Great stories, beautifully told
by Richard Smith
Then there was one.
Odd really, after all them years it turns out I didn’t know Ruth any better than she knew me. You wouldn’t think that was possible. It took me by surprise that did. Thirty years nearly. Young love to middle age regrets in a blink, and you’re left wondering how all that time got wasted. I think Ruth hated me by the end. It was right there in her face.
I used to talk to the lads down the pub about some of it. ‘We don’t know each other anymore,’ I said.
‘You probably never did,’ they said.
‘You’re probably right,’ I would say, after too many pints. I lose count of the beers sometimes but Ruth always tells me how many I’ve had even though she’s never there. Told me, I should say. Was never there. Clever girl like that, my Ruth was. Always telling me what would happen if I carried on: cancer from smoking; heart attack from the eating and drinking. Like she could see the future. She didn’t see this coming though. Didn’t know me that well did you Ruth? I’m big enough to hold my hands up to that one though. My fault as much as hers and that’s the truth of it.
‘You’ll never make her happy, Dan, you haven’t got it in you,’ that’s what Ma said. I didn’t listen but why would I? Twenty years old and already wiser than Solomon. Nothing ever changes apart from I know a lot less now, about Ruth, about everything. I knew her well enough back then though, how she liked to have her hair, beautiful it was, all thick and dark, the bright red of her lipstick, what I had to do to make her bite my shoulder and swear with her eyes all tight shut. But Ma knew how deep Ruth was and how shallow I am. ‘Different boats on different seas,’ Ma said, ‘you and Ruth. Going to different places. Starting from different places.’
We’re all going to the same place in the end Ma, doesn’t matter which boat you’re on, or which sea. You got there first and now Ruth, for all her muesli and sparkling water. Fit as a flea right up until she died. I’m glad I was there at the end though. I like to think it brought us back together a bit, that. It was easier to get through for me, not like most of our marriage when we were miles away from each other.
I asked her once when I was feeling a bit lonely, Christmas I think it was and I’d had some sherry, I asked her, ‘Where did my Ruth go?’
She just looked at me like I was a stray dog out in the rain. ‘She didn’t go anywhere, Dan, it was you that left. To go down the pub, to the footie, to the chippie. Then into the knickers of her with the chips. That was the last throw of your dice, Dan. Got two ones there though didn’t you instead of a double six, and a trip to the clinic for your troubles. We might have been ok if you hadn’t given it to me.’
‘Years ago that was, Ruth,’ I said, ‘and I told you how sorry I was.’
‘Not as sorry as me.’
I cried that night. I wasn’t ready for that. Had to lock myself in the crapper and grit my teeth so she couldn’t hear me. I don’t know why I bothered; I knew she’d hear me from all the times I had to listen to her. You’d have thought it was the end of the world the way she went on back then, every night for weeks. ‘We can try again love,’ I said, but she wouldn’t have it. We never did try again after that one. There’s only so much a woman can put up with I suppose. I just got on with it, that’s my way. The lads were good, buying me a couple of extra pints here and there to try and get me through it. It didn’t help much but it made them feel better so I didn’t say anything. They all had kids so they were feeling pretty bad about it I think.
* * * *
Funny how it all ended so quick though. Just like my temper is sometimes. Not there one minute, then everywhere at once, then gone in a flash. All calm again. I don’t know who was more surprised the other night: Ruth that I’d left the pub early or me that she was trying to leave. Her looking beautiful again at the top of the stairs and me looking daft stood at the bottom. That’s what upset me the most, how beautiful she looked for someone else.
* * * *
‘Slippers,’ the copper said, ‘biggest cause of accidents in the home. No one ever believes it until it happens to them. Sorry about your loss.’ He was alright he was. He could see how upset I was. I’d emptied the suitcases and put them back in the spare wardrobe before I called the ambulance though. No rush and I didn’t want anyone making five out of two and two. I sat with her a bit so she wasn’t alone, like I say; I think that made us closer again at the end.
* * * *
Anyway, it’s nearly all over now and it’s time I went to the pub. The lads have come through for me again, organising some sandwiches and nibbles and whatnot for our friends. It’s not the end of the world is it? Like I say, we didn’t know each other any more. Hadn’t for years. I’ll be right, no need to worry about me, I just need a couple of pints and some food and anyway I can’t sit here in the crapper gritting my teeth all afternoon.
Copyright © 2019 Richard Smith