Sid is determined Mabel will enjoy her best wedding anniversary ever - British Spellings!
|The doctor laced her fingers together on the desk and averted her eyes. “Sorry, Mr Jones, but there is nothing more we can do for your wife.”|
Sid gripped the armrests and glared at the young woman. “There must be something. Another treatment.”
“I know you love Mabel, but she is ninety-two. It would be cruel to subject her to another medical procedure that possibly extended her life briefly but also caused more pain.”
He folded his arms and scrutinised the certificates on display. “If she were the Queen, you’d do more.”
The doctor shuffled in her seat. “Please be reasonable. If we could prolong Mabel’s life while guaranteeing an acceptable quality of life, we would. All we can do is prescribe stronger pain relief and discharge her.”
Sid jumped to his feet, belying his seventy-nine years. “Send her home?”
The doctor shrunk back. “Mr Jones … Sid. Please understand we’re doing what’s best for Mabel.”
He dropped into his seat, and a jolt of pain shot through his hips. Sid hadn’t slept in a month, not since his wife collapsed in the street. How was it that none of the medical experts diagnosed her cancer in time? She attended so many check-ups and complained about growing pain. “Today is our sixtieth wedding anniversary. How can I tell her?”
“You must be honest with her. I’ve heard you promise Mabel the Earth, but we’ve always stressed her options are limited. The best thing to do is make her comfortable at home so she can pass with dignity surrounded by family and friends.”
The doctor pursed her lips. “A week, perhaps. But she is so frail, she could slip away at any time, possibly within hours.”
“But she can still do so much for herself.”
“Mabel is a strong woman. Her independence hides the serious nature of her condition.”
Sid held his head in his hands. “What do I do?”
The doctor stood and straightened the pile of documents on her desk. “Spend quality time with Mabel. A patient transport vehicle will take her home tomorrow.”
Feeling summarily dismissed, Sid wandered into the corridor and leaned against the wall. He remained there for over an hour, watching concerned-looking nurses and orderlies pass by. How could he face the love of his life when he felt so impotent? As a Royal Marine, he triumphed against overwhelming odds on many occasions. Once he was trapped in a burning building with his ammunition depleted and only a combat knife between himself and certain death. Never once did he consider giving up. This morning, he only wanted to raise a white flag.
Eventually, he stumbled along the corridor towards Castle Ward. Entering the room, he spied his wife in a corner bed, the centre of attention. Two nurses and three patients sat in chairs around her, listening to her spin another creative yarn. Despite her red hair gone grey and her wrinkled cheeks, he still saw the young teacher he fell for so many years ago. Approaching, he wrinkled his nose at the medicinal stench surrounding his beloved. He was more accustomed to her lavender scent. As he watched Mabel’s animated face and the expressions worn by her listeners, he was transported back in time.
Theirs was a forbidden love. Sid saw her for the first time when he entered primary school. Mabel was the young teacher’s assistant who read fairy tales during story time. He fell for her immediately along with all his classmates. Over the years, she grew into a Madonna figure, an impossibly perfect soul. By the time he entered secondary school, she qualified as an English teacher. She taught him for five years until he finished school at sixteen and enlisted in the Royal Navy. After basic training, he visited his old school, fell to his knees in front of her, and caused a huge scandal by proposing marriage to his teacher.
Mabel said no. He returned to the Navy with a broken heart and attempted to forget his obsession, successfully completing the tough selection procedure to become an elite Royal Marine. Fighting in the jungles of Malaysia, he earned the coveted Military Cross. However, no matter what he experienced or how many younger ladies he courted, he never got Mabel out of his head. Three years after that disastrous first proposal, he returned as a man. He donned his full-dress uniform, complete with shiny medals, and again knelt. This time, against all expectation, thank God she agreed. Shrugging off those memories, he smiled at Mabel.
Her return grin lit up the room. “Ah, here’s my toy boy.”
Her audience chuckled, as people who met Mabel always did. She glanced around. “Could you give us space?”
Once everyone left, Sid sat. “How are you feeling, dearest?”
“I’m still hanging on for that road trip across the States … the one you promised for our Diamond Wedding Anniversary.”
He chuckled. “NYC, Portland, Austin … and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.”
“You’re never too old to be a Disney Princess.”
A warm trickle ran down his cheeks. “Of course not.”
She reached over and squeezed his hand. “It’s all right. The doctor explained.”
Sid clenched his fist and thumped her nightstand. “It’s not fair.”
“We’ve enjoyed a grand adventure, but all journeys must end.” She smiled. “So, what did you get me?”
He frowned. “What do you mean?”
“For our anniversary. You haven’t forgotten, have you?”
“No.” But with everything going on, he’d completely forgotten to buy a gift.
“You must have bought something special. It is our Diamond Wedding Anniversary.”
“Naturally.” He nodded. “I’ll go grab it from home.”
Sid fled from the room, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. This would be their last anniversary, so he must buy something incredible. For their Diamond Wedding, he would buy a huge rock.
