Friends

09 September 2017

'Value for Money' (A 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 blue and white 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 collapsed.

'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 and white 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.

28 comments:

Mac n' Janet said...

I always enjoy your writing and this was one of the best. Sometimes we just need a good whack so that we realize how much we already have.

Valerie said...

Thank you, Janet. I am pleased you enjoyed it. I am trying to single out a few of the better ones.

Sharon Qualls said...

I really liked that. I like your stories!

Valerie said...

Thank you, Sharen. Glad you enjoyed this one.

Joy Robinson said...

First time commenting. love the story. Joy

Ron said...

Oh, what a faaaaaaaabulous ending, Valerie!

And I absolutely LOVE the way you describe your characters because you make them come alive (bother visually and characteristically) through your words; given a crystal clear image.

"It seemed only yesterday that Julian had waltzed off with Sadie, a fashion model with hooks instead of claws."

Ha! Brilliant!

Thanks for sharing the repeat, my friend. This is one I don't think I read before, so I'm glad your gave it a second publication.

Hope you're enjoying your weekend!
X

Valerie said...

Thank you, Joy, and nice to meet you.

Valerie said...

Good morning, Ron. I once went to a mini writing school and it was drummed into me the importance of detailed descriptions in order to make the characters seem real. The students were repeatedly told to stop and think about situations and to describe them as realistically as possible.

Ooooh, sorry, I didn't mean to go on....lol.

Hope you're having a good weekend, my friend.

Treey said...

Interesting story Valerie. πŸ‘

Valerie said...

Thank you, Treey

Denise inVA said...

Brilliantly told Valerie. I just love your stories.

Valerie said...

Oooh thanks you, Denise. I thought this oldie might go down well on the blog.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

As a recent newcomer to your blog posts, Valerie, it is such a delight for me to find one of your stories. I enjoyed this one very much and thank you for sharing your creative talent.

Valerie said...

Thank you, Beatrice, I am pleased that you enjoyed this story. I am hunting through the list to find a few more that I can repost. Watch this space.

Geraldine Hartman said...

Another unique and engaging tale Val, well done.πŸ˜‚

Hope you and Charlie have a wonderful week.🌼🌼

Valerie said...

Thanks, Geraldine, and Charlie also said thanks for thinking of him.

Geraldine said...

PS: Pawkisses and headbonks from Mr. Cheddar too.😽🐱 ----Isn't this color puuuurfect,just like Cheddar fur lol!!!

How is your weather? Do it snow there very much?

Valerie said...

Geraldine. Weather not too bad although high winds are predicted for today. We've had an awful year, weather-wise, but no snow yet. We didn't have any last year either, the weather certainly has changed.

Carole said...

Thanks for the picture Valerie! I quickly found it on Amazon and just ordered it. You are a lifesaver :-)

troutbirder said...

I like stories reinforcing tried and true maxims. Being always cautious about believing the pasture on the other side of the fence is always greener...:)

Valerie said...

Carole, you're welcome. I'm quite proud of that idea!

Valerie said...

Thanks, TB.

Mr. Shife said...

Another excellent one, Val. Thanks for sharing.

Denise inVA said...

Always an excellent story Valerie. You are a first class writer.

Valerie said...

Thank you, Denise.... head swelling as I type!

Valerie said...

Many thanks, Matt.

LL Cool Joe said...

I really enjoyed reading this!

Valerie said...

I am pleased that you did enjoy it, Joe. Thanks for taking the time to read it.