Friday 9 December 2016

Have You Seen My Wife?

Helen Combe 

a nice cup of tea

Mary was pleased with herself for being so far ahead with her Christmas preparations. It was early December and she had just finished writing her last Christmas card and had dropped it with relief onto the 'done' pile.
        She stretched, pushed back her chair, turned to get up and caught sight of the face pressed hard against her living room window. She let out a shriek and stood transfixed as a pair of hands came up to frame the face as it slowly scanned the room from side to side. Then it stepped back and she saw that it was a thin, elderly gentleman wearing a flat cap and a tweed jacket. He stood vacantly for a moment, then turned and headed towards the front door. There came a knocking. Mary gathered herself together and moved to open the door. The man looked exhausted and lifted his hands beseechingly.
        'Have you seen my wife?' he implored.
        Thoughts ran through Mary's mind. I don't know your wife, what does she look like? But she felt that this could get complicated and anyway, she hadn't seen any elderly ladies of late.
        'No, I'm sorry, I haven't.'
        A look of despair came over his face and he dropped his hands.
       'OK, thank you,' he said, then turned and shuffled away.
Mary closed the door and hurried to the bay window to watch him as he moved to the next house, framed his hands round his face and peered through the window before heading for the door. She saw that he was wearing slippers.

        The next day, Mary left her house just as her neighbour, Gail was leaving hers. Gail was a housewife, so the advantage of being at home all day, combined with a general benevolence to all mankind meant that she knew everybody and was Mary's major source of local information.
        Mary cried eagerly, 'Oh Gail, I need to ask you something,' at the same time that Gail said, 'Oh Mary, I need to tell you something.' 
        Gail hurried across to her.
        'I don't know if you've seen him, but there's an elderly gentleman who may knock on your door or look through your window.'
        'Yes, that's what I was going to ask you about.'
        'Well it's Mr Tomlinson, he lives on the road that backs onto ours. He's harmless. He has Alzheimer's and he's looking for his wife, but his wife passed away earlier this year.'
        'Oh that's tragic.'
        Mary was filled with sympathy for the old man and his constant bewildered concern for the welfare of his wife from which he could never be released.

        The next evening, there was a knock at Mary's door. Mr Tomlinson stood soaked on the doorstep with rainwater pouring off the rim of his flat cap.
        'Have you seen my wife?'
        'No, I'm sorry. Oh look, it's pouring with rain, why don't you come in and have a nice cup of tea?'
        'Oh no, thank you, I need to find my wife.'
        'Well I think you should go straight home, she's probably there wondering where you are.'
        'Yes, yes, I'll do that.'
        Mary closed the door and went to the window and watched him squelch across the lawn in his slippers and look through the window of the house next door. She sighed. He'd catch his death, but what could she do?
        The routine continued nightly, a knock at the door at about eight o'clock, the invitation for tea and the polite refusal. Sometimes he did two or three circuits in one night.

        Christmas was approaching fast and Mary was caught up in the shopping, decorating, and outings with various work colleagues and friends, so it was while she was decorating the tree that she suddenly became aware that she hadn't seen Mr Tomlinson for over week. Concerned, she hoped he was OK and even considered trying to find his house, but then thought better of it as she imagined herself looking through windows and knocking on doors and eventually crossing paths with Mr Tomlinson, on a similar mission, coming from the other direction. And if she did find him, what would she say? 'Oh, I'm so glad you're not dead'?

        Anyway, he had family, she had seen him on a couple of occasions in the supermarket with a middle aged man pushing a trolley full of food, topped with a pair new slippers. Maybe he'd taken Mr Tomlinson home for Christmas. Mary tried to calm her conscience when there came a knock at the door, perfectly timed at eight o'clock.
        'Oh thank goodness.' Mary dropped the bauble back into the box and hurried to open the door.  Standing on the step was a small woman, neatly dressed in coat, boots and gloves. She had rosy cheeks, bright blue eyes and a head of curls as white as the snow that was softly tumbling from the sky.
        'Excuse me, but have you seen my husband?' she asked.
        Mary's jaw flapped incoherently for a moment as she struggled to connect her mouth to her brain.
        'No, I'm sorry, I haven't.'
        The woman cocked her head as though listening, then looked away to her right and then back again.
        'Oh, it's alright, I see him. He's been getting better of late, but he still wanders off from time to time. Old habits die hard you know. So sorry to have disturbed you.' She smiled and then turned and walked away.
        'That's quite alright,' Mary replied faintly. She shut the door and then hurried to the bay window. She looked to the left but could see nothing but the gardens muffled under the snow and the street light scattering a halo of golden spangles through the ice crystals falling around it. She looked to the right and saw only the soft outlines of marshmallow cars and finally she looked to the front of the house, where a thick layer of snow lay unbroken on her garden path.

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