The chiropractor asked if we are married. Marie said we weren’t. I smiled as I was able to remind Marie about her past medical history. “I’m not interrupting, am I?” Marie laughed despite her back ache.
Afterwards, she said she felt bubbles in her veins and had to walk about for a bit. I was pleased to walk, however awkward my legs were, as I’d sat through her hour of treatment. Marie said she could feel the benefits after just one session. We ordered carrot cake and shared some dandelion and burdock at an art installation cafe.
Then we watched a video in darkness. The screen projected large fingers with cardboard hands on each. They clapped like finger puppets. I wondered why I was restless. It was like not being able to sleep when Marie stayed with me. I wanted to be awake every moment as our time together was limited.
Marie was used to sleeping alone. So, we didn’t cuddle all night. We held feet instead of hands so she had space and didn’t get too hot. She no longer had to put a pillow between us to support her back. The chiropractor had been a really good experience and we felt intimate.
It always amazes me how Marie remembers song lyrics. Then, as I’m recalling her history to the chiropractor’s questions, I realise that I do listen. I just respond to the song’s melodies more than the words. I do attend. But it depends on the context and the purpose. I switch off when listening to music. That’s why I ask Marie to turn the car stereo off. I attend to her instead.
“It’s not my cup of tea,” she texts as she later says she had mushrooms and fried eggs for tea. I know that you wouldn’t eat beef stew. You’re a vegetarian, I text. Later, she asks me why I left my partner. It was the little things, I reply.
“I’d have pulled the gate off its hinges and burned it,” she says. I feel sad because I know Marie would do no such thing. She is being incongruous. I wouldn’t even need to ask her to close the gate a second time. Even with her hands full of shopping bags, Marie would go back and shut the gate. It is different with her.
She listens and remembers. I do tidy up after Marie. But it’s no hardship. I just like to be organised. I think that’s from being in the army. Marie still insists she’d have burned the gate.
“No! You would not.” Marie texts some laughter faces. She is teasing me. I can’t believe how tetchy I’ve been. I just know I listen more to her. I am older than I was. But I just give back what I receive. Marie has shown me love. And I have fed those loving acts with thoughtfulness.
The Full English
“I am absolutely gagging for a fried breakfast. Sausages, fried bread…” Marie laughs. Nothing else enters my mind as I help her with her coat. We head over to a cafe that takes me back to my truck driving days. I locate a squeezy bottle of mayonnaise and Marie finds a table. “They do vegetarian sausages,” she beams. “Don’t you like ketchup?” She knows I think tomato sauce is for girls. I growl like a man and she laughs.
The breakfasts are brought over and I am consumed by the extra large plate full with three slices of toast on the side. I go straight for the black pudding, mushrooms and beans. I chew as a tension is relieved. I can taste it. My eyes are closed as I slowly savour my mouthful.
“Why do you love me?” I look at her. I smile. “You should never ask a serious question when a man is eating.” I put my fork down and multi-task. It’s not a distraction because I do love Marie. “I love our patience,” I say. “We both have that.” She smiles and listens.
“When you’re outside, your dark brown hair looks almost ginger or red. You look so girly on bright summer days. It reminds me that you take risks and let your hair down sometimes. I love how youthful you look.” She smiles.
“Then, sometimes when you wear your glasses, you look like a school teacher. Do you remember looking like a surgeon, in scrubs, with that apron you wear at work?” Marie nods and laughs.
“Well, you remind me about how responsible you are as a mother and at work. I can’t believe you spin so many plates. You say I’m more laid back. But I’d wobble if I had to live your average day. You’re an enigma.” I think. “You’re my star!”
I tell her that she is preferred without make-up and that I will love her no matter how she looks. “It comes from within.” I tell her that eye liner almost makes her look oriental – or at least, Spanish. I talk about her face shapes and how long or round her cheekbones look at different angles. “You could pass for three or four different women.”
