It happened on a Sunday morning.
In the past, we've both enjoyed walking, James and me. On days off, we'd take the car to a country area, do a circular walk of some five or six miles, then finish up with lunch at a handy pub. But just lately we haven't been able to do that. James is on tablets which make him breathless, with the result that he now walks like a snail and can manage about ten yards—I exaggerate only slightly.
Walking so slowly makes my back ache—plus my hips, my legs, and my soul—so we've reached an arrangement which has proven satisfactory for both of us. When we motor to the supermarket, James lets me out about a mile or so from home. I stride out the remaining distance, while James drives home, unpacks the car, puts away the shopping, and sets the coffee going. Very acceptable. I like it, anyway.
On Sundays, I set off for church about forty-five minutes before the service is due to start, walking along the narrow country lane to the tiny village church perched on the hill. James leaves half an hour later, and drives up. We generally arrive at church at around the same time, and either meet up at the lych gate or go inside and meet up in the pews.
On this particular Sunday, I was five minutes late leaving. I hadn't slept well, and you know what it's like. You lie there for hours tossing and turning, then fall into a deep sleep about an hour before you're due to get up. When we awoke, James and me, I had only half an hour to shower, dress, and eat breakfast. I didn't make it, hence my late departure.
As I strode up the lane, being that much later I was passed by rather more church-going cars than usual, which meant I had to keep stopping as I pressed myself into the hedge. It was either that or losing my toes. I generally choose to retain my toes.
I kept expecting James to pass me, but he didn't. Perhaps he'd gone round the other way; he did that occasionally. He wasn't waiting at the lych gate, and when I wandered into church, he wasn't in the pews, either. I felt a little concerned, but not very, since it was still five minutes until the service started.
Every time the great oak door clattered open I turned, but no James. By now I was growing seriously worried. Had he had an accident in the car? Was he lying in a ditch somewhere? Had he passed out with a TIA (transient ischaemic attack—he did that sometimes, hence the tablets) or suffered a heart attack?
Needless to say, this was the one Sunday when I'd forgotten to bring my mobile phone with me.
I'd have walked out of church then and there to look for him, but for the fact that I was due to lead the intercessions. I'd have to stick it out, but the worry was mounting. I was unable to concentrate on the service, but found myself praying over and over again, “Please God, let him be all right.”
The service seemed interminable, although in truth it was no more than the usual hour. I rushed out the minute it was over, not waiting to exchange any pleasantries or shake any hands, and practically ran home, looking out all the while for dead bodies in ditches.
I was completely breathless myself by the time I reached home. I opened the front door with dread, my heart full of fear. What would I find?
I found my husband sitting in front of the Open Golf Championship on television, his feet up, the Sunday paper by his elbow and a glass of beer in his hand.
I leave you to imagine the conversation between James and me. Say what you like, feel free. I did.