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U3A Writing: Fire

Daphne's whole life revolved around her husband, Paul. Then Paul was no more... Edwina Duff tells of a new-born woman.

Paul was one of those husbands who made all the decisions. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, muscular man, and had married a young, petite girl ten years his junior, who never really had a chance to develop her own personality.

At first Daphne had been delighted to fall in with all Paul’s wishes, and hadn’t realized how, over time, they had become commands. Even then she couldn’t find it in herself to object, partly because he was so capable in all practical matters - the house, the garden, financial and legal affairs - there seemed no end to his knowledge and abilities. So how could she raise an objection or even state a preference, as she had attempted to do from time to time in the distant past? Everyone told her what a wonderful husband she had and, ipso facto, what a good marriage was theirs. She listened and smiled and supposed they were right.

She was certainly glad of her husband’s capabilities as in their first years they had had three children, one very quickly after another. Paul didn’t believe in family planning - though he changed his mind later when he left the Catholic Church – and she did, too, of course. Since they lived some little distance away from the village she didn’t really have any friends. ‘I’m your friend,’ Paul would say - and he was. He was everything to her.

When the children started at school she became acquainted with the other mothers, and was expected to join in various child-centred activities and to help with the occasional fund-raising. She came to realize how limited her interests were. Most of the women seemed to be doing courses, or working part-time, and planning child-free future careers for themselves. They were surprised to learn she had no plans and no interests outside the home. She told Paul about this and he lovingly assured her that the family unit was all the interest she needed in life, and he would always be there for her.

So it was bewildering for Daphne when one morning she woke up to find Paul dead beside her. A massive heart attack. This was the first time he’d failed her. He had not kept his promise. She had to cope, so she learnt to cope. How strange it was to make her own decisions and to learn from her occasional mistakes.

One day she found herself humming quite a jolly tune as she worked, then caught herself singing. Gradually a strange feeling possessed her which she vaguely remembered having felt in her childhood, and which she came to recognise as, quite simply, happiness.

Now she found she had more in common with the other mothers, and she too started to make plans and carry them out. Friendships were formed, outings arranged and she developed a particular interest in the arts.

It was whilst visiting a Goya Exhibition at a city gallery that she had a funny turn. She joined a small crowd looking at Goya’s famous painting entitled ‘The Fusillade of 3 May 1808’, in which, on a dark night in a blaze of light, the figure of a man in a white shirt, with his arms outstretched, is facing a firing squad of soldiers. Suddenly she saw in his place the figure of Paul. She heard herself whisper ‘FIRE’ and found she was smiling - a big, big smile.


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