Pearl welcomed Sundays as the only day she did not have to cook breakfast, lunch, tea, and supper. Rain or shine, it was a ten-minute stroll to the Rose and Crown pub, where Henry partook of a whisky and Pearl a sherry, followed by Sunday roast with all the trimmings. Lunch was followed by another short walk, a constitutional as Henry called it, to the massive castle walls that withstood the assault of Cromwell’s troops in the English Civil War. Then a leisurely look round the castle museum. Then home for tea.
As a retired history teacher, Henry had invested in an annual museum pass. It cost £50. Every Sunday, he informed Pearl the pass was a bargain, compared to the normal £8 ticket price. “Education nowadays is a joke. No-one can do basic arithmetic.”
Henry had insisted Pearl purchase her own pass, another instance of the parsimony she discovered only after they were married.
It was second time around for each of them, and Pearl had had a couple of years to reflect that loneliness might not be the worst thing in the world. Henry, she found, had an opinion on everything, even matters in which he lacked both knowledge and interest, like football.
Another reason to look forward to Sundays was that the museum visit left her free to think her own thoughts without interruption. Henry discoursed on the exhibits and never expected an answer. The jewel in the museum’s collection was the Egyptian gallery, housing artefacts donated by a local family whose ancestor had excavated tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Today Henry had explained hieroglyphs to her. Again. As he so often reminded her, someone who left school at sixteen could not be expected to know as much as he did. “We can’t all be clever, can we, dear?”
The kettle boiled and Pearl heard the music that heralded the Sunday afternoon antiques programme. Reaching into a drawer for a freshly laundered tray cloth, she poured tea into china cups and slid two slices of fruitcake onto a matching plate. No cake for her. Henry was greedy, but there was nothing she could do about that. He had put on a stone in weight since their marriage. Now he had heart trouble and refused to heed the doctor. There was nothing she could do about that either.
They watched the antiques programme together, accompanied by Henry’s commentary. Then Pearl came back into the kitchen to wash up. She made an extra cup of tea, this time using her own mug. It was a gift from her son and bore the legend Keep Calm and Drink Tea. Pearl stored it at the back of the cupboard and used it when she could be sure Henry would not enter the kitchen.
She suddenly wondered what the message would look like if written in hieroglyphs. She tore a page off the kitchen notepad and doodled a shallow bowl above an outstretched hand. She had always been good at sketching. After some thought, to symbolise Keep Calm, she added the feather of Ma’at, Egypt’s goddess of harmony, order and justice.
She crumpled her doodle and threw it into the bin. If he found it, Henry would turn pedantic and inform her the Egyptians drank beer or wine. Pearl knew that, but it was tempting to imagine Egyptian ladies sharing the latest gossip over a bowl of tea. She missed her canasta sessions with girlfriends, because Henry maintained bridge was a superior game, even though he did not play.
Contemplating the kitchen, Pearl cradled her cherished mug. She liked the Egyptian idea of an afterlife surrounded by familiar objects. However, she had moved out of her own dear house, and Henry’s kitchen was filled with Henry’s possessions.
Pearl examined the leaves she had just picked from the garden: sorrel and foxglove. She rinsed them under the tap.
“Is supper ready?” Henry called.
She whizzed sorrel soup through the blender and added cream. A pinch of sugar masked the bitter taste. The toaster popped and she buttered two slices, just as Henry liked them. Then she tore another page off the pad and drew a sarcophagus, the occupant’s crossed hands holding a knife and fork. She slid the doodle under a fresh tray cloth and ladled the soup into one of Henry’s mother’s best china bowls.
It seemed unfair to send Henry into the afterlife without marking the occasion.
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