I love her because she listens and second guesses what I’m thinking. Marie seems to be one step ahead of my needs or wants. She always has time for other people too.
I take a few mouthfuls of my breakfast as she beams. Then I talk about the time she video called me on the train. There was a noisy crowd of football supporters who intimidated an older lady by shouting and climbing on the seats. Marie wasn’t afraid to confront them in a non-threatening manner. They calmed down before the conductor came. Then she reassured the lady. “I do fear that you’ll come unstuck,” I say, “but you do right not to ignore it.” Too many people turn a blind eye nowadays.
“I also really love the ways you spend time with your kids. You teach them traditional things. I mean, you can easily afford to ‘fob them off’ but you don’t. You bake, make jigsaws and craft. Your girls care about other children and they apply themselves instead of fritting their times away.”
“They do have fun,” she answers. “Yes. But they take a real interest in the environment and other’s difficulties. They’re beyond their years, really.” Marie smiles. She smiles a big smile.
“I think I love your deep, dark eyes best of all. Do you know where my favourite place in the world is?” She shrugs and scoops up some beans. “Your left shoulder.” We both laugh.
There is a happy silence as we eat. I tell her how I drifted through painful days for months. I talk about seeing everything brand new again and I talk about my writing. I love to write about the human condition; about social commentary but I’m also attracted to the escapism of horror. I just don’t quite know how to marry the two. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I want to write about anything that feels real, alive or…dead. I laugh.
“Ah! The Horror – yes!” She loves to listen to me talk about books. Marie says I come alive with my passions. “I know you say it comes from within but it’s nice to have a muse,” I reply.
She smiles again. “Marie! You don’t need to worry about me. I have this knack of overcoming adversity because I have a strong faith. I believe in you too. You give me hope. And I’ll always look out for you. I always will. As much as I can promise…”
There is a silence as we comfortably eat together. She passes the mayonnaise before I even reach for it. She knows that I love her. It’s just nice to hear it sometimes. She can see how much I care by my purposes in life. Marie says, “actions speak louder.” And it’s true. I was bowled over by the milk-tray pillows and the trips out with the video calls. She always seems to choose the right presents, too.
I love to scrub her back and brush her hair. I like to moisturise her legs and make her green tea. These are all acts of love. Sometimes though, it’s just nice to hear “I love you.” It’s nice to hear words because words make things happen. We finish our breakfasts. I am stuffed but managed to finish the extra large plate. “I think we’ll skip puddings,” she laughs.
Marie gives me strength and convinced me to try spinach. I wrote her a poem:
“Was your day OK?” It’s just you
look away and I don’t bee
line to your honey smooth
forehead. I don’t see your worries –
those collected in blemishes or bags or
even uneven sags that I don’t see.
You are not Exhibit A or B
or even C to be looked at like
a commodity. You are more,
my eternal amour. You
are my best sounding-board friend
and the perfect true love; my lover in dreams
and in each creamy rich chocolate
waking hour and day. The only
one with that timeless girl’s heart – like
the laughter of bicycle rides –
and that sunrise smile as you nurture
other smiles around you.
You wear it loosely, care-free
as you ‘pay it forward’ or tightly tied
back on those few fraught long days.
Your happiest actions
outshine all that is outward
as they come from somewhere
softly ageless and inside. So,
let me now ask you, please.
You are important to me,
“Are you alright?”
“Was your day OK?”
Haddock and chips
It’s a lovely summer evening so we head to the park with wrapped fish and chips. There are lots of dogs running free. I think people are more tolerant here. People in London would probably have their dogs on a tight leash. We get lots of “hellos” and eye contact. Marie and I find a park bench overlooking a quiet football pitch.
“Did you order extra chips?” There is a mountain of them. The server didn’t skimp on salt and vinegar either. I start laughing. “Bloody hell! That’s a heart attack waiting to happen.” Marie’s eyes widen. The haddock is absolutely swimming in fat. It wasn’t even drained from the deep fat fryer. She chuckles and says, “I think you’re supposed to catch it first.” We eat off the same white paper which is threatening to tear beneath the sodden fish.
