A PEN IN HAND

Seamus Heaney’s opening words from Digging are a perfect description of me:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests

As far back as I remember, I have enjoyed holding something between my forefinger and thumb to make marks on a page. It was me eschewing the use of my granddaughter’s clutch pencil while helping her with homework that set me thinking about my relationship with writing implements.

“But you like sharp pencils, Granny,” my granddaughter protested. This is true. I cannot abide blunt pencils and regularly sharpen mine. I don’t like hard pencils either – the impression they make is too light and stifle the satisfaction I get from writing. Why my anathema towards clutch pencils then? You might laugh, yet they strike me as being too clinical, too precise, and too ‘business-like’ to be a comfortable companion that will scribble ideas, or even to edit work that has got as far as being typed. Give me an ordinary, well-sharpened, HB pencil and I am happy.

Now you will really laugh: the first writing implement I used at the tiny primary school I attended (seldom more than 36 children from Grade 1 to Grade 7) was … a slate and stylus! I’m really not that ancient, but the school had few resources and the advantage of using slates probably lay in the saving of paper. Another is that one could literally ‘wipe your slate clean’ to start afresh. Spit worked well as an eraser then!

It was a great day for us when we graduated from pencils to dipping pens. Those now abandoned inkwell holes that gape at the right front corner of the old-fashioned wooden school desks were filled with white ceramic pots of ink. I remember helping to mix the ink powder with water until it was the right consistency before filling the inkwells from an enamel jug with a long narrow spout. Need I tell you that the ends of my blonde pigtails were regularly dipped in ink by the boy sitting behind me?

I digress. The real thrill – and challenge – was learning to use a dipping pen. My, how the nibs would spray or bend when you pressed too hard! If not handled carefully they would catch in the paper, dig holes in it, or leave a spectacular blot. If you dipped your pen too deeply into the inkwell, your fingers got covered with ink: pen wipers were an essential part of your school accoutrements, along with a ruler, eraser, pencil and a sharpener.

Fountain pens came next. I loved filling mine from the bottle of Quink ink and with the way words flowed across the page. I loved the fullness of the wet letters that flattened as they dried. I have never stopped loving the elegant simplicity of a fountain pen and still use one when I feel completely at peace and have the time in which to allow my thoughts to unfold at leisure. I used to write letters with my fountain pen – alas no more.

Ballpoint pens were introduced soon after. Such progress that seemed. They freed us from having to use blotting paper and liberated one’s ideas by scooting across the lines at speed, if one so wished. There are ballpoints and ballpoints – I always have several with me in my handbag, my camera bag, and in the cubbyhole of our vehicle for they still have a tendency to ‘die’ when least expected.

A good quality ballpoint pen is hard to beat. I use them every day for everything from making lists to filling my daily journal. When fibre-tipped pens came on the market – almost mimicking the creative flow of a fountain pen – I fell in love with them too.

Writing by hand gives my ideas the opportunity to grow wherever I might be; it gives weight to those ideas; allows them to ‘test the waters’ as it were; and unleashes my inner creativity.

Ah, what about computers? I wouldn’t be without my laptop which allows a different kind of creativity and breathes life into my writing so that it can reach a wider audience more easily. However, this is dependent on electricity – a commodity we do not always have in our town: ESKOM switches off the power for hours at a time in the name of ‘load shedding’, and if the wind blows too hard – or even if we might be fortunate to get rain heavier than mist – the local lines go down or a substation explodes …

… making a pen in hand far more reliable!

AUNT BETTY’S CORNER

My late father was an avid reader of The Farmer’s Weekly and once I could read well I enjoyed reading the articles too, gathering quite a lot of incidental information along the way! A column called The Hitching Post delighted the older me – tickled by the messages posted by people seeking companions. This column is still going strong: advertisements claim that ‘hundreds of couples have found love’ or companionship as a result of submitting their profile to the magazine. There was also a supplement aimed at women that was called The Homestead and in this was a page devoted to the interests of young children. This was called Aunt Betty’s Corner. I must have been around five or six when I became a member.

I was very interested in the Corner and it was there that I found addresses for pen-friends – which fed my abiding joy in writing letters. I also loved entering competitions when the opportunity arose. During my primary school years I won about three writing competitions – the prize was usually a postal order for about two shillings. This ‘success’ spurred me on to write ever since – though I don’t earn a cent from it, although ‘scribbling’ gives me a lot of joy.

