She checked it all again; first the stove, where the leg of lamb browned slowly behind the heat-misted glass of the oven door, the little internal light tantalising with its meagre vision of roasting potatoes. Time for basting again? No, it is scarcely ten minutes since last time.

Ten minutes. She looked anxiously at the clock. He would be here in ten minutes. It was time to start heating the water for the vegetables waiting in the steamer. Then, when he had arrived, when he was sipping the sherry, she would pop back into the kitchen and put the steamer on top of the saucepan and then, God willing, the greens would be just right. She prayed that they would not be overcooked. Her mother had always said that soggy greens are the sign of a sloppy cook.

Eight minutes now. She regarded her flushed face in the hall mirror and resisted the temptation to look out the door. She would hear him. She would see his headlights as he pulled alongside her little car into the parking space outside the unit. He was sure to be punctual. Thank God he wasn’t early.

The mint sauce! She dashed to the pantry and grabbed the jar of mint jelly. She spooned some into the little glass dish her daughter had bought her from her first wage packet ten, no twelve, years ago. She placed it on the table which was looking quite pretty. Matches for the candles! She scrabbled in the dresser drawer. Thus it was that she missed the early warning system of the headlights through the glass panel and was startled by the doorbell.

He stood smiling on the threshold, a bottle of wine in one hand and an enormous bunch of daffodils in the other. “The Spring is sprung – The grass is rizz” he quoted, and extended his gifts. Somehow, in taking them, there was no time for a kiss, a hug or even a handshake. “I’ll put these in water,” she said.

Things seemed to be going well. Her anxiety lessened. He was as charming as their initial meeting had suggested. He dutifully sipped his sherry as she coped with the vegetables. He complimented her on her table setting. He opened the wine, a good Shiraz from a renowned winemaker. He admired her cooking and consented to carve the joint at the table whilst she served the vegetables from a tureen. He told of his father’s joke of ‘who wants the first cut?’ explaining that when carving lamb the first cut is a vertical one that produces no slice. “We kids always fell for it and shouted Me! Me! Me!”

The combination of good food and good wine, the flickering candles reflected in the cut glass of the goblets stilled her customary anxiety and she felt a rare glow of contentment. A perfect evening. But the evening was

 


young yet. The dessert, lychees and ice-cream, was acclaimed as a special favourite and the cheese platter and port that followed rounded off the meal

She cleared away the dinner things, resisting the temptation to do the washing up immediately. On her own, she often washed her dishes between courses. But not tonight. She would wash them in the morning when he was gone. The implication of her thought struck her and she blushed suddenly. To cover her confusion she asked if he would like a liqueur. “Don’t forget I’m driving,” he said.

They drank coffee. For once, the coffee machine behaved perfectly – not too strong, not too weak. By now they were chatting like old friends and she felt comfortable with him. He seemed quite happy to look at family photos and to listen to stories of her children and grandchildren. “A Grandmother? Surely not.” He marvelled at the tapestry which hung on the wall and praised her talent as she shyly confessed it as her own work.

He seemed content to sit in the guest’s armchair, and she wondered if she should suggest that he join her on the sofa, and wondered too just what they would do if he did. Eventually, on the pretext of showing him a photo album, she invited him to sit beside her, and prepared herself for further developments. She waited.

She had heard of the expression ‘A perfect gentleman’ but had never really believed it. Her Ex had certainly never answered that description. ‘They are only after one thing’ the folk wisdom had it, but the man sitting contentedly beside her made no move; not even a contrived accidental touch. She suddenly realised another strange thing. Not once during the evening was there even a hint of a double entendre. And she would have known. Her defences were keenly honed and she was alert for ‘that kind of talk’. No, he had been attentive, responsive to her conversation. He didn’t appear a shy man but he didn’t make a pass.

She thought that maybe he didn’t find her attractive. But he was polite, he was thoughtful. He seemed genuinely interested in her as a person. He didn’t put her down, and his compliments sounded sincere. And the compliments had not been infrequent. He appreciated the food, the drink, the candles, the ambience. His questions about her family, about her life story, about Her showed a rare empathy. They were intelligent and to the point and she had seldom felt as comfortable when talking to a man. Perhaps he was really old fashioned and didn’t believe in rushing things. She felt a wave of affection for him and didn’t demur when, with apologies for possibly outstaying his welcome he excused himself and went home.

She showed him to his car and thought for a moment that he was going to kiss her. But when he reached for her it was to shake her hand. Go in. Go in” he said, “I don’t want you to catch cold.”

 


From the doorway, she waved at his departing car. She went back into the unit and recklessly poured herself a nightcap. Leaving the washing-up for the morning, she went to her lonely bed which somehow seemed less lonely when warmed by memories of a lovely evening.

He phoned the following day. He said it was a thank you call for a wonderful evening and invited her to lunch with him at the weekend. He proposed an expensive restaurant in the hills, a sylvan home of the arty crowd who ran quaint antique shops in their little villages along the mountain tourist road. She gratefully accepted. He is interested in me, she thought.

The outing was a great success. It was the first of many. They visited the Botanical Gardens, the concert hall and the flower show. They motored out to country pubs and toured the city’s coffee bars. And she invited him home to dinner on several occasions. He always brought flowers and wine – and he always went home at a reasonable hour. And always with a handshake. The closest they ever got was when he took her to a dance organised by the singles club at which they first met. But he was obviously ill at ease when dancing and didn’t hold her too close. Or even close enough, she thought ruefully.

Her daughters were keenly interested in her romance, as they termed it. “Don’t be bashful, Mum” said the eldest. “Give us all the gory details”

“Yes Mum,” said the younger “What’s he like in bed?” Both were disbelieving when their mother told them that they had never even kissed.

“Is he Gay?” they chorused. “Well, you could do worse. You can feel perfectly safe with them.”

“He is a widower,” she said. “He was happily married for twenty-five years. He is very attentive, beautiful manners, it’s just that he has never made a pass at me.”

“Dump him!” said the younger.

“Don’t be hasty,” said the elder, “After all, he is taking you out. Would you rather stay at home?”

“Simple,” said her sister, “Find someone else. Don’t waste time on him. You are not getting any younger you know.”

But she didn’t dump him, not then. It wasn’t until an incident in the little restaurant they had come to call their own.

The proprietress, an apple-cheeked country woman, greeted them beaming.

“Ah, my favourite couple. You look so good together, have you been together for many years?”

“Oh no,” he said quickly “No. We are not married. We are just good friends.”

The End

 

Copyright © 1999 H.St.V.Beechey