A Nice, Old Couple
“If I hadn’t told you, you’d never know.”
He stared at me in astonishment. What did he think, that I wouldn’t dare speak to him like that? My poor, startled husband who had been tormenting me with his unrealised dreams, frustrations and life regrets. For a moment I wondered whether he was going to hit me, something started to stir and change on his face, just like it did many, many years ago. I didn’t care, I had enough. Even though I had just lied to him about cheating on him, I wanted to see his reaction and for a fleeting moment, finally, have the upper hand. I had every right to do so, I was the one whom he used and took for granted for all those years. I wanted fury, both his and mine.
His ears went red and he jumped at me, while I managed to move back behind the sofa. Now we were standing on its two opposite sides, waiting for the next move like two wrinkled wrestlers looking for the right moment. I was panting loudly, high on adrenaline in my old lungs. All those years of silence, meek submission and false smiles dawned on me with all the acute awareness of how many years I actually lost at his side.
“I cheated on you, too, you know,” he whispered, his eyes narrow like a snake’s.
“Oh, really?” I laughed. “How did you tell her about your prostate dysfunction?”
“You witch! You have an artifical hip!”
He whisked the remote control from the table and threw it at me. I dodged easily, he didn’t have his glasses on.
“All those years! I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough! I brought up our only child, I looked after your house and what did I get in return?”
“What are you talking about? You’ve just told me you cheated on me!”
“What can I say? Serves you right.”
I don’t think I recognised myself at this point. Frankly, I must have passed one of those threshold moments when you knew you couldn’t take any more and your mind went berserk. Pretty late to go berserk at the age of eighty six, but better late than never.
He launched himself at me with all the senile agility he could muster. I was becoming more energised by his weak attempts to grab my throat. I may have had arthritis in my old joints, but I did know how to defend myself. I pushed him away with a surprising force.
He tripped on the carpet and fell on the sofa. Something cracked, I think his brand new, false teeth. I think he farted, too, but that was simply unavoidable at a certain age. I did not pity him one bit.
A thin trail of blood appeared on his left temple. He got up pretty quickly, but something clinked in his right knee – I told him he should have that seen by a doctor. Suddenly I was overcome by an attack of coughing (I had a nasty cold I got from sweeping up dead leaves outside), which he viciously used as an opportunity. He grabbed the rim of my shirt and pulled. I squeezed his nose and he hissed with pain; he had a nasal septum surgery a few years ago and that it still hurt him every now and then.
“I want a divorce!” I screamed in his face.
He stared at me blankly, an old man who was lucky he met the right woman in his life. I gave him a triumphant look. I knew, I knew this would be the end of him: no freshly-cooked meals, no help in the house, no fresh laundry, no nappies I helped him put on for the night, no one to do all the dirty work for him. Then, he snapped. He rose again with a newspaper in hand, ready to hit me with it. I raised my arms in defense.
The doorbell rang and we both stopped mid-air, looking at the door like a couple of thieves caught red-handed.
“Grandma, Grandpa, it’s us! You said you would leave the door open!”
A small child giggled behind the door. We exchanged quick looks and instantly started to put everything in order, careful to erase all signs of our fight. He probably thought with relief that all would soon blow over. Maybe for a moment a part of the old me thought that, too, but no: I decided I wanted to do one last thing before I died. As I went to open the door, I looked at him one last time that evening.
“We’re going to divorce, old man. And I’ll work happy like a pack mule, until it’s done.”
I opened the door widely, gleaming like the happiest person in the world, a World Number 1 Grandma.
“Hi everyone! Happy Saint Nicholas Day!”
A small creature with tousled hair launched itself at me with the force of a bullet. Sam, my lovely five-year-old great-grandson hugged me. I laughed, maybe a bit too hysterically, and kissed his parents in the cheeks, my granddaughter Emily and her husband Tim.
“Are you okay, Grandma? You look nervous.” Those granddaughters. They always know when something is wrong. I smiled again, feeling the sudden pain in my chest.
“That’s nothing, really. I was just fighting a very nasty cockroach.”
“Gosh. Grandpa, you’re bleeding, what happened to you?”
“Oh, really? I haven’t noticed…” He played the victim now.
“He was the cockroach.”
Emily stopped and stared at me, as did everyone else, including my doe-eyed grandson. Then I laughed merrily and everyone followed with relief.
We sat down in the living room, while I left the guests to go to the kitchen. Sam ran after me, always eager to help. He had a thing for cooking, he loved watching me bake with wonder and amazement on his face. I bet he will make a great chef one day.
“Grandma, what are we having today?” he asked with sweet innocence that always melted my heart. I almost forgot my hatred for the man in the next room, a hatred that throbbed in my body with a passion I never thought I had.
“We’re having mustard pork with apples, sweetheart.” I winked at him and he stood on the chair to see how I was heating up the food. He threw a secret look at the tray of cupcakes in the far corner of the worktop. He had the same facial expression as his mother when she was a little girl. Of course, I was the grandparent she remembered most from her childhood. My daughter wasn’t around often and Emily was virtually brought up by me. He was working all the time, for which, naturally, I was to be eternally grateful. The thing is I was an accountant and I still managed to find time for my Emily.
