Twenty-seven minutes

198 supermarket 671100Ethel told you she wouldn’t be long. Twenty-seven minutes. You know because it was twenty-seven minutes to three when she went in, doesn’t like you to go in with her because she says you’re a distraction. Says she buys too much when you go so you’re taxi service there and back. You’d like to sit in the café, eat something different, but she always times the trip after you’ve had lunch so you’re never hungry. She always feeds you too much as it is, so it would be a waste.

You once suggested that you go mid-morning but she won’t give up her clubs; knitting, swimming, others ending in –ing. Every weekday. Won’t go shopping at the weekends because she says the ‘world and his wife’ go at the weekends. Not everyone’s retired like you and Ethel. You think these days that the saying should be ‘the world and his or her wife’ but you never go, so you wouldn’t know for sure.

You wouldn’t mind going to one of her clubs if she’d let you, but she says it’s the only time she has with the girls, that and almost every evening. You reckon you saw more of her when you were working; a phone engineer, good at it too, back in the days when they gave proper customer service. You’d even switched companies because they were so useless. Booked them when you got a computer and needed broadband but Ethel didn’t hear them so they left and wouldn’t come back. Fifteen minutes later she’d found the card. You reckoned they were sitting round the corner in their van, having a cuppa but rules are rules. You’d missed your slot and that was that.

You spot Norman and Ingrid and wonder how he got so lucky. You’ve thought that’s what you should have done; waited until your sixties to get married then pick someone half your age. He’d told you once that the sex was great and he walked around with a permanent grin, but someone else told you that was all the Botox.

You try to remember the last time you had sex. Your birthday? Christmas? Your thirtieth anniversary. June. Two years ago. Some inmates go without for less time than that.

You’d considered an affair, figuring that Ethel wouldn’t even notice. You’d go shopping at the weekend, choose food together instead of eat what you’re given. You don’t even have to cook it, Ethel won’t let you near, says you burn everything. She’s a raw steak person whereas you’re medium to well-done. Not that you ever have steak. No, you have Quorn and Tofu and…

And there she is. Why is she looking so happy?


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