, Dear,’ said Harold sheepishly as he picked up the shopping list and bag.
‘Don’t forget the receipt for the shopping and make sure you get the right change,’ said his wife.
Harold shut the door behind him and headed for the local supermarket. As he walked, he thought of Edna and what she’d become. When they’d married, thirty years ago, they’d been happy. She’d been a beautiful young girl, bright, intelligent and easy going. When they married, every man in town had been surprised at his good fortune. Probably because he was short, balding and timid.
Nobody could see what she saw in him, but she loved him and that was all that he wanted. They had been married nine months when she announced that she was to have a baby. After a normal pregnancy, she gave birth to a beautiful daughter who was the image of her mother. Two years later, she had a son who was also like his mother.
Returning to the real world, Harold finally reached the super-market and walked in. Picking up the basket, he religiously followed Edna’s commands on the shopping list and he scrutinised the change at the till. The check-out girl gave him strange looks, but they didn’t know what it would be like to go home with the wrong change.
‘I’d also like a receipt for the shopping please,’ he asked quietly.
‘Of course sir, there you are,’ said the girl handing him the piece of paper.
He placed the change and the receipt into his purse and carried the shopping out of the store. Harold drifted off in his mind once more. He often did it on trips to and from the supermarket. It was his only escape from the real world. He thought of the old days again.
After the children had grown and left home, Edna had changed. She’d become irritable and snappy. The children spent less and less time visiting, which made things worse. Edna blamed him for everything that went wrong. He just kept quiet; it was the best and only way to keep the peace. Just let her run out of steam shouting at him. Nobody wanted to be near her anymore, except him, but she would never let him leave her.
‘How are you Harold?’ the voice asked.
Harold turned slowly. In front of him stood his mother-in-law, Iris Donnelly.
‘I’m fine. How are you?’ he asked blankly.
‘Very well, thank you for asking. How’s Edna?’ she asked briskly.
‘She’s fine, same old Edna,’ Harold said quietly as though he was frightened she’d hear him. ‘Well I must go, things to do and all that,’ he said.
‘Take care of yourself Harold and don’t let her get you down,’ Iris shouted after him.
Harold was shocked by the last statement. When they’d married, her parents didn’t exactly like him. In fact they never came near the house while he was there. Now they were surprised he was still with her. They knew he was down- trodden but they didn’t think even he would put up with her tantrums.
Well here he was again, back in the real world. Home once more. He paused at the garden gate looking at the house. The real world lies beyond the door, he thought. He went to the front door. Halfway in she lunged at him like a lioness would a gazelle, no mercy.
‘Where have you been Harold? It takes exactly half an hour to and from the supermarket. I suppose you were dawdling again or did you stop to speak to people? If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times to go to the shop then straight home. If I didn’t need the shopping I wouldn’t send you to the shop’.
When she’s nagging, he thought, her tongue is like a whip. Every time she opened her mouth he would flinch as though in pain.
‘Yes, dear. I bumped into your mother on the way home. She asked how you were,’ Harold blurted.
Edna went very quiet and Harold became very nervous for he knew when she didn’t speak he was in for it later. She disappeared upstairs. Harold went into the kitchen and busied himself putting away the groceries. He’d definitely said the wrong thing about her mother. It was a spur of the moment decision to tell her, stop her tongue lashing him. The nagging he got earlier was nothing compared to what he’d get later. He could hear it now: ’What were you talking to her about? I suppose it was about me. Why’s she even speaking to you when she won’t even come round here and see me?’
This would be the main topic of conversation around the dinner table tonight. Harold decided to cook tea for her tonight, her favourite – that might lighten her mood a little. He hoped.
Why couldn’t he shout back at her, just once? Maybe then he could command some respect from her. Maybe it would shake her up so much she’d go back to her old self. But no matter how much he thought about it he knew he would never stand up to her, he didn’t have the courage. At least he had a couple of hours to kill. Harold was halfway through making the tea, when Edna came down. She poured herself a cup of tea then sat at the table.
‘I’m sorry for upsetting you earlier, I didn’t mean to,’ Harold spoke softly and put a hand on her shoulder.
‘You didn’t upset me,’ she said bitterly and shook his hand from her shoulder, ‘I had to lie down for a while’.
Whatever you say dear, Harold thought to himself. Why couldn’t I have said that aloud? That would really have got her going. Sometimes he hated her so much. Why couldn’t he just be free of her? There was only one way to be truly free.
As Edna carried on shouting at him, his mind finally snapped and he went out to the shed. He could still hear her shouting as he walked through the door.
Suddenly she turned to face him and gasped, ‘Harold, what are you doing with that axe? Put it down’.
‘Not this time dear,’ he said smiling insanely.
He had taken all he could and enough was enough