He’d phoned her on Tuesday, from the ship. He’d queued for over an hour waiting his turn. The communication system had been down for a fortnight and everyone was anxious to contact their loved ones. Twenty minutes each they were allowed, whenever the system was working. Terry had listened to the men before him, he couldn’t avoid it. They were assuring wives and mothers they were well and missing their family. Everyone was eager to prepare for their homecoming, just a few weeks away. Some whispered endearments to sweethearts, making plans for the days and nights ahead. Others told stories to children who barely remembered their fathers, making promises they would try to keep. Terry knew he wasn’t the only man on the first deployment away from his new wife, one of the chefs had only managed three days’ honeymoon before he’d had to sail.
He let the phone ring and ring. She didn’t answer. Those who were queuing behind him offered an explanation.
“Out with her fancy man she is Tez.”
He tried not to hear their words, tried not to let them into his head. Patricia couldn’t just sit and wait for him, he knew that. She had a life, one she had created to fill the times he would be at sea. A life that excluded him. He expected her to be there waiting for him. She was there, but she wasn’t waiting, she was living her life.
He called again on Wednesday. She answered and they talked. He didn’t want to question her, didn’t want to admit to doubts.
“I did try to call yesterday,” he found himself saying.
“I was at the gardening club.”
“I thought you couldn’t get there. Have they added more buses?”
“No chance. David gives me a lift.”
“David? Oh, I don’t think I know David.”
“Probably not. He’s nice, you’ll like him.”
Terry didn’t think that was likely, he’d only just heard of him and already the man irritated him. Did he have a nice car? Did she invite him in for coffee? Better not to ask, he knew.
“So are you learning to prune the rose bushes properly?”
They laughed, remembering how, last spring, he’d read instructions from a book borrowed from the library, as she made tentative cuts.
“Maybe I will, I already know an incredible amount about dahlias, we had a long talk from a serious grower.”
“Great,” he chuckled.
“It was more fun than it sounds, and the slides were very colourful.”
They talked for his full twenty minutes. For once, there were no technical hiccups and communication wasn’t abruptly ended. They discussed the weather in their respective locations, and the time differences; he was calling after his breakfast, she’d just finished supper. There was time to tell her about the chess championship, that he’d so nearly won. He listened to stories of her swimming group, women only he was pleased to hear. Patricia told him about the decorating she had done at home. Terry talked of the fittings to the bridge that he’d varnished. He told her about the food, not too bad this trip. She told him about the new delicatessen that had opened in the high street.
“I won’t be able to call you tomorrow, we’ll be docking, but I’ll try from shore on Thursday.”
“Not between seven and nine, I’ll be at camera club.”
“Camera club? You don’t even have a camera.”
“David’s got a spare one that he said I can borrow.”
“That’s thoughtful of him.”
Terry was thoughtful too. He didn’t like his thoughts.
She had friends he didn’t know, ate food from shops he’d never been to. The bedroom was now painted in a shade of green he wouldn’t see for weeks yet. He’d thought of her often, lying in their bed. She’d been there, dreaming her dreams, but not in the soft peach room, he remembered. She’d been dreaming the dreams he knew nothing of, in the room he couldn’t recognise.
He hoped it would rain so that she wouldn’t want to go on garden visits with David. He hoped her pictures would be blurred and she wouldn’t want to take anymore. He shook his head, that wasn’t really want he wanted. He wanted Patricia to be happy, he wanted her to have hobbies and interests, really he did. He just wished he were home, so that he could drive her to her meetings or help her in the garden. He wanted to be the person she would show her photographs too. Others would see them first. David would be the one to laugh with her at the mistakes, applaud the successes.
It would be Patricia’s birthday soon. Terry searched the internet for a suitable gift. He smiled, all he had to do was make a choice, then at the tap of a few buttons and a debit to his bank account, Patricia would receive a gift wrapped parcel, delivered right on time. She was obviously exploring her creative instincts at the moment, so he tapped ‘hobbies’ into the search engine. He discovered that he could book her some dancing lessons. She had always wanted to learn, but how would she get there? He pushed away an image of her waltzing with David. He noticed a complete embroidery kit, that was something she could do at home, and he didn’t imagine David had any great interest in needlework. Trouble was he couldn’t imagine that Patricia did either. Then he saw the perfect gift, a digital camera. It had separate lenses, as her interest and skill developed she could buy more, a zoom perhaps, or a macro for close-ups of her beloved flowers. He ordered it.
He was ashore on her birthday, so could call from a public phone and speak as long as he liked.
“Thank you for the camera, darling, it’s perfect.”
“Perhaps when you go to camera club David will show you how to use it.”
“Not David, but Jeremy might.”
“Jeremy? I don’t think I know Jeremy.”
“Oh, didn’t I explain, Jeremy runs the camera club. He’s David’s partner.”
“No, the other kind. He’s ever so nice, I’m sure you’ll like him.”
Terry was sure he would, any friend of Patricia’s would surely be his friend too.
On his last day ashore before sailing for home, Terry went in search of flowers to take home for Patricia, he’d always brought back flowers for her. He’d started when they were teenage girlfriend and boyfriend and he’d been drafted onto his first ship. If he could, he’d buy them whilst still abroad. He liked to bring exotic blooms for her. She liked to see the strange flowers that he had walked among. Flowers she’d never seen before he came home from leave.
She was watching from the window as the taxi pulled up, she ran down the path to meet him, hugging and smiling at him before he had paid the fare and unloaded his baggage.
He gave her the flowers and she put them in the big blue vase. The vase already filled with water. She had been waiting.
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