All right, then. Tomorrow. Three ‘o’ clock in the park, next to the bandstand.’
Catherine Linwood replaces the receiver and shakes her head.
‘He wants to meet me,’ she says to a man seated in an easy chair across the room, ‘to tie things up.’
‘Things need to be tied up,’ says the man, ‘I don’t want to carry on like this.’
‘He’s an accountant,’ says Catherine, ‘he can’t stand loose ends.’
At the other end of the telephone, Catherine's husband Robert Linwood stands holding the receiver, even though the line is dead. He is small, slender, around forty-five years old, balding, clean-shaven, with a wide mouth, narrow nose and a receding chin. His face is a picture of misery - regretful, troubled and unhappy. His brow is furrowed in concentration and the bags under his clear liquid eyes reflect nights of fractured sleep.
The next day is fine. It’s March, and tiny crocuses peep through the unkempt grass of the park. The pretty flowers don’t improve Robert’s mood as he chugs along. He wears a long tweed overcoat with an astrakhan collar against the cold and his hands are thrust deep into his coat pockets. He knows the bench where the couple will meet - they sat there often enough in the early days.
The bandstand is one of those octagonal affairs in wrought iron with a raised timber floor. It’s been a long time since the local brass band played there, and the intricate wrought ironwork is covered in graffiti. Robert sits down on the vacant bench. It’s painted aqua blue and the two white-painted cast-iron sides form serpents’ heads.
He stiffens as he sees a familiar female form glide towards him - head held high, back ramrod-straight. Catherine sits down. She’s wearing a fetching black trench-coat and knee-length boots.
‘How are you, Robert?’ she asks, guardedly, as if he’s going to tell her he has a deadly disease.
‘You can see how I am,’ he replies, turning to look at her.
She sees the exhaustion in his eyes and the ghostly pallor of his cheeks, but she must not feel sorry for him.
‘Still not sleeping?’
‘I’ve hardly slept a wink since you left,’ he replies. ‘I keep turning over and all there is is an empty bed. I’ve even sprinkled some of your perfume on the sheets, but it hasn’t made any difference.’
‘You should take a couple of sleeping-pills.’
‘The way that I feel just now, Catherine, I could take a bottle of them.’
‘Don’t talk rubbish, Robert. You’ll do no such thing. I won’t have you using emotional blackmail to confuse me.’
A small boy dances past, followed by his mother, pulling his scooter behind her.
‘I see you’re still wearing your wedding-ring,’ says Robert.
‘It won’t come off - my fingers are plumper now. I’ve tried butter but I still can’t remove it.’
‘I thought it might be that you retained some affection for me.’
‘Robert, we were married for twenty years, the last three of which were difficult, if not unbearable. One of us had to put an end to the constant unhappiness and, as you chose to do nothing, as usual, I did it for you.’
‘What about the marriage vows - ‘Till death us do part; in sickness and in health, and all that?’
‘Don’t be so silly, Robert, no-one takes any notice of them anymore.’
‘Well, I don’t.’
On the putting green, a young couple gurgle with laughter as the girl whacks her ball into the hedge.
‘We were like them once,’ says Robert, ‘we could be again. I can change, I swear.’
‘Robert, you could no more change than the sun can stop rising in the east. Can’t you see? You are boring, entirely without a romantic bone in your body and so full of troubles that you would depress even Mother Teresa.’
‘I am an accountant, not a lion-tamer. I have been shaped, fashioned by genetics and my environment. You were perfectly happy with me once.’
‘Yes. Once is about right. Twice would be pushing it.’
In spite of his misery, her witticism causes him to emit a brittle laugh.
‘You always did have a sense of humour, Catherine.’
‘I needed one.’
They sat in silence for several seconds to let an old man on a bicycle totter by.
‘You said you wanted to tie things up,’ says Catherine. ‘Hadn’t you better start tying? I’m growing cold sitting here.’
‘Catherine, I asked you here because I want you back. I need you desperately. I’m so lonely, it’s even affecting my work. Dawson had me on the carpet for mistakes in the Randall account. I could lose my job if I carry on like this.’
‘You want me back so you can keep your job? How selfish.’
‘I didn’t mean it like that.’
‘It doesn’t matter how you mean it. I’ve found a man of whom I’m very fond. I might even learn to fall in love with him, as long as it doesn’t take as long as it did to fall out of love with you.’
‘But, Catherine, he’s only an electrician.’
‘Well, Robert, he may not have your brains but he’s gentle, considerate and kind, and he listens to me. You stopped listening to me years ago.’
‘Is there nothing I can do or say to make you change your mind?’
‘No, but if you care anything for me, you could make the divorce easier for both of us. All you need do is sign the papers my lawyer sent you - we can speed this up and I can start a new life with him. Will you do that for me, Robert?’
‘Goodbye, then,’ says Catherine, and walks away. Robert remains seated. The church bell rings, just as it did on their wedding day all those years ago. A tear runs down his cheek and he brushes it wearily away before commencing the short walk home.