A small table stood below an open window where curtains stirred in a light evening breeze. Two tall lighted candles glowed on gleaming silver and soft white napery. The appointments were simple, as was the banquet. It was a celebration of sixty years of marriage shared only by the partners themselves.
Sixty years of sharing; sixty years of caring. This was the last meal they would partake together in this home. A few boxes, a suitcase or two, stood waiting in the hall. On the morrow a taxi would take them to the retirement centre.
At her call Wilfred came to the table. Susan placed a soup tureen in the centre. They stood, holding hands, while Wilfred thanked the Lord for His goodness and asked for His blessing on their final banquet in their home of sixty years.
In what was now a ritual, Susan passed her bowl, Wilfred carefully filled it and passed it back before filling his own. As he lifted his spoon Wilfred regarded his wife over the top of his glasses.
“Thank you, Susan. Thank you for waiting for me and thank you for sixty wonderful years together.”
Susan looked away. Her eyes filled; a lump formed in her throat. Sixty years and more of memories crowded round her, pulling her back down the years. She saw the young probationer, starry-eyed when the medical student smiled at her. There was the intern, kneeling, laughing his proposal and protesting her pretended refusal.
Her spoon stirred the soup. She couldn’t swallow; the lump in her throat was choking her. Wilfred hadn’t moved. His eyes were fixed on her, his spoon suspended. Her eyes sought the table. The lacy cloth, once her best, was worn with age and use. She’d kept her precious, much used glass and silver for this occasion; the soup was Wilfred’s favourite, as was the apple pie and cream. Still, she couldn’t swallow anything.
She felt his hand on her elbow, left her spoon lie in the bowl with the napkin lying to one side.
“Come, Susan.” His voice was gentle and she rose and followed him to the swing seat on the patio.
They sat together, Susan tucking her feet up and leaning into Wilfred’s embrace while he rocked the seat gently with one foot. The evening was warm and the sky was bright with stars. There was no need of words. Sixty years of shared trials and victories, tears and laughter brought an understanding that didn’t depend on words alone.
In a banquet of love the table was forgotten. Susan thought of two babies buried in infancy. Wilfred pointed to the stars as he had done so many years ago and whispered again, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” She remembered another son, a laughing boy, the image of his father, martyred as a medical missionary. Wilfred stroked her head and reminded her, “We’ll meet again.”
How long they sat in quietness while the memories of sixty years of sorrow and laughter washed over them is not important. The quietness and the togetherness were all important. Only the cooling night reminded them that time was passing and there were one or two things to be done before they slept.
The table was dismantled and the candles snuffed. They held each other close as they slept. The morrow was too soon.
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