Wednesday. It’s Wednesday again. It’s the day for Esther’s Wednesday friends, the three old friends, Martha (the queen bee) from schooldays, Amanda (the blue stocking) from those halcyon days at university, and Katie (the assassin), an ex-colleague of Esther’s at KBBK Consultants. They’ve been meeting up most Wednesdays for the past six years – ever since retirement. The four of them take it in turns to host, offering a choice of tea and a selection of buns or biscuits. I don’t mind. I’m happy for Esther to have something regular on her calendar, happy for her to get out the house more often, and happy for her to show off her cooking and her tidy house once every four weeks or so.
We’re hosting this week – the others will be turning up at around 10 o’clock; first one to arrive usually parks behind ours in the driveway, the other two in the street. I always have a small bet with myself to see who will get the pole position off the road. Will it be Martha with her white Mini Cooper with red speed stripes (seeking her lost youth) or Amanda in her vintage green Morris Minor (not of this world) or Katie in her yellow Boxster GPS (“I ain’t done yet”)? I got it wrong last month; will I be right today?
I know what you’re thinking – these ladies with their swish and expensive cars (and their expensive sense of fashion, if you must know) and me with the boring old workaday 1600cc standard silver Ford Focus (and Esther having to do with Marks & Spencer outfits). A strange mix, you think – they’ve done well, you and Esther not so, you think, and aren’t we just a teeny-weeny bit envious?
Yes, granted, they have done well, these three lovely ladies, these three rather lucky widows, for lovely they are, and widows they are and lucky they are, lucky mainly because of the somewhat clever life insurance policies I had sold to their husbands and because of the generous payouts they received when the policies matured – upon death, as per the terminology. My protestation is that Esther and I have not done badly, it’s just that neither of us has died, has had the need to phone the insurance company to ask what happens next; indeed, when I flow the coop, so to speak, Esther will become an extremely well off woman and I’ve no doubt that she will trade the Ford in wisely and with taste (and that the local charity shops will benefit from an influx of well cared for M&S classics).
In a nutshell, then, we don’t begrudge our friends their good fortunes. Au contraire, we are delighted for them. Their husbands, and it follows, their lives, never were a great bundle of laughs. If the truth be told, up until soon after the succession of funeral rites (never-on-Shabbat Jewish, full requiem Catholic, and in-forest-glade humanist) one might say their lives had been a wee bit boring. Which is what you would expect, what with being married to a banker, a primary school deputy head teacher, and a tax official respectively. Sensible, reliable, boring, it had been for them. Before the insurance payouts, I should add.
We, Esther and I, sometimes refer to Martha, Amanda and Katie as the Three Merry Widows. Not a bad sobriquet, we think. They each have a financial adviser (not me, I just sell life insurance) and each of them knows, has been told, that they can do some serious spending for quite some years yet, and it’s highly likely that when they finally do go the great coffee morning in the sky that there will be bits and pieces left in sundry accounts for offspring or cats or dogs homes or whatever. It’s therefore not surprising that they have, the each of them, left behind their sensible, reliable and boring lives and are painting the town red, all shades of red, and it seems, not just the town, but most metropolitan areas where there are cocktail bars happy enough to charge prices not so low that a merry widow would feel uncomfortable flashing her exclusive Coutts credit card.
Wednesday lunchtime is when I get to hear about all the shenanigans, the shopping trips, the business class flights, the liaisons, all hot off the press. The two of us sit at the dining room table, fresh paper table cloth, second best crockery, having our regular mid-week baked fish with creamed potatoes and peas followed by Bakewell tart and custard and dissect the doings of our friends, not cruelly, not cynically, but with warmth and humour. We want them to be happy, we want them to have fun, to be merry.
Last February I asked Esther, in a fleeting moment of doubt, whether she thought we were sensible, reliable and boring. We were in Aberystwyth at the time, just over halfway through our usual two-week annual holiday staying in the same static caravan we had rented for the same two weeks of the previous twelve years. She thought about this for less than a minute, gazing through the rain streaked windows, before reassuring me that we certainly weren’t and that there were many couples in the world that would just love to live as we do. I have to say that her response led me to pop open our second bottle of Chardonnay of the holiday – pushing the boat out, I know – and to an exceptionally early switching off of the bedroom light, once we had plotted our next walk on the OS Explorer 1:25000 map and I had studied the small print of a new death policy aimed at town councilors experiencing existential crises.
Sometimes I think that the Merry Widows are a bit ditzy. After the last time they were here, I found a bunch of stuff under a cushion in the lounge where they had been sitting – brochures for Ferrari cars, overseas cruises, expensive jewelry and the whatnot. I showed Esther who went a bit red and muttered something about silly women being careless, leaving things behind, the onset of old age.
This pain in my belly is getting worse. I should see the doctor, but Esther reassures me it’ll pass with time. Should be soon, she says.