It was the beautiful symmetry to the whole scene that brought a smile to Julie’s lips, even as her eyes welled with tears. Her husband of thirteen years had just thrown his pitifully small suitcase in the boot of his black BMW and pulled out of their driveway for the last time. Though really it was her driveway now. She was going to have to start thinking in singular terms again. She had breathed out a huge sigh that seemed to deflate her like a balloon and slumped back in to the kitchen, the one room in the house that had always belonged solely to her.
She was feeling no emotion now, just an emptiness. The hurricane had come and gone, the anger and the tears raging through her world, battering her emotions and leaving her raw and exposed. But all that was gone now and what remained was the eerie stillness. The silence was oppressive, like a giant shadow brooding in the corner of the room, so Julie reached to her two best friends, the kettle and the radio. A strong black coffee and some inane DJ were what were needed now to make her feel human.
And then, as if to prove that God has a warped sense of humour, the first bars of Romeo and Juliet came taunting her from the radio. Sinking into the kitchen chair, she squeezed her hands tightly around the mug in her hands and began rocking gently in time with the music. She could feel the hysterical laughter bubbling up inside her, and knew that once it made its way to the surface she would sink under it and never re-surface. Fighting to push the emotions firmly back under whatever rock there had come from Julie took a deep breath and just tuned into the music, her mind journeying back to the heat and noise of the Salthill disco where Mike had proposed to her so many lifetimes ago.
They had joked about it so many times afterwards, the way he had proposed. In the darkest days she had even wondered if he had actually proposed at all, or if there was something else on his mind that night. The difference between romantic and sleazy is sometimes in the ear of the beholder. But she knew what he had meant that night, holding her close as they swayed to the music. He had stared in to her eyes, and the music and the lights and the rest of the world had faded in to the background as he uttered the immortal line…
‘You and me Babe..How ‘bout it?’
She had always wanted a Romeo and Juliet romance but if your marriage proposal comes from Mark Knopfler’s version rather than William Shakespeare’s original, you shouldn’t be too surprised if your marriage ends up in ‘Dire Straits’. Somehow the joke seemed to have lost all its humour now, as she sat alone and listened to the last bars of the song drift away, the melancholy mood being shattered by the upbeat voice of Larry Gogan looking for callers from Mayo to take part in the 60-Second Quiz. Normal life continuing with total disregard for all that she was going through.
The Salthill disco was replaced by her kitchen walls, and the reality of her situation cut her like a knife. Thirteen years was probably a pretty good innings these days, when marriage breakdown was simply a fact of life, but deep down she had always expected it to last forever. Even the thundering sermon from Fr Peter at their wedding had left her completely undeterred. He had spoken for ten minutes about the difficulties of lifelong commitment in the modern age when people lived into their eighties and nineties. Julie smiled to herself, remember the reaction of the congregation at the wedding. She could sense them smirking initially, and then begin to squirm uncomfortably as the rant continued. As his voiced raised in conclusion, informing them of the importance of being completely clear on the commitment they were making in the eyes of God and his witnesses here in the church, she was sure there were some people there waiting for herself or Mike to stand up and make a run for it. Of course anyone from the parish knew what to expect but for all the visitors it had been quite shocking.
At the reception Fr Peter was the main topic of conversation, and in a way Julie had been glad to let someone else be the focus of attention for a while. Later that night, after the music was all played out and the bar drunk dry, they lay in bed laughing about the day. They held each other closely, enjoying the warmth of each others bodies and knowing that this was the way it would always be for them.
Julie shook her head and wondered how she had come from that night to this. From that warmth and comfort to the emptiness and loneliness of sitting alone in her kitchen only thirteen years later. She tried to picture him now, but somehow the image would not form in her mind. He would probably be parking the car now, taking his case from the car and rushing straight to the bed. She wanted to be with him but she knew that tonight someone else would talk to him and comfort him. Someone else would give him the love and care he needed.
And tomorrow, at ten o’clock, he would be wheeled into an operating theatre for the surgery. Of course they had discussed the options. He could have taken drugs that would have seen him prolong his existence, but that would not have been a life. The doctors had explained that the surgery was a long shot, and that he was unlikely to survive the operation. But Mike knew what he wanted. He would say his goodbyes to her in their own home and then go and take his chances. She was less sure, but the man she loved had asked for her support. She had smiled through her tears and nodded when he looked into her eyes and asked….
‘How ‘bout it?’