Eric put his hand over his ears as his wife wittered on about the number of ‘little jobs’ that needed doing now he was at home.

When you retire, you switch bosses – from the one who hired you to the one who married you.’

He recalled the advice that a pal had whispered at his retirement bash a month ago. Muriel never stopped talking. Not for one minute and now, he had to listen morning, noon and night. He still woke at the same time every day until he realised that he had nowhere to go, nothing to do.

‘Well, you are a grumpy old thing this morning; must’ve got your bread buttered on the wrong side.’ Muriel set down a cup of tea and smiled.

Eric sighed.

‘You mean I got out of the wrong side of bed.’ He flicked open the newspaper.

‘Did you? I didn’t notice.’

‘No, Muriel, I didn’t actually get out of the wrong side. It’s a saying meaning I’m grumpy – not bread and butter.’

‘Yes, I know you’re grumpy. And sorry, we haven’t got any bread or butter. There are plenty of cereals though, Weetabix, Honey Nut Loops, Cheerios and Coco Pops.’ Muriel lined them up on the table.

‘What on earth do we need all those for?’

‘I don’t know, probably on offer at the supermarket. You know the kind of thing, a Bogie or something.’ Muriel frowned.

‘You mean a BOGOF,’ Eric muttered.

‘Yes, that’s it. Buy.One.Get.One…’

‘Free.’

‘It’s so nice to have you home,’ Muriel whispered.

‘Mmm,’ said Eric, his head buried in the sports page.

*

Muriel insisted they try to complete the daily crossword.

‘It’s good for the brain, so they say,’ she said. ‘Stops us from going well, you know, talking nonsense.’

Eric buried a snigger.

‘I’ve been doing one for years now. Come on now it’s on the back page – read the first clue.’ She sat back in her chair, stretched her hands across her ample chest, and closed her eyes in concentration.

Eric raised his eyebrows. Peace at last, he thought. Then he folded the paper in four and smoothed out the creases.

‘Come on, Eric, don’t dawdle.’

Eric cleared his throat.

‘One across, five letters, “someone who receives stolen goods”’. He looked at Muriel and watched as she squeezed the bridge of her nose with her fingertips and tapped the floor with her feet.

‘Oh! I know that one. Now, wait a minute, it’s on the tip of my tongue. Hedge! It’s a hedge!’ She beamed at him.

Eric stared back at her in disbelief. Muriel’s smile slipped.

‘It’s “fence”, not “hedge” Muriel.’

‘Well, I was almost there,’ she pouted.

*

Later that evening, Eric flicked through the TV channels.

‘What do we pay the licence for?’ he asked aloud. He watched as Muriel half disappeared inside a cupboard, mumbling something that he couldn’t quite catch.

‘What did you say?’ he asked. Retirement was going to be long and painful.

‘I said,’ Muriel turned to him and held out a shiny pack of cards. ‘Let’s play Bezique.’

Eric concentrated at the empty space in front of him, trying to recall the game.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten? We used to play when we were courting.’

Eric dug deep; their courting days had been a long time ago, how he could have listened to Muriel all day then.

‘And we played for hours on our honeymoon in Fowey. I always beat you. You used to get so mad.’

‘No, I didn’t. And of course, I remember. I probably let you win, anyway.’

‘Yes, dear, of course you did.’ Muriel shuffled the cards, flicking them through her fingers like a fan. Eric stood up.

‘I’ll just pour myself a wee nip. Do you want anything?’

Muriel shook her head and dealt the cards.

When Eric returned, Muriel peered at her cards. A hint of a grin played at her lips. She would be no good at poker, he thought. He sat down, patted his shirt pocket and stood up again.

‘Now, where did I put my glasses?’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, Eric! You’re up and down like a fiddler’s elbow,’ Eric looked down at her. ‘Or do I mean a tart’s drawers? Oh, I don’t know what I mean, Eric, but just sit down. Your glasses are on your head. Now, I’m just about to put down a royal marriage, so make sure you dot your ‘t’s and cross your ‘i’s when putting down my scores.’ She tapped a pencil on his knee.

Despite his effort not to, a broad grin crossed his face.

‘A smile is as good as a rest,’ she replied.

‘I quite agree, Muriel,’ he said, squeezing her hand.

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