A State of Grace (part two)

senior couple

By Partricia Rogers

(Continued from the previous post). After a hard life on a sheep farm on the North Yorkshire moors, Grace was widowed when her husband Tom killed himself, and she now runs a small post office in Whitby. One of her regular customers, William, is a widower who still dwells in the shadow of his late wife Freda. Grace and William are fond of each other, but are they too old to be ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’?

Freda had been William’s first proper girlfriend, and it had been Freda who had decided that they were going to get married. In fact William had never, in all his 68 years, asked anybody to go out with him. It was quite clear to him that Grace was the one he would ask, that was not the problem. Freda had got him running about doing as he was told in no time. He didn’t like being on his own and since he’d had 43 years of doing as he was told he wanted a change. He wasn’t even sure that people had girlfriends at his age. Grace might think he was daft for asking. She might actually say that he was daft for asking. She might laugh at him. The more William thought about it, the more worked up he got. It got to the point where he couldn’t even chat to Grace without getting just a bit uneasy.

As she sometimes liked to say, Grace was not so green as she was cabbage-looking, and she knew something was bothering William. He needn’t have worried. She had realised that something was up, and had made up her mind to ask him whether he was tired of spending time with her, or whether something else was bothering him. She couldn’t be doing with him sitting opposite her with a long face, or walking along the sea front next to her, sighing. One afternoon, when they were back in the Cheerio Café, and he was clearly not himself, she asked him what was the matter. They had just had a good laugh with Megan about her holidays, it was a decent cup of tea and he had his favourite lemon cake in front of him. He ought to be happy enough, but she could see that he wasn’t.

William frowned.

“Just thinking.”

Grace nodded. She was becoming very fond of William. It sounded like that woman had given him a terrible time, though he never said anything bad about her, bless him. She especially liked the way he looked after her when they were out. Like when they had got to the café for instance. He had made sure she was all right and asked her where she would like to sit, before he took his coat
off. Tom would never have done that. He was a good man, but he would never have done that. She decided to persevere.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing.”

“William, you must be thinking about something, otherwise it’s not thinking.”

This was obviously a bit complicated for him, but she thought he knew what she meant. There was a long silence while he had a sip of tea, then he came out with it. She could hear the words, but she could hardly believe he was finally saying them.

“Girlfriends and such like.”

Grace shook her head; it didn’t do to look too eager. She decided to play dumb.

“Girlfriends?”

There was no going back now. William was looking very uncomfortable.

“Do you think that’s a daft idea at my age?

Having a girlfriend?”

Grace stared at her curd tart.

“Well, no. It’s not a daft idea exactly. Why?”

“Just wondering.”

“Wondering about what William?”

She was beginning to smile inside. Just ask me, she thought, just ask. But he didn’t.

“Did you have anyone in mind?”

He looked at her carefully.

Me, William, me, she thought.

“I might do.”

Grace laughed.

“You’d better get her told if you have. We’re none of us getting any younger.”

William was looking at his watch.

“I’ll be missing Flog It if I don’t get going.”

Grace sighed.

“Come on then. It’s my turn to settle up.”

They tidied up their table and wandered back home. Grace listened to William explaining to her how important it was to clean out your grates and guttering, and wondered how long it would be before he actually came out with it. She decided she had better not hold her breath waiting. When they went their separate ways she put her hand on his arm.

“Enjoy your programme.”

“Thank you very much. Mind how you go.”

She stood for a minute and watched him potter off. He didn’t turn round.

A month or so later, when Grace had come back from her sisters, she kept her promise and invited William round for tea. It all went very well. They were good Yorkshire puddings, and the beef was good too. He had brought a bottle of red wine and they drank it straight away. Neither of them were used to this and they were both feeling a bit light-headed by the time they were getting round to the lemon tart.

“Grace, this is gorgeous.”

Grace laughed.

“I’m very glad you like it. Does it beat the Cheerio café?”

“I should just about think it does.”

William pointed at a large photograph on the wall.

“Where was that taken then?”

“Fordhead.”

“Grand country. That’s where you used to live, isn’t it?”

William looked at Grace carefully. He had asked her before about where she used to live. She had told him about the Post Office, but that photo looked like a farm.

“We used to farm up there. Sheep mostly.”

William nodded.

“Hard work.”

“It’s a hard life, more than hard work. You need to be born into it really. I wasn’t, but I seemed to take to it all right.”

William could imagine that. It was easy to see, just by looking round him, that she wasn’t afraid of hard work. She kept her bungalow neat as a pin and she had her post office work and her work for the WI as well.

“I liked the stock, and I liked the people as well. If you live somewhere like that you have to get on with folks. You don’t see enough company to start picking and choosing, and everybody has to muck in together.”

William wondered whether he should ask his next question, but he said it anyway.

“Your husband would have farmed with you of course?”

Grace nodded.

