As she walked into the living room, Jennifer saw that Stan had fallen asleep on the couch with the television still blaring out and was snoring gently. It amazed her that, in repose, he looked like such an amiable man, yet the truth was so often very different. Lately, he had become cranky and domineering and she sometimes wondered whether that blow to his head years ago had manifested itself into some sinister growth in his brain. Oh, well, the doctor didn’t seem to think so, and he was the so-called expert, wasn’t he? She had promised herself that if her husband died before she did, she would pay whatever it cost to have his brain autopsied, just to prove her theory.
They had met and married in their early twenties and had gone on to produce 2 daughters, both of whom had qualified as teachers and were now living in Australia. Neither of the girls seemed keen to find a partner and settle down, and were, by all accounts, having active social lives with lots of single friends. Good for them she thought, as she started to carry all the heavy shopping bags into the kitchen, feeling somewhat disgruntled at the way in which her life had turned out.
It was really strange that, looking back over the years, it should have been obvious that it was up to her to assert herself and not allow her husband to constantly dampen her spirits. When they were first married, they had had lots of fun, and were part of a group of friends who had all gone to school together. Perhaps that was the real problem – everyone had continued to live in the area in which they had grown up, and no-one had married anyone from another town, let alone another country! Most of the other couples had eventually moved away, and they had all lost touch with one another. Only Jenny and Stan still lived in the same village after all these years. Maybe that was the reason that their lives seemed to be so dull and mundane these days. Something needed to be done to bring back some excitement, if not for them both, then at least for Jenny.
Stan carried on sleeping while she packed away all her purchases and then, arms folded, she stood looking at the open fridge and wondered what she should make for dinner tonight. She had always joked that if she ever came into a fortune, it would be takeaways, or eating out at local restaurants for the rest of her life. Cooking had become a real chore instead of a pleasure, and today was no exception. She had to admit though that her cooking was usually far tastier and more nutritious than the other options, and certainly much cheaper as well.
Maybe she would use the lamb that she had just bought and make a casserole. It was only just after midday, so there was plenty of time to braise the meat, prepare the vegetables and get the dish in the oven to cook slowly and then she would make that phone call that she had been putting off for days now.
She hadn’t told Stan that her friend, Margie, had recently had a financial windfall when an ex-lover, who never fulfilled his promise to divorce his wife and marry her, had died suddenly leaving her a substantial amount of conscience money. To help her get over her grief, Margie had decided that a shopping and sight- seeing trip to Thailand might just be what was needed. She didn’t want to go on her own and had immediately asked Jenny to go with her, all expenses paid.
Luckily, Jennifer’s passport was valid, and she had managed to save quite a few pounds over the years by being very thrifty when it came to buying groceries. Fortunately, dear Stan didn’t have a clue when it came to the cost of food and household products, so squirrelling money away for a rainy day (that really was a thoughtless pun, considering the weather in England!) had been really easy. She had opened her own savings account years ago, and he knew nothing about it. While he was away on business, which still happened regularly, she was able to be really tight when it came to making meals for herself, and that way her private money stash was looking fairly healthy right now.
Stan’s contracting job was irregular and right now he was on a month’s break – hence the sleeping on the couch in the middle of the day. To be honest, he did seem to be getting tired of all the to-ing and fro-ing to Africa and the Far East which his engineering expertise necessitated, but the money he earned was not to be sneezed at. The trouble was that he was a bit tight fisted to say the least when it came to actually spending what he earned. Yes, they would have to start looking at the future and potential retirement one of these days, but life really was for the living, as she so often tried to tell him. Their retirement policies were going to ensure a comfortable old age by all accounts, but the thought of having him under her feet day in and day out, once he gave up work completely, was enough to give her a panic attack. The way she felt right now, she would either have to start taking happy pills like so many of her friends, or doing what their neighbours did on a regular basis, and smoke pot! It all boiled down to coping!
Anyway, that phone call had to be made. She dialled Margie’s number and her friend answered almost immediately. “HI Jenny, I was hoping that you would give me the go-ahead today, so that I can book our tickets”.
Making sure that the bedroom door was securely closed before she answered Margie, Jenny rather nervously replied, “You know what Margie, I am going to accept your very generous offer as long as you allow me to pay my way regarding our eating expenses once we arrive. I haven’t said anything to Stan, and I am planning on doing a Shirley Valentine on him, and just leaving him a note on the fridge. After all, he is home now for the next 3 weeks, and there is enough food in the house to keep him going quite comfortably. Other than that, he can always go to his club and get himself a good meal, plus meet up with a few of his old cronies for a beer or two. He’ll survive, and maybe he will start to miss me if I’m not here at his beck and call for a while. It’s only 10 days anyway, and it’s not costing him a penny, so he has no right to complain!”
“Aren’t you glad that the girls have left home, there are no animals to worry about anymore, and you can just get on that plane with me and relax for a while?” asked Margie.