“What did you get for Saint Nicholas Day, Sammie?”
“Smells divine. Sam, your mum can’t find her phone, did you play with it?”
He walked into my kitchen, leant over my cupcakes and studied them with hungry eyes. He didn’t dare look at me. How could he be so careless as to saunter in here? He must have known he was playing with fire.
“I forgot it, Mummy, it’s in the car!” yelled Sam and he jumped from the chair to run to the living room. “I’ll be right back, Grandma, wait for me!”
“Of course, darling!”
He ran out of the room and I was left with an old trot who happened to be my husband and a steaming pot of pork. Suddenly, he turned towards me with an evil frown.
“I’m never giving you a divorce. Not a chance.”
My eyes opened widely and I threw him a fierce look that for a moment took him aback. My face was veiled in the steam from the pot like an angry demon.
“We’ll see. Soon you’ll be begging me for it.”
“Witch,” he hissed right in my ear.
I pressed my lips tightly and reacted in slow-motion like in one of those Matrix scenes my granddaughter used to love so much. I grabbed the cupcake and pushed it right into his face before he managed to turn away from me. He gave a surprised groan and staggered back a few steps, his face and white hair all smeared with a wonderful daubs of cocoa mass and chocolate fudge frosting.
“Impotent,” I retorted triumphantly.
I had a good aim without my glasses, his whole face was evenly spread with what was left of the still moisty cupcake.
“Grandma! What are you doing?”
I noticed my granddaughter standing in the kitchen wide-eyed and frankly, quite terrified. Sam was hiding behind her leg and smiling impishly.
“Your grandmother wants to divorce me,” my husband whined like a little boy.
“What? Is it true?”
Tim walked in right behind Emily and raised his eyebrows with mild amusement. He was the one who once grabbed me by the arm and said “You need to rest. You don’t have to do all this stuff in the house.” Maybe he just understood how my marriage worked, his parents themselves fighting for years until they finally divorced.
“Excuse me? You’re eighty six!”
“So what? I can’t, because I’m too old?”
“Grandpa, you look funny…”
“Arrghhh… I can’t see…”
“How can you be so cruel?” Emily shouted desperately.
“I’m the one who’s being cruel?!”
“I think the pork…”
I turned around briskly to lift the steaming pot and put it aside wth a furious thud.
Then, we all turned our heads towards the door when the doorbell rang again. Everyone fell silent except my husband who managed to wipe the cupcake off his eyes with multiple paper towels. Naturally, I’d bought them before.
I dashed out of the kitchen, ignoring another pang of pain in my chest, and went to the door. It was already pitck-dark outside with a faint twinkle of Christmas lights winking in the evening blackness. I opened the door, mad at my granddaughter’s betrayal.
He was staring at me with emerald, shiny eyes that seemed too small for his broad pinkish face. Pearls of sweat were trickling down his throat where a short, silver chain hid in the nest of his nicely groomed, milky beard. I felt tiny and small, while he towered over me in all his voluptuous, bulky body squeezed into a woolen coat. The coat oozed bright red, but seemed old, worn-out. He didn’t have a red cap, but a read bandana with a knitted reindeer on it that exposed a tiny, shiny spot on the top of his skull.
“What a lovely evening!” he greeted me like a first-class soprano and I jumped on my feet. “I apologise for the inconvenience, but my sleigh has broken down and I’m waiting for back-up to arrive. Would you mind my sitting with you inside for a moment?”
I stared at him suspiciously, wondering whether to throw him out of my doorstep or simply let him in. I eyed him from head to toe, concluding that he was a well-prepared, fake Santa, but there was something about him… Did he really smell of ginger?
“Santa!” Sammy ran after me and laughed, his parents and my cockroach, more or less cleared from the cupcake apart from two smudges on his eyebrows, followed. The man waved at them with his giant hand.
“Hello, I’m Santa!”
I found myself moving back so that the man tumbled inside with all his bodily magnitude to greet Sam. Emily and Tim exchanged uncertain glances, but they decided to go with the story. The cockroach just stood by and watched everyone with a morose expression of a hurt dog.
“What are you doing here, Santa?” asked Emily politely, as the big man collapsed in the armchair and smiled at Sam.
“Oh, my sleigh’s broken down and I’m waiting for back-up. I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“Would you like anything?” asked Sam. “We have tea and cupcakes! Grandma has
“I’ll bring the dinner here, Grandma!” shouted Emily suddenly and I was ordered by her to sit down and do nothing.
The man winked at me and I couldn’t turn away from his green eyes. Soon, plates and drinks were distributed and we sat down by the low table in the living room that completely wasn’t fit for eating, for I had to crouch to reach my plate and my back started to hurt. We didn’t look at each other, everyone watched as Santa slurped and licked the plate until it was empty, and then gorged himself on two cupcakes, somehow managing not to stain his wondrous beard.