THE STORIES WITHIN US

In his autobiography, The Outsider: my life in intrigue, Frederick Forsyth explains that within the mind of a writer entire worlds are created or erasedPeople come into being, work, love, fight, die and are replaced. Plots are devised, developed, amended and come to fruition or are frustrated … In children, daydreaming is rebuked; in a writer it is indispensable.

Few of us think our lives are particularly interesting or remarkable enough to record. If we did, publishers would be inundated by autobiographies. Yet, eavesdrop at dinners or the meeting of strangers on holiday and you will become attuned to the stories plucked from the lives of ordinary people to inform, build bridges, or merely to entertain. We all have a story to tell.

Some of these anecdotes have been told so often that partners often finish them for each other, or egg each other on towards the highlight. The familiarity of these stories fixes them, making them difficult to change. They nonetheless get retold to show an alternate side of ourselves to people who have come to know us in a different context; to confirm our allegiances to others; or to illustrate the connection between the present and the past. An element of trust is at play when we share our personal stories.

This was particularly evident when I attended a series of workshops a few years ago. The participants were issued with pens and paper and, as we sat in a circle, we were asked to write down various aspects of our lives on cue – describe one of your most frightening moments; an occasion that made you face your innermost fears; a choice you made that was out of character for you. Of course these did not happen all at once, but as we diligently set about writing in response to the first instruction, none of us realised we would be required to share them.

Sometimes we read them ourselves. At other times a randomly chosen partner read them on our behalf; yet on other occasions we were asked to talk about the particular experience during a shared ‘chat session’ with yet another randomly selected partner. As uncomfortable as this was initially, the experience proved to be both interesting and enlightening. We ended up being surprised at the hitherto unknown inner strengths, fears and accomplishments of colleagues who gave no hint of such things on the surface. We unwittingly learned about empathy, respect and to realise that so much more lies behind the faces we work with every day. I recently threw out my notes from those sessions. Before doing so, however, I reread what I had written and surprised myself by what had been laid bare – I would never have imagined that anything in my life was ‘write worthy’, yet some aspects of it had been gently coaxed out of me.

No matter the occasion, when people are together for any length of time, an exchange of stories will begin. This might be in the form of a tentative exploration of where we come from; a delicate process of sussing out what we have in common; an exchange of opinions; or even a confession of sorts about health, personal circumstances, concerns or joys.

Stories are part of the way we understand our history and shared anecdotes go a long way towards understanding the lives of the people within our social and working orbit. In this sense, the stories we tell about ourselves can be powerful – as are those stories we tell ourselves while seeking an understanding of where we are, why we are, and what we are becoming.

Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety is a marvellous depiction of the friendship between two couples through their waxing and waning fortunes, as well as their trials and tribulations spanning forty years or so. Their back stories and shared experiences form the weft of their relationship, weaving their lives together with increasing strength and flexibility.

I have just finished editing the first draft of my late father’s memoirs. On the surface he was as ordinary a person as any of us are: a miner, a farmer, an amateur historian, a husband, a father and grandfather. If only I had known about this endeavour before he died, I would have been able to explore so much more! What a story he has to tell of life as we will never know it again; of courage and perseverance; of love and adventure. It proves the point that the unfolding of our lives are stories with no end. As ordinary as they may be, they help others to make sense of our lives and they deserve to be shared – at least with the next generation.

THE WOMAN IN GREEN

She is there every morning at around seven, walking her dog along Finch Street. Her plump figure echoes that of her small dog, which never strains at its lead. She is very protective of it, halting at the side of the road even if an oncoming car is some distance from her and is obviously going to turn down the side road before reaching her. She looks the same every day: her short, dark curly hair never alters its shape or style; her square face and brown eyes show no emotion or even a flicker of acknowledgement of any passing traffic. Instead, her eyes appear to bore into mine while she hugs the leash closer to her chest and sets her mouth in a grim unsmiling look until I have driven past. She dresses in a loose green tracksuit – plain green pants offset by a green patterned top. I have noticed that she always walks in the same direction and I see her in much the same spot every day. This implies a routine on her part, a willingness to leave home before sunrise and a desire to maintain a level of fitness for both herself and her dog.

Where do they come from?

How far do they walk?

What does she do for the rest of the day?

