack's side of the wardrobe. Next to her dresses and the white blouses she used to wear to the office.
His shoes – eight pairs, she counted – he arranged on a shoe rack he had brought with him.
- Thank you, she said.
- My darling, what for?
- Just... thank you. I love you.
- And I love you too.
- Do you?
- With all my heart. I never thought I could love again. You have proven me wrong.
- You make me feel like a teenager, she said. Except that when I was a teenager I had spots and big crooked front teeth and glasses.
- My darling, you are beautiful in my eyes.
- Thank you.
She felt herself flush.
He paused for a moment.
- Don't you think it would be better if the head of the bed was against the other wall? Then when the sun rises it wouldn't be so directly in our faces.
- Hm... maybe... she said.