Faced with a bleak expanse of concrete as I stand at the kitchen sink, I can’t help casting my mind back to our lovely big house with its quarter acre of garden and no other houses as far as the eye could see. Oh, the times we had. It was a mess when we first moved in, but James hired a tractor and we pulled out the hedges that didn’t make sense. They dated from before the two semi-detached cottages had been knocked into one. I remember that first spring, waking each morning to see the field of maize outside our bedroom window grown yet taller, and watching through the summer as the silken ears turned to golden cobs of corn.
It took about eighteen months of hard work to get the garden as we wanted it, with a shapely lawn and beds of cottage plants. Tall hollyhocks and lupins in abundance, and plenty of clematis and honeysuckle to cover the ugly shed which we’d replace in time. James and I were married in that garden, with a marquee and a string quartet. We took a risk with the weather, but nature was kind and produced a perfect day. One that I will treasure all my life, for after just eleven years of marriage cancer took James from me. But apart from my memories I have our son, Rory, now ten years old. And an extravagant diamond and emerald ring bought in Amsterdam which I haven’t the heart to sell although it would probably pay the deposit on a modest home of our own.
Rory and I now live in a flat in town, as I had to sell our home to pay off the loans James and I took out for his business. First the lease on the shop, and enough capital for the purchase of stock. An interior design business can’t be run on restored bric-a-brac, James would say when purchasing a major statement piece for his window. Later, when he was established (and had already won his first battle against cancer), the decision to give up the expensive premises in the city, opting instead for a purpose-built showroom in our garden. Financed by another loan. Well we’d always said we’d replace the garden shed. Literally as soon as the builders left James fell ill again. But after yet another operation he fought back, saying that he couldn’t wait to get back to work. That he couldn’t let his clients down. In the meantime I acted as his go-between, making house calls in the evenings after my own working day was done.
James rallied, and life went back to normal for a few months. But we always waited with bated breath after each three-monthly check-up. The doctors were keeping a close eye on him, and they were right to do so. For within a year the dreaded disease returned, and this time James lacked the energy to see it off.
I try not to dwell on the dark days that followed. I try to keep cheerful for Rory’s sake. He was so brave during his father’s illness and lingering death I daren’t let him down. He says he likes living in town, being closer to his mates. That he always felt a bit on the outside when he had to cycle the couple of miles to visit. Life is certainly easier in a modern flat, with much less housework and no responsibility for repairs. And we have some top-class furniture and curtains, a souvenir of James’s enterprise. At least we are on the ground floor, and the square of concrete at the back is solely for our use. I can grow some clematis on trellises for privacy, and we can plant up some pots to make it look more cheerful. We’ve only been here a couple of months, after all, and life will get better once I see the first signs of spring. The sight of the earth coming to life once more certainly helped last year after James died. Now we’ve gone past Rory’s first birthday without his father, James’s birthday, and mine. And our wedding anniversary. The first ones are always the worst, people tell me. Friends tell me I won’t be on my own for long, but my real friends understand that I have no interest in a new relationship. That I need to be there for my son, to make peace with myself for putting him second while his father was ill. Another year on, and the fog of despair is beginning to lift. I think we’ll be all right.
By Karenne Griffin
Last Modified on: 05-11-2015