Sunday, 28 January 2018

39

39 years.

She’d been drawn to the photo album, opening it for the first time in decades, remembering how it had been to place the images so carefully in their correct place.

Her coffee cooled as she reminisced, fingertips stroking gently against the ridges of cherished memories, labelled so coldly and clinically.

May ’96 Belfast.

June ’96 Garden party with Aunt May.

39 years.

The album didn’t cover the whole span – just a few years somewhere in the middle, with one or two highlights from the very early days.

The first photo of them together.

Taken at a theme park by a man with slicked back hair and an ingratiating smile. He had given them the whole nudge, nudge, wink, wink act, false camaraderie and certainty the young couple had an eternal love. He’d talked them into the picture, adamant they needed something to commemorate the start of their relationship. It was the second date. But he’d been right. What they had was special.

The wedding, the children.

All 39 years.

In another book – somewhere in the house - there are more pictures of children and one half-finished photographic family tree, starting with their parents and supposed to lead down to little Ellie, now 4 months old. After an initial burst of enthusiasm, the photographs so carefully selected had been stacked and almost forgotten. One more task to be guilty of ignoring.

’99-’00 The Millennium. Him wearing a ridiculous hat and a tuxedo. She in her prettiest dress; feeling especially good because two of their children were being proposed to that night. One of those marriages was still very happy; but they’d had no concept at the time that the other might turn as sour as it did and so were celebrating with joyful anticipation. They were both wearing those 2000 spectacles.

39 years.

She is fixated on the number as though it somehow makes a difference. And it should. She is sure it should; she just can’t think why it would.

She gazes around the room. For a moment it’s as though she’s looking at another photograph; a snapshot in time of a place she used to live. Then it comes into focus and she stands to walk around it and inspect each part closely for the first time in years. Hunting around the shelves for clues to answer the question roiling in her mind.

She finds mementoes of life: something to represent each member of her family. Little tokens holding memories of events too long ignored to be remembered. Gifts that have no purpose or beauty except as a link to the giver.

This is it then. This is all of her life.

The front door clicks and he enters; still handsome, still energetic. She turns to look at him and in her mind the puzzle falls into place and she knows her answer.

“Hello, love. What’s for tea?” He asks the question innocently but in the face of her decision it seems like aggravation.

She still loves him, so she is gentle.

“John, I think we need to talk.”

At first he’s worried she’s ill, but when she explains her decision he accuses her of joking. Then he is adamant she must be ill.

“I’m not ill, John.”

“Thirty nine years!” His cry is heartwrenching, but she can only nod. She understands.

“I’m so sorry, John. But I can’t do this any more.”

“Thirty-nine years.” His eyes speak of betrayal, and his voice has dropped to a tear choked whisper. “What about the children? Our home? Our lives? Why would you-“

He trails off and she reaches out to clasp his hands with her own. They sit in silence for several minutes as he stares at where they are joined.

Her heart breaks when he straightens her fingers and removes the ring he placed there so many years ago. It breaks further when he raises it to his lips and presses it into the palm of her hand.

“Please think about this.” He begs.

But he removed the ring before he asked.

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