The big, circular clock on the wall whirred and clicked. It should have chimed but it no longer did so. Robin Stephens smiled at it.
"Thank you old friend," he thought. "I'll manage the six twenty-one."
He scooped up his papers and put them in his in-tray. He glowered at his pending tray. There was not really a lot to deal with there. It was a question of having things handy. It was quicker to grab a file than go through two or three steps on his computer to find it.
"I'm old fashioned," he thought. "I do use my computer a lot. Heaven help me without one! All the same, I'm more comfortable with a file."
He put everything on his desk into the security cabinet and twirled the dial. He grabbed his jacket, shrugging it on as he went and set off at a brisk walk to the station.
"It's funny," he thought. "I sit in that office with its panelling, an old mahogany desk and a half dead clock and yet I'm in touch with the whole of Europe immediately through my computer. The whole of the world actually. How things have changed in the last twenty years."
Robin worked for an insurance company in the City of London and had done since he was twenty-two. He was now forty-four and was Director Special Projects Europe. He reported directly to the European Vice-President. He did not think he would move further up the ladder, unless of course he was head-hunted but he retained a loyalty to his present company. The company valued him for his knowledge of financial matters, insurance in particular, and his ability to produce new schemes or improve existing ones. However, despite a good mind and an attractive personality, he was not a salesman. He had been told by the Director of Human Resources that he was not a 'thruster'.
He was reasonably happy though. He had seen both children through university. Christopher was also working in the City in banking and Daphne, having won an honours degree in biochemistry at Bath University, had stayed on to do research and work for her master's degree. He kept himself fit, playing cricket in the summer and squash in the winter. He was a member of the local choral society and he and his wife, Beatrice or Bea as she was known to everybody, were also members of the amateur dramatic society. She was a very good actress when she learned her part but because of idleness and mental blocks she rarely was given major roles. Robin tended to shine in the musicals and was a gifted comic. Pooh Bah in the 'Mikado' was one of his favourites.
He nodded to acquaintances on the train. There was a poker school for the longer distance travellers but Robin only had forty minutes on the train plus a ten minute drive home from the station. He pulled his paper from the voluminous pocket of his jacket and settled down to see whether he could crack the crossword before he got home. He succeeded.
He arrived home fifty minutes later, put the car in the garage and walked through the connecting door into the house, hanging his jacket in the boot room before going into the kitchen.
"Hello, darling," he greeted Bea giving her a peck on the lips.
"Hi," she replied. "Good day?"
"Curate's egg. I was summoned to a board meeting and had to sit there twiddling my thumbs for half an hour but then I had to present my latest scheme and, hurray hurray, they accepted it. A few more pennies in the pot at the end of the year, I hope."
"What do you plan to do with them?"
"Count them first. G&T or a glass of wine?"
He handed her a glass and poured his own drink. "What have you been up to?"
"Nothing much. The standard Thursday grocery shop for the weekend, a quick lunch with Jilly Roberts and then back here. Daphne rang earlier on and I had a long chat with her."
"How is she?"
"In good form. She's enjoying her research work and likes the people she works with. She says her professor is a darling grump."
Robin chuckled. "That's rather descriptive."
"Hmm. I'm not sure quite what she means."
Robin was not going to try and explain. Bea would require a detailed one and then challenge him on it because it did not tally with what she had thought it might have meant. All of which would lead to a long and pointless discussion with her not admitting that she had missed the point in the first place.
"Did she have anything else to say?"
"She's met a young man she says she rather likes. He's not a chemist like her but a lecturer in English Literature or something like that. She says it makes a change not to talk shop."
"I can understand that. Do I scent romance?"
"I don't think so. She only rather likes him."
Robin picked up his drink again and noticed that Bea had finished hers.
"Would you like the other half?" he asked.
"What's for sups?"
"Yum! Dinner out tomorrow?"
"OK but can we go somewhere other than the Anchor? I know it does good food and we know the people there but I'd really like a change."
"Fine by me. Anywhere in particular?"
"How about the Windmill? We haven't been there for ages."
"Aha!" smiled Robin. "Spending my newly earned pennies already."
"We don't have to go there if it's too expensive."
"Don't be silly. I'm only pulling your leg. If that's where my love wishes to go then that's where my love shall go."
