It really is autumn now. Only the tips of the poplar trees are green. The mulberry tree has faded through lime green to a washed-out, greenish yellow.
I am meeting Norman today. At the Lamb and Flag. At 6:00pm.
We have this in common – we are both widowers. While it is not stated, we know that sometimes when we meet, it’s about that. About something we share and need to reflect upon, from time to time, alone.
Sylvia died only a few years ago, in 2005, just before I came back. She was much loved, — quiet, good-looking, dark-haired, modest, devoted to her family, of course.
And he adored her. That’s what I heard.
When I get there I find Norman has been to Ascot the day before, to the races.
“Drinks on me”, he says. “I came up trumps on a horse sired by Forzando, a stallion I remember well from his racing days.”
Norman always seems so on top of the things he does. I wasn’t particularly aware that he was a racing man.
“Why do people want to stop at the scene of an accident?” he said. “I feel exactly the same urge to look, tinged with fear that I will see something horrible. But I force myself to look away and drive on”.
He had been delayed getting home.
Dennis is at the bar. He comes over and asks if he can join us. Dennis is semi-retired, but he does science shows in schools. A sort of Science deejay! He calls himself Professor Brainstorm.
After a while, Norman says: “Dennis, John and I have a dinner date, if you will excuse us”, and he looks at me firmly, with just a hint of a nod.
I see. He wants some private time.
We drive to a neighbouring village and find a table at another pub.
It had thought this would be about Sylvia. Perhaps to reminisce, perhaps to ask me about my own marriage, compare feelings. Perhaps it was an anniversary, though I had never asked him for Sylvia’s birthday or the day of her death and this did not seem the moment.
But we just chatted and then he asked me about charities for children who are separated from their parents and who live in foster homes.
I said I would look into it.
Then he was ready to go. “Work tomorrow”, he said. “I need an early night”.
And that was all.