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Picture of a marriage (by michael bridgford)




Andy was a good man, but he still considered himself the boss. Jane couldn’t tell him that, for once, she’d made this big decision on her own.

 

Jane's nerve had failed her yet again. She sat on the kitchen stool, gloomily looking out through the window as her husband walked off towards the garage, not really aware that she had a problem to discuss.

When would she ever pluck up the courage to tell Andy what she really wanted to do? Even after 20 years of marriage, he still regarded himself as the dominant partner.

It wasn't that she no longer loved him. That wasn't the problem at all. He was kind, generous, a good provider. Many other women would have envied her. But it had always been him who'd made all the important decisions in their lives.

Jane knew it was that same self-confidence that had given him his success in life. Their comfortable lifestyle reflected it: a beautiful home, two cars, children at university.

She had good reason to be grateful and, in reality, she was. But now she had to make a decision for herself and she wasn't sure what his reaction would be.

Three times within as many days she'd worked herself up to tell him. And three times she'd stopped herself at the last minute. The frustrating thing was that, really, it had all been his idea at the beginning.

With the children away from home for most of the year and with extra time on her hands, she'd become so obviously bored that even Andy had started to notice at last.

'You're a bit fed up, aren't you?' he asked.

She nodded. He tossed the local paper over to her. 'There are lots of interesting courses mentioned in here.' Not really enthusiastic, Jane had examined the list. Nothing caught her eye at first, then she noticed an afternoon class in Spanish for beginners.

She couldn't possibly join an evening class; Andy expected his dinner to be served at seven. But Spanish in the afternoon might be all right.

The following day Jane called in at the local Education Centre. 'Spanish classes always fill up first, I'm afraid,' the receptionist twittered apologetically. 'Sorry, there are no places available on that course.'

Jane looked around her. The place was full of happy faces; an easy, companionable atmosphere filled the whole building. It was quite unlike anything she'd known before. Suddenly she just knew she wanted to be part of it.

'What else have you got left?' she heard herself asking, adding quickly, 'during the afternoon, that is.'

'What about Woodwork for Ladies?' asked the receptionist. Jane shook her head.

[15]'Picture restoring?'

The girl was doing her best but couldn't quite conceal her opinion that Jane wasn't the most obvious candidate for that type of course.

Jane, on the other hand, had a sudden mental picture of something she'd forgotten, or perhaps something she'd tried to put out of her mind. She remembered the times she used to spend sketching. People had commented favourably on her work and her good eye for detail — they'd even suggested she develop her talent.

Then Andy had come into her life — and taken it over.

Andy, the practical man, the professional engineer. He'd made no secret of his lack of interest in artistic matters.

All he had ever wanted was a pretty companion who had no real ability for anything other than home-making.

And over the years Jane had come to accept that if this was his assessment of her, it was probably the correct one.

She looked back at the receptionist and said: 'I'll try it.'

That evening Andy said nothing about it when she told him what she'd done, but her choice clearly surprised him. His brow furrowed and he was very quiet over dinner.

From the very first lesson Jane had loved the course, particularly the class tutor, a frail old man who might well have been a creative artist in his own right but who seemed not to have been all that successful.

He quickly realised that Jane was the most talented of that year's students.

By the time they'd reached the third lesson she was getting far more attention than any of the others. The old man even brought in a couple of quite valuable old paintings for her to work on.

On the final afternoon of the course the class had held a party to celebrate. The old man had drawn Jane to one side and spoken to her quietly.

'You have a natural talent for this work, you know. What are you going to do with it?' he asked her seriously. It was a question she hadn't considered.

'I don't know,' she replied.

'I restore paintings professionally, you know,' he said.

Jane nodded. Someone had already told her that.

'I've really got too much on at the moment and I'm certainly not getting any younger. I'd happily pay you to do some restoring for me,' he continued.

She was tempted to say she'd willingly work for nothing, but something told her he wanted to keep matters strictly on just a business level. So it was agreed. Two days later the old man arrived at the house in his battered old van and left Jane with a large, grimy Victorian painting in a huge, tasteless frame.

