Wedding pictures

Jim rises early as usual. He always does when he goes away, with the alarm at six. We didn’t make love last night. We haven’t for a long time. He turns away from me, rejecting me. He’s been tired, not in the mood.
I snuggle back under the blankets. I love the pillow’s lavender smell. I doze.
My alarm rouses me at 7.30. I rise slowly, put on my dressing gown and open the curtains. It’s a cold, grey, morning – normal for late November. There’s a ground frost, freezing fog in the air. It’s just getting light.
Downstairs, Jim’s reading the Telegraph. In his Captain’s uniform, he looks good, even with the jacket off. I walk quietly up to him and put my hands on his broad shoulders. I kiss the slightly thinning patch in his greying brown hair. He turns round and smiles with his crinkly blue eyes. We kiss. The hairs of his moustache tickle me. I feel the imperfectly shaved strong chin. I catch myself thinking – he’s every woman’s dream, too handsome for his age, even a caricature. But I wish he’d be closer in bed.
He never wears his jacket at breakfast. He’s worried about egg yolk straying. He likes muesli followed by two lightly boiled eggs, well-done white toast and black coffee. He always gets it. I lay the table. He lifts the newspaper to give me the space. Ten minutes later, his breakfast is in front of him. I could do it in my sleep.
“That looks lovely, darling, as always. But I can’t eat it all.”
“You said that yesterday at dinner. You used to eat so well. Are yoyu worried?”
“The flights drag on. I’m not getting any younger.”
I think, “Don’t I know it,” but say “You’ve never been like this before.”
“I know, but I’ve never been 58 before.”
I think, “That’s stating the obvious”, but say, “Oh well, not long until retirement.” That’s obvious too.
He’s still worried. “I wish I was as relaxed as you about money. It means a big income drop.”
 “We’ll manage, darling. We don’t spend so much nowadays, do we? You must see it. You look after the money.”
I’ve never liked him controlling things, but he’s done it well. We’ve not suffered from the economic crisis. We’ve saved. He’s invested wisely.
He says, “I wish it were so simple. What we’ve got left has to last a long time.”
I wonder why he is so worried now, and ask.
“One chance to get retirement right, no going back once you’ve done it,” he answers.
“Yes, but you always said your pension would cover things. Anyway, this week we’ll be in our new, smaller home. Our expenses will be lower.” I’m looking forward to it, no enormous house and garden.
“I hope so.” He checks his watch. “Darling, I must go now. My flight’s in five hours. There’s bad weather en route to Singapore, plus fog at Heathrow, so we may go a different way. We need to do some route planning.”
“OK, darling. Safe journey. We’ll talk tomorrow morning?
“Of course.” He grabs his cases. “I hope the party goes well. Happy birthday. I’ll bring you another present back from Singapore.”
That’s odd – he always brings me something.
This flight’s the result of a last-minute roster change. He was going to be home, to help with my sixtieth birthday party tonight and packing tomorrow, but there’s flu everywhere. All fit pilots are needed. The main birthday present is the move.
We kiss goodbye.
“Look in my study. There’s a present.” He’s gone.
I climb the stairs. My arthritic left knee clicks. The parcel’s on his desk. It looks like a picture, wrapped in pretty rose-decorated paper and tied in ribbon, with a card. I open the card. It says, “Thirty-five years of happiness. Love, Jim”. I take the ribbon off carefully. Christmas is soon, ribbon always comes in handy. The same goes for the paper.
It’s beautiful - a small, gold-framed wedding picture of us. The frame is gold plate. I think, he’s as handsome now as he was then.
Most of our pictures are too large for the flat. They’re being auctioned. This is for our bedroom.

The party goes well. It’s at my daughter Anne’s house, just ten minutes drive away. All my family – except Jim, of course – is around me. My brother and sister, their families, Anne and her husband Mike, my son Gavin and his wife Frances. Most of my friends from choir, bridge and the church are there, though a few are down with flu.
I tell Anne about the picture. She laughs. “My first picture!” She knows she was more than a thought when it was taken. Jim and I were together for two years before we married. We knew we wanted kids soon, so we weren’t too careful once the wedding was fixed. She was wanted
.
“A shame Dad’s not here,” Anne says. “It’s always like this. I wish we’d seen more of Dad. I’m so glad Mike and I both work at home. We see so much of Will and Sarah.”
Anne and Mike are both freelance designers.
Jim being away so much is why I’ve developed my own life. I’m wondering how Jim’ll fit into it when he retires in two years.
Anne knows the new flat will be stuffed with our furniture. She and her brother took some. She helped me find the auction house for the pictures and some of the larger furniture pieces.

The next morning, it’s brighter. A clear sky, so much colder, frostier. The removal men come at seven. I tell them my husband’s on duty. They know his job. There are many pilots around here, so the removal men are used to it. They check that everything for storage is clearly marked. I label the boxes carefully with their exact contents and whether it’s for storage. That includes everything from the shed and garage. I make sure our personal things like clothes are labelled with our names. The files from his study are just labelled “Study”. Even though Jim deals with everything, I know that if anything happens to him, the files will tell me all I need.