Crystal Pike loved reaching the relatively level surface of Finch Street that wound round the base of Stacke Hill. From there the street rose gently past the enormous fig trees and eucalyptus, the few remaining Scots pines, and the spreading Erythrinas that must have been planted by the earliest inhabitants of what had been a new suburb at the time. She had overheard someone mention once that the first houses in the area were built at the end of the Second World War. That would make them over seventy years old!

By the time she reached her home in Nerina Street, just short of the top of the hill, Crystal became acutely aware of the smaller plots, boxier houses and the uniformity of the well-pruned Pride of India trees that lined the slightly narrower streets. Each tree grew in a brick-lined circle breaking up the closely mowed grass verge. How different this was from the large, mature trees, creepers and bushy hedges lower down – and much less private! Privacy was something she had forgotten the existence of over the past year.

Both Crystal and Pippin felt pooped by the time they reached the creaking metal gate set within the sagging fence weighed down by a creeper she had never learned the name of. She poured fresh water into the shiny aluminium bowl and set it down outside the blistered blue kitchen door, unclipped Pippin’s leash and panted quietly while he lapped the water noisily. She waited until her breathing had evened out before entering the drab kitchen. At half past seven on the dot her mother would have her back to the door, impatiently watching and waiting for the kettle to boil.

“Did you have a lovely walk, dear?” The question never varied; her mother’s back never turned until the teapot had been filled and the knitted cosy pulled over it. The small white kitchen table would already have been set with three plastic placemats, the glass butter dish, jam jar, side plates, spoons and spreading knives. The porridge would be kept warm in an enamel double-boiler until her father came into the room, freshly showered and impeccably dressed for work.

They never touched food or drink until he arrived.

“Same, same,” Crystal replied as she always did. Her mother wouldn’t expect any different. Would she care to know that the gazanias brightened the edge of the street below them, or that the Cape Chestnuts were blooming late this year? Would it make any difference to her mother’s life if she was told about the Yellow-billed Kite being chased away by a flock of Red-winged Starlings? Would she show any interest in the repainting of the double-storey house at the end of Willow Street, the one that had looked so shabby for years? “Is Dad going to be long?”

“He’s just shaving.” Her mother removed the bowls from the sideboard more noisily than was necessary: a sign that she too was tired of waiting. “Put the sugar bowl on the table. There’s a dear. Did I fill it this morning?”

“You did.” Crystal willed her mother to look at her. “I won’t join you with oats today.” She hesitated at the pursed lips. “It’s just that I’d rather have boiled eggs on toast. Don’t worry, I’ll do them.” This was said against the background of her father’s footsteps thumping on the wooden floor of the passage leading into the kitchen.

“Morning Daphne.” He kissed his wife drily on her proffered cheek before sitting down. “And how’s my Fatso today?”

Crystal watched the two eggs bouncing in the boiling water and breathed in the steam from a distance while glaring at her father. “Are you two ever going to let up? It’s not as though either of you is skinny anyway.” She could feel the heat rushing to her cheeks. “At least Pippin and I walk every day!”

Her father scraped back his chair while dabbing the corner of his moustache with a large green linen napkin. “How dare you, Crystal? How dare you insult us like that?” His voice quivered. He moved to the side of the table and continued, “We, who have taken you in when your husband threw you out because you are too fat for his liking.”

“That is such a lie Father and you know it!” Crystal willed herself to stay near the relative safety of the stove and rested her hand on the toaster already filled with slices of bread. “Calling me ‘Fatso’ is not an insult then?”

“Roger, your porridge is getting cold.” The calm undertone to her mother’s voice was oddly comforting – almost as if she cared. Her father sat down again, grumbling about the need for the family to sit together at the table as a family and to eat in a civilised manner. Crystal took her time about getting her eggs and toast ready before she joined them.

This routine hardly varied from one day to the next except that Crystal woke earlier every week so that she could walk further before the cast-in-stone breakfast time. She wasn’t sure this was good for Pippin and worried about his welfare. Her bathroom scale seemed to indicate that walking at his pace, no matter how far, was not going to make a difference to her. That is why she had decided to experiment with breakfast. Her daily food diary indicated that she cheated a lot – especially with those bags of creamy toffee squares she kept hidden in her cupboard.

Pippin loved her unconditionally. If anything untoward happened to him she would be lost. Her mother was cold, biting even, and her father made her feel like something under his shoe – unless they happened to be entertaining visitors. Then they were told that she was taking some ‘time out’, was ‘such a help in the house’, and that ‘they would be sorry when she leaves.’