Glancing at her somewhat dishevelled appearance in the dressing table mirror, Jenny replied, “I can hardly imagine the relief I am going to feel once that plane taxies down the runway and we leave this miserable, depressing U.K. weather behind for a while. Thank you so much for asking me to join you Margie -this is the gift of a lifetime”.
The next few days were a bit of a challenge, as getting clothes and cosmetics ready for the trip without making Stan suspicious, was no mean task. However, he did pop out every now and again, either to buy the local paper, or on one occasion to pick up some fish and chips for their dinner. Jenny had become an expert at deviancy and these few precious private moments were put to good use, and she packed with a vengeance. Fortunately, Stan never ventured into either of the bedrooms which had been used by their daughters in the past, so Jenny was able to hide her suitcase under one of the beds without fear of his finding it. She felt just as Shirley Valentine must have done, planning a secret getaway!
The day of the start of the trip finally arrived, and the plan was that she would ask Stan to go to his parent’s house with a lasagne that Jenny had made for them. He hadn’t seen them for several weeks and it was about time that he did his duty and took them a peace offering. As soon as his car had left the driveway, Jenny rang Margie to tell her that the coast was clear, and she was ready to be picked up. They would be in plenty of time to get to the airport to catch their plane and have a celebratory drink before embarking on their adventure. Jenny quickly stuck the note she had prepared for her husband on to the front of the double door fridge and made sure that the highlighter she had used would catch his eye the moment he entered the kitchen. She had just told him that she was taking a break with a friend and that she would more than likely be back in England in about 10 days’ time. She told him to enjoy his time on his own, and to look after himself.
An hour or so later, Stan arrived home and went straight over to the fridge for a cold beer. He was rather taken aback to find that Jenny wasn’t at home and then to see a note addressed to him on the fridge door. As he read her note telling him that she had gone away with a friend for 10 days he suddenly felt a burst of energy and a feeling of optimism that he hadn’t felt in years. Contrary to what Jennifer had anticipated, Stan was a bit of a dark horse to say the least. He may have played the part of the loyal husband, but deep down he had not always been such a good boy!
After downing his beer, Stan dialled a number on his mobile phone – a number that he had always been tempted to use, but always chickened out when he remembered Jennifer and how devoted to him she had always appeared to be. How could he cheat on her after all these years, and what if he got found out! It was just a few seconds before the call was answered by a rather husky voiced woman. When she heard who was on the other end of the line, she suddenly became rather hesitant. “Oh, hello Stan. Haven’t heard from you in years. The last time I saw you was at that company function, which must have been about 3 years ago? To what do I owe the honour of this call?”
“Well to be honest Kay, I wondered whether you would like to have dinner with me tomorrow evening? You see, Jennifer has gone away for 10 days with a friend of hers, and it would be really good to get together again with you over a meal and a good bottle of wine.” There was a moment’s hesitation before Kay replied, “You must have heard then that I am no longer with Steve. I came home unexpectedly one day and found him in bed with our next-door neighbour’s husband. Once I had got over the total devastation, the embarrassment in knowing that It had became common knowledge was worse than the shock. After all, we must have been the subject of many jokes as we seemed to be the epitome of the happy, successful couple until this happened. “After chatting for a few more minutes, Kay agreed to have dinner with Stan the following evening.
Sitting opposite one another at a popular Indian restaurant in a neighbouring village, Stan couldn’t help noticing that the woman he had last seen a few years ago had totally lost her good looks. She had put on pounds around the face and midriff, and her hair was grey and badly styled. He felt really disappointed, and no longer worried about being seen out and about with a woman other than his wife. No-one in their right minds could get the wrong idea about them being together. It took a huge effort on his part to actually try to chat to Kay and make the evening at least tolerable. She appeared to be distracted most of the time and was constantly checking her mobile phone. When the coffee arrived at the end of the meal, Stan suggested calling for a taxi for her instead of leaving her to make her way home on the train. He had driven to the restaurant in his own car, but suddenly the very idea of spending any more time with this boring woman was too much for him. He just didn’t have the inclination to go out of his way to take her home.
When the taxi arrived and they had said their rather uncomfortable goodbyes, the only thing in Stan’s mind was a tremendous sense of relief that, despite the temptation to stray while Jennifer was out of town, all that he was guilty of was taking another woman out for a meal. He realised suddenly that he was lucky that the evening had turned out the way it had. Things might have been quite different if Kay had remained the funny, attractive and sexy woman whom he remembered from the past. As it was, he felt quite sick with remorse when he thought of his wife, and how he took her and all her good qualities for granted. This was a wake-up call, and he was determined to make up for all his selfishness when Jenny returned home. He just hoped and prayed that she wouldn’t succumb to her own form of temptation whilst she was abroad. After all as he now realised, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, and a faithful bird in the hand is usually worth two dubious ones to be found in the proverbial bush!
“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”
– Mae West (American Actress)