Nancy stuffed the ferry timetable under the tea towels when she heard the key in the door. Careless of her to be looking at it so late in the afternoon. Not that she needed to check this month, there was a sailing every day, sixteen down, fourteen to go. Quick as a cat, she sprang into the kitchen. It was important to be doing something when he arrived. She opened the fridge and started checking expiry dates. Bill appeared in the doorway, filling the space. “Tea in ten minutes,” she said gripping a milk carton.
A welcome calm settled over the kitchen as the three men fell on the food. You could call them three men now; the boys had lost any echoes of childhood grace. Almost overnight they had changed into gruff creatures with hard arms and hard hearts. The spit of their father, people liked to say. Nancy leaned against the sink as usual, watching for a moment before she turned to start on the washing up. Bill spoke with his mouth full. “Cut out the pot-walloping Nance.” She turned off the water immediately. Sometimes the noise bothered him, other times not. A minute passed, the men chomping, Nancy trying to gauge the tension. Hunching her shoulders slightly, she approached the table to pour the tea. No reaction. She melted back to her place at the sink. Her hands crept into her apron pocket where she started to pick furiously at the skin around her nails.
Nancy felt the first dull tug of period pain and her heart skipped. This little monthly victory was always welcome. Twelve years ago she was told she would never bear children again. “Can I have that in writing?” she asked the doctor.
“Good grub,” Bill said, pushing his plate away. Nancy risked eye contact. He was smiling. In fact he only lost his temper once a week at most, and one of the things that set him off was her being timid. A more intelligent woman would know how to handle him better. “You do a shopping today?” Nancy’s cheeks flared red, her terrified blood started to run for cover. This was his way of saying he knew. Bill took another slug of tea. “Did you get the shaving foam?” False alarm, he hadn’t noticed her panic. “It’s in the bathroom,” Nancy said, standing back to let her sons leave the room. The television went on in the lounge but Bill stayed, watching as she cleared the table.
“Here, you should get some new clothes,” he said, holding out a fifty. Nancy looked at the money as if it were something unfamiliar before reaching for it. Bill grabbed her wrist gently. “Am I going to get a thank you?” She let him pull her in and sat on his lap for a kiss. That fifty brought her to her target. It would pay the taxi to the ferry in the morning. Our last kiss, she thought and wrapped her arms around him.