A cup of tea in a china cup sits snug in the saucer on the cutting board. Rob’s cuppa, bag submerged but not squeezed, and a drop of milk to leaven it a smidgen, and two sugar cubes on the side, thank you.
We have our little routines like all couples. This is is the way we live.
Every time I bring him his twice-hourly cuppa and the steams rising off just like always , he says, “You´ll burn the roof of my mouth off.”. I think a good cuppa should scald the tongue. Tepid cuppas risk all sorts of horrid throat infections, I´m sure . He keeps on typing away, doesn’t look up. He makes me think of a giant squirrel scritch-scratching away at that old typewriter. And I say he’s a big baby. And he says there aren’t many babies that make the money he does writing stories in a garden shed.
“Once the next one is done, he says head stuck to the bulbous keys, “this baby’s taking us to Malaga”. And we laugh. Well, he laughs at the movement of his hands over that loathsome beetle of a typewriter, I smile. The last one took a year to write.
And then I leave so I can take the washing from the line.
Except I can’t find the blasted tea tray, and without the tea tray I can’t take his cuppa down to him.
Damn it, where is it?
I know it will be where it shouldn’t; I really am forgetful. It’s not like there’s anyone else in the cottage to spirit it away. And most of the time he’s firing off his epistles to his publisher waiting for the next big pay cheque. I’ve tried the space under the sink where I keep the bits and bobs to fix the breakables. When I look through the window of the kitchen I can see the shed by the copse of trees; the blush of Begonias he planted late last spring. I had to teach him how to handle the potting trowel, and that gloves though unwieldy prevent the skin blistering. Gosh, he looked so silly in his floppy green. And when I’m with him – laden, flushed to see him – he´ll say we’re a team and aren´t I pleased that we escaped the rat race, and then it’ll be true. When I’m with him it couldn’t be better.
Afterwards I’ll try and find the synonyms for lonely in the dictionary for an eight space clue in the Times crossword, while I wait for the joint to cook in the Aga we salvaged from a tip back when we were students and his writing career hadn’t yet begun.
People ask me what it’s like living with a writer. They probably imagine copious glasses of wine and Proust, stains on the floor, fiery loins, bum on the kitchen table, him coming first. In Reality: it’s probably not a great deal different from being a vicar’s wife but redemption isn’t part of the bonus.
I can’t give him the cup straight away because he won’t see the effort. Bella magazine says even the best marriages founder if you don’t make the effort. I’d be walking down the path to the garden right now if I had put the silly tray back in its place, and life would be simple like it never is. Rob and I say that it is one of the niggles of the job, not being able to spend as much time together as we’d like. It’s not like he can reel out his books like fish from a pond. It takes time, he says. Sometimes he’ll wake up, hair bedraggled, and drag on a pair of pajamas bottoms, and say inspiration’s hit, we’ll be rich. And I’ll pick up the morning papers with the post, still in my dressing gown, and wonder about this strange man who I am sharing sharing a bed with, and clear up the mess he left in the kitchen. I won’t see much of him until tea-time and then he’ll be off in his own world – full of plot twists, and the occasional bit of audience participation.
There isn’t much work in a village like Togglin – in fact there’s little to speak of anything, except livestock. Mustn´t grumble. That’s what my mum would say. Daft old mare, never knew how to give advice. It’s been three years since I picked up her stuff from the hospital, wrapped in a Sainsbury’s carrier bag. Somewhere among the clutter of pills, loose change, and pajamas washed and folded by the hospital was the brush – the same tortoiseshell I used to run through her grey locks every morning. Soft as a baby’s I’d tell her.
“But I’m not a baby, am I Annie?” she’d say, “I’m an old woman.”
Mam never did like being buttered up, but I think she got worse near the end. The brush is on the bedside cabinet with the rest of what Rob calls my lady business.
Where has that tray gone?
I guess I’ll just have to take it down to him as it is. Somehow, it seems naked on the tray. Mam didn’t like the old people’s home very much, said it was full of the dying.
“They’ll be wheeling in cadavers next, mark my words.”
I guess we all have to die soon. Sometimes when I have a mad moment, I think of phoning up a taxi firm and when they ask me for a destination, say “airport, please.” The passport’s under the mattress and there’s sufficient in my current account to survive a week or two while I make a new life for myself.
But I know he wouldn’t cope. And though Mam didn’t like Rob much, there’s no going back.
Till Death do us part, that’s what they say isn’t it?
Oh well, tea’s waiting.
Where is that tray?