The Commitment

After John’s retirement, they’d quickly settled into a very relaxed routine, with both exploring new opportunities, conscious of the free time they now had. Whilst children and grandchildren, placed occasional demands on them, their distant location made it more a planned arrangement, rather than the ad hoc call seeking help with a sick child.

They would still get up relatively early in the morning. The habits of previous working lives, quite entrenched. John would potter around, making tea, putting on the television, watching the news, whilst Susan would prepare to feed her menagerie of wildlife.

The adjacent, impenetrable hedge was a refuge for masses of birds and squirrels, sharing facilities with overfed, overweight pigeons. Occasional visits from the special one; a local Sparrow Hawk, was evidenced by pigeon feathers fluttering on adjacent grass, and a stillness in total bird life activity for many hours.

By mid-morning, they were usually seated in their conservatory, sharing the local and national papers. Susan tried to access the national one first, otherwise, she’d inevitably end up with John, reading out specific issues from the publication. When she eventually opened the paper, it was quite deja vu. Protests to John were met with familiar arguments.

“Susan listen; you know I love to talk about key issues with you. Right here, and, in the here and now. Never forget, how much I value your experience.” Such, discussions, were inevitably based on issues identified by John, with very few surprises. Until today.

John was singularly quiet, as he absorbed the pages, before focusing on one particular story. As he read, and clearly read again, Susan was poised for his inevitable response.

“Look at this. How awful. How can people behave like that to one another?”

Sometimes, Susan would cynically pre-empt him.

“Come on John. What headline has grabbed your attention today. Brief me on the content sweetie, please!” Susan would urge before “Then I won’t have to think, evaluate, or come to a view myself.”

This would inevitably start them giggling, with both dissolving into belly laughs, in response to John’s supposed exclusive view of the world, and Susan’s selective amnesia.

Today was different. She was sure John had a tear in his eye, as he put down the newspaper, slid open the conservatory doors and walked into the depths of their extended garden. Susan watched John’s motionless figure some 50 yards away. then guiltily picked up the newspaper at the opened page.

It was a report of the death of two elderly, frail British people, both in their late 80’s, who’d booked themselves into a hotel in Paris. Apparently, they’d used the same hotel for their honeymoon, some 50 years earlier, and been found dead in their bedroom, cuddling up together, with a suggestion of joint suicide, involving alcohol and drugs.

As she settled back in her chair, and read the article again, Susan experienced a dull pain in her upper abdomen and chest. Both were aware that her life expectancy was now limited to months, rather than years, and yet despite advice and support from the cancer team, so far they’d not told their children or extended family of the prognosis.

She felt a cold draft around her legs, and realised that John had quietly opened the patio doors, and was stood alongside her. Susan felt a sense of anxiety, as she turned to him.

“John. It’s my turn for the headlines. Have you seen this story about the elderly couple who went back to their honeymoon hotel in Paris, 50 years after they got married. Same room, same hotel, but not the same outcome!”

“What do you mean, outcome?” John asked gently. She saw a distinct wetness in his eyes and knew that he had been as affected by the article as she was.

“Susan, their outcome, was one of the saddest and most loving responses between a couple that I’ve ever read.”.

She responded immediately. “I know that darling. I understand exactly where you’re coming from John. But don’t you realise this couple could be us.” She hesitated.

“It’s up to you darling. My time is limited, whereas yours is quite different. To some extent darling, I’m quite relieved. I’ve always dreaded being the one left behind. I simply couldn’t cope. You do so much for both of us. No?”

John looked at her intently, then nodded. Susan continued.

“Do you want to consider it. when it’s right?”

He took a deep breath, then smiled.

“Susan, I know we never made Paris. Never even had a proper honeymoon. But my best memory is of that cheap B & B in Jersey. Remember? We did a runner the same day, because the first place was so awful. Then we found that lovely little place right on the seafront. What was the landlady’s name? Doreen?”

“Doris. Doris from Blackpool, but settled in Jersey.

Susan laughed. “But what fun, and Doris was lovely.”

“So if we did it; no Paris hotel? What about Jersey B & B?”

“Absolutely not John. This is our home. Our garden, my birds, squirrels, and smashing memories.” She giggled anxiously. before exclaiming.

“Besides, who needs Paris!” Then Susan paused.

“You do know what to do? Don’t you? John?” He slowly nodded.

“Then it’s just a question of when, really, isn’t it?”. John nodded again.

There was a slow drift of snow across the garden and adjacent trees, the whiteness embracing and permeating the area. The garden was totally silent, as if the Sparrow Hawk was nearby.

He lay alongside her for several hours before standing up, walking into the adjacent bathroom and rinsing two glasses. Having replaced them on the bedroom dresser, John leaned forwards, and gently kissed Susan on her already chilled forehead. He spoke softly.

“I’m so sorry my darling. I just wasn’t ready, but I couldn’t find a way of telling you.”

John moved into the hallway, and dialled 999.

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