The relationship between man and wife over half a century has its own nuances. I saw notice of a competition for a short story of not more than 750 words - hence the title and the story's time of day. If you care to count, there are seven hundred and forty-nine words.
Seven forty nine.
Peering at her over the half-moon spectacles, those pale blue eyes were almost as clear as the day they had met so long ago and there was within them a tiny shadow as with the merest shake of his head he dabbed away the overspill from her mouth.
‘You know’ he reflected, “How everyone seemed to demand your time.” He smiled, “Why the neighbourhood was our universe and they kept coming throughout the years. Sarah, will you do this, or can you do that.”
Tommy attended to another small spill, a gentle movement with a spotless, white cloth. Then he moved her arm to a more comfortable position before turning his attention to the task in hand, only the occasional clink of metal on porcelain disturbed the rhythm set by the small mantle clock.
“Knife pointing at some lost echo in the infinite vastness of memory, he looked again with a gentleness that only fifty-six years of togetherness can bring. “It was your roses that first started it, you know.” The picture of those faraway blooms danced in a long ago sunlight. “Young Charlie McGregor was the first; with his ‘what do you feed them on questions’.”
He transferred another portion, busy with the napkin before the tiny chink sounded again. He laughed, “You know, I think that Charlie is still carrying that big torch for you. Oh yes he is, y’know, whatever you or Grace may say.”
The doorbell took him away from her side for a few minutes. He returned and gave a little ‘tsk’ aimed at the lock of her still thick hair that had always defied the brush or the comb. With a delicate finger, he returned the hair to its rightful place, resisting the urge to give the final pat, because that had always annoyed her. “Then there was the church and the flower arranging and the meetings and coffee mornings. How you ever shared yourself so finely I will never know”.
The napkin was employed again, dabbing gently. He caught the reflection of the sun in the grey of her eyes. As if fielding her question, he said, “It might be sunshine but winter hasn’t left quite yet; it is much cooler outside than you would think.
Tommy’s eyes strayed from her face for a moment to the snow-white sleeves of his shirt, cuffs folded back enough to allow a splash-free washing of the utensils. Tommy was meticulous, it was almost an obsession. He smiled once more into her eyes as he remembered how he had tried hard to guide her into his organised world. That was, of course before he realised that she had her own organisational methods, different but in tune with his.
A small twitch of annoyance pursed his lips. “Early dementia.” Well, that drove them away. They all seemed to disappear like last year’s snow. No more ‘will you do this. Or can you do that.’ His hand had become heavy and he made an apologetic sound and applied the cloth once more, an extra gentle movement to counteract his clumsiness.
He glanced at the clock; “I have eleven minutes before I must start the last of my rounds, dear.” He stretched for the basket beyond the chair and placed it on the small round table ready for when he had finished the necessary ablutions. He reached for the lock of hair then rested his fingertips lightly as a butterfly wing on her cool cheek.
Moments later, his cheerful whistle could be heard above the splashing of water. He returned to the lounge, hands spotless, cuffs a regulation half inch below jacket sleeves, he blew a kiss from those same fingertips and picked up the basket.
In a moment of self importance, he withdrew a notebook from his inside pocket. “Let me see, Jennie Wynne, yes,” he ticked off names, “Paula Troughton, Willie Beck, Oh yes, Charlie McGregor, Daisy Fielding.” The ticking continued until he had reached the end of the list.
“Now dear, it’s eight o’clock, you stay warm under that rug until I get back.” He grinned, holding up the basket, “You see, it will be like old times using your basket.”
The weak sun was giving way to evening darkness as he set out past roses impatient for summer.
Next day, each member of the list gave gasps of surprise as they found their delivery, which changed to horror as they discovered the little portions of the woman they had shared for years.