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Torfaen Tales

Sophie's Choice

Widowed Rosemary feels it's time for a social life ...

Rosemary glanced at her watch. Half-past seven was fast approaching and she was still trying to do something with her hair.

"Just look at it, Sophie!" she said, tweaking her grey curls this way and that.

Sophie put her head on one side and gave a sympathetic sigh.

Rosemary gave up on her hair and turned her attention to her make-up.

"Blue eyeshadow or grey?" she asked of Sophie, dipping into the grey without waiting for an answer. "I know it's a bit silly of me to make such a fuss over my appearance, but I do want to look nice. Wait till you meet Bill, Sophie. He's a very nice man."

Rosemary lapsed into silence, giving her full attention to applying mascara without smudges. Tonight was something of a milestone. Several men had asked her out in the months since Colin's death, but this was the first invitation she'd accepted. Granted, one of them had been lecherous old Eric who was, she now knew, notorious for trying it on with any woman who ventured alone to the Thursday night art class. But Bill seemed different. Not the sort of man who was looking for a widow with a reasonable sum in the building society to cook his meals and wash his socks. Granted, he had never married, but Rosemary wasn't necessarily looking for another husband. Just someone whose company she enjoyed, someone who shared her interest in art. Something Colin had lacked.

Bill had a shop which sold artists' supplies, into which Rosemary had ventured in search of a new palette knife. They'd got talking about art and discovered they both liked the work of Modigliani.

Bill had generously suggested a meal at a fancy restaurant, but Rosemary had thought it too ostentatious for a first date. As a compromise he was taking her to a wine bar just for a drink and a chat. It seemed a more relaxed way to get to know someone a bit better.

Rosemary consulted her watch again. "Nearly ready," she said, reaching for her lipstick and smiling into the mirror at Sophie's reflection.

Sophie shuffled along to the end of the towel rail and ruffled her feathers with a papery rustle. She proceeded to preen the long, green feathers of her left wing into place.

"Oh, you're a beautiful girl, and you know it!" crooned Rosemary, affectionately scratching the bird's head.

"Beautiful girl!" repeated Sophie, cocking her head sideways. Rosemary held up her arm and the parrot stepped gracefully onto her forefinger. Together they went into the front room, where Sophie was reunited with her cage.

Rosemary sighed. She knew Sophie missed Colin just as much as she did. Sophie had pined dreadfully for weeks after it had become apparent that her favourite man wasn't coming home from hospital. Rosemary knew that taking care of Sophie, giving her lots of love and attention in those first empty weeks, had helped to ease her own pain.

"A problem shared is a problem halved," said Rosemary, feeding Sophie a grape and marvelling as usual at the sort of nonsense she said to the bird.

Sophie transferred the grape from her beak to her claw. "Put the telly on!" she demanded.

At that moment the doorbell rang. Having tuned into EastEnders to keep Sophie amused in her absence, Rosemary took a last look in the hall mirror and headed nervously for the front door.

Bill held forth a bunch of fragrant freesias. "Flowers for a lovely lady," he added. "My, you do look nice!"

"Thank you, Bill," said Rosemary with a smile. "They smell wonderful! Do come in a moment while I get my coat."

Bill followed Rosemary into the front room.

"By the way, this is Sophie," said Rosemary by way of introduction.

Bill pushed his spectacles up his nose and peered more closely at the parrot. "Very attractive," he pronounced. "Is she an Amazon?"

Before Rosemary could utter another word, Sophie let out an ear-piercing shriek. "Go away! Get lost!" she squawked, adding a few choice expletives for good measure.

Rosemary was stunned. "Sophie, really!"

She turned towards Bill, who looked equally stunned. "I'm so sorry, Bill. I can't imagine where she learned such language. She's normally very well behaved."

Rosemary closed the cage door. "Early to bed for you, madam," she said firmly.

Somehow the prospect of a companionable evening seemed a bit deflated. Bill tried to make a joke of Sophie's outburst, but it was feeble and fell flat. There were awkward pauses and gaps during the next couple of hours, and Rosemary began to think Bill was really quite boring. He liked the occasional gallery visit, but didn't paint or draw, merely sold materials to those who did.

At twenty past nine she pleaded a bit of a headache and was relieved that Bill didn't try to dissuade her from an early night. Rosemary knew it was obvious to both of them that despite the initial attraction they really had very little to talk about.

She entered the sitting room and switched on the light.

Sophie blinked sleepily. "Hello," she called, bobbing her head in an ingratiating fashion.

Rosemary's heart melted. It was impossible to remain cross with Sophie for long. She opened the cage and Sophie stepped onto her arm.

"You were right about Bill, but it was very naughty of you to shout at him like that."

She cradled Sophie close to her chest and smoothed her soft feathers. A small voice nagged awkwardly in Rosemary's mind. Would Sophie ever approve of any man she brought home?

By Karenne Griffin

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