Friends

13 August 2013

VALUE FOR MONEY (repeat)


Most of the shopping had been put away. Only the packets of instant gravy and cook-in-sauces needed to be filed in date order and the milk cartons stacked so that the boys wouldn't open the last one first. Susan glanced around the kitchen then decided that the last of her purchases, the wooden rolling pin, the Italian dinner plates, and a bouquet of silk flowers, could wait until she had supped a mug of tea. There was no hurry, so long as all evidence of shopping was cleared away before Henry finished his surgery. He was a stickler for tidiness and, with her head the way it was, she didn't want to incur his displeasure.
                It wasn't the crowded supermarket that gave her the headache, it was the casual bumping into Julian, the man of her life twenty years ago. Her stomach eddied at the memory of her storming round the corner of the dog food aisle, her loaded trolley showing a reluctance to conform, veering in the opposite direction and colliding into the conveyance belonging to Julian Binchy. She was sure she had blasphemed before looking up, but Julian made no mention of it. He simply rushed to her side, agog with recognition.
                Susan sat in the kitchen rocker to drink her Camomile tea. Nursing Henry's Man.United mug with two hands, she drifted back to the moment of impact when the trolleys locked in a peculiar embrace.

'Sue Fassett,' he exclaimed. 'I don't believe it.'
                'It's Weldon now,' she said, reaching for a packet of Kipper's favourite mixer. It wasn't on the list but it was a great way to hide her confusion.
                Flashbacks of their courtship assailed her, twenty years shrinking to nothing. It seemed only yesterday that Julian had waltzed off with Sadie, a fashion model with hooks instead of claws. That last day Sadie had been dressed in a skimpy top and bottom-hugging shorts, scarlet-tipped toes protruding from strappy high-heeled sandals. She had clung like a leach to Julian. Her Julian.
                'You've got a dog then?'
                His words jerked her attention back to her surroundings, replacing Sadie's image with his own dark features, the mole on his chin being the first thing she focused on. In her hand was a can of tripe which Kipper would demolish in two seconds flat. 'Labrador,' she said. 'Kipper, after the theft of same. We'd just got him home from the farm. Six weeks old, with a liking for fish. He didn't go for meat much ....' She stopped, uncomfortably aware that she was babbling.
                'We?'
                'My husband, Henry.'
                'I married Sadie, you know.'
                Susan wasn't surprised. Sadie wouldn't have been satisfied until she completely removed Julian from Fassett territory. He wasn't difficult to capture. One wiggle of those curvaceous hips and he was hers, Susan's stalky, flat-chested body immediately forgotten. The wretchedness was acute, but she was freed from her pain by Henry arriving on the scene like a rescuing knight. He was second best, but she married him anyway, liking his attentiveness and the adoration in his eyes.
                Julian gave an account of his marriage, interspersed with lukewarm apologies for hindering other shoppers. One balding pensioner gave vent to his anger when attempts to secure dog biscuits were impeded by Julian's trolley. He waved his stick at Julian, almost reducing a pyramid of cans to rubble and robbing Julian of his eyesight at the same time. But it was a thief, armed with perfume and fleeing from a red-faced security guard, that prompted Julian to suggest they transfer to another aisle. Since she was fed-up with being jostled by exasperated customers Susan hinted that a visit to the coffee shop would be better, and she experienced an excited shiver when Julian endowed her with one of his lovable grins.
               