That night, I sleep on a camp bed. The next day, the van comes and everything goes. Anne comes round with Will and Sarah. Will is nine – a big nine, with curly dark hair and Jim’s eyes. Sarah is eleven, slightly shorter than Will with straight auburn hair, freckles and a turned up nose. Anne says she looks like me in the old family albums.
I’m so glad they’re here. The house is so empty. I hug the kids and they give me big kisses. They’re warm and excited. They smell like children should – breakfast and scented soap.
They rush to the garden. The lawn’s covered in frost. They love it. Their house and garden are small. Ours has been their adventure playground since they were toddlers, Anne’s too.
“Any chance of a cuppa?” Anne asks.
“Of course.
I kept the essentials back!”
We go to the kitchen. She fills the kettle.
“Is everything OK?” she asks.
I tell her I think so, though I’m worried about Jim. “It’s not the frequent trips to Singapore that worry me. They’re good for him. He knows the ropes there and can relax. Global normally gives him a longer lay-over so he can take a break there.”
Anne’s heard this speech so often. She gives her usual response.
“Well, us both working from home is not ideal, but he’s always there for me. This wouldn’t have happened.”
“I know. But we had no choice.”
 “Flying less often hasn’t created money pressure, has it?” she asks.
“Not as far as I know. We didn’t need all his salary anyway. Once you two were gone, we had plenty.”
Anne says, “Well, I hope I’m as relaxed as you are about it when I’m your age, mum. Don’t you miss him when he’s away?”
“Well, at our age, the physical side isn’t so important. He calls me every day while he’s away.” They’re both lies.
She blushes. “Mum! I wasn’t asking that! I meant, don’t you get bored? I would!”
Another repeated question, another repeated answer.
“Well, you know how I’ve filled the time.”
I tell her at least I’ll be in control. “I won’t have him fussing around and worrying, except for the first few days. Then I’ll be able to get the flat just as I want it.”
Sarah returns from the garden, her gum-booted feet thudding and leaving a trail of mud on the bare floor.
“Gran, Will’s in the workshop.” She’s always the little mother.
“Thank you, darling. Don’t worry. It’s empty now. All Grandpa’s nasty sharp tools are packed away. Nothing there can hurt Will. Just tell him not to get dirty. It’s dusty in there.”
She rushes back.
“Will loves that workshop. How many happy hours he’s spent there watching Dad carving!”
“I know. It’s some time since he did any. He says when he retires he just wants to chill.”
“Yes, but he must find something to do. Does he have any other activities? I haven’t seen anything.”
“He keeps busy. He spends ages on the computer. He’s got friends all over the world. He keeps in touch with them. He says once he’s retired, we’ll travel again. He’ll still get big discounts on the flights.”
While I make another cup for her, I say, “He doesn’t realise I’d rather be at home with him and near my friends.”
The kids rush back in. Will says, “Gran, look what I’ve found!”
It’s just a filthy envelope.
Will bursts with excitement, “It’s got stuff in it. What do you think it is? Money?”
Anne asks, “Where did you find it?”
The words stumble out. “You know where that cupboard was, in the workshop? There was an old box against the wall. It must have been behind the cupboard. It was full of lots of paper, stuff about tools and mowers.”
 “Why didn’t you bring it in?”
Sarah answers for him. “It was filthy and broken. The paper had spilled out. We left it there.”
Anne says, “Here, give it to me, Mum, I’ll open it. Oooh, posh, Raffles Hotel.”
I see the logo on the envelope from where I’m sitting.
“Yes,” I say, “One of Jim’s favourites. Of course, he was never put up there by Global, but he loved the entertainment.”
Anne’s got the contents out.
“What is it?” I ask.
“That’s strange. Just three photos. Oh dear, you sure you want to see this, Mum?” she asks.
“Why?”
“There’s one of a pretty Asian girl. Then one with her and two paler children, an older boy – he looks about ten - and a girl – she looks about eight. And the third one is Dad. The girl’s in his arms, in a wedding dress.”
I thought something was happening, but not this. Tears are in my eyes. I fight them and fail.
“It must have been going on for a long time,” Anne says.
“Yes, by the age of those children,” I don’t know why I blurt this out. “You’ve got some more family.”
She looks sad. “No I haven’t, mum.”
I’m boiling. “To think, I’ve been economising so that we can enjoy retirement! Even the flat we’ve bought is smaller than I wanted.”
The kids are quiet. They don’t understand. They don’t know what to make of my tears.
“What are you going to do, mum?” Anne asks.
“I don’t know. I need time to think.”
“OK, mum. I’m sorry, I must go to my lunch meeting now – I may get a new contract. I told you yesterday. I’ll be back in two hours. Are you OK with the kids?”
I say I am. “It’ll take my mind off those horrible photos.” But I’m thinking about them, of course.
“Bye, mum.” A long, long hug. It brings the tears again.
I put the photos away safely in my overnight case, packed ready for the move.

The kids return to the garden. I stay sitting on one of the kitchen bar stools. We’ve left the stools to the new owners – they go with the kitchen. I hear the kids playing happily, just like ours used to. I think what the photos say. I’m still boiling. I decide.
I call Rapid Removals. They’re awaiting my call to say the purchase is completed.
The depot manager asks “Is everything OK?”
I lie. “Fine, yes.”
I tell him I’ve got a slight problem.
“We’re pretty busy at the depot today.”
“It’s not much. You know those six crates labelled ‘Jim’?”
 “Yes, I’ve checked what’s been offloaded for storage and what’s left in the van.”
I tell him, “They’ve got some of Jim’s spare stuff in them that we thought we’d have room for, but we’ve decided we won’t. Would you mind offloading them and storing them separately under his name? He’ll let you know when and where he wants them sent.”
He says, “No problem.”
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