We used to come here every week, me and my Jack. Every Thursday regular as clockwork, before the market and the weekly shop, we’d call in here for a pot of tea for two and cake. Jack, he’d have the carrot cake and I’d have a scone. I’m not fond of all that icing as a rule but, today, I’ve had the carrot cake. It’s fifty years since we got wed, you see, so I had to do something to show it matters.
I lost him, my Jack, just before Christmas. He’d not been himself for a while, but you know what men are like – you can’t tell them anything. I begged him to go to the doctors but he knew best. In the end he had no choice, he had an episode while we were at our Karen’s and she phoned for an ambulance. He didn’t like it, he played merry hell but our Karen was having none of it. She’s a school teacher and you know what they’re like.
Anyway they admitted him straight away. It was awful, all that illness everywhere and for the first three nights they couldn’t even find him a bed on a ward. He was stuck in admissions with all those geriatrics they bring in from the care homes. I knew as soon as I saw the young doctor’s face it wasn’t good, but they didn’t tell us anything – they had to do tests, they said. In the end, our Karen demanded to see someone in charge and they took us into a little side room and told us. Lung cancer.
And that was that, he only lasted six weeks. Never saw his garden again; I think that’s what bothered me most. He loved that garden and he never got to, you know – say goodbye. If we’d known ... but we didn’t so there’s no point in dwelling on it. During the last weeks, before he went, he couldn’t talk but his eyes, I could see everything in his eyes. He wanted to be at home, in his chair, saying goodbye to his garden not stuck in that hospital. But we’re not ones to make a fuss.
The only time we’d ever been apart before he got took in was when I’d had our Karen. They kept you in longer then; it wasn’t like now when you’re in and out in a day. I was in a week, she was my first you see, and my Jack he would come to the maternity ward every day after he’d done work. A big daft smile on his face, even though he’d been working since six and doing real work, mind you, not like now when everybody just sits around answering phones all day. No, my Jack did back breaking work in the rolling mill, he used to say it was like being in hell but he never complained – not really.
All he ever wanted to do was make a life for me and our Karen. He was a good man; I knew that the first time I ever clapped eyes on him. I’d gone dancing with my pal, June Davies, she’s gone as well now, God rest her soul. I hadn’t wanted to go; I wasn’t one for going out much. I’d just started a job at Woolworths and was trying to save up for a new winter coat but, June, she was a wild one, out every night June was. Mind, things were different in those days, kids today don’t believe you when you tell them how the dances finished by half past ten. There were no nightclubs and none of that anti-social behaviour either. Anybody trying any of that would have got a clip from the bobby and God help them when they got home. No, not like now.
I spotted Jack straight away but he never asked me to dance. He didn’t even look my way, just stood in the corner with a cigarette in his mouth, like Paul Newman in that film Hud. It was only when I was walking home with June and her fella that he plucked up the nerve to talk to me. He told me after, once we were courting, how he’d been too scared to say anything in the dance hall because he didn’t know how to dance – the daft sod. That was my Jack though, always had to cover up what he was really feeling with that tough guy act. I keep thinking I should have pushed him harder, made him go to the doctors. “There’s nowt up with me,” he’d say, “Stop your fretting, woman.” And I just wanted to believe him.
It’s getting busy now and the girl’s finally looking at me. I’m taking up a table so I suppose I should get going. There’s no point in me doing a weekly shop, I can’t be bothered cooking when a cup of tea and a piece of toast’s enough for me. It’s the quiet I can’t stand. The quiet of an empty house. I try and stay out as long as I can; I sit in the park, kill time in Sainsbury’s, anything to avoid going home too soon. Once that door’s shut, that’s it, I’m on my own. I watch my soaps and do my puzzles but it’s not the same. I mean, our Karen tries to help but she’s got her own life and I don’t want her worrying about me.
It feels like the biggest part of me is gone anyway – missing and I know it’s never coming back. I wonder sometimes how long I’ve got left. It’s like having a foot in both worlds; I’m here still alive but not really. My heart’s gone. That’s with Jack, wherever he is. I talk to him all the time and I can hear him calling me all sorts of silly old fools but nothing’s the same now he’s not here. I miss him, you see. We were together so long it’s like we’d become one being. Me and my Jack.