Julian ordered black coffee and paid for his own. Recollections of going dutch filtered into Susan's head as she tendered the money for a Cappuccino and a packet of five digestives, which Julian helped to consume while continuing the Sadie saga.
                Sadie had gone off with a doctor, not because she loved him, but because he would give her a good time. 'Sexually.' Julian whispered to avoid the twitching ears of a woman at the adjoining table. 'As if a research chemist doesn't know how to……'
                'Shush!' Susan stopped him, fearing he might say something untoward and that she might be tempted to launch into a dialogue of self-pity. She knew about doctors, the extra hours they were forced to work, their tiredness when eventually they got home, and the irritableness. Sadie would have had quite a shock and serve her right.
                There were numerous occasions during the twenty years when Susan wished she had married Julian instead of Henry, certain that her first-love would be more tolerant of her clutter and disorganisation. She leaned forward to catch what Julian was saying, deafened by a commotion coming from a nearby table, where three bellowing kids were hell bent on driving their mother insane.
                Julian raised his voice. 'She knew I wouldn't cope alone, but not once did she offer to cook me a meal or do a bit of washing. All I ate for months was sandwiches. I lost count of the times I rang to ask for help.'
                Fancy not being able to cook, Susan thought, studying her nibbled biscuit. Goodness, Henry could produce a souffle at the drop of a hat and his bread was always done to a turn. In fact, for a whole month after the operation to remove her appendix, he provided the most varied and appetising meals.
                'Couldn't get in the sink for crockery,' Julian said. 'I asked Sadie once if I could use her dishwasher, but she refused.'
                Henry, of course, wouldn't leave the house if dishes were waiting to be washed.
                'And the laundry just piled up. I got fed up in the end and bought new shirts.'
                'Couldn't you have put things to soak while you were at work?' Susan asked.
                'How could I, with the sink full of crocks?'
                Susan drank the last of her coffee and thought of Henry doing the washing when she was laid up - his, hers and the boys. There wasn't a sock left for her to do when she was mobile again. He was brilliant with the washing machine. He even controlled the programmes to avoid over-spinning which apparently minimised the ironing.
                'That's enough about my problems,' said Julian. 'Tell me about yours.'
                But Susan hadn't any to relate. In one hour Julian had unknowingly demolished every one. The mind was a funny thing, it played tricks without one knowing, blotting out things like meanness and self-importance. But Julian had lost no time in reminding her and the pedestal had finally toppled. 'I'm afraid I must dash, Julian. The boys will be home from school and there's Henry's tea to prepare.' Ignoring his forlorn look, she picked up her bag. 'Goodbye. It was very pleasant seeing you again.' Before he could reply she trotted off to collect her trolley, already planning a change to the evening menu. She would freeze the cod and serve instead an asparagus starter, fillet steak with pepper sauce, green beans and potato salad. Henry's favourite. Long overdue.
When the blue china plates were washed and positioned on the dresser, Susan arranged the silk flowers in a terracotta jug. She gathered up the cellophane wrapper, a profusion of rubber bands, and the till receipt. She glanced at the total, the most she had spent in one go for some considerable time. Sixty-nine pounds exactly. The check-out girl had smiled as she said it, then asked if it was more or less what Susan expected. Susan had replied that it was the best day's shopping she had ever done. Real value for money.

16 comments:

Brian Miller said...

mmm interesting, there is a good moral embedded in this story...funny too how we make that grass greener than it often is...smiles.

Geraldine said...

I agree with Brian, there is food for thought here (no pun intended)!

I really enjoy your short stories Val, keep them coming.

Happy Week, G

DeniseinVA said...

Hi Valerie, right now I don't have time to read this but will be eager to when we get in the hotel tonight. Gregg has just told me we need to get out of here and start our trip. And the text must be enormous now because I enlarged it as it was too small for me. Thank you for the tip on reducing it or enlarging it. I shall figure it out tonight. Have a good one :)

A Cuban In London said...

Fascinating story. I also felt butterflies in my stomach when Sue thought of the effect Julian had on her. Who hasn't gone through a similar situation in life? :-)

Greetings from London.

Akelamalu said...

Sometimes seeing what you missed makes what you've got better. ;)

Montanagirl said...

I liked this short story! In life, there's a consequence for every action, isn't there? Keep 'em coming, Val! This was nicely done.

Valerie said...

Thanks, Mona. Yes, always a consequence.

Pearl, that's happened to me a few times.

Thank you, Geraldine, I'm on the repeats now... grins.

Brian, someone told me that the moral was too well hidden... I'm glad you spotted it... grins.

Valerie said...

A Cuban, I imagine most of us have gone through similar scenarios. I'm pleased you found the story fascinating.

Ron said...

"Susan had replied that it was the best day's shopping she had ever done. Real value for money."

Wonderful finish, Valerie!

We sometimes wonder about the choices we've made and are given the opportunity to see that, yes, we DID make the right one!

Great story with a great lesson!

Well done, dear lady!

X



Rae said...

Great story. Nicely written. Everyone needs a wake up call to be reminded of what is important.

Valerie said...

Thank you, Ron. It's funny how things occur to remind us to count our blessings.

Valerie said...

Thanks Rae, glad you enjoyed this short story.

Pat said...

Sometimes we don't realize what we have right in front of us! Great story, Val!

HermanTurnip said...

Awesome snapshot in time. Loved the expressive writing in this post. Will have to use this piece as an example of how to describe things instead of just telling the reader what they see. Again, your writing leaves me humbled...

Valerie said...

Thank you, Herman. Let me say here and now that you're writing is brilliant. The way you express scenes and things is positively awesome. Every time I read your weekly story I envy your talent.

DeniseinVA said...

Brilliant story Valerie, this was the first thing I read this morning. I'm enjoying it from a hotel room before we start our day's journey :)