Jill set the timer and stood watching the egg boil. How many times,
she wondered, had she boiled Steve a breakfast egg ? Well they’d been
married twelve years, so multiply three hundred and sixty ﬁve by twelve,
deduct twelve times fourteen to account for their annual holidays, and the
answer comes to – well, a hell of a lot. All those hundreds of breakfasts of
two Weetabix followed by a boiled egg, with never a variation, not even
on Christmas day. She felt like screaming. The timer pinged and she
scooped the egg into the chicken-shaped eggcup he insisted on having –
“the egg tastes better in that one” l he would say, if she tried to give him
another. She bashed the top of the eggshell hard with a teaspoon,
imagining it was the frying pan bashing the top of his head. It made her
feel a bit better. She passed him the eggcup and picked up his empty
cereal bowl, as always the red one with his name on it his mother had
bought him years ago, and , as ever, poured him a second cup of tea. She
sat down to drink her own, wondering what to have for breakfast herself
once he had gone to work. A couple of minutes later, the last part of his
morning ritual began as he stood up, patted his belly and said
“Well that’s me set up for the morning. Better be off then, the work won’t do itself.
See you tonight, Monday isn’t it, so shepherds pie – good – looking
forward to it. Bye.” He picked up his sandwich box – corned beef as it
was Monday- and went out, slamming the door behind him.
She tried to remember the last time he had giver her a kiss or even
a peck on the cheek as he left for work. Her memory didn’t seem to go
back that far. What had their marriage come to? Everything was routine,
never anything spontaneous for Steve, and she was expected to go along
with it. The only things that kept her sane were her little cleaning job and
the fact that Steve went to the pub every Friday and Sunday evening.
She heard the letter box rattle and the post ﬂop onto the mat.
“More junk mail” she muttered to herself as she went to pick it up. There
were two circulars and a plain white envelope addressed to her. She put
the junk on the little table beside his armchair, because he liked to read
through everything that came, regardless, “Well he won’t be reading this
one” she said when she had opened her letter with shaking hands. She
had won a Mediterranean cruise for two! It was a bit of an escape for her
to enter competitions, but she had never ever won anything, and the irony
was that the one she had been successful at was the one where she’d had
to describe the perfect relationship, and say why she thought her and her
partner should be awarded the prize.
No way was she going to treat Steve to a luxury cruise ! He
wouldn’t be happy anyway as they wouldn’t dish up Shepherds pie on
Mondays, so whatever they did serve he would loudly declare to be
“foreign muck” and make a scene. Anyway, her answers to the competition questions had not been based on her relationship, if you could call it that, with him.
She looked again at the letter. This was it, the catalyst she had been
waiting for for ages. She got on her bike and pedalled furiously round to
James‘ house, where she did her cleaning three mornings a week, but not
on Mondays, so he was very surprised to see her.
“This is nice” he said “But what’s the occasion‘?
“I’m leaving him today” she answered “So if you’ll have me, I want
to be with you. Please.” She showed him the letter.
“What won me the prize”‘she said “was describing what our life
together would be like if it was permanent and not just three morning a
week while I was supposedly cleaning. Now I realize I want it to be real.”
“I’ve been asking you to do this for so long I can hardly believe it”
said James with a huge beaming smile, and they fell into each other‘s
arms as the enormity of it all began to sink in.
The next few hours were spent packing and Jill wrote a letter to
Steve to say it was over, and she would confess to adultery if he Wanted
to pursue a divorce. Then they drove off to his weekend cottage deep in
Berkshire. All their future plans would be made from there, he was quite
happy to sell the suburban semi, bought as a convenience to live nearer
his business, but no longer important now he had sold it and retired.
When Steve got home ﬁom work, he was cross that the house was
empty, and no aroma of shepherds pie greeted him. He found Jill’s letter
on the kitchen counter, in the place he always put his empty sandwich
box. He read it several times, unable to believe its contents.
He was dying for a cup of tea, but there was no one to make him
one. And his stomach was rumbling for want of his shepherds pie.
Damn the woman, he thought, then he smiled as a thought struck him. He
picked up the phone and waited as it connected.
“Hello Donna” he said ” l know its not Friday or Sunday, but how
about us getting together tonight? And at my place, for a change, eh, that
bed of yours isn’t the most comfortable is it, and mine is a king size with
pocket springs. Bring some of those lovely scented candles you like so
much, and pick up a take-away on your way here will you and we’ll have
a real ball ! Please say yes Sweetie.”