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U3A Writing: The Gift

“Does your marriage lack romance? Are you still the woman that he married?” On the eve of her 59th birthday Madge muses about her life in this story by Beryl Roper.

Madge Bancroft sat at her kitchen table eating her lunchtime sandwich and flicking through a magazine that her daughter had left behind on her last visit. A headline caught her eye. “Does your marriage lack romance? Are you still the woman that he married?”

What chauvinistic rubbish! she thought, but read on nevertheless, answering some of the questions before throwing the magazine into the waste bin.

Tomorrow was her 59th birthday, and she and Tom would inevitably go out for a meal, and he would give her the usual present - a piece of glass for her collection. She sighed. Tom was the salt of the earth - totally reliable, entirely predictable, not given to extravagant compliments or gestures, or to talking about his feelings; but she loved him - of course she did.

Fifty-nine! Where had all the years gone? On an impulse she went upstairs and found their wedding album, which she hadn’t looked at for years. The slim red headed girl in the tightly waisted, full skirted wedding dress gazed up at the tall good looking man at her side. The photographer had managed to catch the expressions on both faces, alight with love, laughter and expectancy.

She deliberately set about recalling details of her outfit. Her dress of cream silk and lace had been a size 12 and her waist 24 inches. She looked in the long mirror - she was now a size 16 and favoured elastic waisted clothes, and dressed for comfort rather than elegance; and her hair was now coloured a little to cover the increasing silver. Tom was still an attractive man and he was the lucky type who never put on weight.

She felt an overwhelming sense of loss for the girl in the picture. Where had she gone and who would recognise her now? Her children certainly wouldn’t, and her parents had died some years ago. And Tom? Did he sometimes look for that girl?

Oh, what on earth had got into her? She was being ridiculous. She shut the book with a bang and went downstairs to start preparing a meal.

She awoke next morning to find that Tom had disappeared, but she heard him coming up the stairs and, seconds later, he came into the bedroom carrying a tray laid with their best china, and a single red rose in a small vase.

“Happy Birthday, Madge.” He gave her a hug and then, with a dramatic flourish, produced a large black and gold bag bearing the name of the town’s most elegant boutique. Madge looked on in amazement.

Tom handed her the bag. “Go on, open it.” He sat on the bed and watched as she unwrapped two exquisite garments - a frivolous nightdress in silk and lace and ribbons, and a housecoat in soft apricot colours.

“Madge, do you like them. Are they alright?”

“Tom, they are beautiful, but how did you know what size to buy? You never go into boutiques and . . .”

Tom interrupted with a grin. “Well, I was lucky - I could see that the sales girl was your size and when I saw these they looked so you that they sold themselves to me.”

Madge took a quick look at the label inside the nightgown and didn’t’ know whether to laugh or to cry. There was no mistaking the figures on the label - a very clear size 12.

“Tom, this is the best gift you’ve ever given me!” She threw her arms around him and knew that the girl in the picture was very much alive and in safe keeping.

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