“Tom was a good man. You had to push him along a bit sometimes, but he was a good man.”

There was a long silence, then Grace spoke again.

“You won’t know what happened to him?”

William waited.

“Well he killed himself. After all those years struggling along. Took his gun up on the fells. After all that time. I’d no idea. Spent my whole life thinking I know so much about folks and I’d no idea.”

William had no idea what to say. Sorry didn’t seem to be enough, but saying nothing didn’t seem to be a good idea either so he said it anyway.

“I’m sorry love. I really am.”

Grace shook her head quickly.

“Oh, there’s no need for that. It was a long time ago now. I’ve come through it. Many a time I wondered how I was going to do that on my own, without Tom next to me. I blamed him something rotten for leaving me on my own. Called him all the names under the sun, but he did the only thing he thought he could do when it came to it. I wasn’t blaming him really, more blaming myself for
not stopping him. For not seeing.”

“It weren’t your fault.”

“I know that now. It took a long while, but I do know that now.”

She looked at him seriously.

“I haven’t told anybody else, and I’d rather you didn’t either.”

William nodded hastily.

“Course not.”

“Not that I’m ashamed or anything. It’s just…well there’s no need for folks to know everything is there?”

“Course there isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’m glad you told me though.”

Grace put her hand out and touched his arm.”

“I wanted you to know. And I’m glad you came.”

William blinked.

“Of course I came.”

There was a long silence while he looked at his tart. Grace watched him. Finally he looked up.

“I’m very fond of you.”

“I know you are,” Grace said. “Thank you.”

“You don’t think I’m being daft?” William put down his spoon. “Soft like?”

She smiled.

“Of course you’re being soft. And I think it’s very nice. More folks should try it.”

William smiled back. He had second helpings of tart and a bit more cream.

After they had finished, Grace made some good strong tea and they watched a programme she had recorded about shire horses. When it finished they looked at each other, and Grace yawned. William got up.

“Well, times getting on. I’d better be on my way.”

This time, when he left, Grace did lean forward and gave him a small peck on the cheek. William was very pleased. He wondered whether he had a girlfriend.

This question was sorted out the next day. He met his friend Kenneth while he was doing his shopping.

“I hear you’ve got a girlfriend.”

William’s jaw dropped.

“You know more than I do.” Kenneth had been talking to his brother, who knew Grace’s niece.

“She said Grace right enjoys your trips out to the café.”

“Trips out? We’ve had a cup of tea down the road a few times.”

“There you are you see. You’ve been spotted.”

“Give over.”

“She’s a nice lass is Grace.”

William agreed that she was, and scuttled off before things got difficult. He wondered how many more people knew.

Later in the week, William went round to Grace’s. She was sorting out some agendas and annual reports for the WI AGM, so he helped her put them into piles. When he had finished explaining what had happened to her and said he was sorry if there was any misunderstanding she smiled at him.

“Well, surely that’s for you to decide isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“Whether you’ve got a girlfriend or not.”

“You’re not upset then?”

“Why would I be upset?”

“I don’t know. I just thought, well I just thought you might be, that’s all.”

William stood there, looking uncomfortable. Grace realised she was going to have to take him in hand.

“Look, if you want me to be your girlfriend, that’s all right by me.”

They stared at each other. Grace sighed.

“Well say something.”

“Yes, I mean I would like that very much. Thank you.”

“Oh, for goodness sake!”

Grace moved towards him. They gave each other a hug, and a very nice kiss too. After that William felt better than he had done for a very long time, and Grace put the kettle on. He sat down in the front room among the piles of papers, shaking his head. What on earth had he gone and done? He felt as though he needed to explain to Freda, say sorry even, but she wasn’t there and Grace was. When she came back in with two mugs of tea she looked at him sharply.

“You’re not having second thoughts are you?”

“Course not.”

“You have to live your life, William. It’s not wrong to want company and friendship. She wouldn’t mind.”

William sighed.

“I wouldn’t be so sure. There were an awful lot of things she minded about.”

“She would want you to be happy, and so do I.”

“I hope so.”

It was time to put some cards on the table. Grace put down the mugs and sat down next to him.

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying each other’s company. If you have a chance to be happy you should take it. It’s as simple as that.”

And that was how they left it. A cup of tea, another hug, another kiss, and William was back home. Home among the photographs of Freda, the cushion covers she’d made, and the ornaments she had chosen. He looked at the large pottery cat she had insisted on bringing back from a day trip to Durham. It had brown and black swirls all over it and big staring eyes and he hated it. Well there
was something he could do about that at least. He picked it up, carried it through into the kitchen, held it out over the hard tiles and let it fall onto the floor. Its face lay there in two pieces, still staring at him.

He could almost hear Freda’s voice behind him.

“Now look what you’ve done you daft thing. You’ll have to clear that up now.”

He got out the dustpan and brush and swept it away into the bin. He could start on the rest tomorrow.

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