This is an edited version of a monologue from a short play I wrote earlier this year called The Closed Cafe
An old lady going through a box of pictures.
Ooo now this one was taken [after inspecting the back of the picture] in ’91 by a lovely stranger. That’s us trying to pose by a column in the temple at Agrigento during that ghastly hail storm. Wait, he wasn’t a stranger! He was that chap, the father of that lovely girl, um Izzy, we met them on the bus on the journey there. They said they were driving around Sicily after her mother had just died, oh I remember now, poor thing. She couldn’t have been older than, what, thirteen, yet she was incredibly mature. We actually kept in touch for a little while after that and then she went off to uni and the letters turned into emails and now we just exchange Christmas cards.
Oh this one, this one is much more recent. That is a Chow Ch– no a Pomeran – a Chihuahua! – no, that can’t be right… [turns picture over] Ah, a Border Collie. This was taken the last summer we knew we had together before his last major surgery. We had taken the train all the way to Braunton – we thought about going to Brighton, but Jane Austen didn’t care much for the place, so we went to Saunton Sands instead. We’d heard lots of good things but nothing prepared us for the sight. This beach must have been miles and miles long. And miles and miles wide. Lots of people were gathered by the end next to the cliff-face and this wonderful, white, Art-Deco hotel, so we wandered along further away, following the edge of the sea, paddling here and there. I remember he said that the foam on the waves looked like little white stampeding elephants, and then they turned into the most delicate lace over our feet. It was beautiful. It’s incredible how such a simple, ordinary, everyday phenomenon like the waves breaking can be quite so magical…
While we walked, we talked, and we walked and we talked for what seemed like hours, until suddenly we realised that there was absolutely no one else around. All we could see were little specks of people and this gleaming white dot that was the hotel. See, as we’d walked there were fewer and fewer people – but the proportion of dogs certainly increased, much to my husband’s delight. We had to stop and pet each one, ask their name, their breed, how sweet and obedient it was – this was before I got Geraldine. He’d said to me “you’re getting a dog. You’re going to need the company after I leave and we’re apart for a while.” Geraldine is so sweet; she’s a sweet little Fox Terrier, or is she a Dachshund – no, wait those are the ones with the pointy nose and the long legs. Anyway, so you see, he was all over these pretty little things. Some of them not so little! I remember this humongous beast of a thing – a newfound dog his owner called him, I think. Oof he was such a gentle giant, such a playful thing, but so hot, my word. An his slobber was all over everywhere!… Not that he minded of course; never did…
[Closes the box of pictures] We didn’t talk about it. We knew on the train we wouldn’t. Neither of us acknowledged this, of course, but we just didn’t. We wanted this to be our special little moment, this extraordinarily ordinary, cancer free bubble.
Life is so unbelievably short. People never realise this until it’s too late. But we made sure we didn’t: we made a pact before our wedding, right there in the church doorway, right before the ceremony. We promised to never take the time we had together for granted. So we didn’t. By God, we didn’t.
We did so much together! Travelled to the far corners of the earth and stayed at home when we wanted. We studied and worked hard – five degrees, four masters and two PhDs between the two of us, thank you very much. And we cooked supper together every night; you know, cooking is such a team sport, people seem to always make dinner for their husbands and wives on the telly but really you should do it together – that’s the fun part, the romantic part. And whenever we travelled, we always went with the children and we always wrote about it. There’s a box of all our little travel journals somewhere, perhaps I’ll look for it later. Yes, I think I will, that’d do me some good.
I miss him. Really miss him.
Don’t ever let your loved ones slip away. I never did and it still hurt to see him leave me behind – [full of pain] it hurt so much. I can’t imagine how distraught people must be when people let their loved ones go years before they move on.
Don’t be like them. Be like us.