There was no smile of gratitude though Robin sadly noticed. It was indicative of the way they were living: routine, routine conversation, routine sex once a fortnight. In many ways it was his fault. Bea would like to go to some expensive five star hotel. What would they do there? Eat good but not exceptional meals even though they were decoratively presented, walk if the weather permitted, sit about with the paper or his laptop while Bea indulged in spa treatments. OK so he might spend some of a weekend at home doing just that but how long did Bea's spa benefits last? A ladybird painted on her big toenail might give her something to giggle about but would have disintegrated in a fortnight. Possibly he was being selfish but what would she do for him? He had suggested a tour of the Somme and Arras battlefields. He had often wondered how any human being could have endured them and hoped that a visit might help him if only to grieve for them and their now dead families and appreciate their sacrifice. She had turned that suggestion down flat.
He offered no more conversation. Nor did Bea. The ate their dinner in virtual silence, apart from Robin saying how tasty it was to which Bea did respond with a smile of thanks.
They watched television after supper. At half past nine, after the news, Robin locked up and went slowly upstairs to bed. Bea was already in bed reading when Robin slid in. She took no notice of him except to murmur goodnight when he touched her shoulder and said goodnight to her.
His alarm went off at six the following morning. Routine meant that he was already half awake and he silenced it before it woke Bea. He padded off to the bathroom and then his dressing-room cum study. He made himself breakfast, a couple of boiled eggs, toast and coffee. Long gone were the days that Bea cooked him breakfast. He tidied everything away afterwards to avoid recriminations that evening even though he could bet that there would be all sorts of bits and pieces left for him to tidy away after supper, or before as they were going out that evening.
He picked up his paper at the station, climbed aboard the train when it arrived only a few minutes late and read the now usual gloomy news about the Euro zone on the way up to London. He did a day's work which gave him some satisfaction. At least he was able to get work started on the scheme that the board had sanctioned the day before.
Being a Friday he copied everyone else, sliding off as soon as they decently could. It was not as though he particularly wanted to but he would need to shower and change before taking Bea to the Windmill. He was not enthusiastic. The food was not up to the Anchor's standard and cost half as much again. The chances of them meeting somebody they knew to alleviate the boredom of trying to make conversation with Bea were unlikely.
Bea greeted him with a hug and a kiss which surprised him.
"Go and have a nice relaxing bath," she said, "and would you do me a favour?"
"Wear that blue cashmere jersey I like so much."
"OK." Robin smiled at her. "And my frilly knickers?"
"No, you cheeky man." She smacked his cheek gently. "Go on. Off you go."
Still slightly surprised Robin went off to do as he was told. He really enjoyed the bath. It was a rare occurrence. He normally made do with a shower which was hardly a luxurious way to wash. He took some time over it, deciding to shave as well.
Yet another surprise was awaiting him downstairs: Bea was ready. She looked very nice too. He told her so and received a bright smile.
"Thank you, kind sir," she said and dipped him a little curtsey. "You look pretty dapper yourself."
"Would you like a drink before we go?" he asked her.
"Why not? It'll be cheaper than the Windmill too," she teased.
They took their drinks through to the drawing room and sat in their usual armchairs.
"Well this is nice," said Bea. "No cooking and a nice comfortable drink."
"Did Ron come today?" Robin asked.
"Yes. He cut the grass and dead-headed the roses. He was here a bit over his two hours but wouldn't take any extra, bless his heart."
"He's a nice chap although I only ever see him when I'm on holiday or occasionally at the weekend in the village. He certainly keeps the garden in good order. For which relief much thanks."
Their conversation meandered on and then they left for the Windmill. The short car journey was silent but as soon as they entered the pub Bea brightened up again. Indeed she was cheerful and talkative all evening.
When they got home she surprised him again. "Don't hang about," she said. "I want you in my bed."
Robin did as he was told and climbed into bed some ten minutes later to yet another surprise. Bea was naked. Normally she wore a full length nighty and panties.
"Golly!" exclaimed Robin. "What do I owe this to?"
"I want to make love with my husband."
They did so, very gently, very slowly and very enjoyably. In the morning they were still in each other's arms. Bea turned to him and kissed him gently.
"Breakfast in twenty minutes," she said softly.
When Robin appeared in the kitchen she placed a full cooked breakfast in front of him. She sat down with toast, marmalade and coffee.
"Thank you, my love," said Robin appreciatively. "This is a treat. You haven't cooked breakfast for me for ages."
Bea just smiled at him and continued to eat her toast and marmalade. Robin finished his breakfast and, having poured himself coffee, sat down again. He did not pick up the paper. It appeared that Bea wanted to talk about something.
"Well, my love, what's on your mind?"