Annie’s Autumn Escape by Debbie Viggiano

Chapter One

 

 

‘Annie, darling,’ said my husband. ‘Leave that for a minute. Come and sit down. There’s something I need to tell you.’

‘One moment,’ I replied, as two slices of wholemeal, slightly burnt around the edges, shot out of the toaster and catapulted across the worktop. I scooped them onto the breadboard and, just like every morning, began spreading on the butter. ‘Be a love and get the marmalade out of the cupboard.’

Keith was sitting at the kitchen table, an expectant look upon his face. In another five minutes I would look back at this moment and realise his expression was nothing to do with patiently waiting for breakfast. A lot can happen in five minutes, as I was about to find out.

‘I don’t want marmalade,’ he said.

‘But you always have marmalade,’ I countered.

We always had marmalade. That’s how it was. We were creatures of habit.

As my husband hadn’t moved from the table, I fetched the marmalade myself. Women do these things when men don’t. Females are programmed to run on autopilot. Invariably, by the time most men have lumbered their way out of a chair, scratched crotches, smacked lips, and looked vaguely at a row of kitchen cupboards wondering which one housed the marmalade, the efficient wife would have likely done the online weekly shopping in the interim.

‘Here,’ I said, setting the toast with its marmalade topping in front of him. ‘Oh.’ I looked at the table in surprise. Something was missing from our habitual routine. ‘You haven’t made the tea.’

Keith always made the morning tea. While I tended to the toast, he was the one who boiled the kettle and took charge of the PG Tips. As I said, we were creatures of habit.

‘This morning I don’t want tea.’

I peered at him. Was my husband coming down with something?

‘But we always have a cup of tea with our toast and marmalade.’

‘Annie, will you please sit–’

‘Yes, yes.’ I waved an impatient hand. ‘I will in a minute. Sorry, but I can’t eat toast without a cuppa. It’s too dry.’

Keith sighed as I picked up the kettle. There was plenty of water within. I flicked the switch and began pulling mugs from the overhead cupboard.

Over the whine of the kettle, he repeated, ‘I don’t want tea.’

I turned to look at him. ‘What’s up with you?’

‘I want a change.’

‘Okay, I’ll make you a coffee.’

Ignoring his eye roll, I reached into the same cupboard that was home to the marmalade and withdrew a jar of instant. Keith was now quietly sighing. It was something he’d been doing a lot of lately. It was faintly annoying. But then again, we all sighed. I did it myself sometimes. I sighed when I picked up his pants. I sighed when finding a pair of festering size nine socks under the bed. I sighed when rescuing sodden towels from the bathroom floor and I sighed as they were refolded over the heated rail.

Keith was now drumming his fingers. That was something I never did on account of them always being occupied and far too busy to drum. Our daughter might have long flown the nest, but I still worked, still had a home to run, and – as any female will attest – a woman’s work is never done.

‘Annie, please leave the coffee. I don’t want that either.’

‘I’ve done it now,’ I said, bringing both mugs over.

I placed them on the table, pulled out a chair and flopped down heavily. Oooph! Picking up a slice of toast, I took a huge bite. Mm.

I loved the weekends, and this particular Saturday morning in the first week of a golden September was no exception. There was no work to think about. Instead, just moments to savour. Steaming tea. Hot toast with all the melted butter running into the marmalade. Except it was a bit congealed now. The warmth had been lost while overseeing the tea and coffee. Strange how Keith hadn’t made it. I couldn’t remember the last time he’d not tended to the teas. Probably when he had been in bed with that virus.

‘Annie?’

‘Yes, darling. What is it you want to tell me?’

I smiled benignly at my husband of thirty-five years. He was still a decent looking guy. Okay, he no longer made my heart flutter but that wasn’t his fault. It was probably down to my menopause.

I was no longer interested in “things”. Hadn’t been for a while. Romantically “things” had petered out months ago. I couldn’t even remember when we’d last made love. Oh, wait. Yes, I could. It had been painful. He’d repeatedly jabbed his erection between my legs, but that area had been as unyielding as a nun in a chastity belt. In that moment – bizarrely – I’d recalled reading an article in the papers about an elderly actress who’d gleefully told her reader she was “still moist”. That moment with Keith had absolutely not been “moist”. More… dry and completely shrivelled up. I’d been left wondering how the actress – with endless toy boy lovers – was achieving the elusive slide-and-glide factor that so evaded me.

Keith had eventually given up and – sore and chaffed – I’d felt nothing but relief. We’d hugged instead. And that’s what we’d done ever since. I’d presumed the once glorious slide-and-glide intimacy between us was now that of sliding and gliding into the autumn years of our lives.

‘…not easy.’

‘What’s not easy?’

‘Why aren’t you listening to me?’

‘Sorry, I was miles away.’

‘Evidently. Annie, this is important. I need you to hear what I’m saying. Not gaze out the window and mentally drift off.’

‘I’m all ears,’ I assured, reaching for my tea.

Whatever Keith had to say, I wished he’d get on with it. I wanted to ring our daughter this morning. Talk to Carly about her growing bump. Maybe go shopping together for some more tiny sleepsuits. It was too exciting! Our first grandchild. In another three months Carly and husband Ryan would be the brand-new parents of Baby Charlotte. How joyful. Although it wouldn’t have mattered if Charlotte had been a Charles instead. We were just ecstatic that everything was going well and–

‘Annie!’ Keith’s voice was sharper now. ‘It really is most galling when you don’t pay attention.’

‘Sorry, I was just thinking about Carly and–’

‘I’m trying to tell you something important.’

‘You have my full attention,’ I promised.

Oh my goodness. I’d never seen Keith looking like this before. Everything about him seemed to be at bursting point. It must be something momentous. A real whopper of a surprise. Oh wow. I had a sudden sneaking feeling what this was about.

My next birthday was a big one. In fact, it was a horrendous one. It carried a zero. Not forty – which had been faint-making. Not fifty – which, metaphorically, had seen me reaching for the smelling salts. But sixty. How the heck could I be coming up to sixty when the essence inside me still felt twenty? Mind you, the mirror bore testament to the fact that I was decades past twenty, no matter how young the heart felt. The mirror and I weren’t friends. These days it was rarely looked at unless tweezing a hair from the chin.

‘…and it’s going to come as a surprise.’

I knew it! I just KNEW Keith was on the verge of exploding with this secret. How thrilling! A tiny part of my heart began to sing. My birthday was in two weeks’ time, so he’d probably been plotting behind the scenes for a while. What had he been planning? A swanky meal out? No, no, of course not, Annie. This was a BIG birthday. Therefore, my husband was hugging a BIG surprise. And then I gasped as another thought occurred.

A couple of years ago, when Keith had been approaching sixty himself, he’d mentioned going to the Maldives. Experiencing the holiday of a lifetime. After all, it was now, at this stage of our lives, that we finally had some dosh to spend on ourselves. The mortgage had been paid off. There was money in the bank. But then Covid had come along. The travel industry had been in uproar, and the Maldives had been put on hold. But now… well now things were normal! And another sixtieth birthday was looming. Mine! I looked at my husband with shining eyes.

‘I think I know what you’re going to say,’ I beamed.

‘Do you?’

‘The surprise. Is it the Maldives?’

‘Er–’

‘Ah, okay. Is it New York?’ That was fine. It was on our Bucket List.

‘No, it’s–’

‘Oh. My. God.’ I clutched my heart. ‘Australia. Am I right or am I right?’

‘None of those. Annie, I’m leaving you.’