It was her parents who had wanted her to leave home and get married before she had felt ready. They were the ones who jumped at the first boyfriend she had brought home. It was them who had pressured her and Clive to get married only a week after they had come to terms with the fact that she had not come home until the early hours of the morning after the Rotary Valentine’s Dance. Crystal felt trapped. Clive had used her savings to purchase the bakkie he said they needed for their honeymoon. He had not minded her plumpness then. She recalled him often saying “I like to have something to hold.”

That was until he met the willowy blonde, Sarah McDuff, who manned the reception desk at the fitment centre. Clive had spent four hours in her company while the canopy was being fitted – another ‘must have’ according to him. Even though they had been married only six months, Clive had chosen to take Sarah out for supper (“Only because she went out of her way to get things done quickly”) and hadn’t come home to Crystal until lunchtime the following day.

He had brushed her off with ‘there were complications’ and complained that because of the dust coming in he would have to ‘take it back’ on the Friday. She didn’t see him again until the Monday. In the weeks that followed his absences were explained by working out of town and ‘having to go to head office.’

What could she do but believe him? Despite her misgivings, the truth only dawned on her when she noticed Peter and Christine exchanging glances at the pub after she had excused Clive’s presence with one of the many reasons he had fed her at the time. Peter had spluttered into his beer saying, “Since when do seed salesmen have to go to head office as often as he does?” Crystal had finished her drink quickly and walked home.

She resigned from her job at the local municipal offices the following day and had moved to her parents’ home a month later. Clive had not opposed the divorce. Her father had drummed into her how stupid she had been. He regularly warned her she would never get her money back and reminded her that she was a drain on their resources. “You are meant to look after us in our old age,” he was apt to sneer at her. Crystal was only twenty-one.

‘Get a job! Get a job!’ This was the mantra that echoed her footsteps around the streets every morning and thumped in tandem with her heartbeat throughout the day. Sometimes it was drowned out by the screeching ‘Get thin! Get thin!’ This was especially loud after she’d popped another toffee into her mouth. Crystal had been plump since the age of fifteen! How could she get a job when her mother had got rid of the maid as ‘an economy measure’ and loaded her with all the housework? She had no transport; no real time to herself – what chance did she have to get a job? Pippin was the only one who didn’t mind what she looked like or cared whether she had a paying job or not.

Crystal drooled over recipe books and often hauled out her secret stash of food-related magazines. She yearned for a beautiful kitchen; dreamed of people talking in hushed tones about her food; she squirmed with pleasure at the imagined accolades she would receive from grateful clients. No chance of trying a single recipe at home though – her parents were sticklers for the menu they had decided on before she had been born: nothing more, nothing less. She had done some private catering while living with Clive. It hadn’t come to anything though as he firmly believed she should be waiting for him at home when he finished work. Life could be so unfair!

The woman in green was missing yesterday, but was on the road again this morning, halting more or less in the same place as I drove past her. She almost leaned into the pavement even though there was plenty of space. I could see that her face was flawlessly covered with foundation, her dark eyes still boring into mine, and her mouth a closed slit. Today she was wearing cream pants with a plain green top. The clouds on the horizon glowed red from the rising sun, as embers do when the flames of a fire have died away. The early morning air smelled fresh and crisp, carrying with it the sweet damp scent of dry leaves and the ground that had been blanketed by the thick mist filling the valley after midnight. There was no sign in her gait or the way she looked to show that the day was different from any other. What made her miss yesterday’s encounter? Or, what had made her too late for me to pass her at the usual spot?

Hugo, she only found out his name eight weeks after first seeing him, ran past her every day as she turned to walk up the last steep road leading to the top of Stacke Hill. Increasingly, he had passed her twice along the route and then one day he stopped, sweating profusely, in front of her. “We really must stop meeting like this,” he said lamely and bent down to stroke Pippin. He introduced himself as they walked up the rest of the hill together. Over the course of the next few weeks Crystal got to know that Hugo also enjoyed solving crossword puzzles, that he worked in the local bank, and that he was interested in wild flowers.

“Will you come to Attrus Dam with me on Sunday?” Hugo had passed her twice that morning before puffing to a halt near their usual meeting place. “There are a lot of flowers blooming at this time of the year and it’s very peaceful out there.”

Crystal hesitated only a fraction before responding, “I would love to! Shall I pack a picnic?”

She missed her Tuesday morning walk to plan the picnic and get a head start on the housework so that her mother wouldn’t object to taking her to the shops later in the week.

