Time for Reflection
“When I die,” said Gerry, "I'd like the dignity of being allowed to slip quietly away. I've tried to be religious – like you – but it hasn't worked for me. And I don't believe in pomp and ceremony unless you've achieved something that sets you apart from your fellows.”
“Just a small service, perhaps?”
“I'll come back and haunt you.”
Sarah bit her lip and turned her head to hide the tears. Three score years and ten the bible said and he'd only had half of those. Gerry was just being considerate. He had every right to feel bitter.
She looked around the room. Maybe the through-lounge had been a mistake after all. It had been her idea. Gerry didn't like the thought of pulling houses around. “A house has a soul – just like people,” he'd said. “How would you like it if someone ripped your insides out?”
The doorbell rang. She left him alone with the vicar and went through to the kitchen to make tea. By the time she returned, the Reverend Pilsbury had gone.
“I hope you weren't rude to him,” said Sarah.
“Just said I didn't feel like talking at the moment.”
She put the tray down on the table and picked up the book. “What's this?”
“He left us another bible. Knew it was our anniversary today. Believes in doing his homework.”
“Feel like going out?”
“I'd rather not if it's all the same to you.”
Afterwards, they sat together for a long time, not speaking, each with their own thoughts. Sarah remembered it was ten years ago, at a Christmas party, that Gerry had proposed. They were married in the spring. She was already two months pregnant.
Gerry was a freelance IT contractor and had saved quite a bit before the IR35 government legislation brought an end to the moneyfest. They'd been able to put a deposit on a small house in town. A school backed onto the rear garden wall. It had a vacancy for the post of English teacher. She'd successfully applied for a transfer. Everything was falling into place.
But it was all too good to be true. They'd lost the baby and when Gerry fell ill that put paid to further thoughts of a family. She recalled a particular phrase the vicar had used when the neighbour's cat had appeared from nowhere and pounced on an albino blackbird they'd been admiring in the garden: Without ugliness there is no beauty.
At that very moment Gerry abruptly took both her hands in his and said, “Promise me you won't waste your life thinking about the past.”
Two weeks later he could no longer get out of bed. It was a Sunday when she called their doctor and he arranged for a nurse to come in and administer morphine. She wouldn't allow Gerry to be taken away.
By Monday, it was all over. Eight years of praying had been spit in the wind. She stood looking at her reflected image, barely recognising the pale face and hollowed eyes.
The mirror was set in a gold frame and she remembered the day it arrived – Gerry's present on their first anniversary.
She'd once told him that, as a little girl, she would creep into her parents' bedroom to look at herself in the full-length mirror. This was a luxury that only grown-ups had and she had longed for the day when she would have one of her own.
Gerry's mirror was the size of a door and so heavy they decided it was safest to let it to stand on the floor. He had to cut the skirting to fix it to the wall.
They'd laughed when they first noticed the distortion in the glass but decided not to send it back. It was unique to them.
The vicar's wife arrived to pay her respects. Her dress was the colour of wet asphalt. The sharp eyes searched for – and found – the bible on the table. Before she left, she put a marker in to indicate a passage she felt Sarah would draw comfort from.
Sarah kept her promise. There was no service. When the undertaker rang to tell her the ashes were ready for collection she panicked. She'd assumed they simply scattered them – on hallowed ground, of course.
“I assure you it's no problem, Mrs Bellamy. If that's what you want, we can arrange it for you. There'll be no extra charge.”
But supposing they just flushed them down the toilet? She couldn't have that.
“No – I've changed my mind. I'll call in tomorrow,” she said. She had to go into town, anyway, to collect the death certificate.
She didn't sleep that night and in the morning decided to occupy herself with mindless cleaning. Maybe it would suspend the interminable self analysis. The feelings of guilt that would never leave her.
The mirror became her contact with past happiness. It was something tangible that they had shared. She would never change the glass even though the distortion seemed to have increased over the years. Now, with her hands and body pressed against the surface, she thought of Gerry.
Afterwards, she was never quite sure how it had happened. She'd always been able to see the 3D images in stereogram pictures – and had even progressed to the stage where she could sometimes “project” a room into another dimension – just by staring at the wall and allowing her eyes to go out of focus.
Now, pressing hard against the mirror, she felt giddy and tried to stop herself falling. But when she opened her eyes, she was standing upright and the giddiness had passed.
The first thing she noticed was the mirror. The distortion had gone. It was then she realized she was dressed differently. She hadn't worn that blouse since she spilt paint on it when they were decorating the house, shortly after they'd moved in. But that was ten years ago. She looked down at the blouse. Not only was it unmarked. It looked new.
“Come on, Sarah. Stop admiring yourself. They'll be closed by the time we get there. I told you - it's a beautiful blouse. It really suits you. What more do you want?”
Gerry was standing behind her looking fit and healthy – and ten years younger.
She turned and threw herself at him, hugging him so tightly that he finally had to prise her loose.
“Wow! If that's the effect a new blouse has on you, let's go and get you a complete outfit.”
“Where are we going?” she said when they were outside and sitting in the car.
“Baggott's, to see if they've done the quote for taking the wall out. Remember? He didn't know how much the RSJ was going to be when he came round. Don't say you've forgotten already. It was your idea.”
She clutched his arm. “Gerry – I've changed my mind. You're right. The house was here before we were. You start something like that and you never know what else it affects. Let's leave things just as they are,” she said.
©2005 Mark Frankel
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