A short story for the young-at-heart
This story was published in the May 2000 edition of Yours, a magazine for the young-at-heart.
Whatever happened to that magical sparkle? by Rosalind Adam
We’d been married 45 years and I was determined to have a party. When I mentioned it to Jack at breakfast he didn’t seem very keen. He looked at me with the sort of expression that he used to reserve for the children’s birthday parties.
“Oh, Mary, have you really thought it through?” he said. “There’s the shopping and cooking and all those people. Why ever do you want to create such a lot of hard work for yourself?”
“It’s 45 years, Jack, and anyway, it’ll be fun. All those people, as you call them, are our friends and family, and it’s not that hard entertaining, not if we decide to spend a bit more and get ready-made stuff from the supermarket.”
I could tell from the twist of his lips that he didn’t approve of what he calls ‘unnecessary expense’ but he didn’t say anything. He just shrugged and went out into the garden.
I watched him through the window as he edged the lawn, the knees of his trousers all mud-stained and an old tartan hat pulled down over his forehead. He did look a sight and, what’s more, he’d be out there all day. I’d hardly seen him since he’d retired. In fact, I think I saw more of him when he was at work.
I settled down at the kitchen table to start planning our party. The radio was playing away to itself. I was concentrating on sausage rolls and salmon sandwiches.
“And now for some songs from way back when…” I barely heard the voice from the radio but then the song began and it overwhelmed me.
“Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen…”
Danny Kaye’s voice was stirring up long-forgotten memories, memories of our first date. Jack had taken me to see Hans Christian Andersen at the Odeon and it had been magical, especially when Jack held my hand. I was in love and when I got home I’d sung that song over and over again until my Mother had insisted that she couldn’t stand it any more. It was such a happy memory. Why did it make me feel sad?
“You are daft,” I told myself as I went and put the kettle on. “Jack” I called through the open door, “are you ready for a cuppa?”
“Not just yet, love. I’ve only got this strip to edge, then I’ll be done.”
Yes, I thought, and then there’ll be the vegetable patch to weed or the roses to deadhead. I started to sing along with Danny Kaye, just as I had done all those years ago. I took out cups and saucers from the cupboard but my mind was somewhere else. I was back in my parents’ front room, Wonderful Copenhagen was playing on my father’s gramophone, and Jack was asking me to marry him. I clutched the empty teapot in my arms as a magical sparkle rushed through my body, making me shiver. Just for the moment I was young and in love again.
It had been exciting showing my ring to everyone, making all those plans, and of course this song became even more special to us after that evening. I’d had wild dreams of going to Copenhagen for our honeymoon but I knew we’d never be able to.
“Maybe we could go to Torquay,” I’d said to Jack. “It’s a lovely place for a honeymoon.” I can remember his reply clearly.
“But we’ll need a kettle and pots and pans and things,” he’d said. “They’ll be much more use than an expensive holiday. Be sensible, love.”
Sensible! I’d spent 45 years of my life ‘being sensible’. I slammed down the teapot and went to turn off the radio. I’d had enough of nostalgia for one day, but then the music made me stop. It was Jonnie Ray and he was singing Walking my baby back home. He sounded so close and so young. It was as if the years were all layers of heavy clothing that had fallen from my shoulders. I was light and free and 18 again. I could smell Evening in Paris dabbed behind my ears and I was walking along the street with my very own version of Jonnie Ray. His name was Gerry and he was really handsome.
Fancy thinking of him. I’d forgotten he existed and yet I could see him in my mind as clearly as if he’d just walked me to the gate. He used to sing this song to me whenever he saw me home. It always made me laugh, the way he pretended to be Johnnie Ray.
“Where’s that cup of tea then?” asked Jack coming up behind me and making me jump. While we were drinking our tea I tried again to talk to him about the party arrangements but he was obviously not interested. He was more concerned about a patch of moss he’d discovered down by the path. I felt thoroughly miserable all afternoon.
That evening I decided to try once more. I waited until we’d cleared away the supper things and were settled down in front of the television.
“Jack, about his party…”
“Can’t it wait ‘til after the news?”
“No!” I muttered to myself. “It can’t wait until after the news.”
I rushed into the kitchen and stood staring out of the window into the darkness, remembering again those days of Johnnie Ray and dances in the Church Hall… and Gerry. We were only kids really, but it had been such good fun. He was always doing wild, crazy things, like the time he tried to balance on the top of our privet hedge. One minute he was there and the next he’d disappeared from sight. My Father was livid.
“He’s a bad influence on you. He’s unreliable and unpredictable. You can do much better for yourself, my girl,” he’d said.
What I wouldn’t give for a little unpredictability right now, I thought. I wanted to do something wild and crazy and spur-of-the-moment. I could hear the newscaster on the TV still droning away. Whatever happened to Gerry? I wonder if he ever got married. Does he still live around here? I glanced at the phone book.
“Just a little peep,” I said to myself and suddenly I was scooping through the pages. Gerry Maywood… there wouldn’t be many Maywoods in the directory… and there he was… G R Maywood… Gerald Robert. So he was still around. I decided not to look at the address. That would be wrong, and anyway, I now knew where to find it.
A tingle of excitement fluttered through my body. What would he look like now? Would he still be as crazy as ever? I glanced at the phone and bit my lip nervously. Had I really got the courage to ring him?
“Are you making a cup of tea before we go up?” For the second time that day Jack made me jump.
“No! I am not making a cup of tea before we go up and do you have to say the same thing every night?” I turned and stomped up the stairs to bed. I felt frustrated with the boring repetition that had become my life. I heard Jack come up the stairs soon after I got into bed but I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep.
Thoughts of Gerry wouldn’t leave my mind. Surely there would be no harm in a phone call, for old times’ sake. We could meet up for a coffee, maybe. I don’t know how long I lay awake with enticing thoughts rushing around in my head but I did finally slip into a restless sleep.
I woke up just as a grey light was edging its way around the side of the curtains. The excitement of last night had turned to sadness and emptiness. I was lying on my side with my back to Jack. I didn’t want to move. I thought of his grubby trousers and shabby old hat. Whatever happened to that magical sparkle we once had?
I remembered our first Christmas together. He’d brought me up a cup of tea in bed and he was wearing a bright scarlet Santa Claus cape and an enormous white beard made out of cotton wool. We laughed so much we almost spilt the tea in the bed.
Did I really look up Gerry’s phone number last night? How could I even have thought of such a thing? I slowly became aware that there was no movement from Jack’s side of the bed. What if he’d had a heart attack while I’d been dreaming about another man? I twisted my body around and, to my surprise, he’d gone.
Before I could go to see where he was, he came in through the door, carrying a tray with a vase containing one of my favourite orange roses. Next to the vase were two cups of tea and a card with my name on it.
“What’s all this about?” I said creasing my forehead into a frown.
“It’s about you trying to organise an anniversary party,” His cheeks were flushed and he hesitated for a moment. “It was supposed to be a surprise, but I can see I’ll have to give it to you now otherwise it’ll all go wrong.”
I carefully opened the card. Inside were two air-tickets to Copenhagen and confirmation of four nights in a hotel overlooking Tivoli Gardens. The flight was to depart on the morning of our anniversary, the day I’d been planning to invite all those people round.
I sniffed the rose and placed the tray on the floor. I put my arms around Jack and held him tightly. That magical sparkle – we still had it after all.