“He’s a banker, mother, not a seed seller. You and Dad virtually foisted me on the seed seller!” Crystal felt the warmth glowing in her cheeks. ”It’s only one day out. Why make an issue of it?”

“What about Sunday dinner?” Her mother sounded grumpy. “You always cook Sunday dinner!”

“You cooked it quite adequately before I came home. Do it again – it won’t hurt you.” Crystal wondered at the source of her steely reserve; she had felt so down-trodden and worthless for so long.

I missed the woman in green again today. In fact, I checked my watch as I turned down the side road and looked up to see her still at the far end of the street. Why was she late?

Her packing was complete – not much left of her lifetime, she reflected sadly. She had got rid of anything that reminded her of Clive. Her mother had cleared away everything related to her childhood within days of Crystal leaving home. No sentimentality there. Crystal was sure she would be different if she had children of her own. She glanced at her watch. She was late and would miss Hugo at their usual spot! No matter, she said to Pippin, he was coming to collect her after work anyway. A new life awaited her. Her face was wreathed in smiles as she turned the corner that hid her parents’ home from view.

What has happened to the Woman in Green?

It has been well over two months now and the clockwork, check-your-watch-by-her Woman in Green has disappeared.

Advertisement in the local newspaper:

Crystal Clear Catering

For all your catering requirements, large or small, phone Crystal Pike at …

That’s odd. Come to think of it, the young woman who catered for Fiona’s fortieth birthday bash looked remarkably like the Woman in Green. That short, dark, curly hair is a give-away. Her brown eyes were dancing though, she was smiling throughout and her face looked a lot softer – rather pretty in fact. I wonder …?

 

THE REMOTE

My day ended later than usual. I felt extraordinarily tired after having moved into a new office. You know me, as soon as it was available, I couldn’t bear to wait for anyone official to assist. In my eagerness to ensconce myself in a place I could call my own and shut the door on the noise and bustle, I hefted heavy files across: one pile at a time. My books followed next. Then my photographs and the pot plants I had purchased earlier in the day. A few pictures on the wall and a couple of flowers filched from the garden to decorate my desk made me feel comfortable at last and ready to go.

It wasn’t the self-moving that made me late, although my weariness could partly be attributed to that. After all, I am more used to shuffling papers and dealing with people than lugging heavy things around. That is what Joshua does.

What made me late was the management meeting that dragged on long past its usual run. It would happen that on a day when weariness had settled on my shoulder, was caressing my neck and waging war with my eyelids, the agenda – already long – was lengthened by so many additional items I felt ready to scream in frustration. Why can’t people think of things to discuss beforehand, I fumed inwardly while trying to prevent my eyelids from drooping.

Listening to the same people spooling the same arguments led me into a reverie about the weekend when Nellie and David would be visiting. That meant getting in extra food, making up the beds, and airing the spare room that remained shut for months at a time. Our daughter seemed to live on the edge of disappearing from our lives we saw her so seldom.

I was already half way home in the next village when it dawned on me that I had forgotten to draw money. So intent was I on that mission – I needed something to focus on anyway – that I drove straight to the ATM near our village shop.

The sun had already set when I arrived. I grabbed my purse and car keys and walked briskly towards the ATM. I could feel my pulse pick up a beat as I sifted through my mind for ideas of something quick and easy to make for supper. While I waited for the two people ahead of me in the queue, I mentally ticked off what was left in the fridge and freezer: not much at this time of the month!

My fingers shook involuntarily as I pressed the buttons. Having drawn more money than I had intended made me feel on edge. I stuffed the notes into my purse without counting them and strode towards the car. Out of habit, I pressed the remote to unlock the car well before I reached it. No orange lights flashed. Not a peep of the sound of unlocking doors. How odd.

I looked around cautiously, aware of only a sandy-haired young man standing next to his bakkie, deep in a conversation on his cell phone. I walked up to the car, pressed the remote again and tried the door. It wouldn’t budge. I stared at the keys in my hand as if they would give me an answer. Even though they stared back at me without giving anything away, I could feel their metallic laughter for they knew the alarm would shriek if I tried to unlock the door. Monsters!

A cool breeze lifted the dust at my feet. I shivered from more than the cooling air: my cell phone lay in full view on the passenger seat along with my handbag! The sandy-haired man was about to enter his bakkie. “Excuse me!” I almost sprinted towards him in spite of my high heels and narrow skirt.