Mitzi ambles over. She looks like a white Yorkshire Terrier. The owners vaguely call her but leave the dog to sniff at our tea. I’m not sure if to throw some chips on the grass. I ask Marie if I’m quite reserved. She smiles and strokes Mitzi. My fingers are really greasy. “I think you think about your actions on others,” she replies.
At last, the owners call their dog. We look over the field onto the horizon. Marie nuzzles into my shoulder. “We can’t just ride off into the sunset,” she says. “We both have responsibilities.” I feel sad. I’m going home early in the morning. I agree – although I’m trying to find a workable solution. There is silence. Then we find a bin for the daft amount of left-over chips and hold hands back to the car.
“We really should have had some tea,” Marie says. I fall back onto the pillows trying to catch my breath. “Yes. But the macaroons were tasty.” We have just made love again like we invented it. I feel like a teenager despite the aches. Marie has thought about everything.
The hotel room has a large window which overlooks the bar and eatery with a glass roof. I talk about listening to the rain on windows. “It’s like being in the womb. I love being snuggled up in bed whilst listening to the rain on the window.” Marie agrees. We make love again. Then cries as I moisturise her legs. “No-one has ever done that for me before,” she says. “Well, you ordered the array of ‘milk tray pillows’ for my neck,” I reply. I like to scrub her back in the bath, too. I like to show her a maternal love as well as the more manly kind.
I cuddle Marie and she drifts off. I am too busy with my thoughts. The hotel room has oriental-like sliding doors to the bathroom and a writing table. I think about making a quick coffee. Marie awakes as the kettle boils. I make a coffee. She is grumpy as she stomps to the bathroom. “I’m not Jesus, you know,” she barks, half asleep. Marie has to be up early for work.
I later ask her if she remembers that night. “Of course! But I don’t remember mentioning Jesus.” I smile. “That hotel room had the world’s loudest kettle.”
Cheese and Ham Baguette
The first time it happened was on my very few trips into town. The short bus ride really makes my neck and arms sore. There’s too much braking, swerving and accelerating and too many potholes. I don’t enjoy going out. It’s purely functional and I’ve had enough after two shops. I really can’t browse CDs – the pains distract as it feels like I’m standing on children’s building bricks.
I am sat eating a ham and cheese baguette with a latte. I bite into the hard crust and then there’s a shock. I wipe the sweat from my brow. I spit the tooth into the palm of my hand. My tongue searches for the new gap and I think about getting older. I finish my sandwich as I text Marie. “When did you last go to the dentist?” I frown. I am sweating more.
The second tooth presented itself on my tongue as I woke up at my children’s house. It really freaks me out. Marie talks about flossing and black plaque. I buy some flossing tape but it doesn’t become a habit because my arms hurt and the novelty soon wears off. “You should really go to the dentist,” she says. I hadn’t been for four years. I tell Marie that I’d rather saw my leg off.
I finally get to the dentist after a six week wait. Even for me, that is a long time not to see a specialist because I’m anxious about my tooth loss. I joke in the waiting room about the drill being a lawn mower outside. Something else in the clinic room sounds like a hedge strimmer. I wipe my brow. Marie is there, on the phone, to compliment me for being responsible.
A few days later, I am eating a chocolate bar that is cold and hard from being in the fridge. I feel my top left incisor free and covered in the chocolate I’m eating. I feel faint. It’s the third tooth in as many months. Marie is incredulous. “At least you’ve still got a nice smile,” she says. I brush my teeth more than once a day now.
Mark Anthony Smith was born in Hull. He graduated from The Open University with a BSc (Hons) in Social Sciences. His writing has appeared in Spelk, Nymphs, Fevers of the Mind and others. In 2020 he is due to appear in Horror Anthologies published by Eerie River and Red Cape Publishing. ‘Hearts of the matter’ is available on Amazon.