“I still don’t understand how you do it, Elaine. I mean, how can you stand it, knowing he is off with another woman tonight?” Mrs. Bryce exclaimed. Elaine Jackson smiled. She was used to this question, though only people as close as Jane Bryce asked it out loud. After all, she’d been facing it for ten. It had been going on for twenty. Her husband, Keith made no attempt to hide the fact that once a year in autumn, always on a Wednesday, he left home sharp at seven p.m., kissing her and hugging their kids and did not return for the next twenty four hours.
He also willingly admitted that he spent those hours with a lady. She had deeply resented him for the first few years of their marriage, crying, pleading and even threatening to walk out. Each time, he’d looked at her with the same smile, mixed with a lingering sadness, and she’d been unable to give a reason for saying no. He loved her deeply, there was no doubt, and eventually she’d made her peace. Once a year, her husband and her children’s father took a day off and she learnt to let Keith be, for the rest of their year was beautiful. Perfection, after all, was hard to achieve, and could not be given up.
“Well, he has his quirks. And honestly, maybe it would bother me if it were one woman. But it is always a different one. Everyone knows that. “She grinned wryly, thinking about the bouquet of chrysanthemums that always arrived the next day, always with the same message “Mr and Mrs Jackson, may your love live forever” and always a different name. Kyra. Lisa. Anne. She didn’t even remember all of them. With time, she’d begun to keep the flowers in a vase, rather than throwing them away. Once when her daughter had asked, she had said they were from “Aunt Anne” and started giggling so hysterically that Keith had come running with a worried expression.
“Well, I suppose if you’re fine with it, then it is alright.” Jane sighed.
“Yes, indeed. Well, cheers to another autumn successfully weathered.” Elaine laughed, and if it had a hollow undertone, neither woman mentioned it.
“How was your trip, Darling?” She asked, as she hung up his coat. She smiled as he scooped up their toddler son and tossed him in the air before catching him.
“It was fine, dear.” He smiled. “And oh, these are for you.” He picked up the bouquet of chrysanthemums he’d set aside on the table.
She took it with a smile, “Oh! They’re gorgeous. I’ll put them in water.” Walking into the drawing room, she noticed again the card, the same ornate calligraphy, a different name. This time, Loraine. She tossed the card into the fireplace as usual and put up the flower vase on the mantelpiece.
The next morning, as she poured out his coffee, she performed their customary ritual of reading the newspaper out loud. It was something they both did every morning.
“Another one of those young women found in the canal yesterday-How ghastly! No ID and no one knows who she is. God! What is it with crimes and this season?” Elaine exclaimed.
“How awful indeed” Keith remarked with a touch of horror in his voice. He glanced at the ashes of the card in the grate.