He must have caught the note of panic in my voice for he happily handed over his cell phone and watched me quizzically while I punched in Joshua’s number. There was no reply. I kept my face as neutral as I could when I turned towards the man. “Thank you,” I said calmly and waved as he drove off. The slight shake of his head and barely hidden smile set me off. ‘He thinks I am just a stupid woman!’

Oh dear! So focused had I been on being the epitome of calm that I had forgotten to leave Joshua a message. Stupid woman indeed! The horizon was already glowing with streaks of peachy golden clouds when it dawned on me that Joshua may be concerned by the missed call from a strange number at a time I would normally have been at home.

The parking lot was deserted as the shops had long since closed. What if Joshua had tried to phone me? I couldn’t tell if he had for my phone was lying face down on the seat. It was conceivable that he might drive along my usual route home to look for me. He would never dream of passing the ATM on his way. Why do we always think the worst? I had visions of him scanning the sides of the road in the fading light, imagining me trapped helplessly in the twisted wreck of my car.

That spurred me on. I set off briskly, high heels and all, along the roughly tarred road that wound up the hill towards our home three blocks away. By the time I reached the gate my carefully pinned hair had come loose, I could feel the perspiration on my forehead, and my feet ached. Joshua must be so worried about me. His bakkie was missing from the driveway so he must surely be out looking for me.

I let myself in through the kitchen door. The house was gloomy so I switched on the lounge light as I passed through. I immediately noticed the sliding door to the patio was still open: Joshua must have left in a hurry. My legs felt like jelly.

“Hello love.” Joshua! There he was, sipping a beer next to the pool, his binoculars and bird book on a stool next to him. “You’re home late. Long meeting?” He gestured towards the chair next to him. “Sit down and I’ll pour you some wine.”

Joshua, sitting there without a care in the world. How could he? “I ‘phoned,” I said primly while trying to control my breathing.

“Thanks love, but my ‘phone is charging in the bedroom. I didn’t hear it. You’re here now though so all is well.”

“Everything is not all well!” My voice was sharper than I meant it to be. I couldn’t rid myself of the image of him sinking a beer while I thought he was out looking for me. I slowly told him about my predicament, using measured tones to suggest I was fully in control. “Let’s drive to the ATM with the spare keys,” I concluded.

“Not possible my love. The bakkie’s still at the garage having the windscreen repaired.”

My mind clicked over rapidly. It was late and I was feeling tired, sore and dirty. I certainly didn’t feel like cooking supper after all of this. “Then we will walk to the car and drive straight on to the restaurant.”

Why had I worn my new high heels to work? Had it really been that important to impress Gillian Flynn, the fashion queen on our staff? She had been impressed, but now I regretted the move: my toes felt squashed and I doubted if my hamstrings would ever feel the same. A blister was surely forming on my heels and, worst of all, Joshua was humming under his breath as I stumbled next to him along the rough road! For some reason I was still clutching my purse with a sweaty hand. Why hadn’t I left it at home?

I couldn’t hide my panting by the time we reached the car park, deserted except for my truculent vehicle. Joshua was smirking when he pressed the button on my remote as we neared the car. Nothing happened. My ball of anxiety disappeared in a flash as I looked at his puzzled face and felt myself smiling for the first time in hours. A sense of relief and satisfaction flooded through me: all that anxiety had not been for nothing. “You see? It doesn’t work.” Would he detect the triumphant crow in my voice?

Joshua tried the remote on the spare keys: no reaction. I wanted to giggle at the frown that knitted his eyebrows together as he pursed his lips. He glanced at the emptiness around us. “We’ll just have to use the key then.”

I braced myself for the shock of the alarm renting the quiet air. Instead, the door opened without a murmur. As we settled into the car I could feel my spine losing its rigidity. Joshua’s large hand squeezed mine. “Food!” He laughed, nosing the car in the direction of our favourite eatery.

“Wine!”

At last, with a plate of food and a glass of wine in front of me, I could relax and enjoy the company of my husband. He looked up from his feast of mushroom ravioli with parmesan cream sauce and winked at me. “I prefer the dishevelled you,” he said simply.

“It’s been a hell of a day,” I admitted after my second glass of wine. It felt for a moment like an early date: everything about Joshua in the soft candle light seemed fresh and exciting. We held hands as we returned to the car.

Both remotes worked this time! “Perhaps someone blocked the system but couldn’t unlock the car,” he muttered reassuringly. I no longer cared: life was back to normal and that is all that matters.