Alfred sat on the bus watching the sleet falling outside and trying not to fall sleep. Around him the normal loud chattering passengers ignored him. He looked at his watch and began counting the stops. He was there before he knew it. Getting off, he walked the few minutes to the small terrace house and let himself into the dark hallway.
‘Hello, dear,’ he called in a dry, soft voice.
He turned on the lights and locked the front door. Going into the living room, he sat on the sofa and turned towards the empty arm chair opposite him. He imaged his wife, sat in an old house coat and slippers, lower some knitting into her lap as she asked him about his day.
‘Oh, it was nothing. Easy and boring. You know the usual community centre day. Has the fire stopped working again?’ Alfred said a loud.
He looked at the gas fire then got up and turned it on. Blue flames shot up from the behind the grill then danced into orange and yellow lines. He played with the dials for a few moments then mumbling, ‘that’s better,’ started looking for the TV control. He found out on the arm of the sofa, where he’d left it and turned on the screen.
‘What’s for dinner, dear?’ he asked the empty arm chair, ‘another TV meal?’
Alfred shook his head and settled on the sofa. Thoughts of all the things his wife use to cook for him crowding his mind. He lazily channel flicked, till he found the news, which he then watched absent-mindedly. Half-way through, he decided to go and get changed out of his suit.
He went upstairs and into the bedroom. Turning on the light, he took off the suit and put on pyjamas that were neatly folded at the end of the small double bed. He opened the almost empty wardrobe and hung up his suit next to the other one. He imaged how once the double iron railings had been full of dresses, skirts, blouses, trousers and shirts. Shoes had lined the bottom, stuff with newspaper balls. Lavender and some of other sweet smelling things had caressed his nose every time he’d opened the double doors.
Closing the doors, he got dressed then went back downstairs again. He turned off the light as he went, leaving the house half cast into darkness. He went into the kitchen, the sound of the TV trailing after him.
‘Yes, I shall put the kettle on,’ he called to the emptiness.
Alfred went to the fridge and pulled out a black tray with a cardboard wrap. He looked at it and read stew and dumplings along the top. Shrugging heavy shoulders, he took it to the counter and clicked the kettle on. He dug out a fork, took the cardboard off and stabbed at the plastic before putting it in the microwave. Then he made two mugs of tea and got a plate out. He carried the mugs into the living room and placed one on a small wooden table at the side of the sofa and the other next to the armchair on a flat cabinet.
Wobbling back into the kitchen, he got his food and went back to the sofa.
‘Look at this, dear,’ he said waving a hand from the arm chair to the table where he’d placed his meal, ‘it’s just terrible. Not like you use to make at all.’
Alfred eat it anyway, grateful it was warm. Afterwards, he sipped the rest of his tea and watched the TV. The gas fire flames casted a dim light on the bare walls and shadows drifted into the corners.
‘I’ll tidy up,’ Alfred declared, ‘then it’s bedtime. I know it’s early, but I’m so tired. What?’
He paused, looking firmly at the empty armchair.
‘Yes, I know it’ll be cold upstairs.’
He got up, turned off the fire and gathered the plate and mugs up. He took them back into the kitchen and hummed as he tidied up. Then he turned out the light and that of the living room before checking the door was locked. He went upstairs and into the bedroom. He turned on the lights and turned off the hallway ones. Muttering meaningless words, he got into the bed and lay down. He picked up a small paperback book and read for a few minutes. He held the book close to his face, sometimes muttering a word or a whole line.
When the letters began blurring before him, he put the book down and turned at the light. Alfred lay in the darkness, his eyes shut and already feeling sleep coming over him. He felt the other side of the bed sinking down and a smile crept onto his face. He felt the blankets and duvet shifting slightly and the bed springs groaned slightly.
‘Good night, dear,’ he whispered.