The picture was no great challenge for her but the frame was broken at one of the joints.

'I can't deal with the frame,' she'd told him.

'No problem. I'll mend that,' he said reassuringly.

Jane had propped the picture up in the conservatory and begun work on it immediately.

She was still working when Andy arrived home from the office. There was no dinner ready — he wasn't pleased.

'I hope that thing isn't going to be there for long,' he muttered as Jane rushed around preparing a last-minute salad.

The picture was cleaned and restored a week later and collected the following day, only to be replaced by three more. Andy never complained directly.

After that first, unfortunate evening, Jane always made sure his meal was ready. But something was obviously wrong.

[16]It had been three months now — three months in which she'd enjoyed herself more than she could ever remember.

While Jane moved around the house in a contented haze, Andy's moods became increasingly darker.

Then, only a week ago, right out of the blue, the old man dropped his bombshell.

‘I’ve decided to retire, Jane,' he said. 'Would you like to take over my studio? There are plenty of orders coming in and all my regular clients are delighted with your work.'

'I couldn't afford to buy a business,' she said.

'It's not for sale. I was only waiting for the right person to come and take it over. The business is yours — if you want it. You'd have to take over the rent, of course.' he added.

Jane still wasn't convinced.

'I couldn't do the frame repairs,' she said. 'That would be too heavy for me.'

He smiled wisely. I'm sure you'll find a way, my dear.'

He was right. She would. And she wanted to have that studio.

‘I’ll do it,' she said, as much to herself as to the old man.

But as the days passed and she sat there on the kitchen stool, her dream seemed to be moving further away from her. She knew she'd have to tell Andy soon, but she didn't know how she was going to do it.

On three occasions so far, she'd failed to pluck up the courage to face him.

Jane dealt with the washing-up that had been waiting since the previous night and turned to look at the picture that stood on her new easel.

She was too confused to make a start on it. The whole idea of taking over the studio would cause so many problems, it no longer seemed worth the effort.

The sound of car tyres on the gravel drive drifted in through the window. As she glanced up, Jane saw Andy crossing the lawn towards her.

He stood in the doorway, ashen-faced. Suddenly, for the first time, she realised he was beginning to look older.

'How come you're home so early?' she asked. 'You're not ill, are you?'

'No, I'm okay. I've just had a bit of a blow, that's all,' he said. 'I've been made redundant.'

As the shock sank in, Jane put her arms around him. 'Oh Andy, darling, that's just awful! I'm — so sorry,' she said.

He grinned at her. 'I can always rely on you to understate things,' he said. You're going to lose as much as I am and all you can think about is saying how sorry you are for me.

'But we have to face facts. I won't get another job at my age and the redundancy money won't last us very long. The company's going to give me my pension early but it won't bear any comparison to my salary. The house will have to go.'

Jane kissed him gently. Then, for once, she took control of the situation. 'Maybe not,' she said. 'Come on. We're going out for a ride. We'll take your car.'

She directed Andy to the studio. The door was unlocked, even though the old man had already stopped working there.

He'd made it clear to Jane that he knew she'd be taking it over sooner or later. So he'd left it unlocked for when she was ready to start working there.

'What's all this about?' Andy asked, perplexed.

'It's mine, darling, if I agree to pay the rent,' replied Jane.

Andy gave her waist a gentle, intimate squeeze.

'So this is what you've been trying to tell me over the last few days. I knew there was something on your mind. Am I really that forbidding?'

'A bit,' she said smiling.

[17]'I never wanted to be. I suppose, if I'm honest, I didn't want you to have any other interests apart from me. I just wanted you to be at home all the time, waiting for me each evening.

'When you started this work I think I felt threatened by your enthusiasm and independence,' he said honestly.

She kissed him again.

'Actually, you weren't the only reason I hesitated. I can deal with the cleaning and repainting but I can't handle the frame repairs. They need someone stronger — a carpenter, really.'

Andy eyed the old man's tools, still carefully set out in neat rows on the workbench.

Then he took off his jacket and picked up a canvas apron from its hook. 'Okay, boss. Where do I start?'

 





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