Una Meers was born in Dublin. She has always enjoyed writing and many years ago won an award for her short story The World Around Us. Family and work then took centre stage, but on retiring from Trinity College she returned to writing short stories. She has now had two short stories published.
By Una Meers
She woke to the sound of birds loudly chirping their morning chorus. To her it was one of the unrivaled sounds in the world. Their garden, secluded by tall hedges, was an absolute haven for all birds. The bird table that stood high in a corner of the garden, was always filled with fresh food and water. Each day they were rewarded with an abundance of bird life visiting, from the wrens to the cheeky robins and the colourful blue tits; her absolute favourites.
The sun sliced through large gaps in the curtains, which she always left a little open. It looked like a summer’s day even though it was still April. Memories of waking to sunshine like this flooded. Those family camping holidays in France, when at six a m, ‘nature’ would call and she would leave the relative comfort of her sleeping bag in the tent to go to the bathroom block. The hazy sunshine, always with a promise of another magnificent day; cypress trees lining the pathway, squirrels scampering out of her way, warm air enveloping her and the aroma of croissants and baguettes being baked at the campsite shop, always tantalising her senses. They had a family routine in those days where she and the children would go for a morning swim in the pool while her husband “The Chef” had a walk which included a visit to the boulangerie before he organised breakfast. The aroma of bacon being barbequed, fresh pastries, rolls and coffee that greeted them, as they approached the tent, hungry after their swim, was mouthwatering.
She turned to look at the sleeping form beside her; her husband snoring gently. His once blond hair now silver; giving him a distinguished look in her view, wiry in his. They were fifty years married.
She smiled as she leaned and groped to pick up the card and gift from under the bed where she normally hid them.
Then it hit her. The unspeakable reminder of what ruled their present life. The coronavirus. For a glorious ten minutes she had forgotten.
They were in lockdown; no cards or gifts to exchange this year. Definitely no family party to celebrate and absolutely no visitors. No hugs from their grandchildren. No one over seventy was allowed to leave their homes except to walk in their gardens if they were lucky enough to have a garden. They were. A sixty-minute circuit was devised on day one to keep them sane. At this stage they were like two well trained hamsters. She sometimes wondered if they would become so institutionalised that when this awfulness finally ended, they would be afraid to leave their front gardens.
Tears escaped her eyes, snaking past her nose and she swiped at them in agitation, cross with herself. What was happening to her? She had always been an optimistic up beat woman in the face of any adversity that had challenged her. All the testing situations within her life, family or otherwise, she had not always solved, but usually softened some outcomes. Friends regularly called to ask her advice. Upbeat? Positive? Not anymore. She hated this weakness in herself.
How had it come to this? Confined, or cocooned as the Government liked to call it, because of their age. Their daughter went to the supermarket and pharmacy for them; while making sure they were alright without actually being allowed physically near them. Roles reversed.
She worried about their son and daughter in law working in a hospital in England. On the front line as everyone calls it.
Another tear fell.
Her husband turned, sat up beside her; he smiled. At seventy he was still a very handsome man. Her first and only love.
“Happy Anniversary, gorgeous.” He leaned over for a kiss and seeing her tears put his arms around her. He knew.
“It will be okay, love. We have each other, we will always have each other and so far, we have stayed safe and avoided the Virus.
“I know” she said “It’s just because of today. I feel guilty even thinking that way when there are so many people dying each day.”
She kissed him back
It was then that she noticed a white envelope with her name on it.
“How did you get manage to get out to buy a card?” she asked almost accusatory. He just smiled.
“I didn’t. Open it.”
He pushed the envelope towards her.
The card inside was one he had re modelled out of a birthday card from years ago. He must have rummaged around somewhere to find it.
Words were changed and the message on the cover was one of love and hope. As she opened the card to read the words inside, two folded sheets of A4 paper fell out. She looked at her husband questioningly and then opened the paper.
In the top right corner was a photo he had attached of them both, taken the previous summer outside their small house in a village in France. On the other corner was a photograph of their children and grandchildren taken there later in the summer. Everyone smiling. Everyone happy.
