I don’t know about anyone else, but I wasn’t ready for a second lockdown. Even when restrictions were briefly lifted, it didn’t have much impact on me. My social life revolves around things like singing and drama that have stayed banned since March.
The only way I’m coping right now is by taking one moment at a time. I had grand schemes and plans – writing books, painting pictures, writing a song., but none of them have come to pass. I have realised that none of that matters. It’s not a failure. Right now, the only thing any of us can do is get through this, using whatever means works for us.
Last month, the UK short story market had another major setback with the loss of Woman’s Weekly’s monthly fiction special. At the time of wiritng, the last ever issue, December 2020, is on sale. I’m lucky to have 2 stories inside, one as Linda Lewis, the other as Catherine Howard so I bought a copy as a sad souvenir. I can only hope that one day, the circle witll turn and people will remember how short stories can help, encourage, and inspire people to find the happiness we all deserve.
A light hearted story follows. I hope you enjoy it.
MARRIAGE TROUBLES by Linda Lewis
“So, is it all right if I use your first names?” The couple nod in unison. I smile to myself. A good sign. At least they’re doing something together. “Welcome to Relate. The fact you’ve chosen to come to us is a positive step.”
“It wasn’t easy, getting him to agree,” Mary says.
“I’m here aren’t I”, replies her husband.
“That’s good enough for now,” I say. “Perhaps you could start, Nicholas. Tell me why you’ve come.”
“She told me to.”
“I see. Why was that do you think?”
“I don’t know, but she’s always complaining. She says I’m a useless husband..”
“And do you think you’re a bad husband.?”
“Of course not. I work hard. What more does she want?”
“That’s what we’re here to find out. “ I turn to his wife. “What brings you to Relate, Mary?”
She fidgets in her chair. With a glance at her husband she begins talking. “It’s his job. That’s the problem. He’s either working flat out or he’s doing practically nothing.”
“I see. Go on.”
“Well. When he’s busy, I don’t see him, for weeks on end.”
“Except at mealtimes,” pipes in Nicholas.
She quiets him with a glare. “Then everything stops and he’s under my feet all day.”
“I can’t help it Mary. My work’s seasonal. You knew that when we got married.”
“Of course, I knew, but can’t you do something else the rest of the time? Take up a hobby. Get a temporary job?”
“Is money a problem?” It’s a question I always ask. I’ve been counselling for many years. I know money is often the cause of difficulties in a marriage.
“No. We manage quite well,” says Nicholas.
“A little extra wouldn’t hurt mind. We haven’t had a holiday for years.”
“ It’s hard to find someone to look after the animals. We’re not easy to get to. “
“And we can’t afford it,” says Mary.
Nicholas sighs and turns to his wife. “All right. I’ll get another job if that’s you want. You know I’d do anything for you. You mean the world to me.”
Mary looks at me. “I feel so guilty about dragging him here. Look at him. Great fat useless lump, but you can’t help loving him can you?”
I nod and smile because what she says is true. There’s something about Nicholas that makes you feel warm and happy inside, just looking at him.
Mary continues. “I don’t want him to get a different job. He loves his work, and let’s face it, no-one could do it as well as he does, it’s just that,” she takes a deep breath, “ I get fed up with him lying about half asleep for months on end. I talk to him and he nods off in the middle of a sentence. I get lonely.”
I take a moment to think. The couple sitting in front of me could hardly be more different. Mary is small, and slender, and looks much younger than her fifty years. Nicholas is a great hairy mountain beside her. He must weigh more than twenty stone. I decide to risk a straight question. “ Have you thought of going on a diet, Nicholas? It might make you less sleepy. “
He looks at me, a look so heart rending, I almost cry. It’s the kind of look you’d get from a three year old if you were about to throw their favourite teddy bear on the bonfire. “I can’t lose weight. I love eating too much. “
“Too true he does. He’s a marvellous cook. Wasted on me, mind. I don’t have much of an appetite.”
Nicholas reaches out a chubby hand and pats his wife’s slender one. Then he looks at me and smiles. “Always been a bit of a stick insect has Mary.”
“Stick insect! How dare you? You, you… great tub of lard!”
“Beanpole,” says Nicholas.
I’m getting worried. I can’t let the session degenerate into a brawl, but then I see they’re both grinning. “Don’t you mind being insulted like that, Mary?”
“Course not. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”
“She knows I love her, and she loves me, don’t you, old girl?”
She nods then turns to me and asks, “So, can you help us?”
I try not to feel any pressure but my head still whirls. I know they’re expecting me to come up with a solution. “I’m not sure. Can I ask you a few more questions?”
“Go ahead,” says Nicholas.
“Have you got any spare room at home?”
“Yes, we’ve got loads. More now, since the children all left home.”
“Six empty bedrooms in fact,” says Mary with a wistful smile. “That’s why the place is so quiet. I miss them all so much. “
I breathe a sigh of relief. This is such an important interview for me. We don’t often see celebrities. When the boss told me who was coming I panicked. What if I couldn’t help them ? No one would ever forgive me? But now I could relax. The solution was simple.
“Mary, Nicholas, I think I have the answer. “
The atmosphere is tense. I feel their anxiety. “Diversification, “ I say.
“Diversification, “ they echo.
“Yes. It’s all the rage. Now, this is my idea. Turn part of your house into a guest house for three or four months of the year. Nicholas can do the cooking. It’ll keep him busy and it’s bound to be a real money spinner too.” I know I’m talking faster and faster but I can’t help it. I can see by Mary’s face that I’ve done it. I’ve saved one of the world’s most important marriages. “ You’ll be able to afford to pay someone to live in. They can help look after the animals and answer some of your mail. You’ll be able to leave them in charge while you take a holiday. “
Nicholas turns to his wife, smiles and picks up her hand. They’re both grinning. “It’s a great idea, isn’t it Mary? We’ll be swamped with enquiries.”
“It’ll be wonderful to have people around, and children, lots of children.”
“Rudolph and the others will love it. They can give sleigh rides. It’ll keep them fit. “
“Why didn’t we think of it years ago?” asks Mary, her eyes shining. “After all, who could resist
it? A holiday with Father Christmas and his reindeer.”