Published in 1000 Words or Less (2) 2016
Gentle voice, careful not to offend.
‘I think you’ve put sugar in your tea already, Gracie love.’
Thinks? He knows, but treads warily. Careful, Ned. She’s replenished her tea with two extra spoons of sugar twice already. A new need for sweet things can sometimes be a part of it, they told him. That and what else? He walks as if on broken glass every day, carefully, still taken by surprise by the occasional outbursts.
Grace looks at him, eyes bright, bird-like, but empty. There’s a vague smile, touched with challenge. She reaches again for the sugar bowl but he takes her hand, covering it with his own, all age-spotted and brown.
‘We’re off to see Kate’s new baby this morning, remember? We’ll go when you’ve finished your tea.’
‘Are we going to see a baby?’
‘Yes, love, Kate’s baby. Our daughter, Kate. She’s called the baby Grace, after you, remember?’
‘I want to have my tea.’
‘I know, Gracie love. Have your tea and then we’ll go see the new baby.’
‘Who’s got the baby?’
‘Kate has, remember? Our daughter Kate.’
She reaches again for the sugar bowl and stabs into it with her teaspoon.
‘No, you’ve put sugar in...’
But he’s said the no word. She snatches her cup away from his reach, spilling it onto her lap, then shoves her chair back and raises an arm in fury, as if to strike. Then tears spring to her eyes. She looks first at the wet patch spreading across her dress, then stares at Ned, puzzled.
‘Sit down, love, finish your tea. There we go,’ and he refills her cup.
Grace sits but can’t take her eyes off her dress where the tea stain spreads.
There’s a silence spreading too, just like the stain.
Ned slumps forward and puts his head in his hands. Behind his closed and weary eyes, he sees the future stretching ahead, a long brown corridor along which he must plod, endlessly kind, infinitely patient. It’s not her fault. He knows that, Saint Ned.