She read his long letter. He told her how much he loved her. He spoke about their family and their married life together. He thanked her for everything she had done to make their whole life positive even when times were tough and money was short. He had worked all the hours that God sent until he retired. He said he really regretted that he had missed out on a lot of the children’s milestones small or large, in their young lives and appreciated so much how she had kept daily family life going. It was nowadays while he was enjoying spending a lot of time with their grandchildren that he knew what he had missed first time around; all the energy she had put in with her resilience and strength of character still amazed him. He reminded her again and again how he loved her for everything and especially always encouraging not only him but the children, obviously not children any more, through their school and university lives; with all the ups and downs that came with them.
He told her he cherished her and that she had made him the happiest man in the world the day they got married. Although they were told by family that they were only kids themselves, they knew they were made for each other. That it had been a wonderful day where he recalled they had danced to The Beatles song “I Will”. Their song. They had been through a lot over their fifty years together. Fifty years gone in the blink of an eye.
Many achievements mixed with some sad times. Losing people so dear to them had been traumatic, but the happy times far outweighed the sad ones. That last bit he had put in capital letters. There was a lot more, which she read over and over again. Eventually she finished; tears flowed in earnest.
“Thank you” was all she could manage. Her husband normally a man of few words, had just brought the sunshine right inside their bedroom with that letter.
“I have no card or present for you. But this is the best gift I’ve ever received.” She hugged him as if she would never let him go.
“I don’t need anything” he held her tight. “Just watching your reaction when you read that letter is present enough for me.” They stayed holding each other for a long time. He eased himself out of bed;
“I will go down and put the kettle on. Follow down when you’re ready, love. No more tears? These horrible Covid-19 times will pass and once all our family is safe, that’s all that matters. Remember always that we have each other. For better or for worse, that is what we signed up for.” He hugged her close again for a minute, kissed the top of her head, smiled, and waved as he left.
She decided to make an effort with her appearance. It might give her a lift. So, after her shower she applied some make up and dried her hair; still auburn with a little help from a shop bought tint; just to enhance nature she always asserted. She put on the new dress she had bought weeks ago for this exact day. Not the family party day they had planned but a Golden Wedding Anniversary should be celebrated, she resolved.
She stood in front of a full-length mirror. Not too bad for an ’auld’ one of seventy, she supposed, if she didn’t look too closely at life’s wrinkles.
When she arrived to the kitchen, two champagne flutes sat on the table filled with champagne and freshly squeezed orange juice. Bucks Fizz. Her favourite tipple for very special occasions.
“Happy Anniversary, my sexy wife. You look lovely. Here’s to us!” he toasted her handing her a glass.
At seventy she felt anything but sexy or lovely, but she smiled and raised her glass.
“Right back at you!” She laughed; a proper laugh this time.
“Don’t move” he whispered. “Turn very slowly.”
She turned to look out the back garden, now wreathed in sunshine. There was a magnificent pheasant, proudly strolling slowly across the lawn obviously enjoying the sunshine. He was splendid.
“Now that is what I call a special Golden Wedding Anniversary gift” her husband whispered in her ear. The pheasant turned and looked straight at them from a distance before disappearing as unhurriedly as he had arrived. Pure magic for a special day.
“Incredible.” she murmured. “who sent him to us?”
The computer in the corner lit up. Eight faces filled the screen. Their family was here in the room with them to share their day; thanks to modern technology.
“Surprise! Happy Golden Wedding Anniversary Mum and Dad. We want to celebrate with you.”
“Nana you look beautiful!” her small grandson, always the charmer, shouted.
Their son, daughter in law and grandchildren in England, their daughter, son in law and grandchildren from a village close by were all grinning out at them from the computer screen. All had dressed up for the occasion. She was glad she had made an effort with her appearance.
“When we beat this coronavirus, Mum and Dad, and we will,” their son and daughter said in unison, “we are going to have the family party we had to cancel today because of this Covid-19. Only this time it will be a better one because even though we all know how much we mean to one another we will appreciate life more together having survived and overcome this Pandemic. To Mum and Dad!”
They clinked glasses. The banter that followed was heartening and typical. She joked and laughed thinking that no Covid-19 could take away what they had. She glanced at her husband who was chuckling away at something their son in law had said.
“Cheers everyone” he said raising his glass. “And thank you all” he said.
She looked again at the screen. Eight pairs of eyes, some glistening, but all shining, reached out to them.