Biting back a sharp response, Frank dried his hands and went to do as he’d been commanded.
Charlotte heaved a sigh of relief once he’d gone and looked around to see how to restore order.
The couple had been married since 1975, almost forty-two years ago. Charlotte had packed in her job when she became pregnant with David later the same year. She’d remained a wife, mother and housewife all that time, providing a solid basis for Frank during his working years. He’d never needed to juggle work and family responsibilities – or hardly ever anyway. She was the one who’d done the childbearing, child-rearing, shopping, cooking and housework – managing the household budget from her allowance and even managing to put away some savings for their future. Now she had a State Pension – a pittance – and the savings, but the future she’d dreamed of was becoming a nightmare. Why couldn’t he just leave things alone?
Frank Barstow wasn’t a stupid man. His first-class honours degree in physics testified to his intellect. At sixty-six years old he was still good-looking in a craggy way. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, in honour of the fine weather, cargo pants and slippers. His hair was thinner now and greying. His ruddy complexion, the result of years of gardening and walking was now marked by a few age spots. Other than a small paunch, with his height and usually erect stance, he still looked fit for his age. He was also, by nature, a placid man. He’d had to be to keep his temper, as a teacher, dealing with troublemaking pupils who disrupted the progress of the majority. Lately though, his patience was being tested to the limit by the moods of his wife. Tonight was a case in point. Not the first occasion, but the instances were becoming more frequent and more hurtful.
Frank had started making a rice dish to accompany Charlie’s salad. The kids always said that they loved his version of rice. He’d weighed the basmati grains carefully, rinsed them in the sieve, found a large pan to put the washed rice into and was boiling a kettle of water to cover the rice, so as to reduce the time it would otherwise take to come to the boil on the hob. While he was doing that, he’d chopped some ingredients to stir fry with the rice later, when it had cooked. He’d just started washing some utensils to serve the rice and to use for the stir fry when Charlie had exploded behind him.
‘Hell’s teeth. She has a short fuse these days’.
He walked across to the dark wood dining room Welsh dresser that held an assortment of ‘best’ cutlery and crockery – stuff for special occasions like today. The stuff for their own day-to-day use was still kept in the kitchen. On his way out, he looked around what Charlie called the breakfast room. It led through to the kitchen by an archway where the former kitchen window had been. All the plumbing, wall tiles and flooring had been replaced at the time, but he felt sure that the magnolia embossed wallpaper pasted over replastered walls, would be her next decorating priority. This house was like the Forth Bridge. As soon as you finished you had to start again.
He was really looking forward to seeing the family together for this meal. He worried about David, the elder of their children. The consequences of his divorce from Marjorie had not been merely financially crippling. David had been left as if bereaved and their children had been heartbroken too. It was two years now since the decree absolute but Frank still called to see him once a week to check that he was managing okay.
David’s younger sister, Gloria, had always been the apple of Frank’s eye, as they say, though he got on well with her husband Peter too. Like Charlotte, he was a bit worried about both sets of grandchildren – especially the two girls Grace and Davina, both the same age, eighteen and attending the local sixth form college.
Grace was David’s daughter, Jake, her brother was two years older and more settled now he was at university in the nearby city. Davina and Grace might as well have been sisters as cousins. They looked almost identical and, when they weren’t the best of friends, they were mortal enemies, mainly about boys. Even then though, they’d always unite against anyone who upset the other.
It wasn’t as if Frank was unused to dealing with teenagers. Until three years ago he’d been a physics teacher – and that had been bad enough.
When the grandkids had been younger, their high-pitched voices had been charming. They were family. School kids – other people’s kids – were a different matter. For the past few years, he’d come to dread passing through common areas of the school, where the pupils congregated at break times – the screaming, screeching din had been an assault on his hearing. But the kids at the Academy – the eleven to sixteen going-on-eighteen-year-olds – brought to their noise, foul language, smuttiness, overtly sexual behaviour and hormone-fuelled aggression. Every week knives and drugs had to be confiscated. Physical, verbal and cyber-bullying were rife and the staff had their hands tied by political correctness. The rules for the latter seemed to change each term. The paperwork to manage all of these things was something that could never be completed within the school day. Many parents, and the journalists on some middle-class tabloids, imagined and envied teachers to be working only during the pupils’ attendance hours and imagined that the long ‘holiday’ breaks were just that. If only they knew.
When the opportunity to retire came, he welcomed it joyously. No more tedious record-keeping, no more bullying by a bureaucratic head teacher whose only concerns were budget management and a quiet life for himself. What Frank hadn’t reckoned on was the endless list of a different class of tasks which Charlie expected that he would welcome doing now that he had time on his hands.
“Frank, the wallpaper in Gloria’s old bedroom could do with stripping and replacing.”
“Frank, when you have a minute could you clear the grass that’s growing and blocking the gutter?”
“Frank, have you not got round to tidying the loft/garage/shed yet?”
“Frank, the units in the kitchen are looking dated now. It’s been ten years. Could you have a think about replacing the worktops at least?”
“Frank, we seem to have run out of …’complete the dots’.
His todolist seemed to grow longer each morning.
So many things she always wanted doing, but no sooner had he started doing one or other of them, than she’d be on his back like a ton of bricks – complaining about dust or mess – or telling him he wasn’t doing it the proper way.
He couldn’t win.
He’d been hoping to get out for a few days with his camera to photograph some of the region’s architecture and, perhaps, try his hand at some street-photography.
Once or twice lately he’d lost his temper and shouted at her, telling her to make her bloody mind up. He’d apologised and felt guilty after – but she’d sulked and found ways of making him pay. She never apologised for her vicious tongue, her sarcasm, her castrating insults. If this was retirement, he’d rather be back at work – even with the young thugs at school.
What was he to do? He couldn’t put up with another twenty, thirty years of the constant drip- drip of her nagging voice.
“Frank, you won’t forget to remove the cork from the red wine will you?” came her voice from the kitchen.
I took this photo a week ago yesterday while dog walking. I took this image while taking my daughter’s dog for a walk to the Dream statue featured earlier this week. It show the Fidler’s Ferry former power station at Widnes, some miles away. The power station began to be decommissioned last year.
I used my Pentax KP cropped sensor camera to take the photo using a 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. The shutter speed was 1/160 secs @ f/18 and focal length 85 mm. The ISO was 200