Half an hour later, Sid parked outside the best jeweller in town and climbed out of his battered mini. The window display boasted hundreds of sparkling gems, but one ring grabbed his attention. Unlike the others, this treasure had no price tag. Since the glittering band featured a huge diamond artfully cut into a heart along with thirty smaller stones, it wouldn’t be cheap. As he entered the store, the aroma of beeswax polish spoke of well-polished cabinets and wealth.
A lady in a silk dress peered down from behind the counter. “Are you lost?”
He pondered her question for a moment before he realised why she’d asked that. He hadn’t changed his clothes in over a week, and dark stains covered his jumper. She must think he was homeless. But he didn’t care about her opinions. He had other priorities. “That ring in the window.”
She tilted her head. “There are dozens on display.”
“The big one with a massive diamond.”
“Oh, the Fitzherbert Ring. It was crafted by our founder a hundred years ago. Viscount Fitzherbert ordered it to propose to his beloved but never collected. His intended died on The Titanic, and he flung himself off Tower Bridge.”
“It’s not for sale.”
He gripped the sales counter and leaned forwards. “Everything has a price. Just name it.”
She looked him up and down and barked a laugh. “It would cost at least half a million. Probably more.”
Sid stormed out of the jewellers and jumped into his car, ignoring the ache in his hips and the blurring of his vision that occurred when he moved too fast. He gripped the steering wheel and took a deep breath. That woman’s attitude struck a sore spot. He’d spent the best years of his life fighting to ensure people like her could live their sheltered lives in peace and prosperity. She should be thanking him, not treating him like something she’d scraped off her shoe.
Once he calmed, he drove into the flow of traffic. He entertained no doubt the owners of the jewellery store would sell their precious heirloom if offered the right price. Of course, he could choose another item, but he had set his heart on that ring. It belonged on the finger of a Disney Princess, and Mabel’s eyes would sparkle like a diamond. Mabel and he had only a couple of hundred thousand quid in investments and savings, but their house must be worth a pretty penny. One neighbour recently sold their house for four hundred thousand.
After arriving home, he picked up the telephone with a shaky hand and called an estate agent. “Hello, can you help me with an urgent sale?”
“Most certainly,” answered a young man. “May I take your address and some details?”
“It’s twenty-two Acacia Drive.”
“Just off Park Road?”
“That’s right. A three-bedroom detached house with a large garden.”
“You’re in luck. Houses off Park Road are selling like hot cakes to families with young children because of nearby Park School.”
“How much will we get?”
“Hmm … that’s difficult to say without an inspection, but detached houses in that area typically sell for between five hundred and seven-hundred-and-fifty thousand. The housing market is buoyant. I’m confident I could secure a sale within a month.”
“I need cash quick. Today.”
“Woah, hold on.” The man chuckled. “There are equity release schemes that deliver cash funds quickly, but even that would take at least a month. Solicitors must be instructed, and the security must be registered with the Land Registry.”
The doctor’s words echoed in Sid’s head. Mabel had maybe a week. He couldn’t wait a whole month. “Is there nothing I can do to release the money quicker?”
He slammed the phone into its cradle and pressed his hand against his forehead, willing away the dizziness. A tiny portion of his mind understood he was being irrational. Mabel wouldn’t care if he didn’t buy that ring. She would be just as happy with a plastic ring from a Kinder Egg. However, Sid wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than a diamond fit for a Disney Princess. He must get her that Fitzherbert Ring. But how?
Sid gazed at the photographs on the wall: their wedding, their holiday of a lifetime in Venice, their Golden Wedding Anniversary. No children peered back from the framed memories. Mabel always wanted children but not until he retired from the Royal Marines. She feared explaining what happened to their father when he failed to return from some dangerous mission. By the time he retired to Civvy Street, Mabel was too old to conceive. Had he sacrificed too much in service to his Queen and country?
A crazy thought flitted through his mind. He sprang upstairs and then climbed into the loft. A chest in one cluttered corner contained military memorabilia. He lifted the lid to release a cloud of dust and the stench of mothballs. He sneezed as he delved through the uniforms and miscellaneous pieces of kit. At the bottom, his fingers curled around something hard and cold. It was heavier than he recalled and would require cleaning, but at least he had bullets for the Webley Revolver he acquired during the Malayan Emergency. Handguns were illegal since the nineties, but he never relinquished his and had kept it hidden.
Less than an hour later, he returned to the jewellers. This time he wore his old Royal Marines uniform, though he had to tighten the belt, and it was baggy. Entering, he spied the woman who laughed earlier. Focusing so his hands didn’t shake, he drew his revolver. “I’ll have that ring now, please.”
“You must be insane.”
He nodded. “So, you’d better give me what I want.”
Though she trembled, the woman showed some pluck. “O-or what?”
He raised his revolver. “You don’t want to find out.”
“You won’t shoot. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life behind bars.”
Sid hesitated. What would Mabel think? But no. His kind wife would understand he did this for her. He smirked. “Lady, the older you get, the less of a deterrent ‘life in prison’ becomes.”
WORD COUNT: 2000
Featured in: "Short Stories Newsletter (July 13, 2022)" "For Authors Newsletter (July 27, 2022)"