“So good, delicious… Oh my dearest me. Who did this? Who is the miracle-maker?”
Sam pointed at me with his finger. Santa leant over and looked me in the eye. He seemed bigger with every minute, but his presence was homely and warm. We were strangely drawn to him, a father who had a big smile.
“I’ll tell you this, lady, you are a wonderful woman and don’t you forget about that.
Now, you have welcomed me here and I loved the meal we shared together. Now it’s my turn! Some presents, anyone?”
“Presents!” squealed Sammy and jumped so high Santa caught him and sat him on his knee.
Santa reached to the inner pocket of his coat with a mischievous look and took out a steel flask embroidered with snow flake engravings. He took a big gulp and exhaled loudly, his face already exuberantly red. He offered me the flask.
“Would you mind holding it for me? I have something here for Sammy, but I have to look closer… Oh, and help yourself, by the way.”
My husband looked at me scathingly, as if the offer should have been made to him.
While Santa miraculously fished out from his coat a pair of ice skates, I felt the warm heaviness of the flask in my hands. I found myself in need of some alcoholic sustenance and the idea was just too tantalising to resist. So I opened the lid and swallowed the unimaginably sweet, thick drink that hit my old, weary taste buds with fruit, alcove, cinnamon and honey flavours. I felt as if I injected myself with some illegal substance. It didn’t matter – the world just seemed so beautiful.
Santa winked. He did that all the time. “My wife’s recipe.”
The whole room glowed like a palace made of gold and Santa’s round face swirled in the air like a smiling gingerbread man’s head. I burped blissfully. My old limbs felt weak and I threw myself on the sofa, chuckling at my wrinkled hands and breasts that seemed like two pierced balloons.
“How are you, dear?” A voice reached me from heaven.
“Oh. I. Feel. Goooooood.” And the world was yellow. Yellooooooooow.
“OK, that’s enough. I need some, too.”
My husband came up to me and tried to take the flask away. Not the flask! I pulled back, but he was pulling, too. Soon we were both panting and wheezing like rusty machines. He farted again, a sign of how agitated he was. I sobered up a bit, determined to oppose him. I kicked his left thigh with my leg with the artificial hip. That really hurt and he hissed.
“Leave the poor lady alone and sit down!”
My husband let go and did as he was told instantly, probably against his own will. Emily and Tim were staring at the scene speechless, while Sam sat on Santa’s lap, pressing his skates to his chest. The glow of the room was slowly disappearing, but I swear their eyes looked big and colourful like anime characters. Santa fixed his intense gaze on me, no one else.
“What do you really want, dear, hm?”
“I want to divorce my husband or kill him.”
Emily covered her mouth with her hand and Sammy giggled. Santa shook his head, frowning.
“Well, I don’t want you to divorce. It’s not right…”
“Why? It’s just unfair. My marriage has been unfair,” I replied before I managed to bite my tongue.
My granddaughter looked hurt and I realised my perspective might have been too narrow. I felt the uneasy sense of being the centre of attention. The silence was excruciating and the pain stung me again in my chest. Santa was looking at me, as if I was a naughty child in school. Then, he clicked his fingers.
“Oh, my! I think I still have one more present in there!” Santa winked at Sam. “A special gift for Grandma.”
He reached to his magic pocket again and took out a silky, black bag. He was chuckling lightly, impatient to see my reaction. I took it from him, trying to feel what was inside before I dug my hand in the bag. I couldn’t recognise the shape of the object I touched, so I took it out.
Emily gasped and jumped to Sam to cover his eyes. What I had in my hand was a pair of pink, fluffy handcuffs. Not believing my eyes, I took a peak inside the bag and discovered a black leather collar.
“Are you saying I have sadomasochistic predilections?!” I shouted indignantly. Santa shruggged his shoulders.
“I don’t want you to divorce and you don’t want your life to be the way it was before.
Why don’t you try?”
I gave my husband a quick look just to relish the desperation in his eyes. Funnily enough, the idea seemed hilarious to me, even entertaining. He was desperate not to divorce me and I thought he was willing to do anything to secure it.
“I might have a stroke. Or cardiac arrest.”
“We’ll just play around a bit.”
Emily widened her eyes in shock, while Tim pretended he was coughing. I didn’t think too much about what was happening, nor did I choose to overanalyse it, as I have repeatedly done in the past. You never know when a revolution might happen in your life. Mine did at the age of eighty six.
Santa stood up. I thought I heard a gentle ring of bells behind the window.
“Well, I think my job here is done.” I gave him his flask back and he winked. “No need to see me out.”
He walked to the door, fixing the belt that was falling off his giant belly. He seemed too big now to fit in the door, but he did. We all waved him goodbye. He laughed merrily and his cheeks glowed with happiness. He closed the door behind him.
Now all eyes turned on me and my husband. Sam was swinging his skates by the laces, smiling.
“Grandma, these cuffs are very pretty. Can I have some for Christmas?”
Emily looked at him in horror, while I looked at my husband. He gulped loudly.
“When do we start?” I asked.
By Marta Jakubek from Poland