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Clement's Corner: Parallel Lives

Dorothy and Jack have been married fifty years, but how close to one another will they be now that Jack has retired? Owen Clement tells a tale of parallel lives.

Dorothy Strahan’s day got worse as it progressed. She had come home weary from being on her feet all day manning the charity stall because her elderly helper Mabel Fortitude had forgotten to bring a chair, and then, immediately had to start preparing a meal to be on the table by six o’clock for her husband Jack.

Those who knew her considered her a reasonable person. Jack, her husband of fifty years on the other hand, was not. You may wonder how two such complete opposites remained husband and wife for all those years. It could be that having taken a vow to be Jack’s wife for better or for worse, she accepted her lot and made the best of it, or, that she enjoyed another life. Her exceptional organizing skills saw her much in demand in volunteer organizations. She was presently president of the local Country Woman’s Association and Chairperson of the Arts committee.

To Jack, a tax accountant, sport was his his obsession. Every evening he would sit in his chair with his two tabloid newspapers and thoroughly scan every word on the back pages. On Friday evenings and on weekends he would watch hours of television, catching up on sports activities world wide. Whenever his favourite rugby union team played,his mate Gerry Jones, another avid fan, would arrive and they would go through a few beers as they agonized over their team’s losses or revelled in its wins. Dorothy ensured she was elsewhere at those times. One could honestly say that they led parallel lives. Side by side, though somewhat apart, they travelled through those fifty years.

This arrangement Dorothy was to discover, was about to end. Jack, now seventy-five, had decided to sell his practice as the tax laws were becoming more and more complex. Some of his clients, aware of his failings, had gradually found other accountants who promised them better returns.

Dorothy too had been finding her activities more demanding and was frustrated at not finding younger members willing to take over the executive positions.

“Dotty,” Jack had said that evening while they were washing up, “I reckon we’ve earned a holiday.''

Holidays when the children were young meant annual trips to the same beachside caravan park, where Dorothy had just as many duties to perform, only under more difficult conditions. When the children left home, she and Jack spent their holidays staying with them and their families. As usual, she was called on to help with household chores and with the children. Saying nothing, she continued with the dishes.

“This time”, he had continued,” I think we should travel overseas. I fancy Europe, what do you say?”

Momentarily taken aback and not fully believing him she had said noncommittally “Sounds lovely dear.'' Travelling around Europe with Jack was quite beyond her comprehension. “What brought this on?” she asked, trying not to sound surprised.

“Well you know, I’ve always wanted to see a test match at Lords.”

“Ah,'' she murmured.

“I know it’s not your thing, but I’m sure you’ll find lots to do.”

After some consideration she said, “And when do you plan this to happen?”

“I’d like us to leave in a couple of months.''

“A couple of months!” In astonishment she turned to face him.

”Yes, you see the Test starts about then.”

“And when did this brainwave hit you?”

“Now that I’ve retired...''

“Retired?'' She was even more surprised.

“Didn’t I mention it? I’ve sold the practice. The new man takes over in a month’s time.”

She looked at him in utter amazement. Having known that he always suited himself, she should not have been shocked. Saying nothing she turned back and busied herself by emptying the sink and wiping the bench.

“Well, what do you say?”

She stopped what she was doing and said "I’ll have to think about it. There is so much to be done.''

“My secretary has offered to arrange the bookings and accommodation.''

“Yes but what about me, I have certain responsibilities that need organizing too.” Dorothy said sharply.

“Surely someone can take them over.” Jack said dismissively. He never did grasp the extent of his wife’s activities. To him they were something she did merely to fill in her time, nothing more.

“Yes, well, I’ll still have to think about it.”

He shrugged, disappointed in her lack of enthusiasm. Being Friday evening, he collected a stubby of light ale from the refrigerator then moved to the living room to settle down and watch the game being telecast.

Dorothy went to the bedroom and lay down wearily, her mind in turmoil. Firstly, with the news of Jack’s retirement, secondly, of him wanting to go overseas and finally, of what she was going to say to the other members of the committees.

Before Jack headed off in the morning, she told him not to worry his secretary as she would make all the arrangements. She then contacted members of both committees to say that they would have to manage for a few weeks without her. She also rang Jack’s friend Gerry and his wife Pat and arranged for them to meet her for lunch the next day without Jack knowing.

A week before the flight she informed Jack that everything had been arranged and handed him two grandstand tickets for the test match; ecstatic he immediately called Gerry with the news.

Jack had been kept busy for almost the entire time handing over the accounts and introducing the new owner to the clients.

Waiting for the taxi to arrive to pick them up for the airport Dorothy said “Jack, I’m not going with you.''

“What?” He blinked in amazement.

“I’m not going with you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course you’re going.”

“No, Gerry is. Everything is arranged, your accommodation, your fares, everything.''

”Now listen, Dorothy... “

“We’d both be miserable,” she broke in, “this way you and Gerry can do all the things you have always wanted to do. Gerry has also organized tickets for Wimbledon, for soccer matches and even a game at Cardiff Park in Wales. He’ll tell you all about it on the flight.''

The taxi arrived and Dorothy immediately ushered Jack to the door.

“Are you going to stay with one of the kids?” he asked.

“No dear, I have lots to do here, I’ll be fine.''

Jack continued to argue and offer instructions until they arrived at the airport where they found Gerry and Pat waiting. Noticing a long queue for checking in, Gerry hustled his friend to join the line saying, “Come on mate, we’ll have a ball.''

“Have a great time you two.” Dorothy said as she and Pat kissed their husbands goodbye.

When Gerry and Jack were out of sight in the security area, Dorothy turned to Pat and said, “Well I married him for better or worse, though I'm not sure that included having him home for lunch every day.''

© Clement 2006


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