Crow’s feet fanned silver eyes which registered disapproval and disappointment. Her mouth was ringed with lines which if they were spread into a smile would make her seem twenty years younger. She lifted a delicately polished finger nail up to her crow’s feet as if to wipe away a tear. The lace thinness on the back of her hands showed veins and arthritic joints keeping the diamond ring and golden wedding band which still shone after 40 years of wearing them.
Her hand trembled slightly and she self-consciously forced it back into her lap and clasped hands to stop them shaking. She stopped herself reaching out to pick up her cup and saucer. The trembling grating of bone china on bone china would wake him up. He needed his afternoon nap. She reached up to smooth her hair gently, barely even making contact. She knew it would be perfect. Her pearl necklace hung perfectly over her twinset which was in an inoffensive beige colour. Beige went with everything and it suited her to be non-descript – to blend in and be as unobtrusive as possible.
She sat upright in her armchair staring at her husband of 40 years. Her silver expression didn’t waiver. Her face was composed; her hand steadied and she grasped the porcelain saucer firmly. Not a tremor. She sipped on the weak infusion of tea with half a slice of lemon (pips removed). Her eyebrow raised into a perfect arch, as her husband snored in his armchair opposite.
He felt her gaze on him from under closed eyelids and could almost hear her eyebrow raise in that supercilious manner. He kept his eyes closed, shifted in his pretend sleep, attempted a snore, relaxed his neck so that his head lolled against the arm chair. He let his jaw fall slack. He just had to wait until she finished that damned ditch water that she called tea.
His cardigan was a focus of disappointment – always done up wrong, worn over the elbows and a day old handkerchief in the pocket. He preserved that look with care and recreated it every morning. He made sure that he blew his nose loudly into the hankie before putting in the pocket. His trousers bagged around his waist. He didn’t believe in belts. Perhaps he should invest in a nice pair of braces? Nice spotty ones. Her expression would be priceless. Socks and tartan slippers completed the image.
His silver hair was brushed back from his forehead with Brylcream – a style that he’d worn for 65 years. He couldn’t break that habit. But he did go unshaven now whenever possible – he couldn’t get his face to align with his razor. It seemed to sag in all sorts of places. His eyebrows straggled down to twist into his eyelashes and God knew what was going on with his nose and ear hair. The overall impression was of an unkempt, slightly dotty old man with a great head of hair.
He heard his wife silently put her cup and saucer down on the tray; equally silently stand up, pick up the tray and glide softly across the pile carpet. And still he faked sleep. She’d turned, as he’d known she would at the doorway, to check up on him. He froze: neck loose, jaw slack, a bit of drool making its’ way down his chin. He heard her eyebrow raise again as she carried the tray out.
One brown eye opened and checked the empty room. He didn’t move his body just incase he needed to fake sleep again. Also it took him a moment to get everything in gear to move. He peered around his nose and tried to straighten his neck. He’d got a crick in it from “sleeping” for so long. She obviously had something to discuss with him and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep her at bay. 77 minutes was his record.
She carried the tray into the kitchen; snapped on rubber gloves and washed up her cup and saucer, the teapot, tea strainer, milk jug, sugar bowl and sugar tongs; threw the doily into the bin and stored the tray in the slot specially designed for trays between the cupboard and the dishwasher. She snapped her Marigolds off and hung them over the tap. She needed to talk to him. She could wait until he stirred himself. His naps were getting longer and longer.
He yawned and stretched. He could hear her washing up the tea tray. He had a couple of minutes to get to the French windows and down into the garden. If he timed it right he could be in the potting shed by the time she hung her gloves up. He moved smoothly to the door. His wellies were waiting outside. In less that 7 seconds slippers were off, feet into wellies and the door shut behind him with a soft click. He kept to the hedge away from the kitchen and circled around the back of the greenhouse and into the potting shed.